Barney Greenway and Napalm Death, the band he has fronted since 1989, need no introduction. For issue 6 of Astral Noize, our correspondent and hardcore enthusiast extraordinaire Alex Rover was lucky enough to catch up with Barney for a chat on the grindcore legends’ new album, lifelong anti-fascist affiliations and the cesspool that is the UK political scene.
The following is an extract from our interview with Barney Greenway, which can be found in Issue 6 of our zine. Pick it up below, or subscribe to our Patreon, to get the full text.
You mention a need for new people and voices moving through a culture. A lot has changed in the social climate in the UK too, particularly in my lifetime. The conversation about inclusivity particularly is very different now. Do you think that extreme music cultures are places which welcome a variety of cultures and identities, or is some work towards fair representation still required in your opinion?
Extreme music is just as capable as anything else, and it’s just as lacking. These scenes, regardless of the music, are just a microcosm of the world. It’s up to human beings to make things inclusive, to make people feel welcome. However you self identify, or whoever you are visibly or in any kind of way really, we are all human beings. I’m not going to name any names, we might have been on tour with bands that have said some pretty ripe stuff, and people will say, ‘Well, you can’t blame them, it’s just the cultural background.’ You know what I say to that? You’re a fucking human being, you can think for yourself. You don’t have to come up with certain stuff which you know to be prejudiced, shortsighted or hateful. There’s no fucking excuse for it. We all have life experiences and a breadth of vision of the world, it’s down to you to be human about things.
My next question comes from a conversation I had with my editor. He did an interview with a couple of people from extreme music acts in the UK, with heavy political themes. He noticed that his questions regarding the current political climate and activism were met with a degree of resignation and dispassion. It seems like they did not hold the same interest in the topic that they once did. Is this something you have experienced amongst people who have historically been both musically and politically active?
Sometimes I feel a bit of discomfort talking about activism, because it’s almost like a coat hanger to hang on a hook. People going around saying, ‘I’m an activist’, but it’s like ‘what do you mean?’. It’s almost like a coat you put on to go outside. That’s not wishing to demean or patronise anyone, I just find it a little bit strange sometimes. The other thing is that ND gets called a political band, and I understand that, but I would argue it is also apolitical, because politics is meaningless if it leaves human beings behind. Surely the object of the exercise is to lead to something that allows everyone to live with peace and dignity. That’s the whole point. I think sometimes there’s much emphasis on being an activist, or being political. It’s just about being human, you know? In term of people becoming despondent about the questions and climate, I understand that people feel hopeless, but you know what man, if you don’t tackle this stuff head on, I don’t mean physically necessarily but in a human way, you just give more rope to those that would keep people down, would make things unequal, would grab all the power for themselves.
Life’s a great big fucking power grab. There are people in power that hold the resources who want to keep it that way. That’s all land borders are. They were drawn on the interest of a few people who could protect their assets, and then lead us to believe that these are our sovereign borders. It’s all bollocks. There’s no need for this stuff. That’s why I’ve always said I’m not patriotic. A lot of people from different countries could say the same thing. That’s the point really, we are all human beings, this is the point we should be coming from. When people talk about this identity stuff, you have to remember that the big driver of that is separating people out. [People say] ‘this is my cultural identity’, but what do you mean? ‘Well, it makes me who I am’, but what you’re basically trying to say there is that it makes you superior to those without those traits. When you really strip it down, that’s what it is. I don’t want to be a part of that. And it makes life a lot easier if you don’t carry that stuff around with you.
Like you said earlier, music communities are a reflection of the society they are part of. With this being said, my experience of growing up in the UK is that the social climate is skewed to the right, and generally leads towards more conservative ideologies. This can be seen in the wider extreme music community too, particularly in prominent musicians and figures saying, doing or advocating all sorts of dumb shit, from fetishising right-wing affiliations to laughing over accusations of sexual assault. Do you think there is a responsibility of people in positions of power in these communities to speak out and react against this kind of behaviour?
You can’t always control what people say or do. You have to let people have their say, even though you might find it really distasteful sometimes, I know that might contradict what I said earlier, but you’ve got to let them have their say. Yeah, you are right, a lot of stuff has been said. I remember seeing in the press recently Axl Rose’s homophobic outbursts and feeling quite resigned. What ND has always done is put ideas on the table, and said, ‘You don’t have to be homophobic, you don’t have to be racist, we are all flesh and blood, we all want to live with dignity, we all want to live our next meal and not wonder where it is coming from’. That’s what ND does. You are not a puppet master, you can’t control everyone. Sometimes you need to know when not to respond to something. That can be equally important sometimes.
You guys are signed to Century Media, alongside Marduk. This band have consistently profited from ambiguity around their far-right themes and affiliations. At best this shows a worryingly imbalanced historical interest in the events of WWII, and at worst is more sinister. I know you have consistently written about resisting fascist ideologies in your lyrics. What are your views on this? To what extent can you speak your mind on it?
I would be direct with them. They have always said they are not fascist, and that they use that imagery in the same way a goregrind band might. I know there was something that happened where one of them was found on some white power mailing list, but they deny it. If their intention is a fascist ideology, then fuck them. As far as I am led to believe, they are not that way. I think it’s not the best idea to use that kind of imagery, because then when you go and play shows you can only begin to imagine who would be drawn to that kind of imagery. I can say this, the core Century Media staff are all anti-fascist, so make of that what you will. I highly doubt they’d be involved with a fascist band.
Issue 6 is out 11th December. Order here.
Interview: Alex Rover