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PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: ScumFest
Melissa Steiner , May 16th, 2014 10:09

We talk to the organisers of the annual punk and hardcore weekender ahead of this year's event, featuring UK Decay, Las Otras, Raw Noise and more

A decade is a long time to sustain any project, let alone one that is 100% non-profit, volunteer-run and based in London, a city that is becoming an increasingly hostile environment for DIY organising. But ScumFest, a South London-based punk and hardcore festival which has roots in the anarcho-squatting community has reached that milestone this year. A three-day long celebration of "beers, bands and benefits", as their website succinctly describes it, ScumFest has been an intrinsic part of the DIY punk scene in London since 2004, bringing the noise in the form of local and international bands, as well as cheap vegan food, zines and record distros to South London's pubs and squats.

Their tenth-year celebration crosses the river to the Dome in Tufnell Park, taking place on the upcoming Bank Holiday weekend. Bands featured this year include Spanish all-female hardcore band Las Otras, UK punks Raw Noise (the band that preceded Extreme Noise Terror), Finnish hardcore band Rattus (who formed in 1978), and post-punk legends UK Decay, as well as a host of others from Italy, Sweden, Germany, Canada and France.

The festivals and off-shoot ScumFest events have always been benefits, and the way in which the festival has evolved over the past decade is reflective of changes in the political climate of the UK and consequently the concerns of activist punks. Compare ScumFest 2005, which was a benefit for "Defy ID", a group who aimed to challenge the introduction of identity cards, with ScumFest 2013, a benefit for DIY Space for London, a collective working to open an autonomous space in the wake of recent changes to squatting laws. This year, money will go to Anti-Fascist Action, a network of grassroots groups using direct action to counter racism and fascism in the UK.

Throughout the decade, some things have remained the same: the crusty aesthetic, the resistance to corporate punk, the South London roots. Behind the scenes, the ScumFest collective is made up of individuals who have been involved for many, if not all of the decade the festival has been running. I had an e-mail exchange with three members of the collective to get their perspective on what ten years of "beers bands and benefits" means to them.

What is the origin story of ScumFest?

ScumFest: In 2004 a few punx living in the Brixton area had been organising low-key events and gigs such as the South London Punx Picnic and the South London Punk Olympics. In June the following year a bunch of bands happened to be touring the UK around the same time and so after little thought from a certain founding member, the aptly-named ScumFest was born. That first year saw gigs on the Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday held at the Grosvenor in Stockwell, a pub where DIY punk gigs were slowly becoming more frequent as secure squatted venues were becoming scarce. Local bands joined the bill alongside touring bands from the US, Italy and Denmark. The Saturday also saw an autonomous space being set up in Crystal Palace Park; or in reality, a bunch of punx, a generator, backline and plenty to drink on a warm summer day. A number of bands played a relay of short sets on the convenient stage in the centre of the park's pond before the council and cops finally threatened to confiscate the equipment. This was followed by a squat gig in North London. A spontaneous festival of coincidence and chance had been a success, funds for the benefits had been raised and fun was had… these were reasons enough for ScumFest to become an annual event.


I imagine that putting on a festival for ten years, while maintaining integrity to your politics could get tricky considering there are quite a few of you in the collective. How does the collective work through conflicts of opinion? Is the collective way still "best"?

SF: The ScumFest collective survives because although we do, at times, have differing opinions our core values are the same: we're opposed to capitalism and the oppression of people and animals, with strong DIY ethics. When we have disagreements, it's not earth shattering because we know that we share these ideals, so it is easier to respect and trust each other's opinions and decision making. The collective approach is best, because it brings a range of knowledge and specialities to the festival, which makes for a more interesting event. People coming together to create something that's not about profit or personal glory is great.

ScumFest is keeping the spirit of DIY still alive and well despite the fact that London is definitely not the cheapest city to live in. Why is the DIY, non-profit approach still so important?

SF: London has changed a lot in the last ten years: there used to be a strong squatting scene, with cafes, gig spaces, bars and rehearsal rooms but with the changes to squatting laws in 2012 and the increase in property value things have become more difficult. But that is only more reason to work harder to create these kinds of events and spaces. The do it yourself approach will always be important; it's the foundation of many countercultures/subcultures not just punk/hardcore. It allows everyone a space to create and a forum to put it out there.

How have the changes to the squatting law in the UK affected the punk scene?

SF: The change to the law, which made it illegal to squat residential properties, has obviously meant there are a lot less squats, A LOT less! Ten years ago there were vegan squat cafes, bars and venues all over London, now there's not so much of that. Things are still happening, but now we have to find pubs and venues which will house our gigs, and the cafes and bars happen a lot less. It's sad but things change, and so you just have to adapt and carry on. In London, as in a lot of cities, your scene has to be resilient. DIY Space for London is on the horizon and promises to be exciting; we're in full support of it!

Your past benefits have often been in support of autonomous spaces like DIY Space for London - 56a in London and the 1 In 12 in Bradford, for example. How important are spaces like this for the punk community?

SF: These spaces are really important. For some people, going to one of these spaces is how they discover that there is 'something else' going on, whether it be feminist action groups, DIY punk shows, radical history groups, zine libraries, not-for-profit vegan cafes, etc. It's where people continue to meet up on a regular basis and plans are hatched. These spaces help provide continuity in scenes which are ever evolving, and cities that are ever changing.

On your flyers, I noticed you were careful to say that ScumFest, "aims to create an environment free from sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia". I thought it was interesting you didn't assume you could just automatically make the space "safe" from those things. What were your intentions behind this statement?

SF: In writing that statement we were conscious of the fact that we don't control the space which ScumFest exists in. ScumFest is more than just the collective – it's the bands and artists who give their time and the people who attend and make the festival. With this in mind, we felt that although we will not tolerate sexism, racism, homophobia or trans*phobia, it is more genuine to say that these are our aims but that everyone participates in creating a 'safe' atmosphere. It's not "us and them", this is DIY punk rock. It's all of us together. And it would be disingenuous of us to think that just by deeming ScumFest a safe space it would immediately be so. That is not how the world works and we are well aware of it.

A ScumFest zine and sampler tape will be available at the festival. What can people expect from those?

SF: The zine is a collection of interviews with artists who have contributed and bands that will be performing at this year's ScumFest. Some of the crowd may not know some of the bands, so it's a chance to get a little insight into who's shredding on the stage. Also, it gives the bands and artists more recognition; they're giving their time for free and this gives them a platform to voice their thoughts.

This is the first year we have done a cassette-formatted sampler of bands playing; we thought it would be a good memory jogger for those who attend the festival in a haze of alcohol and a celebration of our tenth year!!

What bands playing this year are you particularly excited about, that punters should be amped to see?

SF: ALL THE BANDS! It's going to be all killer and no filler. We have 20 bands from six different countries and we're excited - punters should be too!

Finally, any favourite moments from past ScumFests?

SF: ScumFest holds a number of good memories for us, some inspiring, some funny and some just surreal. The year we squatted a car showroom was pretty amazing, despite the stress of having cops wanting to close the event down hours before we were due to start. Bands in vans circled the venue until they finally left. It was the autonomy of having a space where all profits went to the bands and benefits as opposed to venue hire, security, etc, that made that year a memorable one… that and the fact it was a gigantic showroom complete with showroom lights, spiral staircases and a small stage for cars/bands. The fact that someone got trapped in the crawlspace between two floors before falling through into the gig space was pretty funny too.

But as well as having good memories of most ScumFest events, it's when we have managed to bring bands from different corners of the DIY community under the same roof for a common cause that is remembered most fondly. Be it Doom and The Oppressed sharing the stage and gear in 2010 (both crust and antifa skinhead legends respectively), or having members of the late Phil Vane's family attend ScumFest in 2011 when one of the benefits was to raise money for his son and help recuperate funeral costs. Phil had played a ScumFest event with his band Extreme Noise Terror in 2008, so having ENT back for ScumFest in 2011 without him was both emotional and memorable.

ScumFest 2014 takes place at The Dome in Tufnell Park, London on 23-25 May; head to the festival's website for full details

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