People’s punk band the Cribs have weathered thirteen years well thanks to their DIY spirit. Jacob Bernard-Banton talks to bassist Gary Jarman about sexism and showmanship
The Cribs’ bassist Gary Jarman is superb company. Affable and thoroughly unpretentious, he can be sharp and perceptively funny: Being in a band is “almost like a bourgeois hobby for some people,” he quips. At one point, he suggests that the new, free, NME should “do a different edition per city with a full gig guide specifically for that city—that would make it indispensable.”
This band of brothers—Gary shares the stage with his twin Ryan and younger sibling Ross—are more than a decade into their career. Surely they’ve noticed some imitators? “Some of the bands we’ve taken on tour say they grew up listening to us and it’s the greatest feeling,” says Gary. “[They’re] in their late-teens or early-twenties. It makes sense, it’s a generational thing.”
It isn’t just their sound new acts have adopted, but their DIY punk ethos, which can be traced back to their heroes Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins and Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson. “There was definitely a period when I felt we were misrepresented,” Gary tells me. “We were considered part of the British guitar band thing at the time. We wanted our ethic and our way of doing things to be represented. If we’re remembered for anything, I hope it’s that.”
Their punk spirit has endured for 13 years, but what is punk in 2015? He notes that “people [will] debate the nuance and meaning of [punk] for evermore,” that “it’s funny that we’re referred to as a DIY band,” he says, “because I see bands who literally do everything themselves. There’s less money in the industry now. You have to be savvy about self-promotion. It’s a necessity for people in 2015. It’s not even really a punk or underground thing. It’s just a reality now, a pragmatic thing.” He’s certainly right. It isn’t only indie bands on Bandcamp flogging free material—most of postmodern art-pop collective PC Music’s discography can be found on Soundcloud.
Talk moves onto sexism and misogyny in the music industry. There’s a “double standard,” he says. All-female bands are held to a different standard “because [for] some people it still seems like an exceptional thing. That was something that we used to talk about a lot.” Gary cites the wave of noughties guitar bands still beholden to that era’s “new rock and roll spirit.”
“I thought it was old-fashioned, [those] ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ clichés.” It is unbearably macho, isn’t it? “We thought so,” Gary replies. “For a long time,” he adds, “if you spoke about it you’d have to identify as a feminist. I grew up as a feminist, as a riot grrrl or riot boy or whatever, but it seemed that just to be a sensible, non-chauvinistic person you were identified as a feminist. It’s just a case of not being a chauvinist.”
Sexism still prevails unfortunately: The less said about Catfish and the Bottlemen’s infamous merch posters (“signed titties, £1 per melon”), the better. I’m reminded of Duran Duran’s bassist John Taylor’s recent nauseating comments on Later with Jools Holland. After Wolf Alice’s barnstorming performance, Taylor remarked, “What is it with girls and guitars?” Puke.
Gary attributes those attitudes to guys starting bands, hoping that they’ll “get laid, and the band is an outlet for their testosterone. At least, people are calling it out now. Once upon a time, if you called that stuff out, you were seen as being radical. It was very difficult for women to be actively opinionated on chauvinism without being called ‘man-hater’.”
Part of the problem lies with journalists, Gary thinks. Instead of being routinely asked why bands identify as feminists, he rails, “Why are you not calling out bands who are being fucking pigs?” It’s symptomatic of a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ defeatism, I suggest. “Yeah,” agrees Gary. “Lad rock—that was the norm. Anything that wasn’t like that was considered radical.”
It’s not journalists’ only shortcoming, as they often overlook The Cribs’ impressive showmanship. Where do they get the energy to perform such thrilling live gigs? “We get to the gig for the soundcheck, we do the soundcheck and then we sit backstage all day. We don’t leave; we don’t go out for dinner; we don’t go out to visit friends. If you wait backstage you get so acutely aware of why you’re here.”
As such, Gary is keen to make clear that the band do what they do for the people. It is strange that there are so few working-class bands around, given today’s faintly depressing musical climate—the disparity between those singing about partying or those being in a club and the oeuvre of Sleaford Mods, for example. He offers that disenfranchised kids, “the weirdos” and “the misfits,” have been “hidden away.” Bands nowadays are expensive and time-consuming for careerists. But, for Gary, those same weirdos are “where the revolution comes from.” His words perhaps explain his band’s success and cult status; they’ve always been the people’s punk band.