Silence Is No Reaction: 40 Years of Subhumans By Ian Glasper, 573 pgs.

Mar 19, 2024

I love Subhumans! Since I first heard The Day the Country Died over thirty years ago, I was hooked. The lyrical content was perfect for a kid cutting his teeth on anarcho punk, but Subhumans were set apart from the other bands in the genre. The iconic skull and microphone logo was the perfect image to go along with the band’s three-block name. It conjured up a mixture of despair and hope at the same time. It was easy to pick up on despair, but they still, somehow, gave you a feeling of hope.

Since 1980 they’ve released ten full length albums, nine 7” records, one EP, and appear on countless compilations. They played well over 1,200 shows and continue on today. This band puts in the work!

Author Ian Glasper lovingly details the entire life of the Subhumans. The enthusiasm he puts in to writing and compiling this mammoth book is astonishing. Personally, I struggle with notes I took a few days ago, but here, Ian gives you excerpts from tour diaries and flyers spanning four decades. All the usual band bio information is included: Andy Gale, Bruce Treasure, Dick Lucas, and Grant Jackson were all alienated, persecuted teens who found punk rock in various ways, as most of us do. They went on to start The Mental + Stupid Humans which eventually morphed into the Subhumans.

The author is very adept at putting the reader in the moment of these beginnings. I love hearing how, oddly enough, most of the members weren’t really listening to punk on their own, aside from attending gigs. The focus remains on the band, but I also really enjoyed hearing about the beginning of the anarcho punk scene.

After a seamless transition to Trotsky, the band’s new drummer, they released their debut album, the aforementioned The Day the Country Died. Not long after, the band added a new bassist, Phil Bryant, who rounds out the current lineup.

Each subsequent release is given the same attention by the author, complete with accounts from everyone involved with it. Glasper, very cleverly, pops in and out of conversations like a welcomed narrator to help sort the details and keep things flowing. He puts you at the show. With words like “the walls seemed to sweat,” he paints the picture of shows many of us have been to before—packed punk houses or squats as the crowd seethes along with the band. There are also lighthearted and humorous tales, like how the band never ate pizza before the first U.S. tour.

If I had to nitpick anything, it’s that this book is written in great detail. It took me multiple rereads and flipping back to re-reference players, stories, and events to totally immerse myself in with the band. Also, I don’t feel like I truly know why the band split up in 1985. It’s discussed, but vaguely. Maybe there wasn’t a blow up or scandal. I suppose it really just felt like it was time to do other things. Glasper covers what the members did after the split. Dick Lucas went on to form Culture Shock and then Citizen Fish with Subhumans drummer Trotsky. The Subhumans first reunited in 1991 before reforming for good in 1998.

Regretfully, I’ve only seen Subhumans twice. I haven’t had the honor of meeting them. After reading this book though, it seems like my perception of the band was spot on. They’re the absolute definition of punk lifers. They love what they do and that’s why they do it.

The impact the band has had on countless people is immeasurable, and Subhumans are humbly aware of this. The goal that singer Dick Lucas set out to accomplish was to get people to think: changing thoughts, changing actions, and making us all better for it. Or as Dick jokes, “It is better to be positive and useless than negative and useless.”

The utter joy and love Glasper has for Subhumans drips off every page. This is insanely well written and worth a read for anyone who’d like to know what being punk is all about. –Tim Spock (Earth Island Books, Pickforde Lodge, Pickforde Lane, Ticehurst, TN5 7BN, United Kingdom, earthislandbooks.com / PM Press, PO Box 23912 Oakland, CA 94623, pmpress.org)

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