When it comes to passionate punk rock superfans, Moby probably isn't the first person that comes to mind. But, long before he was releasing electronica classics like Porcelain and We Are All Made Of Stars, he was the guitarist in 80s hardcore punks Vatican Commandos.
In the decades since he may have found fame making top-quality chill-out tracks, but his love for prog, punk and metal is well documented. Sporting a "Vegan Is For Life" tattoo on his neck, Moby has also made no secret of his love for animal rights, even releasing an album with that title in 1996 that brought his punk past back into his sound.
Now Moby is bringing those worlds together again in his first film. The documentary Punk Rock Vegan Movie sees him explore the intersection between punk history and animal rights movements, aided by a stellar cast of guest musicians and contributors including Captain Sensible (The Damned), Rob Zombie, Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi) and Derrick Green (Sepultura).
We caught up with Moby to find out how he first discovered punk, why he still loves heavy music and what makes Punk Rock Vegan Movie is so vital.
Right at the start of the movie, a talking dog asks you "if you make pretty Enya music, why make a movie about aggressive bands?" It's bizarre, but does raise a good point...
“The really interesting and surprising thing to me is that that these genres of music that are usually seen as being the most aggressive, the heaviest, the loudest, they’re also the most conscious. There are way more activist punk rockers and metal musicians than there are indie rockers. Indie rock is largely apolitical – I’m not maligning it, but it tends to be a little more passive and gentle, not activist oriented.
The whole way this movie came together was me talking to friends in the animal rights movement, and none of them knew it had its origins in the worlds of punk and metal. I thought that was common knowledge. Punk rock certainly, but a lot of metal as well is where a lot of modern animal rights ethos and aesthetic came from, and I was surprised so few people were aware of that.”
Do you remember how you first discovered music - was it through punk, or was that something that came later?
“When I was 12 or 13, I was obsessed with the radio – this was the mid-70s, so radio could be anything from Led Zeppelin and The Eagles to Donna Summer and Abba. As a kid, I loved all of that and I don’t think there was a single song I disliked. Meat Loaf’s Paradise By The Dashboard Light scared me, because it was talking about sex and I was really uncomfortable with that!
But apart from that I’d sit by the radio every day with my grandfather’s Dictaphone and I would hold it up to the speaker to try and tape my favourite songs. I was a 12-year-old nerd – I didn’t have any friends and didn’t play sports, so there was a lot of time spent by that radio!"
How did punk figure into that?
"WNEW was the most progressive station at the time and they played The Clash, I Fought The Law. I taped it off the radio, and it was like the Lou Reed song Rock N Roll, where he talks about the girl at the beginning hearing rock’n’roll on the radio – that was my experience, hearing The Clash in 1978 or 1979. I was just like, ‘What is this song?!’ and knew it was special.
Around that same time, there was a writer for Saturday Night Live named Michael O’Donoghue who released this movie, Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video, which was a strange collection of video clips he’d compiled into a movie. For some reason, my mom and I went to go see it and we were the only people in the theatre, but one of the clips he included was Sid Vicious doing My Way. That was my introduction to punk rock.”
And when did you start getting involved in the scene?
"When I was about 13, I started sneaking into New York to buy records and started going to shows when I was 14 or 15. The first show I went to was Fear at the Mudd Club, around 1981. I guess I had front row seats for the development of so many genres; there was hip-hop, house music with Frankie Knuckles, hardcore, crossover… I remember the first time I became aware of [crossover], I’d heard D.R.I., but [Anthrax guitarist] Scott Ian, who’s a friend of mine, really clued me in. I couldn’t understand how this guy who loved punk so much could play in a metal band! But it was all happening in lower Manhattan, genres co-existing and sharing the same rehearsal spaces.”
Punk Rock Vegan Movie features an almost ludicrous list of guest speakers - from Ian Mackaye to Rob Zombie. How difficult was it getting everyone on-board?
“Luckily, for the most part I had known a lot of these people for a long time. Ray [Cappo] and [John] Porcelly of Youth Of Today and Shelter, I’ve known them since we played together in 1982, when they were in a band called Violent Children and I was in Vatican Commandos. I’d see [Cro-Mags singer] John Joseph around the Lower East A fun fact about Rob Zombie; he drew the cover art for the Vatican Commandos' seven-inch single Just A Frisbee."
Who were you proudest to get for this movie?
“Steve Ignorant. Hands down, when he and Ian MacKaye agreed to do the movie, it really felt like things were happening. I didn’t really know either of them, so getting them involved felt like getting a blessing from the ethical gods of punk rock – I didn’t even know Ian was a vegan and had been since the 80s, because he never talks about it."
How does that all tie in to the veganism/animal rights aspects of the movie?
"The vegan punk rock/animal rights world is surprisingly close-knit and I run into a lot of those guys at awards ceremonies and whatever. I knew Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy and she introduced me to Doyle from The Misfits. The first time I saw The Misfits was in 1982, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and I actually went backstage. They were the scariest human beings I’d ever seen – I backed out the dressing room just glad they didn’t eat me! Tuns out Doyle is one of the nicest guys on the planet, but when I first encountered them in 1982 I was terrified.”
When did you personally adopt veganism?
“I had this weird hypocrisy that is quite dominant; growing up, I loved animals but still ate meat. I once had this conversation with [Black Sabbath bassist] Geezer Butler. Credit to him, because he’s the original – he went vegan in the 60s, he was pioneering the way before anyone – but we were saying that you could be sceptical of people and not trust them, but you’d love all animals unconditionally. Around 1984, I realised it was hypocritical of me to love animals but still be part of this thing that causes them misery and death, so I went vegetarian, then went vegan a few years later.”
What do you hope that Punk Rock Vegan Movie achieves?
“Well, it’s an interesting way to release a movie because there’s no real commercial aspect – my goal is to basically give it away for free, wherever movies can be given away for free.”
Do you think the movie will tour over the summer?
“I’ve toured for a very long time, and I’ll never complain about travelling, but my goal in life now is to stay as close to home as possible. Maybe I can just hire some other little bald guy to go out and tour it for me – we’re pretty interchangeable.
Watch Punk Rock Vegan Movie for free now on Slamdance.