"How have we arrived at a juncture where workers teeter towards an inequality gap reminiscent of Victorian Britain while the gilded class prosper?" Bad Breeding's Contempt is a portrait of a divided nation which deserves better

A damning state-of-the-nation address from Stevenage punks who refuse to give up hope

Bad Breeding - Contempt
(Image: © Cole F. Quirke | Peter Kennard)

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In the spring of 2009, Gallows took a look at the state of the nation, and delivered the scathing, furiously angry, despairing Grey Britain. Fifteen years on, Bad Breeding's analysis of where we stand ahead of next month's general election - featuring parties led by a National Service-advocate richer than King Charles III, a Knight of the Realm (and former human rights lawyer) whose call for a ceasefire in Gaza came only after the death toll passed 30,000, and a public school-educated ex-City trader who cites the late Enoch Powell as a "political hero" and fawns over Donald Trump - is even more damning. 

"How have we arrived at such a juncture where workers teeter towards an inequality gap reminiscent of Victorian Britain while the gilded class prosper and portion out blame, pushing the lie that meritocracy is king, that you get what you deserve." This question is posed in an essay titled River, one of three thought-provoking texts included with the Stevenage quartet's follow-up to 2022's excellent Human Capital album. The fundamental answer, the band suggest, as per the title of their fifth record, is that the ruling classes have nothing but contempt for those 'beneath' them. "Only when we realise and utilise the utter contempt held for us can we reach a level of class consciousness that will provide an adequate challenge to capital," states frontman Christopher Dodd, an analysis rooted in the same sort of anger and frustration which led Geezer Butler to write his scathing lyrics for War Pigs, and John Fogerty to conceive the caustic Fortunate Son

As you might expect, Contempt is not a pretty or tastefully polished record. But the full-tilt aggression of singles Survival and Liberty and the cleansing rage of Vacant Paradise only tell a part of the story. For it's more expansive, five-minute-plus tracks such as Discipline, the almost-melodic '90s DC hardcore-tinged opener Temple Of Victory and the discordant post-rock-incorporating Gilded Cage/Sanctuary - perhaps the album's highpoint - where Bad Breeding truly demonstrate a master of dynamics, texture and tone that transcends their anarcho-punk influences. The album ends in masterful fashion with the escalating fury of the title track, layers of screeching feedback and buckling distortion collapsing into white-knuckled white-noise as Dodds urges resistance, spitting, "There will be no peace without violence. Harness the anguish of our collective memory, and fight with an open heart and sharpened mind."

Writing in an essay titled Mud, Metal and Moonlight, campaigning journalist/photographer Aidan Frere-Smith sketches out a stark, brutal description of the culling of badgers in the English countryside, and a mission by animal rights/environmenal activists aimed at disrupting the killing. This might seem like a somewhat tangential discussion to the main themes of the record, but, as he explains, it serves as "a microscopic marker of a decades-long war of greed and disdain for the planet."

"Some may mock and sneer," the essay concludes. "Some laugh at our peril. But what is existence without the building of resistance for a future that is in constant flux?... Be angry. Be upset. But most importantly, be active."

Regardless who emerges with a mandate to govern at Britain's ballot boxes on July 4, it will be no independence day for any of us. In 1984, another Hertfordshire anarcho-punk band, Flux Of Pink Indians, featuring future One Little Independent Records boss Derek Birkett, released their own state-of-the-nation address titled The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks. Listening to Contempt at a time when workers' rights, civil rights, and human rights are more imperilled in Britain than they were 40 years ago, the question shouldn't be why Bad Breeding feel so enraged, but rather why more people don't.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.