What did it really mean to be punk?

Peter Jordan / Alamy

Punk currently arouses great interest. god save the queen, the Sex Pistols classic, topped the UK Singles Charts during Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. This milestone comes 45 years after the original release of the song, which was curiously not as successful at the time, the Silver Jubilee in the summer of 1977.

Famed director Danny Boyle has also dramatized the life of the gang in his series Pistolwhich charts the evolution of the Sex Pistols and the UK punk movement that emerged in London in the 1970s.

The series, based on the autobiography of Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, has been the subject of controversy, including legal battles with the band’s former frontman, John Lydon, who tried to prevent the use of his music. The singer defined the series as “the most disrespectful shit I’ve ever had to put up with.”

Almost all genres of popular music have subcultural connotations, that is, they have an impact on, for example, fashion and moral values. But it could be said that no other genre has a stronger subcultural relevance than punk. The musician and singer of the band Talking Heads, David Byrne, has stated that “punk was defined by an attitude rather than a musical style.”

But what did it mean to be punk?

Rejection of establishment musical and political authority

Unlike progressive rock and glam that preceded it, punk was anti-establishment, anti-regulatory and anti-commercial. It emerged in the early to mid-1970s, when the music had become less accessible and, to the next generation of audiences, less recognizable. The emergence of punk coincided with a period of economic decline and growing social unrest. It was a time when the youth felt that their future was quite bleak.

Breaking with the intellectual and elitist attitude was central to the punk attitude. The names of early British punk bands, such as The Clash, The Stranglers, and The Damned (meaning The Clash, The Stranglers, and The Damned, respectively), served as statements of both belligerence and provocation.

NewRose by The Damned was considered one of the first UK punk anthems. It was released in October 1976. The single featured aggressive, energetic drums (played by the curiously named Rat Scabies), raw, distorted rhythm guitar (sometimes switching to lead guitar), underpinned by the bassist attacking the fundamental notes. of guitar chords. Chord sequences were simple and sometimes jarring through less obvious progressions. The voices are situated at an intermediate point between what is sung, what is spoken and what is shouted.

Thematically, punk lyrics were often antagonistic, challenging the “norms” of society. Songs like Anarchy in the UK (1976), by the Sex Pistols, gave voice to a young generation that felt disenfranchised in their own country.

Punk was never limiting and was not subject to gender bias like earlier types of rock music. Many women collaborated and participated actively, among which Susan Ballion, alias Siouxsie Siouxwho fronted the iconic punk group Siouxsie and the Banshees, and style icon Pamela Rooke, aka Jordan (the Queen of Punk).

Notably, across the Atlantic there was also a flourishing punk scene that preceded the UK punk movement. The CBGB club in New York, opened by Hilly Kristal in 1973, served as the nerve center for the scene to crystallize. The Ramones, Television, The Voidoids, Blondie, Patti Smith Group and Talking Heads played their first concerts there and later rose to fame.

What did punk mean to the “original” punks?

Music journalist John Robb, who was also the lead singer of the punk rock group Goldblade and the bassist and vocalist of the post-punk group The Membranes stated:

“It is impossible to define punk. It is subjective and means something different to each person… It is exciting, confusing, exhilarating, a grenade about to explode, intellectual but not academic, revolutionary. It tore a hole in the fabric of pop culture and we all fell through it.”

Punk was multifaceted and it was also many things to many people. Something that was felt, empowering, empowering, contradictory, that manifested itself through individual and collective expression… But perhaps to understand what it was in the beginning, one had to have been there.

Musician Peter Hook’s origins are firmly rooted in punk, notably at a Sex Pistols concert at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976. Apparently only about 40 people attended, but many of them became on culturally relevant figures in British music. It was this event that inspired Hook the next day to buy a bass and hatch a plan to form a band. He would become a founding member of Joy Division, which would become New Order after the death of singer Ian Curtis.

For dance music pioneer and 808 State co-founder Graham Massey, one of his first bands was the punk outfit Danny and the Dressmakers. Massey has described how he was denied access to music education at school:

“Rebellious, I entered music in the punk era, when no musical ability was necessary. There was a great willingness to just jump in and make some noise.”

The fact that musical training and virtuosity were not required meant that punk was not confined to musical elites and deep-pocketed institutions, as it had largely been in the past. Massey also speaks of “the creative thrill” of “reinvention” after the dismantling of the establishment musical.

The spirit of “do it yourself” was very present in the movement. Punks created fanzines, groups created their own labels, and people made their own clothes as a form of cultural expression. Manchester group The Buzzcocks and their manager, Richard Boon, created New Hormones, the UK’s first independent punk rock label. They were also responsible for organizing the Sex Pistols concert in Manchester which Hook, among others, attended.

Starting in the late 1970s, punk lost its initial cultural momentum and fragmented (as musical and cultural waves always do) into styles such as anarchopunkthe street punk and gothic punk. These movements later gave rise to new ones (including the new wave). However, the term itself punk it continues to be used to describe nonconformity and subversion.

The Conversation

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