Is Punk dead?

“I used to be punk.’ I’m sorry, but if you ever say ‘I used to be punk’ then you never really were! Punk is a mindset, a way you think and live, so you either are a punk or you are not! It is not just a ‘phase’ you go through!!”

Patrick Logan, John. (2016). ‘Used to be a punk? Then you never really were one’: readers on lives then and now. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/may/14/used-to-be-a-punk-then-you-never-really-were-one-readers-on-lives-then-and-now.  (Accessed 18th July 2018).

 

Punk to me is an ethos, a mindset, a way of thinking, a way of life. It has been one of the most influential music genres in my life. Punk music is all about energy, enthusiasm and passion. Punk is musically an artistic expression of opinion, often political with a streak of rebellion and revolt against the status quo.

So why do I love punk?

My passion for punk music began whilst working in a local rock/alternative club in Grimsby. Having been into rock and heavy metal since an early age I knew I belonged in the alternative haunts and a somewhat underground circle. At the time I began socializing within the alternative music scene (around 1997) there was only one rock bar, no alternative clubs and live shows were hosted at the dingiest and most dangerous locations in Grimsby, put on by young school kids with a passion so strong for music they didn’t care where they could play, just that they could play.

 

It didn’t take long before I wanted to be a part of this scene. Although I could play drums and had been very musical throughout my school years being in a band wasn’t what I wanted to do. There was no way I would ever have the confidence to take to the stage and I knew my talents were more supporting, promoting and organizing the shows. Once old enough to work I got my first job as a glass collector at a local men’s social club. This killed my musical spirits. Listening to the worst cabaret renditions of classic songs I grew up listening to was not going to cut it. I spent every visit to the local rock bar basically hounding the manager for a job. One day it finally happened, I had the opportunity I and I left the social club with great glee to work at our local rock music venue.

 

After a remodel and total revamp of the old club Hollywoods, it reopened as The Matrix Club. Every weekend there was something on. It was early 2002 and the music scene was still booming. The club hosted bands from all over the world. There were a few record labels, promoters and distributers involved and the hardcore punk scene had re-emerged stronger than ever. This was a real character building time for me as it was the first job I had and the first time I felt comfortable, safe and secure enough to be myself. I was socializing and working with some incredibly interesting people and of course the place had its bar characters and was never short of entertainment. The fact I could keep my camera under the bar so I could spend my cigarette breaks shooting photos of bands was an immense bonus. I was working a job I enjoyed surrounded by my two passions, music and photography. My images even made it in frames on the walls. I became involved in the art and décor side of the club. I quickly got involved in assisting in the organization of events. Being vegan myself I was put in charge of organizing the food and supplies for the visiting bands as veganism and straight edge/tee total was something of an alien concept in Grimsby at this time. Despite the progression being made with the club and its values for acceptance, tolerance and positivity we were still located in the small town mindset of Grimsby, which I am sad to say, despite its rich cultural heritage is somewhat inhabited by bigots and tyrants.

 

It is from this point really that the connection with my current project begins. Although not in the progressive years of the 1970’s punk scene, I did spend my youth in a hostile and unloving environment for the outcasts and the alternative. I struggled greatly as a child and more so as a teenager. I have always been different, I have always known I am different and have never, even in times of trying in my younger years, fit into the mainstream.  I was constantly bullied, berated and often attacked for my clothes, my appearance and my sense of style. It seems like some god awful act of irony now as alternative culture and subcultures have been absorbed by the mainstream, in the fashion world in particular, it now has become, as I believe Huey Lewis and The News once said “hip to be square” (Gibson Bill, Hopper Sean, and Lewis Huey (1986). Hip to Be Square. ‘Fore!’ USA: Chrysalis Records).

 

So in this modern world where seemingly anything is acceptable (in terms of style) how can people retain their individuality? Is the concept and the world of subcultures dead? Is punk itself dead?

These are all elements and questions I wish to explore during my work in progress and my research project.

I have been doing a lot of interesting research and reading behind this. The Guardians website has some incredible articles about punk music and in particular some interesting pieces on punks then and punks now, a comparison of those who lived through the punk era and if or how they have transitioned in adult life. From this I have also looked at the work of Jo Corrè, son of Malcom McLarren (Sex Pistols manager) and Vivienne Westwood. Other than being the founder of lingerie company Agent Provocateur he is most famous for burning £5m of rare punk rock memorabilia on the River Thames in 2016. His act was a way of fighting the mainstream. He compares todays attempts at punk to the corporate branding of food chain McDonalds. He has officially declared the death of punk stating it is now owned by corporations and that’s its modern representations are a disservice to today’s youth.

 

“I understand that punk is just another part of the flotsam and jetsam that we consume and it has no value”

Corrè, Joe – 2018. MacInnes, Paul. (2018). Joe Corré on his £5m punk ashes – and Malcolm McLaren’s death mask. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/20/punk-bonfire-artist-joe-corre-ash-from-chaos-lazinc-gallery . Accessed 18th July 2018.

                                                                             apathy-web                             Carrè, Joe (2018). Ash From Chaos. London: Lazinc Gallery

After hosting the fire with the support of his mother Vivienne Westwood who could be seen shouting supportively form an open top bus by the river side, Corrè then used the ashes to fill a glass coffin alongside a replica of his father’s death mask to display in the prestigious Mayfair district of London. Titled ‘Ash from Chaos’ the piece was designed as proclamation against the planned ‘corporate’ celebrations in London for the 40th anniversary of the Sex Pistols ‘Anarchy in the UK’ single release.

 

“But when you had the establishment saying they were going to celebrate 40 years of [Sex Pistols single] Anarchy in the UK, I treated that as an opportunity. Destroying something – people had no idea of its value, actually – is an exercise in showing people how manipulated they are, and the sort of reactions they have to things. These are emotional triggers and people get triggered every day.”

Corrè, Joe – 2018. MacInnes, Paul. (2018). Joe Corré on his £5m punk ashes – and Malcolm McLaren’s death mask.

Available: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/20/punk-bonfire-artist-joe-corre-ash-from-chaos-lazinc-gallery . Accessed 18th July 2018.

 

6715Le Caer,Vianney. (2018). Joe Corré on his £5m punk ashes – and Malcolm McLaren’s death mask. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/20/punk-bonfire-artist-joe-corre-ash-from-chaos-lazinc-gallery. Accessed 18th July 2018.

I find the piece an interesting, all be it chaotic approach. Although as discussed previously about my angst with the use of alternative culture in the mainstream world I can relate to Corrè’s comments regarding McDonalds and punk being a modern franchise. I don’t believe the burning of such rare artifacts was the best way of making his point. As there are so many fans and collectors of traditional punk memorabilia I feel the move was somewhat disrespectful to the origins and history of punk, after all it is this rich history which defines us.  I find the works he submitted supporting the piece rather cliché and somewhat predictable. In some ways I would expect more of an heir to a punk empire. That being said you can also understand the frustration and lack of motivation for the industry having been absorbed around it his entire life. Declaring himself as no artist I believe his motivations were more about the environmental impact of consumerism in modern society than regards to punk itself, but like many in the subculture of punk, he is a mere contradiction of his ethics. He himself has capitalized on punk and the alternative fashion market and his identity is built upon traditional punk rock origins.

 

Read more here; https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/20/punk-bonfire-artist-joe-corre-ash-from-chaos-lazinc-gallery

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/nov/26/punx-not-dead-joe-corre-burns-memorabilia-worth-5m-on-thames

Here is the McDonalds ‘punk’ advertisement for a new range in wraps. A complete rip off from the art work of the Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ album cover with the track ‘What do I Get’ by the Buzzcocks playing in the background makes it hard to argue with Corrès perspective about the impact of corporate punk.

McDonalds Corporation. (2016). ‘What Do I Get’ TV Add. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni0fSOtmO1A&feature=youtu.be.  Accessed 18th July 2018.

Here we see reaction to the ad campaign on Twitter. Many were offended by it; I personally wasn’t so much offended just disappointed. It reaffirms punks new place in the mainstream and does make me question the future of punks originally, message and ethos.

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Wilson-Taylor, James. (2017). McDonald’s Have Gone Pop Punk, Are You Lovin’ It?. Available: https://www.popbuzz.com/tv-film/news/mcdonalds-punk-campaign-commercial-buzzcocks/.  Accessed 18th July 2018.