'Punk Rock: Artifice or Authenticity' from Borthhwick, S. and R.Moy (2004) Popular Music Genres: An Introduction (Edinburgh University Press)


An overview of the genre


The term 'punk' can be used adjectively in order to qualify a range of activities. Recent academic analyses of punk phenomena point towards the possibility of there being punk politics, punk journalism (such as the work of Lester Bangs), punk clothing and fashion (including both the haute couture work of Vivienne Westwood and Zandra Rhodes, and the no less spectacular clothing of punk bands and everyday punks), punk poetry (as performed by the Mancunian wordsmith John Cooper Clarke), punk cartoons (such as the commercially successful comic Love & Rockets), punk art (the work of 'young British artist' Gavin Turk or the Sex Pistols' art director Jamie Reid), punk fanzines (such as Sniffin' Glue), punk fiction (Gideon Sams or Stewart Home), punk cinema (Derek Jarman's Jubilee), and even punk etiquette (which often involved spitting). What these cultural forms have in common is debateable, with the majority of the leading commentators disagreeing as to what connects these disparate cultural forms. For Roger Sabin, punk involved 'an emphasis on negation (rather than nihilism); a consciousness of class-based politics (with a stress on 'working class credibility'); and a belief in spontaneity and “doing in yourself”' (Sabin 1993b: 3). For Jon Savage, British punk was a form of 'dole queue rock' that was directly related to the economic and social upheavals that the country was going through at the time (Savage 1994a). For Greil Marcus, punk was a combination of situationist and anarchist politics (Marcus 1989). For Stewart Home, there is no 'core' to punk rock at all - it is a fluid category with its boundaries subject to 'ongoing renegotiation' (Home 1995: 7-9).


Whilst discussions of the non-musical elements of the British and American punk explosions of the 1970s are of interest, this chapter will concentrate primarily on punk rock as a music genre. In generic terms, there are essentially two contrasting styles, and these contrasting two styles are seen on both sides of the Atlantic. The first of these styles is a plebeian or social-realist style. Plebeian punk rock places a lyrical emphasis on providing an exposition of working-class dissatisfaction with 'normal' society, and frequently focuses upon concerns that are particular to young people. Musically, the plebeian style is likely to be more aggressive in feel and played in a seemingly untutored style. Contrasting with the plebeian mode is an 'art-rock' style that specifically references modes of communication found in theories of art. This music is more intricate and layered than the plebeian style, and lyrically more complex. A situationist or art-school influence often surrounds this style of punk rock. In many ways, these two categories conform to a classic Cartesian split, with plebeian or social-realist punk rock having corporeal (bodily) characteristics (for example 'muscular'), with art-rock being seen as more 'cerebral', 'intelligent', and experimental.


Plebeian or social-realist punk rock


· Chelsea


· The Clash


· Cortinas


· Eater


· The Jam


· The Lurkers


· The Ramones


· Sham 69


· Slaughter and the Dogs


· Tom Robinson Band


· The Vibrators


· UK Subs


Art-School influenced punk rock / 'Art rock'


· Blondie


· Buzzcocks


· Generation X


· Magazine


· Patti Smith


· Penetration


· Richard Hell and the Voidoids


· Siouxsie and the Banshees


· Television


· Wire


Chronologically, American punk rock predated British punk rock, and American bands playing a form of early punk rock in the 1960s and 1970s (often termed 'garage') were a strong influence on subsequent British and American punk rockers. The garage music of the 1960s rejected the concurrent move towards complex more rock styles in favour of a simplistic and 'stripped down' approach that relied on a minimum of musical instruments and musical ability. In the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s this musical approach was twinned with lyrical concerns that included alienation, disenchantment with society, and youthful rebellion, and came to be termed punk at around the turn of the decade.


In 1976 and 1977 there was a qualitative shift in punk rock, which occurred when both the American and British punk rock scenes achieved commercial success and mainstream media coverage. Whilst the 'stripped down' musical aesthetic remained, lyrical concerns become more explicitly political, and on occasion, nihilistic. Whilst American garage bands were referred to as punks, the label punk rock was not widely used to describe British bands in the 1960s or early 1970s, although come 1976 a range of UK-based bands (such as the Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash) were being referred to as punks or punk rockers. Within British punk rock the art-school influence is strongest at this point, with 1978 and 1979 seeing a shift towards a more socially realist plebeian mode.


A further difference between American and British punk rock is the relationship between the punk scene and the mass media. In America, early punk rock bands such as The Ramones, Suicide, and Television played concerts and released records away from the media limelight, and consequently American punk rock, and the scene surrounding it, developed at a relatively leisured pace. This is in contrast to events in Britain, where the punk rock bands formed in 1975 and 1976 soon received national notoriety. Whilst the Sex Pistols played their first gig on 6 November 1975, they received their first national review in February 1976, with New Musical Express writer Neil Spencer suggesting that the band played '60's styled white punk rock' (see Heylin 1998: 6). Throughout 1976 music magazines such as Sounds and the New Musical Express reported on the explosion of a punk subculture, whilst punk rock's national notoriety was sealed following the Sex Pistols' explosive interview on Thames TV's Today programme (broadcast on 2 December 1976). During this interview, the band followed the drunken provocations of the interviewer Bill Grundy with a stream of expletives. The popularity of British punk rock, and its social visibility and political importance, increased dramatically from this point onwards.


Following the explosion of media interest in punk rock in 1977 and 1978, many bands began to adopt a more sophisticated and nuanced approach to music making, and as a consequence many punk acts began to play a form of music dubbed 'new wave'. In 1979, there was a significant decline in the popularity of punk rock. Media coverage also declined and the 'punk scene' shrunk considerably at this point, although the generic form of punk has continued to exist until the present day (indeed, the commercial potential of punk rock was only ever fully exploited following the decline of punk).


Historical roots and antecedents


An examination of punk rock's antecedents is complicated by the use of the punk-rock soubriquet to describe American 'garage' music from the late 1960s onwards. Further confusion is added by the fact that punk-rock music predated punk's subcultural formation by many years. As Dave Laing suggests 'unlike nearly every other youth subculture (the Teddy boys, mods, skinheads, etc.), punk began as music and punks themselves began as music fans and performers. In every other case, the youth subculture adopted an already existing type of music' (Laing 1985: ix). In short, punk-rock bands from 1976 onwards were staffed by punks (subcultural formation), whereas those bands that played punk rock before 1976 were not.


For the purposes of this chapter, punk rock from the mid-1970s will be examined in the section entitled 'musical texts', whilst the influence of bands that predate this period are dealt with in this section.


1950s' rock 'n' roll


With its sexual immorality and rebellious spirit, rock 'n' roll as developed in the mid-1950s was a punk antecedent. Indeed, there can have been few things more shocking to sections of European and North American society than seeing Elvis Presley wiggling his hips on television. Equally, Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock single was, at the time, perceived to be a clarion call for rebellious youth to take over the streets, and take over the night, through dancing to supposedly dangerous black rhythms. This reading of the song was particularly heightened by the furore surrounding the release of the films Rock Around the Clock, banned by at least twelve local councils, and Blackboard Jungle, which featured Rock Around the Clock on its soundtrack (see Laing 1985: 37). There are connections between this early period of rock 'n' roll and 1970s' punk rock, not least the Sex Pistols' love for early rock 'n' roll records by the likes of Eddie Cochran.


American pop


Certain forms of American pop from the 1950s and 1960s predated the formal simplicity of the punk rock genre. These include


· Doo Wop. Acts such as Archie Bell and the Drells and Dion and the Belmonts employed a simplistic form of music production that was characterised by its musical immediacy, and came to influence many American punk rock bands.


· American surf-oriented instrumental bands. These included The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Dick Dale, The Astronauts, The Riveras, and Ronnie and the Daytonas. The influence of these bands can be heard clearly in the partially submerged melodies of bands such as The Ramones. Whilst many consider punk rock as being not particularly tuneful, this is mistaken; it is merely the case that in punk rock melody is not as foregrounded, or as complex, as in other popular music genres.


· American fuzz and bubble gum. Bill Osgerby points to the influence of The 1910 Fruitgum Company, Ohio Express, The Archies, and The Monkees on punk rock, stating that 'it was from here that punk's pop sensibility drew many of its motifs and reference points as it elaborated a theatrical parody of the mythologies of teenage suburbia' (Osgerby 1999: 160). Whilst Osgerby concerns himself with the antecedents of the American punk rock scene, the same is true for British punk. For example, the Sex Pistols played The Monkees' (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone at gigs, and the teenage suburban influence can be seen in the art-school influenced 'Bromley contingent', who were a group of young punk rock fans and musicians (such as Siouxsie and the Banshees) from a South London suburb. In addition, worth noting in this respect is the 'second-wave' British punk act the Members and their single The Sound of the Suburbs.


1960s' British rock and pop


Punk rock also draws influence from the simplicity of 'stripped down' British pop music from the 1960s that emphasised enthusiasm over technical ability, and simplicity over complexity. Acts such The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Small Faces, and The Yardbirds were all an influence on 1970s' punk rock. Some of this music is almost as violent as punk rock in its intensity (this is aided by the primitive recording technologies used in its production), whilst the simplicity and 'authenticity' of this music also appealed to 1970s' punks.




In the mid 1960s, a generation of mid-East and mid-West American bands began to record a form of punk rock that was fast, loud and short, and which required a minimum of musical ability to be able to play. This 'proto punk rock' is more frequently termed garage, a phrase that refers to the kinds of places where this music is rehearsed and played. Few of these bands had any commercial success, but they did make a blueprint for the kind of stripped-down amateurish rock 'n' roll that 1970s' punk rock revived. In 1960s' garage music, 'spirit' and 'feeling' are prized far more than musical ability or complexity (although lyrical concerns were not as explicitly political or as nihilistic as punk rock from the 1970s.) Examples of this style are found on the series of compilations entitled Nuggets, compiled by the American journalist Lenny Kaye, with the most famous example being The Kingsmen's raucous single Louie Louie, which became a live staple for many punk rock bands of the 1970s.


The American 'post-Pepper underground'


Clinton Heylin cites America's 'post-Pepper underground' as being a significant precursor to American punk (Heylin 1993: xi). For Heylin this consisted of the Velvet Underground, the MC5, the Stooges, the Modern Lovers, and the New York Dolls (who many consider to be the first punks). According to the music journalist Lester Bangs, what linked these groups was an attempt to redefine rock as 'a raw wail from the bottom of the guts', which consisted of 'rock honed down to its rawest elements' (quoted in Heylin 1993: 33). In particular, these groups experimented with fuzz, distortion, and feedback, with some of these bands using these elements melodically. As we will see, this became a central feature of 1970s' punk rock.


British punk's immediate antecedents in 'pub rock'


British punk rock was, in many ways, a reaction to the progressive rock of the early 1970s. In particular, punks objected to the overt displays of musicianship inherent within progressive rock, where prog-rock bands employed an array of musical technologies to produce a complex and intellectualised musical form. The standard modes of distribution of progressive rock were long, musically complex tracks played at stadium concerts and released on double or sometimes triple albums. When in concert, a progressive-rock band was considered 'authentic' if they could recreate their music in a live setting.


Pub rock, as developed and popularised in the early to mid 1970s, was a precursor to punk's objection to progressive rock, with bands playing stripped-down rock 'n' roll and country rock in a network of pubs and clubs. This was seen by many as an attempt to return rock to its 'primitive' roots. In comparison to the stadium gigs of progressive rock acts, this led to an enhanced feeling of intimacy and 'connectedness' between band and audience. Like many early punk acts, pub-rock performances were interspersed with cover versions of 'standards' from the rock 'n' roll canon. Pub-rock venues also had a central importance to the later punk scene, with the Sex Pistols, The Stranglers and The Damned playing at the Nashville, a leading pub rock venue. Equally, the small economies of scale of independent pub-rock record labels (such as Chiswick and Stiff) showed punk entrepreneurs that small production runs of individual records were financially viable (whereas major labels had a 'break-even point' of approximately 20,000 sales, Stiff and Chiswick could break even when selling just 2,000 records. See Laing 1985: 10). Pub-rock artists included Dr Feelgood (who had a number one album released on a large semi-independent label), Eddie and the Hot Rods, Kilburn and the High Roads, and Nick Lowe. Other pub rockers, such as Joe Strummer (John Mellor) from the 101ers, went on to form punk bands (in Strummer's case The Clash). For a further examination of pub rock, see Will Birch's tome No Sleep Till Canvey Island: The Great Pub Rock Revolution (Birch 2000).


Social and political context


It was surely no coincidence that punk rock arrived on the streets of Britain in 1976 and 1977, for this period represents the fault line between the two dominant conjunctures of post-war Britain; the post-war social-democratic consensus and Thatcherism. Whilst American punk rock had been in existence before the explosion of British punk rock in 1976 and 1977, it remained an obscure musical cult limited to New York and certain other cities. In comparison, British punk rock became both commercially successful and socially notorious in the space of a few months. This is because British punk rock seemed to be a musical genre that was purpose-built for the articulation of young people's dissatisfaction with the few remaining fruits of the post-war social-democratic consensus. Many American punk rock bands went on to achieve widespread commercial success, however none seemed to shake the foundations of society in the same profound way as certain British punk rock bands. None seemed to have the social resonance of the likes of the Sex Pistols. Whilst chapter 7 examines the effect Thatcherism had on British music in the 1980s, and whilst chapter 10 deals with the relationship between the Thatcherism, and New-Labour Blairism, this section will examine the essential nature and eventual collapse of the post-war social-democratic consensus.


The post-war social-democratic consensus


The post-Second-World-War Labour governments of 1945-1951, and the Conservative governments of 1951-1964, were in broad agreement concerning the way governments should manage the economy. Influenced by the economist John Maynard Keynes, the post-war governments presided over a mixed economy, with state ownership of key industries such as telecommunications, coal, steel, electricity, and gas production. A system of 'National Insurance', welfare benefits, free secondary education and a National Health Service were also key factors in post-war society, and there was a consensus that a social-democratic mix of public and private ownership was preferable to the liberalism of American economics, or the 'command economies' of the Eastern Bloc (see Hennessy 1991).


The sum total of these economic and political reforms was a 'high wage, mass production, domestic consumer orientated modern economy' (Hall et al 1978: 229) that produced full employment, rising standards of living, and a mass consumer market. For young people without dependants or other major financial responsibilities, the rise in actual income was translated as a roughly equal rise in disposable income. A considerable proportion of this disposable income was spent on music-related products, and from the mid 1950s onwards, this resulted in an expansion of the British record industry. Throughout the 'golden age' of rock 'n' roll, rising incomes, leading to an increase in spending, facilitated an expansion in the music industry. From the 1950s until the 1970s, a gradual decline in heavy industry was matched by an increase in the production of consumer durables, and an increase in the size of British service industries. An expanded popular music industry fitted neatly into this model. As well as fuelling the economic base of rock 'n' roll, the sense of a new youthful economic freedom fuelled the narratives found within rock 'n' roll records.


However, come the 1960s and 1970s, the economy was slowing down, and unemployment was increasing. In 1964, the Labour Party won its first General Election since 1951, but the two Labour governments of Prime Minister Harold Wilson (1964-6 and 1966-70) were beset with difficulties. These included successive balance of payment crises that led to a devaluation of sterling, unpopular cuts in public investment, tax increases, strikes in British dockyards, and other industrial unrest caused by a legally binding pay freeze (Coxall and Robins 1998). The overall impression was of an emerging national economic crisis as Britain began to cope, both emotionally and economically, with the decline of empire, and the decline of Britain as a world superpower. The end result was that voters eventually returned a Conservative government in 1970, whilst within a few years the negative effects of the emerging economic crisis was reflected within the lyrics of key punk tracks, as well as within punk's general emphasis on 'negation'.


If respected commentators such as Alan Sked and Chris Cook characterise Wilson's administration as one of 'overall failure' (Sked and Cook 1979: 280), judgements concerning Prime Minister Edward Heath's government of 1970-4 are invariably worse. Heath's government initiated widespread cuts in public expenditure and instituted monetary restrictions that led quickly to economic stagnation. Unemployment rose to just short of one million, and a balance of payments crisis led to a sterling crisis, which then led to high inflation.


Heath's eventual undoing was an attempt to invest in industry without investing in wages, with Heath instituting a freeze on wages, prices, and rents. This led to a series of coal strikes that resulted in a national state of emergency and a so-called 'three-day week'. This crippled industry, and an international rise in oil prices, combined with an all-out coal miners' strike, led Heath to call an election in 1974 that he subsequently lost (Coxall and Robins 1998). All these events served to heighten the sense of national crisis that had begun during the previous Wilson administration, whilst providing a kind of emotional fuel for punk's leading songwriters.


The post-war democratic settlement, the age of rising wages and full employment, had been replaced by economic stagnation and a bitter feeling that Britain was trading on its former glories. This feeling was made more acute by the crisis in Northern Ireland, where internment without trial was introduced in a failed attempt to halt the Provisional IRA's campaign for a thirty two-county Irish Republic, and the devolved Ulster Unionist government was abandoned in favour of direct rule by Westminster (see Mulholland 2002). A heightened sense of awareness of Irish politics can be seen within such seminal punk tracks as Stiff Little Fingers' Alternative Ulster, whilst other bands from the North of Ireland, such as The Undertones from the city of Derry, chose a more escapist mode of representation.


The so-called 'Irish question' was not answered by the Labour governments of 1974-9, nor were the telling questions regarding what was to replace the post-war social-democratic consensus. Under the Prime Ministership of both Harold Wilson and his successor James Callaghan, Britain's economic plight did not improve significantly. In 1976, when the ferments of punk rock were brewing in London and elsewhere, unemployment rose to 1.2 million, interest rates rose to a record high, and the government announced a further spending cut of £3 billion. By mid 1977 unemployment was over 1,500,000, higher than in any other Western industrial nation (Morgan 1990: 397-414, Childs 1984: 266, and Sked and Cook 1979: 332-65). The 'baby boomers' of the 1950s had grown into the disenfranchised and disenchanted teenagers and 'twenty somethings' of the punk era, and the spectre of unemployment is a lyrical feature of many punk-rock records.


The 1970s not only saw industrial unrest, but also racial tension. Britain had seen a rise in immigration in the 1950s, as Caribbean migrants travelled to Britain to fill vacancies in an economy that was buoyant. However, by the mid 1960s some began to call for an end to Commonwealth immigration. In 1968, the Conservative demagogue Enoch Powell contributed to racial unrest when he made his infamous 'rivers of blood' speech, stating that immigration into Britain amounted to 'a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre' (quoted in Berkeley 1977: 80). Whilst Powell was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet, the political repercussions of Powell's speech continued to reverberate through the 1970s, with some political commentators suggesting that it alone had inflicted damage on the post-war consensus (Schoen 1977: 34). A significant rise in support for the extreme-right National Front during the 1970s also caused further racial tension. Battles between the newly emergent far right and street-fighting left wingers connected to organisations such as the Anti-Nazi League became regular features at punk-rock gigs, and the use of the Swastika within punk became ever more complex as some punks flirted with Fascism and Nazism. Punk's reaction against the rise of the far right took the form of Rock Against Racism, and a growing sense of unity between certain punk acts such as The Clash and X-Ray Spex, and reggae bands such as Steel Pulse and Misty in Roots (see Widgery 1986).


In summary, the rise of punk in 1976 and 1977 took place against a backdrop great political, social, and economic turbulence. The Prime Minister of the time James Callaghan subsequently suggested that 'amid the debris of political controversy we yearn for the symbols of national unity' (quoted in Whitehead 1985: 307). Whilst this was true for the majority of the population in 1977, a significant minority looked towards the politics of the punk rock scene for affirmation that they were not alone in feeling distinctly uncomfortable with the direction in which Britain was sailing.


The musical texts




Most punk rock tracks are songs, and there are very few instrumental examples within the genre. Most punk-rock songs conform to a simple verse/chorus/verse/chorus format. It is also worth noting that few punk songs have what Dave Laing refers to as 'atmospheric solos' (Laing 1985: 61). This reflects the relative lack of importance of melody in punk rock, and the consequent heightened sense of both noise and rhythm.




As opposed to the numerous keyboards and other miscellaneous electronic instruments used in progressive rock, punk rock insisted on a pared-down line up of guitar, bass, and drums (with a few notable exceptions including The Stranglers and X-Ray Spex).




Punk rock lyrics frequently tackled taboo subjects. Whereas the lyrics of chart singles of top fifty groups in 1977 were dominated by romantic themes, or were self-referential in their allusions to music and dancing, punk lyrics more often than not tackled explicitly political issues. These political issues were precisely the same issues being debated within society at large, and were generally related to issues concerning the post-war social democratic consensus and the state of Britain in 1976-7.


Most famous of these political punk-rock tracks are the Sex Pistols' songs God Save the Queen and Anarchy in the UK. Other notable political topics included unemployment (for example Chelsea's Right to Work, racial politics (for example The Clash's White Riot), and the criminal justice system (for example The Clash's Bankrobber, Sham 69's Borstal Breakout, and UK Subs' C.I.D.)


Whereas many of the punk-rock bands working within a plebeian mode wrote lyrics dealing explicitly with specific political issues, art-rock punks more frequently wrote in terms that were more general, outlining a non-specific disenchantment with British society. Songs within this category include Buzzcocks Boredom and The Damned's Smash It Up. Equally, many art-rock influenced tracks dealt with sexual politics, including Buzzcocks' Orgasm Addict, X-Ray Spex's Oh Bondage! Up Yours!, and the Tom Robinson Band's Glad to be Gay. Other punk acts of a more nihilistic bent discussed and celebrated drug use in their lyrics, for examples see Chinese Rocks by Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, and Another Girl, Another Planet by The Only Ones.




In many respects, punk rock ushered in a completely new mode of vocal delivery. Indeed, whether punk rock 'songs' were ever 'sung' is debateable. In the punk rock tracks of 1976-8, we see a variety of different approaches including speaking, shouting, chanting, muttering, and recitation. This non-musical approach opposed the usual melodic singing style for good reason. In order to break out from the romantic ideologies of the traditional pop song, punk vocalists used non-singing modes to emphasise both their separation from previous music genres, and the importance of their political message. Laing pinpoints this quite accurately in his statement that


the implicit logic would seem to involve the conviction that by excluding the musicality of singing, the possible contamination of the lyric message by the aesthetic pleasures offered by melody, harmony, pitch and so on, is avoided. Also avoided is the prettiness of the mainstream song, in its forms as well as its contents (Laing 1985: 54).


As important as this different style of 'singing' is the accent of the 'singer'. With punk rock we see the partial banishment of the notorious 'mid-Atlantic' accent popular in the rock music of the early 1970s, in favour of a working-class accent that is, on occasions, also regional (with, for example, Pete Shelley from Buzzcocks singing in a Mancunian accent).




Punk-rock tracks invariably feature one or more guitars, which are invariably 'treated' with distortion or feedback. In the mid 1970s, this was a reaction to the 'clean' sounds of mainstream pop. Guitars are generally played in a somewhat simplistic manner, with few chords. Those chords that are used often 'bleed' into each other, giving the suggestion of a 'buzz saw' or drone, where individual notes or chords are barely distinguishable.


Punk-rock guitars are also played in a seemingly untutored style. Overt displays of musicianship or virtuosity, such as the guitar solo, are also largely absent from British punk rock, although certain American punks, such as Tom Verlaine (Thomas Miller) and Richard Lloyd of Television, play the guitar in a more complex and sophisticated style.




Punk-rock drum rhythms tend to be regular and repetitive. Laing gives the clear example of the Sex Pistols' track Holidays in the Sun, which begins the sound of marching feet, which are then replaced by drums. This march emphasis is a 'rhythmic monad', where four equally emphasised drumbeats are placed 'on the bar'.




Like punk-rock drumming, punk-rock basslines are simplistic and frequently monadic. Such bass playing is even more untutored than punk-rock guitar playing, and therefore appealed to those punk 'musicians' such as Sid Vicious who had extremely limited musical abilities (see Heylin 1998).




The unsyncopated nature of drumming and bass playing combines with punk rock's relatively fast tempo to give the impression of both relentless energy and a form of insurgent urgency. This is perfectly in tune with the ideology of punk. Punk rock's fast tempo combines with its monadic march emphasis to suggest that time is literally running out, and that the quicker the punk-rocker's message is delivered to his or her audience the better. Again, this can be connected to the somewhat apocalyptic feel of mid-1970s' Britain, where the 'old order' of the post-war settlement was coming to a speedy end.


Furthermore, the fast tempo of punk rock, combined with its lack of syncopation, tended to disinhibit the listener from dancing in any previously acceptable manner. Syncopation encourages a loose-limbed and 'funky' approach to dancing, whereas monadic percussion does not. Again, the emphasis is therefore not on dancing and getting 'into' the music, but on the lyrical message of the vocalist. However, punk rockers did not remain seated during punk performances.


Visual aesthetic


Punk-rock graphics and art


One of the most interesting aspects of the punk rock genre is the packaging in which the musical texts were distributed. In many respects, there was such a close ideological 'fit' between musical text, punk ideology, and the record sleeve that we can suggest that there was a 'homology' between musical text, visual text, and the subjectivity espoused by punk groups and punk fans.


This was certainly the case with the work of the Sex Pistols, who employed the graphic designer Jamie Reid to produce the artwork for all of their recorded releases and publicity materials. In Reid's work we see the radical anti-authoritarian message of punk rock being communicated through a set of visual images, rather than through the primal roar of the Sex Pistols' stripped-down rock 'n' roll. Popular music artists as diverse as Paul McCartney (Give Ireland Back to the Irish) and MC5 (Kick Out the Jams) had flirted with lyrical and musical radicalism. Equally, visual artists had used record sleeves as 'canvasses' (for example Peter Blake's famous cover for The Beatles' album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band). However, Reid's work with the Sex Pistols managed to draw the worlds of the visual and recording arts together, providing a clear visual espousal of the central meaning of the Sex Pistols' lyrics and music. Of note were the following designs:


· Virgin Record's release of God Save The Queen came in a sleeve that contained a blue and white half-tone reproduction of the Queen, based an official portrait by Cecil Beaton. In ransom-style lettering the Queen's eyes had been torn out and replaced by 'God save the Queen', and the Queen's mouth torn out and replaced with the band's name. Variations on this theme were also used on posters, t-shirts, promotional badges, mugs, and stickers (although a version where the Queen's eyes had been replaced by Swastikas was deemed to be too controversial for even the Sex Pistols).


· On promotional material for the single Pretty Vacant Reid incorporated an image of two buses originally produced for inclusion an American situationist magazine entitled Point Blank. These old buses were labelled as travelling to 'NOWHERE' and 'BOREDOM'. This concept of a society and culture going nowhere certainly mirrored punks' feelings concerning the state of British society in the mid 1970s.


· Reid's design for the Holidays in the Sun single was also reminiscent of situationism. For the single cover Reid 'adapted' a cartoon contained in a brochure concerning tourism to Belgium. However, Reid removed the original words spoken by the drawn characters (for example 'Belgium has everything a young girl could ask for'), and replaced them with the lyrics from the single ('I don't want a holiday in the sun, I wanna go to the new Belsen').


· Elsewhere, Reid conducted a full-scale assault on the values of the band's record label. Reid coined the phrase 'Never Trust A Hippie' (allegedly aimed at Virgin's owner Richard Branson) as part of a series of fluorescent banners for general distribution. Elsewhere, a poster for the Sex Pistols' film The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle used a fake American Express card, and referred the band's record company as a pimp (American Express took objection to the use of their name and brand logo, and forced the poster to be withdrawn).


· A promotional poster for the single Something Else contained a 'Sid Vicious Action Man' that consisted of a crude model of the late John Ritchie (a.k.a. Sid Vicious) in a miniature coffin, whilst the single itself came in a record bag that contained a drawing of a so-called 'Vicious Burger'.


American punk-rock fashion


Savage suggests that as early as 1974 the band Television had adopted a style of dress that would later dominate punk rock in both Britain and America. It is worth quoting Savage at length to show that there is a clear connection between the sartorial and the musical styles contained within punk:


[Richard] Hell had also worked out a visual package to go with the chopped musical style [of Television]: large fifties shades, leather jackets, torn T-shirts and short, ragamuffin hair. This was a severe aesthetic, that carried a series of meanings: the existential freedom of the fifties beat, the blazing, beautiful self-destruction of the poète maudit, and the razor-sharpness of the sixties Mod. It spelt danger and refusal, just as the torn T-shirt spoke of sexuality and violence. If such a thing is possible to identify, it was the origin of what would become the Punk style (Savage 1994a: 89).


British punk fashion


At the same time as Hell was developing his early punk sartorial aesthetic, Malcolm McLaren was also visiting New York in a doomed attempt to work with the band the New York Dolls. Whilst the New York Dolls fell apart amidst excessive hard-drug use, McLaren returned to his clothes shop in London and began to experiment with various clothing styles including Teddy boy clothes and fetish wear. During 1976 and 1977 McLaren, along with his business partner Vivienne Westwood began to develop a style that was to become as synonymous with British punk as Hell's style was for the New York scene. Sold in their West London boutique 'Sex', McLaren and Westwood sold loosely knitted mohair sweaters, leather boots, tartan bondage trousers, 'rapist masks', muslin shorts, feather ties, and a range of T-shirts stencilled with slogans and 'iconic' images. Included in this range of T-shirts were images of Karl Marx, two gay cowboys bearing their penises, anarchist 'logos', swastikas, and phrases such as 'try subversion', 'destroy', 'only anarchists are pretty', 'for soldiers, prostitutes, dykes + punks', and 'too fast to live too young to die'. Most controversial of these items was a t-shirt containing an image of a fetish mask with the word 'Cambridge Rapist' superimposed on it, above a short biography and a photograph of The Beatle's manager Brian Epstein. 'Sex' withdrew this item from sale after the police voiced their suspicion that one of their customers might be the 'Cambridge Rapist' (see Burgess and Parker 1999: 52-77).


Subsequent generic developments


Punk's influence was widespread and long lasting. The D.i.Y. ethos of punk, whereby potential musicians were encouraged to make music using limited resources, has had an influence on indie, rap, and other dance-based genres such as acid house and techno. The simplicity of punk's guitar-based approach was also highly influential on the American grunge music of the late 1980s and 1990s. However, it is possible to take the view that for a musical movement to be included in the punk-rock category, it should share significant formal characteristics with punk rock, rather than merely sharing a 'spirit' or political ethos. For example, the fact that techno music sounds so radically different to punk rock excludes it from the category of 'subsequent generic development'.


New wave


Come 1979, the art-influenced wing of punk rock had all but abandoned the musical simplicity and anger of punk rock, in favour of 'new-wave' music that began to experiment with both formal structure, and musical and lyrical content. British examples include John Lydon's post-Sex Pistols band Public Image Limited, Howard Devoto's (Howard Trotter) post-Buzzcocks band Magazine, Elvis Costello's (Declan MacManus) first album My Aim Is True, Joy Division's two studio albums Unknown Pleasures and Closer, and the early work of The Pretenders. American examples include Blondie's string of chart hits including Heart of Glass, Sunday Girl, and Call Me (which were also UK number ones), and B52's hit single Rock Lobster.




In seeming opposition to the shift from art-school punk rock to new wave, we have the development of Oi! In particular, Oi! led to a refocusing upon both musical simplicity and working-class 'street' authenticity. This involved the lyrical articulation of a narrowly defined set of working-class youthful concerns ('violence, drinking, police oppression' Home 1995: 86) in a specifically plebeian voice. Musically simplistic, Oi! also shunned new wave's use of electronic keyboards in favour of a return to traditional guitar-led rock songs. British bands such as the Cockney Rejects, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, the Exploited, the 4 Skins, and the Angelic Upstarts quickly attracted a male-dominated working-class audience, with a significant number of skinheads. Whilst the working-class focus of Oi! led many artists (such as the Angelic Upstarts) to become engaged in left-wing politics, the populism of Oi! also led some bands and their fans to the neo-Nazi politics of the National Front and the British Movement. Oi! subsequently collapsed under the weight of antagonism between these two wings, with some far-right bands such as Skrewdriver and Condemned 84 dropping the Oi! name in favour of labels such as 'white-power rock and roll' or 'nationalist rock'. Musically this form is almost indistinguishable from certain forms of heavy metal (see Home 1995: 81-105).




Of particular influence throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, is the discourse within punk rock that led to a variety of goth styles. Many suggest that the term derives from a quotation by Mancunian entrepreneur Tony Wilson, who described the music of Joy Division as 'gothic compared with the pop mainstream' when introducing the band on Granada-made television programme So It Goes (www.goth.net). In many respect the punk-rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees sewed the seeds of goth, with a sartorial and musical aesthetic that emphasised darkness over light and deviance over conformity. Come the 1980s, bands such as The Cure (whose lead singer Robert Smith had been in the Banshees), Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Rosetta Stone, and The Mission had attracted a broadly goth following. These fans dressed themselves almost entirely in black, whilst using white and red make-up (on both sexes), and whose extra-musical interests included romantic literature, horror fiction, and occultist religions including Satanism (see Hodkinson 2002). In the 1990s, goth merged with a variety of other subcultures, and in the 21st century we can find industrial goths, whose musical tastes extend to a an aggressive techno-rock hybrid, hippie goths, whose interests include Victorian art and literature, occultist goths whose interests are predominantly religious, and 'moshers', a partially goth hybrid connected to the massive success of nu-metal. One possible reason for the massive success of goth since the 1970s is that it appeals equally to female as well as male subcultural members, and seems well suited to the more emotionally turbulent years of adolescence that seem to be a feature of socialisation in the vast majority of Western cultures.




Of particular influence in the 1980s where a group of punk bands attracted to the political ethos of anarchism. Connected to the rise of 'new-age travellers' (itinerant anarchist-influenced hippies), bands such as Crass, Conflict, and The Subhumans played a form of punk that placed an emphasis on political polemics, whilst paying little attention to melody and harmony. Whilst its rise can be seen as connected to the free-festival scene of the time, the decline of the anarcho-punk scene is also partly connected to the decline of the ' hippie convoy' amidst official harassment, police brutality (as witnessed at the 'Battle of the Beanfield' ), and a legislative assault that culminated in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.


Riot Grrrl


Riot grrrl is a music genre that developed in the 1980s and which contains clearly delineated punk-rock roots. In particular, riot grrrl draws on the feminist individualism of punk-rock bands such as X-Ray Spex and The Slits. The lyrics of riot grrrl acts are focused upon a reaction against societal oppression, whilst the D.i.Y. ethos, musical simplicity, and amateurish guitar playing of punk are mirrored clearly in the riot-grrrl scene. Central to the ethos of riot grrrl was a distrust of the media, with many bands refusing to talk to mainstream media organisations, preferring to rely upon a proliferation of fanzines to put their message forward (a message that consisted of a form of feminist punk individualism). The notoriety and subsequent popularity of the punk rock acts of the mid 1970s was fuelled by mainstream exposure. Barring Huggy Bear's brief flirtation with controversy after an appearance on Channel 4's youth programme The Word (http://www.wiiija.com/artists/catalogue/huggy_bear/biog.htm), riot grrrl received little media attention and consequently bands such as Bikini Kill, Lunachicks, and L7 fell into obscurity. Come the mid 1990s, riot grrrl's radical edge had been replaced and tamed by the so-called 'girl power' of the Spice Girls. Out went the radical collective feminism, to be replaced by a form of individualised femininity.


American and other punk rocks


Whilst punk rock received a boost in popularity in Eastern Europe during the period after the fall of state communism, American punk rock reached its highest point during the same period with the rise of 'grunge'. Built upon the 'hardcore' of 1980s' bands such as Black Flag and the sardonic punk of The Dead Kennedys, grunge music contained all the necessary punk-rock generic attributes (lyrics that focused upon a non-specific disenchantment with society, melodies buried beneath a multitude of overdriven guitars, an indie ethos), whilst also appealing to mainstream audiences in both America and Europe. Bands such as Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and the Butthole Surfers showed that there was a great deal of life left in a genre that prefaces amateurism over musicianship, and disenchantment over positivity.


Original punk bands still performing


Whilst the lyrics sung by punk rock acts in 1976 and 1977 often focused upon youthful disenchantment, this has not prevented many punk bands from continuing to tour and release records some twenty five years later. Most notable are the Sex Pistols, who reformed in the mid 1990s with the original studio line-up of John Lydon, Glen Matlock, Steve Jones, and Paul Cook. Other punk acts such as The Damned, UK Subs, Blondie, and 999 also continue to tour and release records.



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Burgess, P. and A.Parker (1999) Satellite, London: Abstract Sounds Publishing.


Colgrave, S. and C.Sullivan (2001) Punk, London: Casell Illustrated.


Heylin, C. (1991) From the Velvets to the Voidoids: a Pre-Punk History for


the Post-Punk World, London: Penguin.


Home, S. (1995) Cranked Up Really High: Genre Theory and Punk Rock,


Hove: Codex.


Laing, D. (1985) One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock,


Milton Keynes: Open University Press.


Lydon, J.,


with K. and K. Zimmerman (1996) Rotten : No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, London: St.


Martin's Press.


Marcus, G. (2002) Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century, New London: Faber and Faber.


Sabin, R. (1999) Punk Rock: So What?, London: Taylor and Francis


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and Beyond, London: Faber and Faber.


Stephenson, N. and R. (1999) Vacant : A Diary of the Punk Years 1976-79, London: Thames and Hudson.


Recommended listening




Various (1998) Nuggets: Original artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, Rhino.


Velvet Underground


and Nico (1966) Velvet Underground and Nico, Polydor.


Generic texts


Buzzcocks (1977) Spiral Scratch [EP], New Hormones.


The Clash (1977) The Clash, CBS.


Clarke, John Cooper (1978) You Never See a Nipple in the Daily Express [single], Virgin Records.


The Damned (1977) Damned Damned Damned, Stiff.


Generation X (1978) Generation X, Chrysalis.


The Ramones (1976) The Ramones, Sire.


Sex Pistols (1977) Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, Virgin.


Sham 69 (1977) Tell Us the Truth, Polydor.


Siouxsie and the Banshees (1978) The Scream, Polydor.


Slaughter and the Dogs (1977) Where Have All the Boot Boys Gone? [single], Decca Records.


The Stranglers (1977) No More Heroes [single], UA.


Television (1976) Marquee Moon, Elektra.


Suicide (1977) Suicide, Red Star.


X-Ray Spex (1977) Oh Bondage! Up Yours! [single], Virgin.


Subsequent generic developments


Crass (1982) Christ - The Album, Crass.


Dead Kennedys (1985) Frankenchrist, Alternative Tentacles.


Nirvana (1991) Nevermind, Geffen.