Punk first started as a reaction against the ‘over-the-top’ rock music of the 1970s. It was pure, stripped down music with short tracks and a rough, raw feel. It was generally accepted that you didn’t have to be a good musician to perform punk rock – anyone could have a go. There’s a famous drawing from a music magazine of the time which showed three chords and the words “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band”! Punk music was very loud and brash – lyrics were generally quite angry and shouted rather than sung. Being at a punk rock gig was a pretty intense experience with everyone frenetically jumping up and down in a ‘dance style’ called pogoing. Bands such as The Sex Pistols set out to shock by being anti-establishment and anti-monarchy.
Punk was about more than music of course. It was about young people using shock tactics to rebel against the establishment and at its heart was the DIY ethos. Pick up an instrument, teach yourself to play, record a song in your bedroom and set up your own gigs. Start your own political group to get across your message that the world needed to be changed. Make your own clothes using anything to hand including bin bags, safety pins and charity shop finds. It may be hard to believe now, but this attitude and the style that went with it caused outrage at the time.
Punk had a very strong influence over fashion – with followers wearing ripped clothing held together with masses of safety pins. Make-up was very heavy, dark and dramatic whilst clothing was always black and adorned with industrial metal studs and spikes. Hair styles were deliberately bizarre and creative, featuring shaved areas and longer sections which would be gelled into spikes. One popular style was the mohawk or mohican and the ideal was for it to be as big as possible. Lots of hair gel, spray and even soap would be used to make the hair stand up in spikes and it would often be dyed black, red, green, pink or purple – the aim was to shock and outrage the conservative middle classes. To find out more about Punk fashion and style icons borrow Fashion Now!
To find out more about the punk movement and particularly The Sex Pistols then watch The Filth and The Fury by Julien Temple on DVD. This full-on documentary charts their rise from the early days (when they had to sing using microphones nicked from David Bowie!) and includes back-stage footage, some of their greatest tracks and fascinating insights.
Jon Savage’s book England’s Dreaming which you can buy from Amazon, and from which the photograph above is taken, is the ultimate read about all things punk and the rise and fall of The Sex Pistols.
Go to Spotify, iTunes or YouTube to listen to punk bands such as The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, The Clash, early Adam and the Ants and Blondie.
This blog was inspired by our book for teenagers, ABC UK, which is a fun, alphabetic, look at the culture of our diverse nation borrow ABC UK from our library.
Image: “Anarchy in the U.K. Sex Pistols, No.1 (1976). Published by Glitterbest. Photo: Ray Stevenson. Image courtesy of ‘England’s Dreaming: The Jon Savage Archive’, Liverpool John Moores University.”