22 May 2016

Smash It Up | Why The 40th Anniversary of Punk Ain't So Punk

The term 'punk' has always been defined in different ways by different people, its one of those words that means something different to each individual. For some, its the freedom to do what you want, to create what you want whereas for others, its just about the mohawks, ripped jeans, and shouty music. I personally think that the term punk has very little to do with the actual sound of the music that’s created, but more about the message being conveyed through the art. I think that punk music and even art is about the rebellious attitude embedded deep in the art.

I agree that the term punk is defined by freedom, freedom to do what you want, freedom for a female to have an abortion, freedom to create. If you have to make it obvious and put it in peoples faces, then are you actually free?

2016 has been deemed the year of the 40th anniversary for punk with bands such as The Buzzcocks, Sham 69, Patti Smith Group, Television and many more all celebrating this. Although from an 18 year old's perspective, it’s great to be a teenager during this time as it allows us the opportunity to see so many bands that were part of the punk scene in the 70s, it gives us the chance to go see these bands live and to be inspired by them to continue to create. However, I kind of feel that “celebrating” the 40th anniversary almost defeats the objective of why the revolutionary genre began in the first place, which was definitely before 1976 anyway.

Punk has always existed and always will, it will always be influenced by politics and social events occurring in the present time. I have nothing against celebrating the achievement of the bands that were a part of the 70s punk scene which definitely bloomed and made the most impact that punk probably ever has, however, I just think that commercialising it and labelling it the 40th anniversary goes against some of the values of the genre and kind of implies that punk only existed within those years. I feel that there should be more of a celebration of current punk - and not just watered down punk bands to please mainstream radio audiences like Slaves and blink-182 (not that i have anything against these bands, I just think that its a shame that they represent punk music for many).

The celebrations gave me the chance to Patti Smith and her band live last year which was an amazing experience, one thing that I admired about her performance was that despite her debut record being 40 year olds, her lyrics to songs such as Land and Elegy were altered to address current political issues, and really for me, that's what punk is all about.

The 70s saw an uproar in punk music throughout the world with London and New York causing the most major impact. However, I totally disagree that punk was born in the 70s - as music it evolved from the likes of the Stooges and MC5, and as an ideology it was spawned from something that was present before Captain Sensible picked up a bass guitar. Punk isn't just about the music but also a community, for those who want to be free, sufferers of the system or those who reject it, its a place for any. Anarchy has always existed and so it shall, whether it causes an impact or not, it will always exist. Punk didn’t start just one night suddenly, there have been obvious rises and falls throughout mankind’s existence. Even artists like Rimbaud and Ginsberg show that punk isn't just about the music, its more about the messaged being conveyed. So anyone who tells you that punk was born with the Ramones or the Sex Pistols is a liar.

Despite some of my sceptical views, I do like the nostalgia that seeing bands celebrate 40 years of their music creates, even in teenagers who weren't alive when they first made their first impact. I think that punk music will always have to exist, especially because of the cloudy future that politics seems to be wanting to create. But even if the future for all is brighter, punk will still exist as an ideology because it's not in the spirit of punks to settle for the seventh level, y'know? There’ll always be a desire for a higher floor, and that’s what I love about it. Like Jim Morrison said, you've got to break on through to the other side, and we are currently in a never ending kaleidoscope of walls.

Although punk music is perhaps going through more of an underground atmosphere where it clearly isn't making the same impact that bands like the Ramones and The Pistols had in the 70’s. But just because there’s no immediate effect, it doesn’t mean that there’s no cause. Despite an abundance of the ripped jeans, leather studded jackets and mohawks, the most evident and important quality that is consistent in all punk bands is the spirit in the message being conveyed through their work.

Last month I saw Oi Polloi live amongst other cool punk bands at Manchester Punk Fest, my favourite song of theirs is Don’t burn the witch. That song perfectly expresses what the punk genre is all about; for all the misplaced Joan of Arcs and Johnny’s, punk rock is a place of acceptance. More current bands like Faintest Idea, who’ve got a cool new record out, Increasing The Minimum Rage, as well as more known bands such as The Fat White Family, Against Me! and Propaghandi all have the spirit of punk alive and breathing in their art. And my favourite thing about it all is how versatile the music is, punk isn’t just two guitarists, a drummer, a bassist and a shouty lead, honestly. It can be anything.

I know that some people who read this will totally disagree with what I’ve said but, a friend of mine told me that if I don’t offend at least one person, then it’s just not worth it. And although punk music isn't really in the spotlight right now, I think that the bands who are lesser known and continue to make music regardless of whether they’re playing to one person or to thousands, bands that will cause the most impact. Now is the perfect time to be inspired by the past, present and future, to make an evolved form of art, created and led by us.

Words: Os Elizi