Punk – Where’s it at?
Putting away my second hand punk jacket for the winter this week, I remembered reading an article in the Sunday Times’ Style magazine a few weeks back on Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren and the supposedly “dawn of the punk revolution” that occurred at 21 Thurleigh Court. It got me thinking, where’s punk at now? Who is shouting off about what?
From an Irish perspective we’ve seen 6 years of recession but I haven’t heard about any artist throwing down their instruments and marching to the doors of the Dáil, videos of them rioting outside, denouncing the government and its failings. Then again, that may be mostly down to a cultural thing with us Irish in my opinion. We got into a lot of mess throughout the centuries because we tend to lean towards having an “auld” moan under our breath and like with the “Keep Calm” slogan, we’ve been saying “Feck it, sure it’s grand” for hundreds of years now.
However, for a small island we have managed to produce some internationally renowned outspoken characters in the music business. Take the blunt statement making and enraging Bob Geldof. The seemingly “charm the pants of ya” politically connected Bono. Collectively, both men have been working on issues such as Third World debt, famine, AIDs, Fair Trade, fathers’ custody rights etc to name but a few for years. Punk rock and post punk dudes believe it or not, who started out in an era when musicians made poignant statements particularly on matters relating to important political issues.
I read a blog post only this week on “Just A Thought: What Ever Happened To Protest/Political Music?” which I think is worth a read. Here’s the link )
In that article the writer states and questions the following:
“It can’t be that people are happier than when the punk movement commenced in the 70s or when people wanted peace in the 60s. I mean, look at this year alone, we’ve had the Ukraine/Russia conflict; the Gaza/Israel conflict; the ongoing Conflict with IS; Scotland wanting Independence; The constant threat from North Korea; Protests are recently starting in Hong Kong, and feminism is on the rise again due to the fact that in 2014, men and women still aren’t treated equally. What have we had from the music world in terms of discontent for any of this? Not a lot, especially in more popular music.”
Spot on. Who is raging against the machine now?
“Do you personally connect with any of the protest that you can find at the minute?”
For a few moments I wondered, that with all of the media that has been available to us since the late 70s, harrowing human experiences coupled with disturbing images that have been delivered to us from around the world which, before our time wouldn’t have made it out there at all, that perhaps we have become desensitised to human suffering and injustice? Perhaps we have chosen instead to switch off as a coping mechanism from this information overload? I have heard people say that they have chosen to switch off from the news as it affects their mood and that they get down because of it but here’s the thing, why not get enraged by it?
Am I wrong and there is plenty of music out there standing for something that isn‘t too vague? Let me know.”
Yeah, good question. Anyone out there listening to bands that are making a strong stance on important issues please let us know. We’d love to hear from you and would be happy to pass on the information we get from you to the writer of this article.
Going back to the 70s now for a bit and from a fashion point of view Vivienne Westwood was stitching an image onto this music revolution of politically outspoken characters not concerned about being liked but more concerned about getting their opinions heard. Have you ever gone on a Sex Pistols style rampage, where the air was blue around you, venting whatever the fu*ck was pi&#ing you off at the time? No? That’s sad. You should try it out. It’s great craic (as long as you apologise afterwards of course especially if the person you’re venting to has a heart problem) but it’s a brilliant anti stress method, clears any stale air and gets your thoughts out there instead of festering and rotting away. To be honest, I love to hear a good blow out from someone. “Feel better now?”good and only then when the issue has been raised can something be done about it. Moaning under your breath and keeping shtum on matters ain’t gonna cut the mustard if you want change to happen in my book.
Oh some will argue with that and will only go the softly discussion route which I agree, there is value in that too but there must be room to vent. There is this perception that venting is chaotic and shows loss of control when in actual fact, venting is a very powerful tool for re-organising thoughts which have become chaotic. It is a process by which any character is guaranteed to regain control at the other end of it and as portrayed in the “King’s Speech” movie, if it was good enough for Bertie then by God, it’s good enough for me.
To me where the Sex Pistols were most influential was in making strong political statements and bringing underground issues to the surface, The Clash for making outstanding music and their sound has been everywhere since. Punk did a lot of the groundwork for paving a way for alternative music and The Clash influenced so much sound since hanging up their instruments back in ’86.
So, from a punk musical element and most notably for me the bands that caught my attention this year are the Eagulls from Leeds, Sisteray from London and Blood or Whiskey from Kildare/Dublin. All bands have a different style of playing. The Eagulls being more on the punk side leading into the post punk era; Sisteray being more on the post punk side leading into alternative and Blood or Whiskey giving it a lash with dub and Celtic sounding ska Punk.
I saw the Eagulls play a superbly fast punk sound earlier this year when they supported Franz Ferdinand, at Dublin’s Olympia and they were your unassuming, shy punk outfit. There was no spit and fire from the vocalist yet his lyrics would cut and his voice was haunting, melancholic and aggressive which had me spell bound and I latched onto it straight away. Soulless Youth, Possessed, Hollow Visions, all brilliant tracks from their self titled debut album out since March of this year.
I came across Sisteray on Twitter and I made the Joy Division connection almost straight away. These lads are great. I absolutely love She Likes the Drama from their same title EP. I love the deep controlled vocals against that upbeat drum driven beat and delicious amount of guitar they’ve got going on. Seriously, those lads are really worth a listen.
With Blood or Whiskey’s fast paced punk I am reminded of The Clash at times. It was no surprise to me to see that they were touring with Boston’s Dropkick Murphy‘s just recently. I always smile when I hear that up-tempo strong Celtic vibe mixed with ska punk. Lyrically I love Blood or Whiskey. They cover emigration and recession issues and fair play to yez lads.
Finally, what about the get up of the hardcore punk fan? I guess you’re not going to find that style in its entirety anymore. Safety pins, tattoos, body piercings, doc martins, strong eyeliner, harsh lipstick, crew cuts and spiky hair, strong statement making t-shirts and rips in clothes etc As a modern society we have embraced each element of the Vivienne Westwood autumn/winter, spring/summer collections to a degree but not since the early 80s have you seen gangs of youths with each member sporting all of those elements I listed, in just one standing. The punk image as we knew it has vanished from our streets.
This weekend I passed a girl in a shop and her hair was spiked with a strong glow of pink going through it but her makeup was soft, there was no piercing in the lip, no docs, no safety pins and for a split moment I went “Aww” as I was disappointed. I’m sure she’s a lovely girl but I was still disappointed by her not going for the complete look. Maybe she wasn’t a punk and if that’s the case it goes to show how strongly influential the fashion was back then if styles are still working off the fumes of its exhaust pipe.
From a music perspective we don’t really spit in the face of political upheaval. It’s a shame really. I like to see anger, frustration and aggression (control regained afterwards mind) surface in someone’s demeanour. There’s a strong force and honesty attached to it and it keeps things real. The rebel image has gone but I do hope that one day it comes back into fashion.
Take it away lads… http://youtu.be/gJK7KDS8nLg
By Nicola Timmons