Punk revolution: no feelings, no fun, no future
Regarding its ideology in the English context, punk assumes its position as an oppositional movement in the artistic, economic and social dimensions. It appears in a period shaped by the strong economic crisis and claims to be directed at the individuals marginalized by the society. The musical dilettantism, its vivacity and agitation would become the movement symbols (Département Musique, 2006). It was a movement close to the 60s garage rock, where the youth would take a major role through the bands proliferation due to the do-it-yourself strategy (DYI). Close to a Simmelian approach, punk represented a rupture and repositioning mark towards the existent social structure of the western societies. Punk was always more than a simple t-shirt or music: it was a refractory attitude against the status quo and made an unsatisfied and unfaithful youth visibility (Colegrave & Sullivan, 2002). Punk has an impetus of return, resurrection and renovation, but also change and inversion (Reynolds, 2007).
In its protagonists’ words, we can say, according to Joe Strummer: “Everything seemed deserted, without a thing. We had the energy. We wanted to go somewhere. To do something. There was nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Kind of a no hope situation. But we had hope in a sea lacking it” (Colegrave; Sullivan, 2002). Also Johnny Rotten claims such feeling: “It was a miserable period. High unemployment rates. Absolutely no hope. A furious classes war. Literally, no future. I wrote my own future. I had to. It was the only way out” (Idem). That leads us to what we may call «formal agnosticism». It’s a situation where, in the absence of qualified solutions from the point of view of the existent life manifestations, the cultural dynamic is pushed towards exercising the lack of forms, the denial of forms as Simmel would say, as a way to convert itself in the world (Simmel, 2001: 204): the depletion of forms forces us to discover new forms.
Simon Reynolds (2006) signaled that punk can be understood through four main modalities. First, punk may be seen as a kind of «hyperword» as it raised endless debates and one must be aware that the unity of the movement is confined to the musical press, as unanimity does not exist in its motivations and objectives. The main feature providing conceptual unity is maybe its nature of sideways existence towards the dominant society (McNeil & Gillian, 2006, Reynolds, 2006; Kogan, 2006). It doesn’t assume a counterculture posture, as it always has been closer to a nihilist approach towards social change, but there was always a contestation feeling underlying an alternative path and conquering a parallel space regarding the existent society. This way, the 1978-1984 post-punk may be understood as the consequence of all raised questions, answers and preliminary conclusions that some presented until there.
In a second reflection line, punk is a word full of energy and emotions, and its distinctive aura is assured by the intensity and simultaneity of the events: “It was during the year of 1975 that life was insufflated by punk as a visible entity. In the beginning, punk was a way of being expressed mainly through music and fashion. It was anarchic, nihilist and deliberately aggressive. It would question the establishment, defying the established order by generally asking «why?»” (Colegrave; Sullivan, 2002:18).
Another look to punk allows to visualize it within a metaphorical structure of the astrophysics as a fragments’ explosion before a crystalized rock’n’roll structure, indifferent and accommodated to the system and the most oppressive mechanisms of the cultural industries. Punk would become the emergency of a new universe – the post-punk cosmos, with different variations that may be compared to the galaxies and solar systems composing the universe. Punk may also be analyzed as if it was a Reform: the first concerns (old wave vs. new wave, as the equivalent of the opposition between Catholicism-Protestantism) open up the way to following disintegrations. Punk still exists, conquered its own space, changed itself and society keeps rejecting it. Nothing shook it, it shook society and still does, because it does not fit any given society feature.
So, punk, more than a movement, is a collective of individuals that expressed themselves, and that makes it harder to define (Colegrave & Sullivan, 2002). Hebdige (1979) sees punk’s style as a visual backlash to the socioeconomic crisis that happened during the final of the 1970s in England. According to Hebdige, punk “appropriated a crisis rhetoric that had fulfilled the radio and television broadcasts during the all period and translated it into tangible, visible information” (1979:87). A similar reflection on punk was proposed by Chambers, suggesting that such musical genre signaled a period in which “a particular music, a highly visible subcultural style and a crescent audience crisis were, for a fraction of time, combined together” (1985: 175). This is particularly true when applied to street punk, to the English oi! but not to the punk in general.
Hebdige presented punk mainly as a youthful music and such interpretation also echoed on the punk studies regarding national contexts. But Bennett remembers that this youthful inclination is contradicted by those who kept being actively engaged in the subculture past their thirties assuming a role in an organizational or creative level. It is also important to understand if punk gave birth to a new way of producing and organizing music’s distribution and production. During the punk golden years, a first generation of independent British labels rose in the field of rock with go-it-alone business strategies (Hesmondhalgh, 1997). As the involved actors themselves refer, Johnny Rotten first: “This frees people. Punk really has such an effect” (Colegrave & Sullivan, 2002: 119) and then Paul Cook: “Et voilà. A simple four-letter word unleashed it all” (Colegrave & Sullivan, 2002: 168).
After 1978, many affirmed punk’s death (Reynolds, 2007). But it was a much more symbolic other than real, i. e., what vanished was punk’s media visibility (Masters, 2007). And we know that pop’s history hurts himself regularly, reinventing new underground scenes as an answer to the hegemony (Azerrad, 2002). In 1979, Margaret Thatcher’s ascension brought an inversion and restructuration of the punk movement, providing it new developments and outlines: “This means that a significant part of the population that consumes punk records voted conservatively; in another way, punk and its intentions had spread throughout the world, but with the indigents left beside. King’s Road kept attracting the second zone punks but its style morphed in a mockery of itself. So, punk meant more and more grueling hairstyles 15 centimeters high, face tattoos, bandages, troop boots, doc marteens…” (Colegrave & Sullivan, 2002: 342). And such metamorphosis are still a punk’s feature until nowadays.
Paula Guerra | Tânia Moreira