Prepare for FURY with our Punk 101Published 12 May 2016 at 11:00 by Liedewij Loorbach
Punk has been around for 40 years, and EYE is celebrating with the programme FURY! Punk Culture. Prepare for the series with our Punk 101.
The Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the UK
The Sex Pistols released their debut single Anarchy in the UK in 1976, and the song tore the country in half. The stiff elite at the one end, the rebel youth at the other. High numbers of youth unemployment, ‘iron lady’ Thatcher who provided no perspective; the crisis meant that young people had had enough of the soft pop music of that time. Just like an American once said: ‘even Simon & Garfunkel were considered rock in those days’, and a Dutch man once said: ‘even the milkman had long hair by that point’. The optimism of the hippies didn’t lead to anything. It was time for something new and considering the societal turmoil, it had to be rough. Yelling, rebelling. It’s 40 years ago today, that track Anarchy in the UK.
No Future was one of the key mottos of the movement, that would later split off into tons of different directions. There was no societal perspective for the youth, and that was fine by them. No work for us? No promise of a wife, a home and a mortgage? That’s fine, ‘cause we don’t want it!
In 1970 not even 2% of the Dutch population between 15-25 years old was unemployed. This peaked rapidly at a whopping 17.3% in 1983. The movement was known as nihilistic: at the same time, punk was the goal in itself and there was freedom in that. Joe Strummer, singer of The Clash, said about this: “Punk rock is meant to be our freedom. We’re meant to be able to do what we want to do.”
Do It Yourself
Nobody had money, but who cares. Making things happen without money, that was what it was about. All you need is an instrument to rock out, and you don’t even need music lessons before you jump onto stage; three chords is more than enough. Record label? Nah. Record yourself, copy tapes at home and sell ‘em on the street or after concerts. The DIY-mentality was not limited to musicians, but ran through the whole scene. Magazines were drawn, stenciled and spread by hand. Looking punk cost nothing. All you needed was a couple of safety pins and tape to stitch clothing together (after ripping them first). In 1980, Jim Jarmusch made his first movie, Permanent Vacation, for 15,000 dollars – a remarkably small budget for a movie in those days. The topic: a young man who spends his days doing nothing.
Shocking the establishment, that was what the music was about, using lyrics and style. Anything not neat was good. Early on, some people even used swastikas (punk poets Diana Ozon even rocked the name Gretchen Gestapo in the early days). It crystallized quickly in dark, metal, broken and hair that was shaved, asymmetrical and struck right up.
The shop SEX on King’s Road in London became the location of punk fashion, Vivienne Westwood designed the clothing. According to Westwood, Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols bassist) was the first to use safety pins and Johnny Rotten (Sex Pistols singer) was the first to rip his clothes up. For everyday punks, the clothing at SEX was too expensive. They had DIY. Anyone can rip it up and stick safety pins in it.
Women and punk
Women could go wild in punk, too. Rock and heavy metal were male dominated, but the anarchistic rebellion that typified punk meant women could pick up a guitar or a pen and get involved. And that they did. Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) said about punk: ‘there was no sexual discrimination in the scene’. Other punk women nuanced that image too, because even though there were quite a few of them on stage, most people around them – from bouncers to bar owners to record labels and the crowds, most of them are men.
Diana Ozon is the most famous female punk in Holland. The poet started up De Koekrant in 1977 with Hugo Kaagman, the zine for the alternative, unruly art movement.
Holland’s first punk single
Independent labels sprung up like mohawks in Holland too. The song Van Agt Cassanova by Paul Tornado was the first ever Dutch punk single. Dropped in 1977 by punk label 1000 Idioten. To the point, 1:40 minutes. And filled with political criticism. Dries van Agt, the Minister of Justice at the time, had answered society’s unsettled concern about screening pornography in cinemas: pornograph could only be screened in cinemas with less than 50 chairs. ‘Sex is becoming more obscure, fucking costs money,’ states Paul Tornado. Strange that it all sounds so polite to today’s ear.