Saturday, August 19, 2017

A precis of Punk Music (including Protopunk)

After the extravagance of 70s pop and disco/funk a popular movement developed which focused on a dramatic return to more simple rock’n’roll. Driven primarily by white youths often untrained they sang about their life as it was. A downturn in global economics meant unemployment and genuine hardship were widespread and a disenfranchised youth vocally rejected materialism and the bourgeoisie. Punk came to represent a movement of anti-establishment and with it came punk fashion, art, poetry and music. The 70s punk era was proceeded by protopunk music which began in the late 60s in some of the backrooms and cellars of trendy clubs in New York. The Dom had been a cellar jazz bar under the trendy Electric Circus and whilst the fashionable gliteratti used this as a favourite watering hole others went to hear the Fugs (a group of poet musicians) at the Dom basement. If discofunk was uptown then protopunk was trash culture underground and the lyrics celebrated the drug and sex culture of the Lower East Side (NY). Andy Warhol took over the management of another Dom favourite Velvet Undeground the group and introduced Nico to their line-up. Soon the Velvets soon were part of Warhol's multi-media avant garde and their reputation spread to other cities.

In Detroit, MC5 were influenced by the Velvet Undeground and the Who and this twining led to some innovative sounds. In 1969 their album Kick Out the Jams contained some classic protopunk. Another Detroit musician, Iggy Pop formed the Stooges with friends who could barely play their instruments but that did not stop them from making an album for Elektra (produced by John Cale - The Velvet underground). The album was poorly conceived and equally poorly met by the critics however by 1973 and their third album produced by David Bowie contained some notable sounds including Search and Destroy.

Protopunk music was crude and shocking with gigs and events heavily promoted through the underground press. Bands rarely stayed together long enough to make albums but their performances were all the more memorable because of their theatrical and outlandish behaviours. John Cale produced the Modern Lovers album in 1971 which caught the public attention but it was the New York Dolls that eventually brought protopunk to a wider listening public when the camp rock band were invited to appear as the opening act for a Rod Stewart concert in the UK. The band were not particularly proficient musician but surprised everyone (including themselves) by putting on an ace performance.

Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren became closely associated with the New York Dolls and McLaren and Sylvain Sylvain became good friends. Inspired by the protopunk scene of New York McLaren and Westwood changed their fashion line to fetish wears and renamed their Carnaby Street boutique, Sex in 1975. Among those who frequented the shop were members of a band called The Swankers. When the group was looking for a new lead singer, Johnny Rotten joined them and Malcolm McLaren became the band's manager. Renamed the Sex Pistols they were not musicians but where ever the band played it often provoked near-riots. Maclaren was a prime manipulator and wanted to use the potential of a popular band to get up front monies from record companies. This regularly happened when a commercially successful group signed for a new recording company. The upfront monies were used to support the band through the months when they were recording. McLaren cleverly manipulated the press to ensure the Pistols had a promising reputation (notoriety) long before they ever recorded a record. He moved record companies before they recorded to secure maximum release from companies desperate to sign the next teenage sensation. The caper became known as the Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle.

By the early seventies UK bands had their own counter scene with pub rock which revolved around live performances of hard rock, blues and R&B in bars. Dr. Feelgood paved the way for others like The Stranglers and the Clash.

In other cities around the world the punk movement gathered momentum. In Germany, Düsseldorf’s NEU!, were beginning to turn heads and in Japan, Zunō Keisatsu (Brain Police) were playing a mix of garage, psych and folk accompanied with on stage antics to shock. The Saints from Brisbane, Sydney’s Radio Birdman and Perth’s Cheap Nasties were also in the mode. By 1974, Television had become popular and bassist/singer, called Richard Hell regularly appeared on stage with cropped, ragged hair, ripped T-shirts under a black leather jacket. The image was perfect for the raw sound and very quickly was taken on as ‘punk style.’

Patti Smith singer and poet liked what she saw and took the image as her own. She became a regular as part of the Television set and recorded Hey Joe/Piss Factory on her own (do it yourself label).

Soon other punk artists emerged including The Ramones, The Heartbreakers, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, and the Dead Boys, Blondie, Mink DeVille and Talking Heads. The phrase punk rock had been previously used earlier to describe the music of Sam the Sham and the Pharaos(Wooly Bully) but in 1970 the term became synonymous with the New York Fugs.

By 1975, punk was used to describe the new kids on the block with amplified guitars bashing out naïve songs with frank and confrontational lyrics. Not too far from the surface there were many consummate musicians keen to establish themselves in the new counter culture of punk music. There was a similar movement in the fifties and sixties when enlightened teens took to playing makeshift instruments to capture basic rock and and rockabilly. Both the skiffle and garage movements spawned many pop and rock luminaries and in the same way many punk musicians luckily established themselves in the new order of music that followed. At the time The Sex Pistols came to epitomise the Punk movement with a nihilistic attitude and slogan "No Future". The central role in early British punk was to outrage and shock with frequent reference to sex (not love) and drug abuse. Despite its so called reactionary stand point for the 70s Punk rock lyrics dealt with traditional themes of courtship, heartbreak, and hanging out. Punk rockers wore clothing to shock which included for men an androgynous, ragamuffin look referred to as safety-pin aesthetic. Early female punk musicians wore bondage gear or straight-from-the-gutter androgyny. Tattoos, Mohawk or spiked hairstyles, body piercings, and metal-studded and spiked accessories were common elements of punk fashion which eventually became an important part of the modern primitive movement.

Dance was a major part of the Punk revolution despite the lack of conventional dance rhythms kids would pogo (i.e. jump up and down as if on a pogo stick) they would body slam or mosh (sometimes called mashing) each other which inevitably led to a fight and this became part of the Punk style. Sometimes artists would crowd surf (stage dive) by throwing themselves onto the audience. Performers also spat (or gobbed) on the audience and received the same disdain back from the pit.

Top UK punk bands included The Damned, The Police, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie & the Banshees, X-Ray Spex, The Slits, The Adverts, The Buzzcocks, The Vibrators, The Undertones, Sahm 69 and Angelic Upstarts. In 1978, the Sex Pistols broke up while on American tour and in the UK Radio Birdman broke up in the same year while touring the UK. Whilst many US punk bands continued their styles evolved and diverged. By the time Sid Vicious was found dead from a heroin overdose in New York in 1979, Punk was over. Many of the groups expanded their musical range with a wider variety of tempos and often more complex instrumentation which took them into a whole range of different styles including white reggae, Oi music and new wave.

Worth a listen

The Velvet Undeground
White Light/White Heat (1968)

I Wanna Be Your Dog (1969)
No Fun. (1969)

Kick Out the Jams (1969)

Iggy Pop & The Stooges
Search and Recall (1973)

Dr Feelgood
Back in the night (1974)


The Saints
(I'm) Stranded (1976)

The Sex Pistols
Anarchy in the U.K. (1976)
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)

The Vibrators
We vibrate (1976)
Pogo dancing (1976)

The Ramones
Sheena is a punk rocker (1977)
Rock’n’Roll High School (1979)

Denis (1977)
Hanging on the telephone (1978)
Heart of glass (1979)
Union City blues (1979)
The tide is high (1980)

The Adverts
Gary Gilmour’s Eyes (1977)

Cheap Nasties
(I'm) Stranded (1977)
The Buzzcocks
Time’s up (1977 & 79)

The Dead Boys
Sonic Reducer (1977)

Ian Dury and the Blockheads
Sex and drugs and rock’n’roll (1977)
Sweet Gene Vincent (1977)
Hit me with your rhythm stick (1978)
Reasons to be cheerful Part 3 (1979)

Mink DeVille
Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl (1977)

Radio Birdman
New Race/TV Eye (1977)

Richard Hell and The Voidoids
Love Comes in Spurts (1977)

The Stranglers
No more heroes (1977)
Something better change (1977)

Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers
Chinese Rocks (1977)

Talking Heads.
Psycho killer (1977)
Burning down the house (1983)
Marquee Woman (1977)
Siouxsie & the Banshees
Hong Kong Garden (1978)

The Police
Roxanne (1978)
So Loney (1978)
Message in a bottle (1979)
Walking on the moon (1979)

Sham 69
Hershan Boys (1978)

X-Ray Spex
The day the world tirned dayglo (1978)
Germfree Adolescence (1978)

The Undertones
Teenage kicks (1978)
Jimmy Jimmy (1979)

Angelic Upstarts.
I’m an upstart (1979)

The Clash
London’s burning (1979)

The Damned
Love song (1979)

The Slits
Typical girls (1979)

Hazel O’Connor
Eighth day (1980)

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