Mural of legendary THE CLASH singer Joe Stummer

Mural of legendary THE CLASH singer Joe Stummer
Photo by Todd Shaffer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Believe it or not but this summer actually marked the 40th anniversary of punk music. Well, it’s still not scientifically proven what first ignited the movement. It might have been the release of THE SEX PISTOLS’ Anarchy In the UK in late 1976. Or probably the RAMONES from New York City who have been a bit more active prior to their British colleagues. Well, a lot of things happened in those troubled days. It changed the face of music and pop-culture and introduced the world to wonderful talents like THE CLASH or THE SLITS. The spirit of punk rock was way more than just coloured hair, piercings and worn-out second hand clothes. It was a mixture of rebellious uproar, fuck-it-attitude and the confidence to celebrate artistic freedom without limitations. Yes, it was about shocking your parents and politicians as well but it was also about trying out new things and finding a form to fight the frustration that grew pretty much everywhere, especially in the United Kingdom. Europe’s current economic crisis isn’t even as bad as it might have been in parts of the country back then.

While there are plenty of good documentaries about those days and the whole movement (find one below) I just came to wonder while informing myself about that movement recently:

What happened to the punk spirit?

And where the hell is it today when the circumstances seem so ‘perfect’ for it to rise again?

Europe and basically the whole Western world are facing an existential crisis unlike anything our generation and the one before have ever faced. The ongoing economic crisis, societal injustice, the refugee crisis and the rise of nationalist movements who want to fight plurality, the inability of the establish political elite… well, you name it. The divide between the classes in society hasn’t gotten any better since the late 70s and if you take a look at the perspectives of the younger generation it doesn’t look as bright either, right?

So, the circumstances are critical; something is in their air, a general frustration with the state of things, mixed with an overall uncertainty regarding a potential solution to the whole mess.

The question why those of us who are not profiting from the current state aren’t on the streets protesting is another one that came to my head. But maybe that’s an old-fashioned and way too romantic way of handling such things these days.

UK's infamous SEX PISTOLS during their peak

UK’s infamous SEX PISTOLS during their peak

A taste of ugly provocation against the posh pop establishment

So, that’s the societal setting. From a creative perspective pop culture could use a few fresh ideas as well. Mainstream pop is dominated by the aftermath of EDM, generic tropical house tunes that like to repeat MAJOR LAZER‘s Lean On formula again and again and way too many melodramatic big-drum stadium pop in the spirit of WOODKID and COLDPLAY. Just listen to your Spotify advertorials in-between streaming tunes or turn on a local radio station. There’s an overall longing for escapism, confetti, drugs, open air raves and all that cozy stuff. Any visitor of one of these summer’s festivals could sense that. And, of course, that’s totally fine but where are the adventurous artistic elements on those events? Do we really need another SOHN-like performer who makes dreamy nerdy R&B, produced via the help of Ableton Live’s endless sample libary? JACK GARRETT, I’m looking at your direction! Nothing against introverted and intimate dream pop in the style of THE XX (who formed an entire generation of young musicians as it turns out in retrospect) but, well, maybe it’s time to get a bit loud again, just to shake things up. And that doesn’t mean that we need to copy the sounds of 1976 again and again. Yes, there are talented and angry garage rock newcomers like YAK, British trio SKINNY GIRL DIET, New York’s SHOW ME THE BODY, Norwegian newcomers SLØTFACE or the notorious grumpy SLEAFORD MODS. Bands who’d like to say something, protest against things and channel their frustration.

A lot of contemporary rap can also fulfil that need, especially a group like RUN THE JEWELS but also KENDRICK LAMAR, although he does that in a way more sophisticated manner. UK grime acts like SKEPTA could also ignite that fire because one things is for sure. The uproar won’t come from a white majority this time, it’s those kids from different cultural backgrounds that should speak up against failed immigration, education and a system that won’t give them any perspectives. Again, the setting is different one four decades later. Decades of uncontrolled neo-liberal policy and increasing digitalization has made us all numb to a certain degree. We struggle to get by with what we have and therefore won’t have time to speak up.

We are overhelmed by the countless possibilities on one side and social pressure and injustice on the other side. We all could use a change but it just seems too much too often.

Why should we protest on the streets when we could play XBox at home? The media industry is commercializing every sub-culture that they can find, faster then they did back in the days. It’s a different setting these days, a more complex and digitalized one. It’s harder but not impossible. Ignorance is no option anymore.

For me, personally, punk was never about the looks and the anger, it was about thinking outside the box, taking creative risks and the ability to speak your mind whether somebody likes it or now. It’s about breaking with habits and questioning stuff. It doesn’t matter than if you want to make shabby garage rock, tight hip hop, noisy electronica, risky clothers or follow political activism. The world needs more risky people, brave folks to make a change. We’ve all gotten way too sensitive and therefor often afraid. We don’t allow ourselves to speak our mind as we are afraid of digital shitstorms and our personal reputation.

But what’s the point in pleasing everybody and everyone?

There’s no progress coming from such an attitude.

Maybe, a new punk movement shouldn’t be a destructive one (although there are plenty of structures who could use a makeover) but one of reason and humanity. You know, less anarchy and more sympathy. I can only encourage you to question everything all the time, connect with each other and start something fresh and new. Don’t please everybody in order to fit in. Who knows, maybe we can make this mess a bit less miserable, right?

Please note: All articles in the EDITORIAL section are based on the personal opinion of the writer.