Ask someone under the age of 25 what their definition of ‘punk’ is, and it’ll probably look totally different to that of a member of the subculture in the 1970s. Why is this? In the wake of last week’s video about straight edge, we decided to investigate.
The transition from a heavily underground, ‘radically’ left wing progressive movement, to a more widely accepted mainstream element of popular culture gained momentum quickly through the 1980s and 1990s, when artistic circles (music, film, dance, literature, fashion etc) began embracing the DIY, the non-conformist ethos and the ideologies punks stood for.
Musicians and fashion designers particularly led the charge in bringing a flair and sheen to punk in mainstream circles; the New York set responsible for influencing the sounds of British artists including the Sex Pistols, The Stooges and Ramones would then lead to more genre crossovers in the 1980s (Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies), while the Australian scene also thrived.
Fashion designers took the intensity and boldness of punk rock music and brought it to their lines and soon, wearing beat up pairs of Converse shoes with controversial shirts, safety pins through ears. Celtic punk, Garage punk, Pop punk and Hardcore were just some strands of the subculture which would grow strongly out of the 1980s and 1990s, even though the influences from the movement’s origins were still evident.
So, who were some of the big players in music and fashion who played a role in bringing the rebellious punks up from the underground? Read on to get to know some…
Still well-regarded as a leading designer in her field today, Westwood was a huge player in the bringing of punk fashion to the mainstream.
Her work for Malcolm McLaren (see below) in England during the 1970s became famous and synonymous with the rise and success of the Sex Pistols – influenced by the shock and impact punk music was having at the time, her designs incorporated Scottish tartan, influences from BDSM fashion and bondage gear, as well as chains, razor blades and dog collars.
Becoming a popular fixture on the British scene before expanding her lines out to accommodate international attention, it was not long before Westwood’s future couture designs were being worn by celebrities and royalty (Westwood was made a Dame in 2006 for her services to the fashion industry).
Iconic US songwriter, visual artist and leader of the punk movement in New York, Patti Smith has become a hero for many contemporary musicians; her fusion of punk, blues and poetry in music put her apart from other musicians in the mid-1970s, indeed many male artists also involved in the scene at the time.
A seasoned traveller and writer too, Smith’s influences were broad and her boldness in creating original pieces of work that would strike a chord amongst those in the bustling New York City scene and beyond would form a career that has continued successfully into the 2000s.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, Smith has been a direct example of a creative who has extended her influence from punk into other genres successfully, influencing some of the biggest names in music since (U2, REM, Madonna, Garbage etc).
McLaren has been said to be responsible for being a main, if not the main, initiator of the punk movement: managing the Sex Pistols, working with the New York Dolls, owning and operating the famed British boutique SEX with Westwood, McLaren was definitely at the forefront of provoking the conservative and driving trends where he identified them.
Famously known for organising the boat trip that saw the Sex Pistols performing in front of the British Houses of Parliament, McLaren brought the group to wider attention around the world (even if he was arrested as a result). Though their relationship would be equally as famous for its fights and eventual breakdown, the impact McLaren had on the punk movement and its popularity with the youth of Britain and beyond is undeniable.
It’s hard to believe that a band as iconic as the Sex Pistols have become, lasted short of three years. Inspirations to many rock bands to follow, the British punk rockers left an incredible impact on popular music with Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols and the various controversies that followed.
Inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, the remaining members of the group famously refused to attend the ceremony. Quickly building a reputation and a following in London during the 1970s, the Sex Pistols were known for their presence as well as their music.
Poster boys for anarchy, pandemonium and an agitated, brash, youthful ideology that would captivate their audience, the Pistols were definitely a force all their own.
Following Sid Vicious’ addition to the line up, the Pistols were catapulted to a status more than just a chaotic, controversial punk band – they were far more akin to pop stars, as far as press coverage perceived them.
British musician Siouxsie Sioux, known for her work with Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Creatures, was one of the ‘Bromley Contingent’ – a known group of Sex Pistols fans who would follow the band regularly.
As a result of their adoration for the band, Siouxise and Steven Severin decided to form a band of their own, which would become the popular Siouxsie and the Banshees. Siouxsie, similarly to Patti Smith above, opened a whole new avenue for women in punk music, paving a way for creative expression in a rough, male dominated environment that hadn’t been seen before.
Siouxsie and the Banshees as a band, while obviously influenced by the punk movement, struck out on their own and into post-punk territory, as well as gothic rock and new wave.