Punk rock is 40 and still growing

BLACKPOOL, ENGLAND • "Ramones forever!" C.J. Ramone yelled to a packed crowd at the Rebellion Festival here earlier this month, and a little roar rippled through a sea of bright-pink mohawks, bleached-blond spikes - and more than a few balding heads.

It was 40 years ago this summer that the Ramones flew to London and played a July 4 concert at the Roundhouse in Camden, an event that many cite as the moment that punk rock first took flight in Britain.

The anniversary of that summer is being celebrated in Punk London, a city-wide, year-long series of exhibitions, talks and concerts supported by the mayor's office and the National Lottery. Proving, perhaps, that punk's rebellious spirit has not yet receded into rock's history books, this institutional endorsement of an anti-establishment movement has drawn scepticism, a bit of ridicule and even some mild acts of resistance.

"We heard our song on BBC News," Noel Martin, 61, of the band Menace, which formed in the mid-1970s, said outside the Blackpool festival grounds. The song, G.L.C., which stood for Greater London Council, took aim at the city government, whose conservative members had called for a ban on punk concerts. "BBC banned that song 40 years ago, how come they're playing it now?"

In March, Joe Corre, the son of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, vowed to burn £5 million (S$8.7 million) worth of punk memorabilia to protest against what he saw as the co-opting of the movement.

In July, singer Viv Albertine of the band The Slits visited the British Library for a talk connected to Punk London. She stopped by the institution's punk history exhibition to scrawl the names of prominent female punk artists in permanent marker onto the show's signage. "What about the women!!" she wrote,crossing out the names of male punk groups and replacing them with female-driven acts such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and X-Ray Spex.

Fans and musicians at the Rebellion Festival in the resort town of Blackpool noted the incongruity of the establishment's embracing of punk rock, but they said the British punk scene was vibrant and even growing.

"We go to gigs every week here, Manchester, Birmingham," Mr Graham Norris, 51, a fan of punk who carried a cane and had a single synthetic green dreadlock threaded onto his last wisp of natural hair, said. "Maybe their dads were punks, maybe their mothers were punks and they've picked up on it."

This festival's line-up reflected that inter-generational spirit with early bands such as Agnostic Front and the Buzzcocks splitting the bill with newer acts including Youth Man and Angry Itch.

Outside the main venue, a group of young punk fans gathered - smoking and swigging from liquor bottles. One musician, Connor MacPherson, 18, whose band The Antiseptics played at Punk Weekender, a youthfocused concert series held at the Roundhouse in July to commemorate the anniversary of the Ramones concert, said that the punk spirit was particularly relevant now that conservatives control Britain's government.

"We have a government that doesn't care about the youth and the working class," he said. "We need punk more than ever - we need punk more than they needed it in 1977."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Punk rock is 40 and still growing'. Print Edition | Subscribe