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The Annals of Musical History, Part I: Punk de grâce

posted March 9, 2011, 11:16 am by Scrag | Filed Under General Interest | comment 3 Comments

This is the start of a new as-and-when-I-have-time-to-research feature on some anorak facts and music trivia articles to impress your friends. If you hate it, tell me and I’ll stop doing it!

Traditionally, the UK and US have always been thought of as the founding grounds of the punk scene. Starting with the socially alienated and dissatisfied youth of industrial Britain and the shock-rock-and-heroin movement slowly swelling beneath New York City like a sleeping behemoth, punk gained momentum and has been with us in various forms and permutations ever since. Soon all of the UK’s major cities were smothered in a safety-pinned, mohawked smog.

But even beyond that, the ideology and discontent was still seeping out into the wider world – and now, all but the most dedicated researchers have forgotten a most valued contribution to the story of the genre. The jumble of politics, anarchy and drugs that punk started out as was probably incomprehensible to anyone not already involved. Nobody in Manhatten was sober for long enough to sit down and figure out how to put it out to the masses, and nobody in London had the balls. So who stepped up to the mark?

The French did – in many ways still smarting from the salted wounds of a hefty revolution, and quite ready to remind the gaffers that they could, and would, still be a force for change. “The real influence of French punk rock lies in the ideas, the style and the ruthless elegance,” says Andrew Hussey, head of French and Comparative Studies at the University of London Institute in Paris. “They never produced a Clash or a Sex Pistols, but what they did was introduce the real politics in punk.”

The foundations of these politics can be attributed to a group known as the Situationists, led by Parisian Marxist and de facto rebel Guy Debord, and the combination of these politics with the music provided a jumping off point for the 800,000-strong Paris riots in 1968. And just who was in the middle of these riots? None other than a young Malcolm McLaren, wandering wide-eyed from Situationist poster to Situationist poster and soaking it all up. Links and tie-ins to the French movement are everywhere – Tony Wilson named his infamous Hacienda club in Manchester after a Situationist text, Jamie Reid learned detournement and created the seminal artwork for the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen and Patti Smith became obsessed with Jean Genet, the “superior bum of art”. Punk now had everything it needed to go global: it had angst, it had music, and now it had a direction.

My Selections:

Asphalt Jungle, Les Civils, Bijou, Metal Urbain, Kas Product, Guilty Razors.


3 Responses to “The Annals of Musical History, Part I: Punk de grâce”

  1. Profile photo of CharlesMartel CharlesMartel on March 12th, 2011 5:34 pm

    Interesting. But remember the first punk band was the Ramones. The Sex Pistols were a boy band created for the purpose of making money and most of the UK punks of ’77 were middle class posers. Without the havoc wrought in the UK by Callaghan then punk wouldn’t have taken off. Despite her rep, Thatcher had nothing to do with it.

  2. Profile photo of Brandon Thompson Brandon Thompson on March 13th, 2011 10:31 pm

    I don’t see how the Ramones are relevant in this discussion. I love articles like these, you presented it perfectly :D
    I would love to read more of them.

  3. Profile photo of dscanland dscanland on March 18th, 2011 3:43 pm

    I do have to agree with Charles. Despite how great God Save The Queen was, The Sex Pistols was a manufactured punk band. Well done article though. It brought my attention to a few French bands I’ve never heard of.

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