No Future – The Beginnings of Punk Part 3 – Antipodes

Previously we saw the emergence of punk music proper, in the music of The Ramones in New York City. Most rock historians claim that the emergence of The Ramones was the pivotal moment in punk music, when unskilled and unpracticed musicians were able to express themselves through music. Though New York was a hotbed of punk sensibilities, this was not the only place where punk music was emerging. All over the world, in seeming synchronicity, bands were appearing that not only had the punk sound, but the attitudes of punk too.

In London England, the first stirrings of punk were emerging. Due to a very low employment rate, post World War II, many lower-class British found their voices through music. Most notably, of course, The Sex Pistols blasted onto the scene in 1976, with their raucous anti-state, anti-consumerist rage, shocking the English public on their way. This gave rise to the most notable part of the punk movement, and the most discussed and populised of the stories in punk history.

But earlier than the punk explosion from New York and London, an underground sound was developing elsewhere, in of all places, the sleepy city of Brisbane in Australia.

“Pub rock”  was a very typically Australian phenomenon. Previous to the 1960s, music was played in public halls and churches, where bands would play to all-ages groups under adult supervision. All this changed however when liquor laws were softened, allowing pubs to stay open after 6pm, and the pub became music’s new home. This phenomenon, though under threat from current noise laws and complaints from locals, continues to this day.

In the 70s, the state of Queensland was controlled by the government of Joh Bjelke-Peterson, a government that touted ideals of authoritarianism and staunch conservatism. This gave rise to an underground music scene, one of the first of its kind in the world. Emerging from the pub rock scene, in 1974 a group of school friends including Ed Keuper (guitar), Ivor Hay (drums) and Chris Bailey (vocals) came together to form The Saints, a band that created musical history in Australia. Influenced by traditional rock musicians such as Elvis Presley and Little Richard, as well as protopunk bands like The Stooges and MC5, they developed their own unique sound, employing loud and fast guitar and drum rhythms, angry and vicious vocals, typically punk in both appearance and attitude. According to people who were there at the time, their music was even faster live than on recordings, and this lent to their punk credibilty.

The-SaintsIn 1976, The Saints released their first single, “I’m Stranded”, becoming the first true punk band to record and release punk music outside of the USA, even before the UK. Some may say that The Saints even preceded The Ramones with their style, and that the title of “first punk band” belongs to them, though this is difficult to ascertain since it seems their sounds developed independently and in tandem. Their first single “Stranded” was released in 1977, a song about estrangement from a love interest, and seemingly harkening to the very Australian ideal of “the tyranny of distance”, the antipodean state of being far from everything else, in this case the USA and Europe.

The Saints are only ever included in the history of punk music retrospectively, as the scene and movement hadn’t even begun in the two punk hotspots of the USA and the UK. In many ways, while the music of Australia in the 70s mirrored that of the rest of the western world, The Saints jumped ahead of the curve, creating a new and exciting sound that continues to the current day. Releasing 13 albums from 1976 to 2006, The Saints, and frontman Chris Bailey, changed the music scene in Australia forever. Though their energy and furiosity waned as the band progressed, there is no doubt that their performances and recordings in the early years have been influential on Australian and world music. But The Saints weren’t the only punk band to emerge from the pub rock scene of the 1970s.

In the same year that saw The Saints form, elsewhere in Australia, another band was forming with much the same sensibilities, drive and impact. In 1974, this time in Sydney, Deniz Tek and Rob Younger formed a =band that is seen as rock royalty in Australia: Radio Birdman.

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Radio Birdman adopted their name from a misheard Stooges lyric “radio burnin”, and the influence of protopunk bands such as The Stooges is apparent in both style and attitude. It wasn’t until 1977 that Radio Birdman released their first single, entitled “New Race”, an intentionally anthemic song, featuring the with the crowd-grabbing statement “YEAH HUP”, which repeatedly at the closing of the song conjures images of marching military. This military link was also apparent in the armbands worn by the band, which resembled those of the German SS during the Second World War. The emergence of Nazi and German paraphernalia and trappings is something that emerged repeatedly in the punk movement worldwide, from The Ramones in the USA, and from The Sex Pistols and street punks of the UK.

Radio Birdman were probably most famously known for their homage to the 1970s TV hit, Hawaii Five-O, with their 1978 song “Aloha Steve and Danno”, which has become an Australian classic.

Also in 1974, this time in Melbourne, a group of school friends headed up by the legendary Nick Cave and Mick Harvey formed The Boys Next Door.

nickcave_doordoor

Having attended some gigs by both The Saints and Radio Birdman, their sound was influenced heavily, and The Boys Next Door (later The Birthday Party) later released their first album “Door, Door” in 1977.

Made famous in the Melbourne-based post-punk film “Dogs In Space”, starring Michael Hutchence, the song “Shivers” was The Boys Next Door’s most successful single, albiet in the late 80s, many years after it initial release. Atypical to punk, The Boys Next Door and Nick Cave continued along this path of introspective and relatively mellow music, never really featuring in the punk revolution, but evolving outward from the very same roots.

Australian punk was a very vibrant and fertile basis from which a lot of the Australian underground music has emerged. Over the ensuing 40 years since the appearance of The Saints and Radio Birdman, the underground music scene has been alive and healthy, bolstered by the pub rock traditions from the 1960s.

In an interesting parallel, a band formed by Rob Hirst, Andrew James and Jim Moginie, and later joined by singer Peter Garrett in Sydney between 1972 and 1973. Originally a pub rock band, Midnight Oil soon became synonymous with political and social commentary in their music.

midnight-oil-mawsonWhile never a punk rock group per se, their sound was raw and aggressive, and could be called punk nonetheless.Interestingly, outside of Australia Midnight Oil was ranked among the likes of The Dead Kennedys as an example of punk. Below is a very early example from 1977 shows a more traditional rock influenced track, “Used and Abused”.

Known for their big guitar riffs, the spasmodic dancing and staccato singing of the towering bald lead singer Garrett, Midnight Oil eventually became chart topping successes. In 1978, Midnight Oil released their first album, the self titled “Midnight Oil”, a seven track EP which reached 50 on the top record charts in Australia, while their later albums “Place Without A Postcard”, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1”,  “Red Sails In The Sunset”, “Diesel and Dust” and “Blue Sky Mining” all reached positions in the top 10.

While a commercial success, Midnight Oil remained true to their punk sounding roots insomuch that they never stopped fighting against the wrongs of the world, never stopped caring about the rights of others, and leading Australia in protestations about the government and the environment. In fact, Garrett was so politically active that he campaigned for the NDP (Nuclear Disarmament Party) in 1984 in the Australian Federal Election of that year. Later Garrett joined the ranks of the Australian Labor Party, a move which proved disastrous to his public persona, amid cries that he had “sold out”.

While the Australian punk scene of the 1970s was small, each of these examples go down in history as some of the earliest examples of punk music.

In the next article, we tackle the most interesting and publicised part of the punk movement, one where the legendary stories of sex, violence, drugs, Mohawks, ripped jeans and “Anarchy”. This was the world of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. This is where we move into the real beginnings of punk proper, and for that we need to journey to the other side of the world, The United Kingdom.

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No Future – The Beginnings of Punk Part 3 – Antipodes

No Future – The Beginnings of Punk Part 2

In the last piece we explored the social and political climates that led to the beginnings of the punk movement. Up to this point, historians have called the music of the time “protopunk“, a label which is hard to pin down, and even harder to categorise properly. Protopunk, in essence, is any of the multifaceted music of the late 60s and early 70s that moved away from the mainstream music of the time, all of which have the beginnings of the attitudes that punk brought to the fore; sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, having a good time, and not being shafted by “the man” as it were.

As a precursor to the reportedly destructive nature of the punk movement, what became one of the signatures of music of the times was the destruction of instruments while on stage by band members. The Who were known for smashing guitars, and even on one occasion, detonating drum kits with explosives, an event which injured both guitarist Pete Townshend and drummer Kieth Moon. During the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, The Who, after destroying their gear, were seemingly upstaged by Jimi Hendrix, who as a finale to his song “Wild Thing”, poured lighter fluid on his guitar, then setting it alight. After smashing it to pieces, he then threw the remains into the crowd. Guitar smashing and instrument destruction would later become a hallmark of punk, as is illustrated on the cover of The Clash’s punk classic, “London Calling” (below), where bassist Paul Simonon is pictured smashing his Fender Precision to pieces during a performance in New York in 1979.

the_clash_london_calling_0The 60s ended with the triumphant and legendary Woodstock Music Festival, where over half a million people gathered party, take drugs and listen to music in apparent defiance of the doctrines of the times. This was the peak of the hippie movement, but among the acts that played at Woodstock were some bands that without, punk may never have eventuated as a movement; The Who, defiantly singing about the frustrations of a generation (“Hope I die before I get old”), Canned Heat, yearning for a life in the country away from the grind of city life (“Gonna leave the city, got to get away”), and the legendary guitar hero Jimi Hendrix, closing off the proceedings on day 4 with a song about jealousy, revenge and murder (“Yes, I did, I shot her, you know I caught her messin’ ’round, messin’ ’round town.”). This was a seminal moment in the history of music, and one that encapsulated the frustrations of the times, with life, government, war, and a new sense of awareness about the world brought on by technology and international mass media.

This clip shows Hendrix in September of the same year, performing “Hey Joe” live in Stockholm.

The early 70s saw the emergence of disco, mainstream pop, stadium rock, metal, and the beginnings of hip-hop and rap. Some popular music, that by earlier standards would be considered as “soft” was now being labeled as rock. Artists like Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, and Barry Mannilow were shoved into the category of “rock”, alongside the likes of Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath, much to their dismay. This had an affect on non-mainstream music too. Bands like The Velvet Underground and The Stooges were still around and performing, but among the unestablished musicians of the time, the first stirrings of punk were about to explode onto the scene, in defiance to the mainstream’s insistence that The Carpenters and Tom Jones were “rock”.

While punk was still only a glimmer in the eye of the music world, the stage was set in the 1970s for this new movement of music to come to the fore. In 1973, a man named Hilly Crystal opened a club in downtown New York City named “Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers”, or “CBGB & OMFUG” later known simply as CBGB. Having been shut down by local neighbors in an earlier venture due to noise complaints, Crystal had a particular ambition to create a venue to bring good, new music to the people. Though his original intent was to be focused on country, bluegrass and blues music, the venue soon became known for its slew of underground bands and new, dangerous sounds.

Elsewhere in New York, a group of high-school friends, Douglas Colvin, John Cummings  and Jeffrey Hyman formed a group that was purportedly the first “punk band”. Adopting their new pseudonyms, Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey (respectively) formed The Ramones in 1973. For reasons of practicality, Thomas Erdelyi, originally their manager, joined the band on drums as Tommy Ramone. Their first performance was in 1974 at Performance Studios, where they exploded onstage, legs akimbo, a scrawny group of teenage kids in leather jackets. Johnny Ramone would start each song with an off-tempo “ONE TWO THREE FOUR”, and each song was over in under two minutes. Then on August 16, 1974, The Ramones played their most publicised gig at CBGB, in what has described as “something completely new”. Their “wall-of-noise” sound, their apathetic swagger, the unpolished sound, the 3 and 4 chord progressions, their catchcry of “HEY HO, LET’S GO”, and the pace of the music, all melded together into the one image.

Cover of The Ramones' self titled debut.
Cover of The Ramones’ self titled debut.

The songs on their self-titled debut album were patently defiant; themes included drug use (“Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”), horror stories (“I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement”, “Chainsaw”), violence (“Beat On The Brat”, “Loudmouth”), male prostitution (“53rd & 3rd”)Nazism (“Blitzkrieg Bop”, “Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World”), heartbreak and relationships (“Listen To My Heart”, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”), and importantly coining the phrase, punk (“Judy Is A Punk”). The songs were raw and real; these were the lives of the youth living in New York City in the mid 70s. This was a stark rejection of the “flower-power” of the 60s, the California hippies, and the mainstream chaff on the radio. This was punk.

Here is a clip of The Ramones performing in September 1974 at CBGB.

This was the beginning of a movement that soon spread from the USA to the United Kingdom. But New York was not the only place that this phenomenon of counter-culture was evolving. In fact, it could be said that The Ramones were not in fact the first punk band, but that it evolved first in, of all places, Brisbane Australia. In the next piece I will investigate the link, and disparity, between the underground pub-culture of Australia, and its relevance to the punk movement internationally.

No Future – The Beginnings of Punk Part 2

No Future – The Beginnings of Punk Part 1

mc5-50ae6357db134The punk movement, if you consult a history book, started in the mid 70s and lasted only a couple of years before it fizzled out, with the inevitable disbanding of The Sex Pistols. But the movement itself is far more complex and multifaceted than that which a single band offered. In order to understand the reasons such a volatile and vital movement took place, we need to first look at what drove punk to the fore in the 70s, and why this movement eventuated in the first place.

Step back from the first punk performance in the mid 70s to the late 60s. What were some of the world events that attracted people to the idea of punk?

The Battle of Khe Sanh - via wikipedia
The Battle of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1968- via wikipedia

The Vietnam War was in full swing, beginning in 1965, and was a war that would change our attitudes about wars in general, and also The West’s position as “world police” in conflicts. For example, the 5 month conflict in Khe Sanh, where over 5 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima blast were dropped in the area surrounding Khe Sanh during this time, showed just how out-of-depth the American and allies  forces were in this war. This was highly publicised in the USA, Europe and Australia, and drew condemnation from the people at large. This was just one of many battles in Vietnam that illustrated the futility of wars, and it is generally agreed that the allied powers lost this war due to unpreparedness to fight in such a hostile environment.

The conflicts in Vietnam are often seen as the catalyst to the hippie movement worldwide, where people were urged by Timothy Leary to “Turn on, tune in, drop out” in 1966, or in other words, become self aware, and self reliant. The trappings of hippiedom are often seen as “Peace, love, happiness”, but pacifism, in the face of such brutality, didn’t really quench the need for change.

1968 was a momentous year of tragedies and hope. University students in the USA held rallies against the government and the war, and called for a more inclusive curriculum for African Americans. France was drawn to the brink of another revolution by student protests in March of that year. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated at a hotel in Memphis. The Apollo 6 mission was launched. The musical “Hair” was launched on Broadway. Andy Warhol was shot by Valeria Solanas. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was opened for signatories. European nations were on edge because of the Cold War. The earth was as close as it has ever come to all-out nuclear war, and it was frightening. Protests, violence, and hope for a better future abounded, but the litmus test for the sentiment at the time was music.

Most remember the late 60s as a time for Joan Baez protest songs, Peter Paul and Mary, and for the tunes by of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. But in New York there was an underground movement of music that was in full swing, talking of the strife and difficulties of modern life.

Formed by Lou Reed and John Cale in 1964, The Velvet Underground were making paired back, drugged-out tunes about the low life in New York City. Tunes such as “Waiting For My Man”, “White Light, White Heat”, and “Rock and Roll” featured a rawness and a vitality that the likes of the hippie movement weren’t even nearing. The jangly guitars, the hammering of piano keys, off-key singing, and the drug-addled haze of the music created a fresh and new way of approaching music.

In another part of the country, Lincoln Park, Michigan, another sound was emerging. Heavy guitars, heavy beats, and a raucousness in sound that hadn’t been explored before. With the telltale ejaculation of “KICK OUT THE JAMS MOTHERFUCKERS!”, MC5 were creating fast, heavy music that seemed to encapsulate the frustrations of the times with a brutal clarity. Best known for their often covered song “Kick Out The Jams”, MC5 hold their place as the common ancestor of both punk and metal.

A further precursor for punk, came from a man named James Newell Osterberg, from Michigan, began his career as a singer in a blues band, and after moving to Chicago, was influenced by bands such as MC5. Renaming himself “Iggy”, and forming his band, The Stooges, Iggy Pop burst onto the scene with a show of raw power that was difficult to ignore. His song “I Wanna Be Your Dog” from the self titled album The Stooges spoke of a nihilistic relationship, where he’s happy to be nothing more than the dog. In a direct connection to The Velvet Underground, the hard hitting piano riff is played by none other than John Cale. The 3 chord song is a powerful example of proto-punk, and features a sound that would be repeated by others who would come to follow.

To say that punk arose several years later from these 3 acts would be to do the punk movement an injustice. Like any moment in history, there are always more ingredients in the lead-up than can easily be encapsulated in a few sentences. This, does, however, serve as platform from which to launch the next section of the history of punk, and for this, we move back to New York City, and a little club called CBGB.

 

No Future – The Beginnings of Punk Part 1

Welcome to The Punk Files

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Graffiti at CBGB, New York City

Why “The Punk Files”?

PUNKS NOT DEAD!” the graffiti proclaimed, scrawled on a weathered brick wall in suburban Greensborough. I remember as a child of around 10 years old, sitting in the car in the rear car-park staring at that graffiti and wondering what it meant, while my step-dad went and ordered pizza. Forgiving the missing apostrophe, as a child I had a vague idea of what punk was, but not much beyond the idea that punk was scary. Those strange people with their ripped clothes and weirdly shaven heads, their raucous music and the inevitable violence that went along with it all. I had seen on video trailers at the beginning of old VHS movies, an advertisement for “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle”, the image of Johnny Rotten, screaming the words to “Anarchy in the UK” into the camera, an image which would repeatedly surface in my psyche as if burned into my retina.

RockNRollSwindle_099Pyxurz

Apart from that one brief foray into the Sex Pistols, everything I knew about punk came from the 1970s BBC TV program, The Goodies, where in one episode punk was the latest fashion, which took over the whole of London. Throughout the episode, the characters’ bodily modification escalated quickly from mohawks and piercings using safety pins, to the amputation of Tim Brooke Taylor’s leg. In typical Goodies style, this was a parody of what was happening in the real world, and while it was humorous, the image of punk to my 10 year old sensibilities was one of fear and revulsion.

Later in life, as a teenager growing up in the 80s, the rebellious part of my brain just kicked in with the onset of puberty, and suddenly what had once repelled me so much had become something to aspire to. The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Ramones became retrospective heroes to me and my friends. We wore pins brandishing the names of The Exploited, listened to Joy Division in dark rooms covered in posters with the words “NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS” in typical punk-style cut-out lettering. We thought we were cool.

Never Mind The Bollocks, Copyright Jamie Reid
Never Mind The Bollocks, Copyright Jamie Reid http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamie_Reid

Though we were restricted from being fully-blown punk kids by our middle-class suburbanite existences, and though we actually missed the punk scene by almost a decade, punk spoke to us, much as it must have to the generation past who saw in its inception in the 70s. Punk, to us, was all about us, the disenfranchised youth, robbed of a future by the increasingly corporate bastards who ran everything. Punk was about “sticking it to the man”. And punk was about every aspect of life; clothing, music, attitudes all played a part in what made punk, punk!

Most importantly, what was once considered a fringe movement, just a few kids blowing off steam, the trappings of punk have stayed with us, and many have been absorbed into the mainstream. Without the punk movement, much of the music in the 80s and 90s may never have happened; Post-Punk, Alternative, Indie, Grunge, much of the music that we eventually all listened to, may never have surfaced if it weren’t for the rise of punk, the music, and the attitudes it brought with it. Many of the trappings of punk have become commonplace in today’s established and emerging sub-cultures; from tattoos to piercings, in fashion and music, many of the taboos of punk are present, and presented without any sense of irony or surprise. In the words of Jane’s Addiction, “Nothing’s shocking.”

But why is punk important now, in 2015?

The origins of the Punk Movement came from a perception at the time that authority, in all its forms, was corrupt, that the “powers that be” were making grave mistakes about foreign policy, especially with regards to the Vietnam War, and followed directly on from the “peace and love” attitudes of the Hippie movement of the late 1960’s. Like any movement, it it impossible to pinpoint exactly when Punk became a thing, but it is possible to look at the influences and situations under which it arose.

Punk is typified by a distrust for authority, a do-it-yourself ethos (particularly when it came to clothes and music), independence of thought and action, and of course an anarchistic attitude toward society. These attitudes are particularly important today, in a world filled with faux new and neo-conservative attitudes toward the planet, its inhabitants and its resources. From here, punk fractured and morphed into many different sub-genres, including Nazi-punks and white supremacists, “OI” punks, skinheads, and even conservative Christian punks. The result wasn’t always pretty; there was an ugly undercurrent in some areas of the punk movement.

While the original intent of punk was individuality, to some degree it failed in this, insomuch that the anti-fashion statements of punk became a fashion in and of themselves.

“Punk became a circus didn’t it? Everybody got it wrong. The message was supposed to be: Don’t follow us, do what you want!”
John Lydon – The Sex Pistols, Public Image Limited

Some members of the punk movement were highly critical of the punk movement’s adherents, claiming that the whole thing had become a “sellout”, something that punk frowned upon.

This fact, that over time it became a fashion, in some way came to dilute the message of punk, and eventually, excepting for a few die-hard punk fans, punk as a whole went the way of the dinosaurs, only to be replaced with other musical and fashion movements: Goth Music, Indie Rock, Grunge and the coverall of “Alternative” followed on from punk, and as each new genre emerged, it took with it what it wanted from punk. Goth took the brooding dark side of punk and the big hair, but left behind the aggression and violence associated. Indie Rock took the spirit of punk music, but in a much cleaner and wholesome manner. Grunge took on board the aloofness of punk, and generated music that, while not punk in manner, was punk in attitude. The social commentary of punk music featured sparingly in these styles, instead favouring topics of an internal nature, replacing the anxiety with establishment with the malaise of being young and alive in a quickly changing world.

But, it’s true, punk’s not dead. It’s just not as obvious as it used to be. Punk continues to this day with the likes of NOFX and their fast-paced, socio-political attacks on the bourgeoisie, Fugazi, who are on indefinite hiatus, and their scathing DIY musical legacy, and bands like Lagwagon, who have stayed true to their punk roots for decades now. And there are many, many more bands out there.

While the punk of today may not sound or look like the punk of the 70’s, one thing remains consistent: punk, and its anti-establishment message is needed as much today as it was in 1974. When governments wage war on their people, and citizens are scared walk the streets unarmed, when corporations are given more rights than citizens, and the religious right have their finger in every pie, and when the leaders of the world can still claim climate change to be a hoax and be backed by these very same corporations, it is clear to me that punk is very much needed today, possibly more than ever.

So stay tuned!

Over the coming months I will attempt to unravel the history of punk music, from its roots in the late 60s right through to the present. I will look at what influences punk had, and is still having today. And I will look at the mis-representation of punk by today’s media and pop-stars. This will be a learning experience for me, and I hope it is for you too.

Welcome to The Punk Files