in Culture Digest | 09 NOV 16

No Future?

The show ‘Punks’, and its poignancy today

in Culture Digest | 09 NOV 16

On 26 November 1976, the Sex Pistols released their debut single, Anarchy in the UK, unleashing a torrent of juvenile rebellion and raw creativity that shocked established pop culture. Forty years later, all of London is paying tribute to the movement with the year-long ‘Punk.London’ season, which includes ‘Punks’ at the Museum of London. A collection of memorabilia and testimonials from a dozen or so punks who are now in their early 50s, it gives a surprisingly mellow account of the time, which reveals optimism and hope at the heart of the punk ethos. For young people like Judi Watkinson, ‘punk was new, fresh, vibrant and dangerous: all the things I loved’. Becoming a punk involved a kind of awakening from a teenage frustration to a kind of worldliness, as one participant in the show put it: ‘I realized lyrics could say something … It made me more aware of my surroundings. I thought, I’ve been in a cotton wool environment.’ Others tell of their DIY fashion experiments or of saving up to buy clothes at Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s Sex boutique.

The punk poet Steve Mick of the Sniffin’ Glue zine remembers the rapturous feeling of being ‘anti-everything’. At the same time, punk was politically engaged, for example the 1978 Anti-Nazi League/Rock Against Racism rallies and concerts, fronted by bands including X-Ray Spex and The Clash. This exhibition simply lets punks tell their stories and in so doing, it emulates punk’s rejection of stuffy cultural codes in favour of naïve experimentation and spontaneity. In a tribute to the movement’s incandescent spirit, Joe Corré, the son of the late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, will close the anniversary celebrations by burning his father’s collection of punk memorabilia in a public bonfire on 26 November in a venue to be announced, in Camden Town. 

Corré along with writer, educator, broadcaster and musician Vivien Goldman, model, actress and iconic punk Jordan, former Buzzcocks’ manager, Richard Boon, the Guardian’s Kate Hutchinson and musician and writer/performer, Jen Calleja will take part in a live debate on 18 November asking ‘Does punk have a future or was Sex Pistols’ prophecy correct?’ 

‘Punks’ is on view at the Museum of London until 15 January 2017.