Punk, along with its iconic pioneers, may have changed the face of music forever; whether they wanted to or not. It wasn’t just music, either: they also managed to change the face of youth culture and fashion, as well as having created a new form or gigging and performance.
There often exists furious debate over punk’s roots, as there are so many people with varying definitions of the term ‘punk music’. However, it’s largely down to there being such a wide spectrum of artists who went off to do their own thing, forming numerous different subgenera in the process, each with its own distinct intention and following.
This has meant that punk’s roots can be discovered in numerous stories and places, ranging globally, but with the same integrity and catalysts. Punk music was essentially created by innovative youths with little to no instruction or skill to speak of, along with limited knowledge of music rules, which is what made it so easy for them to break those rules and create something 100 per cent unique. It was a natural reaction of the young against older music which, to them, sounded outdated and oppressive. By the 1960s, music was very much focused on such super groups as The Rolling Stones and The Beatles performing to huge audiences in vast venues and arenas, while simultaneously obstructing and shadowing any other attempts at musical expression.
However, the western world’s economic and socio-political state, combined with high rates of unemployment, particularly among the youth, resulted in a generation of teenagers with plenty of free time and plenty of strong opinions. One common belief is that punk began in New York in 1974 when such bands as Television, The Talking Heads, Blondie, and The Ramones made their debuts and sold out classic punk clubs in NY’s Bowery District, with CBGB being the most notable venue.
Some 12 months later, the original PUNK fanzine was published and was credited for using the term ‘punk’ before anyone else. New York’s socioeconomics were on par with London and the youth were representing the very same things. They were also brought together by location and were local to the area.
The New York Dolls (then managed by Malcolm McLaren) and Richard Hell had both achieved notoriety for regularly breaking down barriers at proto-punk club Max’s Kansas City. They wore red leather patent costumes for the stage show with a sickle motif and soviet hammer. Richard Hell was the first to have spiked hair and wear ripped clothes, and was a leading name in the creation of both punk music and punk fashion.
A hell of an influence
This was so much the case that Malcolm McLaren cited Hell as a primary influence in the radical look he took back to Britain, as well as later using it in his “SEX” shop. McLaren, along with wife and designer Vivienne Westwood, ran the bondage and sadomasochistic inspired clothing shop, with Westwood working as the seamstress.
This was the foundation of punk fashion, with McLaren occasionally being referred to as the “architect of punk ideology”. He later formed a band comprised of angry and useless kids who hung out at the shop. The band was called The Sex Pistols.