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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Punx is not dead

I saw a "Punx is not dead" graffito in Corso Garibaldi (a shopping zone for affluent Milanese) in Milan yesterday. It’s nice because of the faulty English (like a sign on a toilet door in a Turkish café I heard about which read “Today is broken”).

As a ubiquitous tag on street walls apparently all over the world (well all the bits I’ve visited), the slogan’s the most visible trace of a 35-year-old subculture. Presumably third-generation teenage punks are spray-painting the phrase as a deliberate homage to the Exploited/GBH-era, studded-jacket punkers who first fought their (unsuccessful) battle to stop punk from dying. Or is it just some half-understood message about “keeping the faith” over punk? Punk as fundamentalism.

Seen as an Iain Sinclair-like piece of psychogeography, the “Punx” slogan is fascinating. What other music-based movement of the last 50 years continues to generate this level of visible devotion from a small band of acolytes?

In reality punk was surely dead as soon as it started to appear in the Sunday newspapers (Wire’s A Field Day For The Sundays). It probably began to die after the Grundy affair and gave up the ghost with the Silver Jubilee in mid-1977. But the fierce/foolhardy loyalty of the mohican’d Discharge crowd, punk’s first fundamentalists, has succeeded in establishing a sort of cult of survivalism around punk.

Simon Reynolds recently noted the conservative strand within House music – House traditionalists have long been keen to tell you (partly to PR their club nights) which year was the supposed high watermark for Deep House or whatever. Same goes for punk, which of course brought this upon itself with its stripped-down, back-to-basics rock template (at least according to the crudest interpretation).

Oddly enough, now that so much time has passed, I’ve come to almost enjoy seeing the “Punk’s not dead” daubs. They’re a kind of pleasingly ever-present reminder of a music – and much else – which has, one way and another, engendered massive creativity and produced a fantastic body of work.

Meanwhile, with a growing number of the original figures in the first wave of punk now actually deceased (Joe Strummer, Malcolm McClaren, Tony Wilson, Poly Styrene, John McGeogh, three Ramones and Ari Up, to name but a few), there’s also a new irony to claiming that punk’s not dead. The impulse behind it – in the best sense – may not be, but many of its prime-movers most definitely are.

I suspect that for some diehards – young and old – “Punk’s not dead” will continue to be a clarion call to man the barricades. To keep launching ever more decrepit zombie versions of “real” punk into the world. (I’ve seen some of these bands recently. It’s not nice meeting a zombie face to face).

But I also like to think that the punk’s not dead declaration might also come from digital hardcore musicians or purveyors of modern electro-dub sounds. No, the graffiti kids are right after all. Punx is not dead. Long live punk.

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