Punk: An Aesthetic


Friday 5th October 2012

If you've recently enjoyed our Subculture films, directed by Don Letts, and fancy some further reading on the evolution of punk and counterculture, then "Punk: An Aesthetic" should undoubtedly be added to your reading list. Spanning 352 pages with 500 photographs the book provides an amazing record of punk related imagery and previously unpublished photographs of the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Ramones.

Artworks featured include those by: Jamie Reid (designer of iconic Sex Pistols material), Gee Vaucher (visual artist and member of Crass), Linder Sterling, Gary Panther, John Homstrom and Penny Rimbaud, alongside numerous other anonymous posters, flyers and zines from the era.

See below for a sample of some of the visual rarities assembled from public and private collections by editors Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage.

Above: Hammersmith Gorillas photo shoot for their proto-punk single, “You Really Got Me,” 1974
Long before Gorillaz was invented, there was the Hammersmith Gorillas (The Hammersmith Gorillas, took their name from London's pro-Castro activist group of the same name but would later become The Gorillas). Often described as a proto-punk band, they were active from 1974 up until the early 80s. The band's debut release was a cover version of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me".

Above: The third performance of The Ramones, opening for Blondie, who were then called Angel and the Snake, August 31, 1974
A poster hinting at what was happening at New York's CBGB. The book takes a worldwide view of punk's emergence, rather than focusing on isolated pockets of activity on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Above: Gaye Advert and Joan Jett, 1977
A Founder member of British Punk band The Adverts, Gaye Advert is widely credited as one of the first female icons of the punk movement, with her dyed black hair, leather jacket and "panda-eye" make up, her style was imitated by street fashion and high fashion alike, decades after her retirement from the music scene in 1980.

Above: Roxy Club flyer By Barry Jones, March 1977
London's first punk venue, The Roxy, demonstrates the DIY ethos of punk perfectly. The Roxy would be the setting for Don Letts' landmark film "The Punk Rock Movie", and would become one of the key points at which UK punks were introduced to reggae. The line ups on the poster mention names now legendary, including: The Stranglers, Sham 69, The Jam, Siouxsie and The Banshees, X-Ray Specs - and even - Iron Maiden!

Above: Crass Poster, 1978
A poster advertising a gig and film screening by Epping's Crass were associated with the art-punk scene between 1977 and 1984. Promoting ideals of feminism, anti-racism, anti-globalisation and pacifism, Crass employed punk's DIY methodology to proliferate their political values in a time of miners' strikes and Thatcher's Britain.

In addition to the graphical content, the book also contains a wealth of written resources for the countercultural historian. There is "A Punk Etymology", listing such gems as Shakespeare's use of the word 'punk' in "Measure for Measure" c.1603, and in stark chronological contrast, "The Last Macro Tribe" - editors Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, in conversation with science fiction author, William Gibson. Despite the book's title, Gibson points out punk's ability to travel through world culture as a meme or code, rather than categorising it as an aesthetic, stating that the current do-it-yourself media culture is the true legacy of punk. He also gives an insight into why he sees punk as the last global counterculture, or 'macrotribe', to emerge:

"Historically, countercultures have grown in backwaters, they've taken some time to grow. In My lifetime I've seen the commodification machine increase exponentially in its efficiency and rapacity and speed to the point that it seems to me, watching it through the screen of the internet, that now it harvests veal!"

"You Never get a fully grown cow. It's so hungry and needs more all the time."

Overall, it's a thorough collection of imagery, juxtaposed with some very thought provoking prose, and a beautifully presented publication, well worth its modest price.

PUNK: An Aesthetic is out now published by Rizzoli New York
ISBN: 978-0-8478-3662-8 / $55.00 US, $60.00 Canadian, £35.00 UK
Hardcover with jacket / 352 pages 500 colour and black and white photographs / 8.5” x 10”

All images: © PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012


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