Punk = DIY

sideburns940.jpgI am not convinced that couture is punk. Rather than inject into their garments raw rebellion or authentic profanity, the likes of Alexander McQueen assault their pieces with time, money, and a deliberate definition of punk rock. The studs and spikes, rips and tears sell out their spontaneity and their sincerity to an industry that is a slave to opinion. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: punk was made to be heard, not to be liked. The fashion was a visual attitude, an addiction to provocation. Fashion was an artful destruction strangled by unabashed obscenity. That being said, I concur with PUNK: Chaos to Couture‘s eloquence in ramming the DIY aesthetic right down your throat. “This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band.” And don’t go and buy the damn clothes–DO IT YOURSELF.

In terms of implementation and implication, punk fashion boils down to four categories, at least according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hardware: the combined influence of fetish wear and asylum couture; manipulating studs, spikes, safety pins, padlocks, chains, and zippers to inject the punk aesthetic with a provocative, yet distinctly proletarian nihilism.
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Bricolage: the exploitation of expendable materials, i.e. garbage bags; seizing outbreaks of urban decay–the infamous garbage strike of 1978–to mutiny against consumer culture and flaunt a doggedly undefined style.

“Because of the rubbish strikes in London, there were garbage bags piled twenty high on every street corner. You’d just cut a hole for your head and your arms and put a belt on and you looked stunning.” – John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten)20.jpg

Graffiti and Agitprop: the unabashed expression of punk archetypes through imagery and graffiti; interlacing pornography with an incendiary fusion of political propaganda, i.e. the swastika, the Union Jack, and Queen Elizabeth herself.
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Destroy: the necessary counterpart to do-it yourself, undo-it-yourself; punks ripping, tearing, and slashing their clothing in the same way they were the fabric of society.British punk band Sex Pistols have signed a record deal with Universal Music Catalog UK.jpg7773299f75c396966d2f71529813e9be.jpg

“Don’t look over your shoulder, but the Sex Pistols are coming!”

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SEXPISTOLSGSTQ1.jpgThe Sex Pistols were the harbingers of a postwar apocalypse thirty years in the making. Teenage angst disguised as a proletarian revolution, their music was invigoratingly indecent–just listen to the way Johnny Rotten pronounces “vacant.” Paul Cook and Steve Jones entangled the verve of the drums with the authority of the guitar, manufacturing a sound like a union strike. Glen Matlock engineered the necessary bass tablature; his successor, Sid Vicious, tendered a confusing, sporadically irrelevant alternative. Frankly, he was too high on his own delusions of punk rock to notice that most of the time, his bass was unplugged. But it was Johnny Rotten, and his banshee shriek, that propelled their songs to anthems. His razor-sharp voice shredded fakery and complacency. The Pistols’ lone studio album, Never mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, is emblematic of their combustible existence. The tracks, intended as melodic land mines, are impostors: obsessively overdubbed and a middle finger to the live experience. Afflicted with the paradox inherent in punk rock, the Sex Pistols surrendered their weapons to the music industry and its savage desire to present them NOT as punk rockers, but rock stars.

“They are England’s next generation and we will be proud of them. It’s a class war; they want to destroy society.” – Malcolm McLaren, in one of his more theatrical statements

If the American punk rock movement was a firecracker, then its British counterpart was a bomb, carefully crafted and ultimately detonated by the fifth Sex Pistol, Malcolm McLaren. A collector of personalities, McLaren plucked miscreants from his clothing shop, SEX, and christened them “The Six Pistols.” This band of “young, sexy assassins” was first and foremost a walking billboard for the shop; to him, the music was simply a means of achieving his own ends, anchored on the silver screen. His role as manager cast him somewhere between a f’d up father figure and a puppet master. Rotten’s ferocious denial of this fused with his wicked resentment forces the Sex Pistols’ saga to culminate in a courtroom. Twice. McLaren lived vicariously through the band, feeding off of their unprecedented fame like a managerial parasite. From the first time they said “f***” on TV, McLaren’s strategy would be stardom through scandal. By the end of 1977, the band was the monster to McLaren’s Frankenstein: he infected them with infamy such that they could hardly book a gig.

“There’s a Johnny Rotten in each of us, and he doesn’t need to be liberated–he needs to be crucified! – evangelists outside a 1978 performance at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom

After a failed tour of the Bible Belt–Rotten’s declaration that he was an anti-Christ did not resonate–and a pub crawl out to LA, the Sex Pistols were dead. Their kamikaze mission against the music industry was over. By the time Sid Vicious may or may not have stabbed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to death, Malcolm McLaren worked exclusively with the band’s cartoon counterparts. John Lydon was in the midst of a legal blitzkrieg with the swindler himself, gunning down the rights to his own alter ego. And so the saga of the Sex Pistols culminates in a courtroom. Twice. The Pistols descended upon England like a flock of blue collar banshees; their music mutilated the air of consensus. As abruptly as one of their songs, and with the same cultivated belligerence, they became national scapegoats–after all, Parliament did denounce them as threats to the British way of life–before plummeting into oblivion. The initial force with which they seized the Union Jack, and even the Queen, was annihilated by the definition of punk rock itself. By the media. By the government. By outsiders to this movement of outsiders, too stupid to decipher the clever fusion of utter chaos with social commentary. Punk relinquishes its power once anything is expected of it; it sacrifices the shock of its charming vulgarity.

  • “Anarchy in the UK”
  • “God Save the Queen”
  • “Pretty Vacant”
  • “Holidays in the Sun”