Translated by Iman Seepersad
Punk movement: which ideologies?
The punk movement, which took root in England, expresses the period between 1976 and 1980 when a real craze for more aggressive rock bands appeared, sailing on a dark inspiration fuelled by the climate of economic crises, wars and attacks on European soil. More than just a musical trend, punk was to develop into an important social and artistic movement: “punkitude” came to shake up society and propose an alternative to the solutions, considered too utopian, proposed by the hippies. Indeed, like many movements, the punks were born out of contestation of the established order and in opposition to the previous movement.
The movement attracted, at least in its origins, people who did not feel they belonged in society, but did not seek to escape from it. These are people who have been deeply affected by economic crises, mass unemployment and have been lulled by images of wars on television. The famous slogan “No future” is a perfect illustration of the image they have of society. The main ideologies and political contestations of the movement have their origins in this feeling of exclusion: anarchism, individualism, existentialism, anti-capitalism, anti-authoritarianism, or anti-racism. They question the place of the individual and his or her freedoms in the society in which they grow up, making freedom of expression and thinking for oneself the centre of their philosophy. To put it simply, the punk movement wants to create a society where human beings are as free as possible by opposing all forms of authority. The famous “do it yourself” associated with them, more than just being a stylistic signature, is the symbol of these political demonstrations and societal reflections.
Gilles Pierroux said “Rarely has an artistic movement corresponded so amazingly with the social shock of which it is contemporary. […] the 1970s had representations marked by the seal of violence, terrorists, autonomists and punks denouncing, each in their own way, the major problems of the present world. The more acute the problem, the more violent the protest; one could almost believe that, in periods of deep crisis, society itself gives rise to marginal people whose role will be to expose the evil, thus exorcising it and solving it in part.”
A movement doomed with “no future”?
This is not to say that the movement has died out, but rather that it no longer fulfils its initial aspirations. Commercial recuperation having passed by, the artistic punk codes are well and truly present in many fields associated with art, such as high fashion, communication or cinema.
More than 40 years ago, the Sex Pistols launched the refrain “no future”, which then became the emblem of punk rock. But, paradoxically, this movement had a sequel. It endured because it revolutionised attitudes through its style of dress and its way of expressing itself. Punk has survived, and not only because of its aggressive music: it is the more global artistic movement that has survived. As Vincent Bernière, co-author of Punk Press, says: “Punk is about energy and doing things even if you don’t master the technique”. The punk movement brought a real stylistic revolution, the “Do It Yourself” gave birth to a style of dress so strong that it is still alive today. Fashion has changed people’s perception of the way they dress, their vision of the world, their way of projecting themselves into it. This fashion is like what the punk movement represented, it went against all established principles. It is a fashion that did not start in the design studios, but developed in the street and went up to the designers. Punk fashion challenged the established codes, because it provoked, uglied, and challenged. Today, it has become a norm, as Olivier Saillard, director of the Musée Galliera, points out: “Anyone can wear a piercing, pink hair, or ripped jeans today”.
Although it has lost its initial philosophy, the punk movement has had a legacy: it has made it possible to question the perception of the individual within society and the way in which he/she can express him/herself. In 1978, the band Crass sang “Punk is dead”, yet even today, there are punks in every country. Paradoxically, the promoters of punk wanted to abolish traditions and created one.