Oi! Oi! Punk Attitude Past in Present in the UK, Europe and Beyond: What’s next for Punk Now and the Punk Scholars Network?
By Sarah Raine, PhD Candidate, BCU
The second day of the Punk Now!! conference began with a paper by Birmingham-based photographer, Bethany Kane, focusing on the divisive and complex role of politics within the current Oi! scene. Due to desires by both participants and promoters alike to distance themselves from extremist politics, bands within the Oi! scene are increasingly expected to publicly announce their political affiliation, complicated by scene rumours and the past activities of band members, both circulated through social media. The role of social media in the political activities of punk was also discussed by Gez Addictive and Sophie Sparham who looked at internal policing of extremism the scene and asked pertinent questions concerning the use of social media by punks and the issues of self-policing the ideologies and activities of scene members. Amy Corcoran’s paper provided another example of political views expressed, namely anti-police sentiment, arguing that the current anger at police brutality and corruption are productively expressed through the genre and the display of anti-police symbols and slogans on the wearer’s body, actively defying the state.
The place of the body in punk resistance and expression was further discussed during Megan Sormus’ paper on zines. Through the example of the riot grrrl zines, Megan argues that the alternative femininities constructed through the collage zine framework and bodily bricolage, both created through a cut and paste punk identity, work as an empowering tool for young women, providing a new space within which the parameters of normative femininity can be redrawn and tried on. The power of zines in the current scene was also emphasised by Michael Murphy’s study of key networks between bands and promoters in the Republic of Ireland and role that zines played in the championing of local acts, linking Republic bands with those outside the country alongside entrepreneurs from Dublin and an economy of tape-trading.
Dominic Deane, Holly Tessler and Luc Robène and Solveig Serre conceptualized punk spaces within their papers, documenting punk from Leeds to La Miroiterie squat in Paris. Dominic situates the development of the Leeds punk scene within the post-industrial spaces of the city, bridging the gap between the technologies of the twenty-first century and reappropriated nineteenth-century textile mills and industrial warehouses in the construction of a locally framed punk identity and history. Luc and Solveig’s paper analysed the artistic life within La Miroiterie, a highly influential centre for the Parisian alternative art scene, arguing that this subversive space provided opportunity for free thinking, yet set both ideological and spatial boundaries itself which, while different to those of the wider world, limited its freedom. From DIY punks to the Medway scene, Holly reconsidered the use of the punk DIY ethos by Medway musicians and artists in Kent in the construction of a network of creative production, demonstrating that the term “punk” is here used not to suggest genre affiliation, but rather an approach to expression and thought.
In his keynote presentation, Alastair “Gords” Gordon conceptualized the current and retrospective focus of punk music and visual culture as the impact of a spectral past and exploring the ways in which punk now is haunted by punk past. While earlier bands, individuals and art remain highly influential in the continuations and deviations of current forms and scene practices, “Gords” argues that these forms should not be considered pale imitations of a glorious (and authentic) past, but rather a space within which original items circulate and play an “authentic” role within the current scene. These implications of the past within the present were also discussed in Roy Wallace’s paper on punk networks within Belgium, which played a historic role in the development of a vibrant European scene network, while maintaining a unique diversity of inclusion, particular to the Belgian culture. For Alexander Hay, punk music is itself a historic document, to be read within the particular historical context within which it was produced as both a commentary and a historical primary text.
The two-day conference was brought to a close by the Punk Scholars Network committee, who further outlined their vision for this and other events, namely bringing together like-minded individuals to discuss ideas and to create an international community through which projects could be supported. Alastair “Gords” Gordon echoed this sentiment in his statement that at such events, speakers should present and question as equals, discussing things together. Through documenting this and other events and using social media as an accessible platform, Matt Grimes advocated the development of an archive, to which all can contribute. An application of the punk DIY ethos ran through the points made within this plenary, urging all interested to “build what they hope to find” in the continuation and future development of the Punk Scholars Network, aptly concluding a creative and thought provoking conference.
Day Two of the Punk Now!! conference included papers from:
Alastair Gordon (Keynote Speaker)- De Montfort University, Leicester
Bethany Kane- independent photographer
Dominic Deane- PhD candidate, University of Manchester
Megan Sormus- PhD candidate, Northumbria University
Michael Murphy- Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Ireland
Roy Wallace- University of Northampton
Luc Robène & Solveig Serre- Université de Bordeaux, THALIM and CNRS, THALIM, France
Alexander Hay- Southampton Solent University
Holly Tessler- University of the West of Scotland
Amy Corcoran- PhD candidate, Queen Mary University of London
Sophie Sparham & Gez Addictive- journalist for Derby Telegraph and lead signer for Anti-Pasti and Addictive Philosophy
Zoe Armour- PhD candidate, De Montfort University
The conference was closed by a plenary from the Punk Scholars Network Committee: Matt Grimes, Russ Bestley, Alastair ‘Gords’ Gordon and Pete Dale.
The Punk Now!! conference ran at Birmingham City University on the 29th and 30th of October, hosted by the Punk Scholars Network in conjunction with Birmingham City University, the Birmingham School of Media, The Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research and the London College of Communication.