"All you need is one guy or girl to stand up and say "Fuck this," and everyone goes: Voice of a generation - thank you. I've been thinking that, I never had the guts to say it - and all of a sudden - "Fuck this" has a backbeat." - Henry Rollins in PUNK: attitude
Late 1960s/early 1970s: The Paris riots and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations - the first televised urban insurrections - had a galvanizing impact on the youth of the world. In London, the ever-expanding 'dole queues' and the proliferation of workers' strikes were creating an uncontainable feeling of frustration and dissent.
Mid 1970s: Revolution ignited on the streets of London and New York. Volatile subcultures, led by musicians challenged the establishment, shook the status quo and began to seep into mainstream consciousness. While the angry, reductive music and do-it-yourself attitude was snatched up by continents of disenfranchised youth, it struck fear into media and government.
The product of youth rebellion, the punk movement had its originators, its intellectuals, its trendsetters and its burnouts. It inspired an entire generation of filmmakers, poets, photographers, fashion designers and graphic artists. And then punk disappeared…or did it?
In PUNK: attitude, pioneers of the 1970s/80s punk movement rock us and shock us with their stories. Contributors include Tommy Ramone (The Ramones), Glen Matlock and Steve Jones (The Sex Pistols), Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (The Clash), Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), David Johansen (New York Dolls), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Siouxie Sioux (The Banshees), Captain Sensible (The Damned), John Cale (The Velvet Underground), Howard Devoto and Pete Shelly (The Buzzcocks), writer Legs McNeil, rock photographer Bob Gruen and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.
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CLICK HERE to enter the contest right now! And don't for get to watch PUNK: Attitude on IFC Saturday July 9 at 10pm ET/11pm PT.
In the 1970s, the likes of Joe Strummer (The Clash) were grabbing guitars. Their friend Don Letts - a renowned London DJ at the time - grabbed a Super-8 camera. Inspired by the punk do-it-yourself philosophy, Letts went on to direct over 300 music videos, including all those of The Clash. Previous documentaries include Grammy-winning The Clash: Westway to the World (1999), The Revolution will not be televised: Gil Scott Heron (2003) and Sun Ra: The Brother from Another Planet (2005).
Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) relates:
"Everyone was always hanging out in Don's room because he had all the records…The Slits would be up there, The Clash would up there. That was the beauty of that scene, everyone got a band together."
As testament to the power and appeal of PUNK: attitude, the film celebrated its world premiere (documentary competition) at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in April, followed by its West Coast premiere at Seattle Film Festival.
11:30pm Jesus of Suburbia (IFC Original short film)
11:45pm SLC Punk! (1999, Dir. James Merendino, starring Matthew Lillard)
1:30am special episode of Henry's Film Corner, hosted by Henry Rollins
Where Did Punk Come From?
PUNK: attitude explores major pre-punk influences, such as MC5, Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, The New York Dolls, Suicide, Patti Smith and Television.
The NY punk scene aesthetic was born out of necessity more than it was out of fashion: safety pins were used to hold clothes together. Meanwhile, London boutique owners Malcolm McClaren (manager of The Sex Pistols) and Vivienne Westwood (fashion designer) became synonymous with the punk 'look'.
Eventually 'tabloid' punks began sporting trash liners, while safety pins became an accessory, and hung from ears, noses, even cheeks. This 'fashion' became uniform and regimented - contradicting the original anti-branding ideals of punk rock.
Media and Punk Rock: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Punk?
When the media got hold of punk, they tried to squeeze the life out of it, labeling any music they didn't understand as 'punk rock'. But the musicians didn't want to be labeled 'punk', especially by the very establishments they hated. Despite grappling to categorize 'punk' and affix to it a set of stereotypes, the media and society were afraid, and saw the musicians and their fans as an aggressive threat to the status quo.
The Ramones put New York punk rock on the map. Their fast and furious style of under-three-minute songs, and simple, often self-mocking lyrics, exploded in the UK and soon reached the rest of America, making "punk rock" a household term.
God Save the Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols' short, but explosive career incited a cultural revolution. In 1976, a bemused interviewer on a British television talk show dared Pistols' band members to curse on live television. The public were outraged. The media went wild, running headlines such as, "The Filth and the Fury.'
Ready to tour the US, The Pistols were initially denied visas. At San Antonio's Randy's Rodeo, The Pistols played to 2,000 boozing rednecks, who were all ready to pick a fight with the band members (exacerbated by Johnny Rotten's t-shirt, bearing two gay cowboys having sex.) By the time they reached San Francisco, they were playing to massive audiences. But shortly following the US tour, the Sex Pistols broke up.
The Story of the Clash
It's been said that the Sex Pistols made you want to smash your head against the wall, while the Clash gave you a reason. Joe Strummer was well aware that something he thought of in his basement had the potential to drive a disillusioned youth across the world into action, hence his many references to radio broadcasts.
The Clash were inspired by black movements against the white regime and wanted to incite a similar passion into white youths. The inspiration behind the song "White Riot" draws comparisons with MC5's goal to create a "White Panther Party" years earlier.
CBGB's and The Roxy
The requirement for bands playing at New York's CBGB's (Country, Blue Grass, Blues) was that they play their own music. These gigs exposed many people to revolutionary bands like Television, The Ramones, Blondie, and Patti Smith.
On January 1, 1977, The Clash played opening night at London's first punk venue. At The Roxy, a whole generation of punks were turned onto reggae by then - DJ Don Letts. However, due to the fact that bartenders were selling joints and everyone was doing speed, the club couldn't make ends meet and closed after 100 days. The Roxy wasn't the only 'closure' blamed on drugs. According to some, when the speed users turned to smack, punk itself was over.
Punk is Dead?
Many bands from the original punk scene pursued careers as musicians, and therefore evolved from the reductive three-chord blasting, began honing their craft and experimenting with new types of music. Many broke up and started new bands: Johnny Lyndon (The Sex Pistols) formed Public Image, Howard Devoto went from The Buzzcocks to Magazine, Blondie became "New Wave".
According to Don Letts, 'punk' is not encapsulated in a single historic moment in time. It is an ongoing dynamic of counter-culture, of dissatisfaction with society, government, media, corporations - that pumps political awakening into a lethargic youth. 'Punk' is an attitude to mainstream culture that declares: what seems impossible is possible.
NO WAVE: Though hated by most punk fans, bands such as Theoretical Girls, DNA and Teenage Jesus were determined to challenge people with their music and lyrics.
PUNK-HOP: Late 70s/early 80s New York - punk began to merge with hip hop (Beastie Boys). Like punk, hip hop was a communication tool, a cranked-up microphone to empower to the disenfranchised and the dissatisfied. One major difference in the two music genres was that punks saw riches as an embarrassment and against their ethos, while hip hop artists went all out for the gold.
HARDCORE PUNK: With the record labels closing their doors to punk, musicians once again broke free and went underground. Music from bands such Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and Agnostic Front got faster and more intense…
NO DRINK, NO SMOKE, NO FUCK: Punk bands such as Minor Threat, Teen Idols and Fugazi began the "no drink, no smoke, no fuck" mentality, creating a counter culture to the counter-culture. Fugazi would not do interviews in any publication that included liquor and tobacco advertisements.
Nirvana, Sonic Youth and the Year that Punk Broke
A Seattle band called Nirvana exploded into mainstream culture. Record companies flung open the doors for other punk-inspired rock bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. But Nirvana didn't come from "nowhere" – their core audience were the hardcore punk fan base that had brewed underground for ten years. Nirvana made the angry punk attitude palatable for the masses, and appealed to the disillusioned, depressed white youth. Today, bands like Green Day, Offspring, Rancid and Blink 182 are direct descendants of punk rock.
The more repression mainstream society and government place upon youth, the more valuable punk attitude becomes. It is in this spirit that Letts made this film:
"The only reason to reflect on the past is to see a way forward. This film is like a call to arms. Many young people today have forgotten how to empower themselves. They're served innocuous helpings of MTV, which by its very ideology, is devoid of politics or anything radical. As punks, we said, 'Never trust anyone over 30,' but sometimes I think it should be 'Never trust anyone under 30.' – A lot of young people are so 'establishment' now. If a punk attitude happened back then it can happen again and, looking at the situation today, it sure needs to! Director Don Letts