The Origins of Punk

Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen 1977 by Jamie Reid
Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen 1977 by Jamie Reid

Punk – Anarchy is order not chaos

The realities of dissatisfied working-class urban teenagers with little hope of a job, housing, or a meaningful future shaped Punk in the mid-1970s. Its visual expression in clothing was “the sartorial equivalent of swearwords,” as cultural sociologist Dick Hebdige put it at the time, and was in opposition to conventional fashion, with bondage trousers and ripped clothing, often made from unusual materials like fake leopard skin or plastic binliners.

Personal ornamentation in the form of safety pins, body piercing, and dangling chains, as well as hefty high-laced Doc Marten’s boots, were all connected with types of social ‘deviancy.’ Punk graphics, like punk music, were immediate and required little ability to manufacture in the traditional sense; they were defined by the development of several low-tech fanzines, such as Sniffin Glue, which began publication in 1976. Crudely created pages defined the style with handwritten, graffiti-like insertions and typographic errors and letters pulled out of other sources. With record covers for companies like Factory Records and Stiff Records, and the emergence of designers like Jamie Reid, who designed the controversial sleeve for the Punk band the Sex Pistols’ single God Save the Queen in 1977, showing the defaced head of Queen Elizabeth II, such ideas gained wider currency in the Punk music scene.

The Sex Pistols were founded in 1974 by entrepreneur Malcolm McClaren and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood in their King’s Road Sex store. Reid, Malcolm Garrett, and Peter Saville, all strongly identified with Punk music visuals, had all attended art school and, along with others like Neville Brody, revived graphic design by fusing Punk’s vibrancy and iconoclasm with graphic skill and knowledge of Postmodern eclecticism. However, like many other extreme challenges to everyday lives, the style’s commercialisation removed any threat, as it did with hippies and Psychedelia in the previous decade.

Sources

Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.

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