To DIY for: Punk fanzines were as fast and furious as the music
The influence of punk can be seen everywhere, from Primark T-shirts to the font choices of wannabe-hip advertising. But while its sound and style, once a middle finger to society, now runs throughout pop culture, there is one element that has proven particularly galvanising: that do-it-yourself attitude.
Alongside punk's "anyone can play" musical approach, there emerged a DIY aesthetic in disseminating punk polemic. If words and pictures were more your thing than three-minute thrash-outs, you could start a fanzine or cut up and collage a poster. All you needed was a Xerox machine and something to say.
Jon Savage and Johan Kugelberg have collected hundreds of examples of punk ephemera in a new book, Punk: An Aesthetic. "The important thing about punk rock – apart from the energy, which was extraordinary – was that it opened up a space in which you felt you could do something," explains Savage. "The first DIY expression, after the bands themselves, were the fanzines. All these people were learning in public, growing up in public; the fanzine was part of that, definitely." Kugelberg agrees: "The punk aesthetic was the self-starter impulse, which empowered beyond conception."
He suggests we still see this legacy today: "We might say, 'I wanna protest Putin, I wanna start a blog, I wanna organise a neighbourhood bicycle race' – that's the self-starter impulse. You have to give punk mad props for that."
The book takes a broad look, rejecting the rhetoric that punk "arrives fully formed 1976, and nothing before matters", says Savage. So here's a poster from 1974, and here are the Ramones, not to mention Angel and the Snakes – an early Blondie. Or look at the 1970 cover of Fusion, featuring one of the very first uses of the term "punk". "There's lots of discussion of the word within fanzines – there's a whole fan culture seeking to strip rock back to basics and the term 'punk' keeps coming up," says Savage.
Fanzines were made fast and furiously; isn't it a little, well, ironic, to reprint them as a glossy coffee table book? "The short answer is – no doubt," concedes Kugelberg, although he also sees himself as a "good historian" in collecting these remains. Savage isn't worried: "Punk has been commodified for years and years. The point of the book is to make it look fresh; there's a lot in there people haven't seen. Hopefully people will buy it, borrow it, get it from the library – they might even steal it…"
'Punk: An Aesthetic' is published by Rizzoli, priced £35, on 15 September. An accompanying exhibition, Punk Graphics 1971-1984, is at the Hayward Gallery Project Space, London SE1, from 13 September to 4 November
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