Punk philosophy

You could argue the need for yet another publication about punk. The ‘1976 and all that’ narrative has been told so often now that it reads like a dull pantomime with all original relevance of the story bled dry through over telling. There have been some publications in the last few years that have gone beyond this nostalgic rehash, such as 2012’s excellent Punk: An Aesthetic, but recently published The Truth of Revolution, Brother: An Exploration of Punk Philosophy (Situation Press) focusses, as the title says, on an area of the punk phenomenon that has largely been ignored.

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Produced by Lisa Sofia, Robin Ryde and Charlie Waterhouse, The Truth of Revolution, Brother, taking its title from a lyric by UK’s Crass, mostly examines second and third generation punks that took the early rebellious attitude and DIY beliefs and formed life philosophies of them. The UK anarcho-punk scene is more of a starting point for many of the very personal stories told throughout to book, and specifically Crass are cited by many as being influential to their world view. But this book is much more expansive than that as the authors travelled the globe to interview those they thought carried the spirit of ‘Do It Yourself’ and who looked for alternatives to accepted societal belief systems. Interviews with Crass‘ Penny Rimbaud, Steve Ignorant and Gee Vaucher, Subhumans’ Dick Lucas and the Poison Girls’ Vi Subversa tell the tale of alternative living and libertarian leanings in the UK. What punk meant to those on the other side of the Atlantic is represented by American comic book author and singer songwriter Jeffrey Lewis, producer / musician Steve Albini, straight-edge pioneer and Fugazi guitarist Ian MacKaye and Dead Kennedys‘ Jello Biafra.

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Penny Rimbaud

Similar themes emerge throughout the different interviews, from being anti-war to championing vegetarianism, from environmental concerns to resolutely rejecting the ideology of government and control. While this may be a book about philosophy, personal politics and taking responsibility for your own actions is really at its heart.

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It is incredible to see what impact a small music scene from the UK, (in anarcho-punk), has had globally, for this isn’t just a tale of Anglo-American agit-prop. Einar Örn Benediktsson, (from Iceland’s The Sugarcubes), and Jón Gnarr formed the Best Party as a protest against Iceland’s 2008 economic crash which resulted in Gnarr becoming Major of Reykjavik in 2010—both cite punk as major influences on their attitude to politics. When it was set up the Best Party declared it would dissolve itself and as a result, after 4 years in power, Gnarr stepped down as Mayor this year after successfully running the city on anarchist principles. Benediktsson, who was a City Councillor says: “I’m an anarchist and people say, ‘But you’re not an anarchist because you work within the system. You are part of the system now’. Okay, I may be part of the system, but what I learned through punk was to listen and to take on board ideas, to try to understand and not make up my mind that things should be only one way.” After also stepping down after his first term, he goes on to say: “I don’t want the power. It’s not mine to own. It is everybody else’s so please, please come in, use it, be part of it because it’s ours to share, to feel good. I don’t think it’s naïve to say it.”

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The interviews running throughout the book are interspersed with topic heading such as Disruption; Construction; Distraction; Creation; and The Dark Side of Punk as monikers to discuss different philosophical attitudes that emanated from punk. Anarchy as a political theory and personal practice is interwoven throughout, and shining through all the interviews and discussions is a positive attitude to humanity and wanting to make life better firstly through self-determination and secondly through not wanting to rip others off. As a result, at the heart of this is a very humanist world view, one that believes living by a personal set of principles is as important as trying to shake things up.

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There are several new pieces of artwork featured throughout as well, from the likes of Gee Vaucher, Jeffrey Lewis, Dominic Thackray, Gaye Black and David King, among others.

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Jeffrey Lewis, 2014

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David King, 2014

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Dominic Thackray, 2014

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Gee Vaucher, 2014

Co-author Charlie Waterhouse, a graphic designer and photographer, has ensured that the book is beautifully typeset avoiding any punk aesthetic clichés. This helps to set this study firmly in the here and now, deliberately steering this away from coffee table book nostalgia and ensuring the reader sees this text is about the relevancy of punk and its myriad of associated philosophies to today.

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Gee Vaucher

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Each of the authors have been affected by punk as a musical force in different ways. “Charlie’s life was derailed when he heard the Fall’s Lay Of The Land on [John] Peel'”, declares the acknowledgements. While, “Lisa’s DJing career was almost strangled at birth by Steve Albini when she cued up her first record by Big Black at the wrong speed,”…and “Robin cut his teeth on punk music at the age of 13 by sneaking into UK Subs and Stiff Little Fingers gigs”. It goes on to say: “Although none of them knew it, The Truth of Revolution, Brother was always going to be the result of their friendship.”

For myself this book has allowed me to reflect on my days as a punk and the attitudes and beliefs that sprang from reading bands’ lyrics as I listened to their music. This went on to shape my personal view of the world and my sense of responsibility to those around me and society in general. One of the things that bands like Crass did for me was to teach me not to just be anti something but to also consider my role in shaping the world. As such, my vegetarianism, environmental considerations and distrust of hierarchical structures and elites comes very much from my time listening to Crass and associated bands in my late teens and early twenties. While I haven’t called myself a punk in years—I haven’t needed the youthful obsession of creating an identity for myself and thus labelling my whole persona for many years—this book has made me think again about punk as a proud term, the philosophies I adopted in my youth that have stuck with me to this day, and how this has shaped my outlook on life. And for that, I am very grateful to Lisa, Robin and Charlie, and to all the contributors to The Truth of Revolution, Brother.

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Truth of Revolution back cover

The Truth of Revolution, Brother and a number of prints of photographs taken while conducting interviews can be purchased directly from Situation Press

Below, Crass’ Bloody Revolutions, the last line of which gives this publication its title: