Aesthetics of Punk Music



1. Introduction ………………………………………………………………… 2
2. Sex Pistols…Anarchy in the UK


3. The Punk Era- Cultural and Social Associations………. 4
……………. ……………. ……………………..
4. Reference List 6



Music is sound that is arranged in interesting patterns. The concept of Popular Music started in the 1940s when music broke loose from the clutches of  the so called“authentic” music such as pure classical music (although over a period of  time there used to several examples of classical forms in popular music). It is considered to be the soundtrack of the general common public and hence considered more accessible. It belongs to the ordinary people and is expressive of their needs and concerns.

Music seems to create another world which makes us belong. This is not just in terms of reference to music but also a part of our everyday life. It is allows us or motivates us to break free from the generally prejudicial society and its shallow expectations. This transcendence in popular music is as an alternative experience of social forces. According to the aesthetics of popular music, it becomes special because it defines a space without boundaries.  It breaks all barriers of classes, nations and races. Most of us find ourselves in definite places such as concert halls, clubs, pubs, listening to radio or on headphones. We are where the music takes us. (Frith, 1996)

Music has travelled through several paths since the latter part of the last century. Right from the Broadway, big band bebop, cool jazz and rhythm and blues in the 1940s, to the advent of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950s,  then folk rock, Mersey beat and later psychedelic rock of the 1960s. Then it passed through progressive and glam rock phase of the early 1970s. However, music reached a  historical status in terms of a social unrest and artistic movement in  the UK in the mid –to- late 1970s with Punk.  Then, there were several genres such as Disco, Art Rock, Post-punk, the synthesiser based pop-rock and alternative scene of the 1980s (which sprung from the punk movement), then both the grunge movement of the 1990s and finally the retro-indie sound of the current decade or the noughties again owes a lot to the punk ideologies of the 1970s.



Everyone shouted past melody, then rhyme, then harmony, then rhythm, then beat until the shout became the first principle of speech-sometimes the last. Old Oaths, carrying forgotten curses, which themselves contained buried wishes,  were  pressed  into seven-inch pieces of plastic as a bet that someone would listen, that someone would decipher codes the speaker themselves did not know they were transmitting. (Marcus G., 2001:6)

The year 1976 is marked as a cornerstone in popular music history with the advent of a radical punk group called the Sex Pistols. They were comprised of Jonny Rotten the vocalist and the central character of the band, the guitarist-Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glenn Matlock (who would eventually be replaced by Sid Vicious). ‘Anarchy in the UK’ is a song from their debut album- ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’sthe Sex Pistols’.

The music was fast, ferocious and totally uncompromising in its onslaught both in terms of sound and lyrics. It is a reflective song of  the closed society that people were living in- on many levels in terms of the general lifestyle, the elitist inaccessible music scene (in particular progressive rock), etc. It was about the need to change this boring situation. It was rock music against itself. The guitarist played with a loud feedback from his amplifier to backup the singer and his lyrics churning out of his mouth in sheer lunacy. The rhythm section on the other hand put in a fierce momentum . This music was nihilistic and anarchic. It was a new sound and an art. They stripped down the essentials of speed by discordant chaotic sounds and a fury that would burn down anything along its path. It was an anti-thesis to what popular music was construed in the first place.

Their performances were bordering on total madness and mayhem to the point that anything was possible. Insults used to be exchanged, the music gear was smashed. It was truly art against art kind of movement. Audiences used to invade the stage and hurl insults at each other . Their performances were a total mayhem which was considered  a 1970s equivalent of the Futurists fifty years before. (Worby, 2000)



 The spirit or the essence of tracks like ‘Anarchy in the UK’ is  basically the desire to live as a subject and not as an object of history. It is a direct reaction when we realise that the world we are often made to believe and accept, is  ultimately a fallacy and a product of one-track minded idealogical constructs.  It was this need- the primal need to break down the walls of a farcical society- that makes a track like ‘Anarchy in the UK’ so relevant. It can also be seen as angry music which stemmed from basic frustration with not only  the wrong things taking place in a nation but which can also be seen from a global point of view. (Marcus, 2001)

The Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees , The Clash and other bands along with people like Malcolm McLaren and Jamie Reid  (who both  had punk sensibilities and mixed with radical politics and art history that targeted college students and analytical thinkers alike) played a major role and were pioneers of this punk movement. It also soon had an impact around the world.

The word punk  in  American slang stands for a worthless person or thing (Worby, 2000). However, it could also be seen as exposing everything that is worthless. In that sense,  punk could be viewed as an attitude more than anything else. It enables us to have our voices heard and gives scope for something new to come in. It acts like a recycle bin of the music world. When there was a need for change, it played a pivotal role. Due to its revolution, it opened the doors for many acts to express their musical ideas and talents. It is also contradictory due to the fact that punk’s ideology was that of  “No Future” and what happened in the aftermath was a bright future, particularly from 1977- 1983/84 with post-punk, art-rock and new wave scene. Phenomenal bands such as The Cure, Depeche Mode and The Human League were all part of this development. They had an element of Do-it-Yourself Punk attitude but had more artistic values.

Punk had a really charged up idealism that was more realistic and focussed. Punk was really for the people and there were no distinctions between an artist and its audience or even between the sexes. It also had a Do-it-yourself ethic and shunned any following that was centered around mass marketing and music for commercial purposes. It was an attack on the establishment and this included the sentiments of women in music long left unaddressed by the recording industry. Punk gave female artists an exposure and showed the world the true potential they possessed unlike anything before it.

Even to this day the impact of punk is felt in some ways. Notably, for instance, as far as internet related to music is concerned, it is an extension of the punk revolution. Punk gave even a musically inclined common man who can just barely play an instrument or sing, the opportunity to approach a recording company which was considered next to impossible at one point of time. The internet has made it even more easier for anyone to send their songs to a record label via electronic mail (e-mail), upload their songs on their own web site, convey the information to literally anyone in the world, including recording companies, both major and independent record labels. Its effectiveness is understood to such an extent that we now even have online record labels such as Caff Corporation in England and C-Sharp Productions in America.The music world has become more colourful due to the punk revolution.



  • Frith S. (1996) ‘Performing Rites Evaluating popular Music’ (First Edition), Oxford University Press
  • Marcus G. (2001) ‘Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century’ (2001 Edition), Faber and Faber Limited
  • Worby R. (2000) ‘Cacophony’ in Emmerson S. (ed.) Music, Electronic Media    and Culture, Hants, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, pp138-163






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