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Last Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Punk rock: 30 years of subversion
In the first of a three-part series celebrating 30 years of punk rock on the World Service's Close Up programme, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren charts the origins of the music form and its cultural impact.

In the early 70s, the punk movement was brewing on both sides of the Atlantic, fuelled by a generation of disaffected young people who wanted the world to wake up.

Sex Pistols
Probably the most famous punk group of them all

They were sick of being ignored and fed up with the post war complacency.

They were weary of doing what their parents wanted, tired of feeling isolated, bored and disenfranchised.

"There was a common point in both American and British punk in that the inner cities had been left to rot," said British punk historian John Savage.

"This enabled young people to live cheaply near the centre of the city."

He said the intermingling of youth, artists, squatters and homeless people was fertile ground for the birth of the punk movement.

John Holmstrom, founding editor of legendary Punk fanzine, said New York's inner city was a scary place back then.

"There weren't many people living here so it was a little bit like the Wild West.

It's rock and roll by people who didn't have very much skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music
John Holmstrom, Punk Magazine founder

When punk rock emerged, a depressed American public was still reeling from the Vietnam War and was living through a recession.

"I felt punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that bands like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock and roll, when to me and other fans, rock and roll meant this wild and rebellious music."


Music journalist Paul Trynka believes that by the early 70s, rock and roll had lost the "basic primal energy" that defined acts like Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones.

The rebirth of rock and roll was taking place underground in cities like Detroit, with bands such as the MC5s, Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop.

Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop was provocative on stage

Iggy, who was to become a huge force in the development of punk with his band the Stooges, introduced strong imagery and unpredictability to his performance and music.

"You had this skinny guy in tight jeans which were ripped and he had this great body," said Trynka. "He had incredible eyes. He looked fantastic.

"Iggy used to go out into the crowd, get in their faces, follow people around. The crowd used to reciprocate by throwing bottles at them, cameras, cans - it was generally carnage."

Iggy believed contemporary bands, even good ones, were letting themselves down with "crummy" stage performances.

"They looked uncomfortable," he said. "They always failed to establish a stream of belief that could let me believe their songs."

"The worst part was they would play a song and play it pretty well and in between songs, they stopped to tune, so they had broken the spell."

"Our very first gig, we walked out there and we played for 25 minutes. For that 25 minutes we would never stop - we didn't even bother to end the song."


I spent a lot of time in New York in the early 70s, going to fashion shows with my then partner Vivienne Westwood.

Malcolm McLaren
McLaren was at the forefront of the punk movement

I often stayed with the scruffy demi-monde of the lower East Side, where the punk scene was breaking open.

At bars such as Max's Kansas City and CBGB, you would hear bands that had never played before coming through, such as Television, Richard Hell, Patti Smith and the Ramones.

It was an underground movement cultivated by independent, almost homemade journals or fanzines, most notably Punk.

Founder Holmstrom said he felt the word punk was an appropriate term for the scene he was writing about.

"If you search in the dictionary...punk is a little stick you light a fire cracker start trouble with it."

Another definition for punk was an inexperienced hand. "That described us pretty well," said Holmstrom. "We were beginners. We didn't really know what we were doing."

"That's a good description of punk rock. It's rock and roll by people who didn't have very much skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music."


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