Someday All The Adults Will Die! – Punk Graphics 1971-84 – Hayward Gallery London
Even after the thirty five years that have elapsed since that summer of malcontent, and punk’s subsequent elevation to one of the UK’s more written-about cultural phenomena, I still find it a little incongruous that an art house would host an exhibition about this singularly delinquent cult. Yet, the pristine white walls of the Hayward Gallery, set in the brutalist concrete South Bank complex seems the most appropriate place in London to hold this comprehensive collection of punk ephemera.
Stretching back in time further than the year-zero of myth (when the two sevens clash!) to the first use of ‘punk’ as a cultural term in the late 60’s/early 70’s, and taking in far more than just a few favoured fanzines and 7”singles, we are presented with a fascinating, international, superbly documented history of the punk years from its gestation to its late and still-snotty middle age. Original clothing, ranging from the ubiquitous Ramones T-Shirt to the rent-boy camp of Let it Rock, has its own display frame, as befit these works of art, some now priced like rare paintings.
The pivotal importance of the Xerox copying machine to many young fanzine producers is given its rightful tribute, with an impressive collection of small circulation publications and posters that were such an important part of this scene. Some deliberately crude in their execution, with hand written content, some neat and tidy with typed text throughout, all bear witness to the infectious enthusiasm of a young and combative life style that was alternately being ignored or demonised in the conventional media. The size of the fanzine collection is matched by the 7” singles on display, almost every one bearing a picture sleeve, the artwork sometimes highly professional, sometimes deliberately sloppy, but all laying down a manifesto. From bands like The Jam and The Sex Pistols, who would be playing Town Halls up and down the country and would become household names, to those who never made it beyond their fetid bedrooms, these singles are punk’s dark talismans. Someone elected to spend their pennies on them, when the same amount of cash could for example, have bought the latest by some over-hyped guitar god or temporarily famous balladeer. Instead, they chose punk’s angry thunder.
From touchstones to perhaps punk’s true legacy, the Do It Yourself ethic, is illustrated in almost every exhibit here, from the fanzines surreptitiously printed on the works copier, the self-financed singles, and the home copied cassettes of unsigned bands’ music, all gloriously free from the interference of commercial pressures. You cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer tenacity of the bands, putting their music directly into the hands of their potential audience in the pre-digital age of the personal, word of mouth contact.
The music that can be heard emerging from its glory hole has been chosen with care to take in familiar bands as well as some of the hidden gems of the era, all in lo-fi, although I would have preferred to hear them on a typical portable player of the late 70’s, for maximum authenticity.
That punk was an enclosed, incestuous world is not an argument I’d want to waste my time trying to refute. Major record companies found punk, in its early days, difficult to stomach, and their attempts to tame it would result in the ridiculous, never used poster hanging on the wall of this gallery, the Sex Pistols’ name sprayed in candy colour on a squeaky clean tiled wall. It could be the cover image for a disco single, or a particularly louche advertisement for furniture polish.
For all the bluster about anarchy within punk, the political side of the movement was often confused and misdirected, if not downright dubious. One band with a very clear political agenda are covered well here, the overtly anarchist group, Crass. Their age-old dogged determination to promote an anti-system of living is documented with innumerable fanzines and posters, some their own creation, others by those who followed in their wake.
With contributors like Jamie Reid, Liner Sterling and Penny Rimbaud, among others, I would have expected nothing less than a comprehensive history of punk, and in this, the exhibition succeeds completely.
‘Someday All the Adults Will Die!’ runs to 4th November and is FREE!
Originally posted 2012-10-15 10:05:19. Republished by Blog Post Promoter