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Although it is often said that punk in Australia did not have the political stirrings of punk in Britain, the movement here was more of an anti-establishment and counter culture which provided a release for band members and punters alike from the strictures of everyday life. 29 Although aspects of Melbourne were conservative in nature, the early Melbourne punk scene existed on fertile ground and by late 1977 it was really starting to flourish.
Bands operated within small local underground scenes in inner city venues, facilitated by enthusiastic impresarios who operated clubs or organized gigs in whatever venues were available - schools, garages, warehouses — and advertising was distributed via handmade printed flyers and fanzines. This do-it-yourself ethic in many cases reflected an aversion to commercial success, as well as a desire to maintain creative and financial autonomy.30
Themes of isolation and repression resonated with many who grew up in the 70's. Disenchantment grew as the promise of the 60's Peace and Love movement faded into the malaise of the 70's. This was also the first generation of "latch key" children. Divorce rates skyrocketed in the 70's. As did the need for those still married to earn two incomes. The offspring of these parents were without adult supervision for much of the time. Many had to fend for themselves, reaching maturity without the advantage of full time role models. When these kids grew up and started bands, their detachment was expressed in their music. It was sometimes stark, sometimes angry but usually played with a desperate urgency. Quite a contrast to the lightweight pop and disco that had dominated the airwaves.
Many sang about injustice and the need for change as awareness grew about growing political corruption. Personal responsibility and integrity became a mantra for others. And some encouraged living life on your own terms.
Inner city Melbourne was full of venues, both big and small, and by the end of 1979 you were able to go out 7 nights a week and see live bands like The Boys Next Door, JAB, La Femme, Teenage Radio Stars, The Negatives, The News and X-Ray-Z. The rebellious music of these bands exalted a sexual frenzy. It was pre-aids, and venereal disease was never a topic. Sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll really was the theme song!31
Brisbane's Saints are now regarded as pioneers of punk and the best evidence for those who argue that Australia created its own punk rock scene in 1976-77 and didn't just follow the lead of Britain and New York.
Setting aside the fact that the Saints never thought of themselves as punk and quickly grew to disdain the British scene once exposed to its fatuousness, the first claim is valid. The Saints' debut single, (I'm) Stranded, was released before the Sex Pistols, let alone the Clash, managed to issue some vinyl and its snotty demeanour, thrusting antagonism and bloody-minded guitar assault were a perfect distillation of the punk ethos before the fashionistas arrived.
The evidence for the latter claim is more dubious, not least because, apart from Sydney's Radio Birdman, who also never thought of themselves as punk (though that tag was quickly attached to them by media), you'd be hard-pressed to name another band in Australia both willing to destroy the industry's barriers if not the industry itself and capable of doing it on vinyl and on stage.Still, it wasn't long after the rush of releases in Britain that Australian punks from Perth to Sydney emerged.
There were all sorts of people around doing all sorts of creative things such as making music and art, screen-printing their own shirts and designing clothing, and running vintage and retro shops. Back then it was possible to live on the dole and still have a full, creative social life.
But being different to the mainstream in 1979 wasn’t always a bed of roses. For many young people to be punk was to make a real commitment to what punk meant because at times they couldn’t turn the other cheek. People wanted to kick the shit out of them for the pure reason that they looked different, or sometimes for no reason at all.
“If we were driving around in a car and looked like a punk and you saw anyone who looked like a freak you almost definitely knew them, and if you didn’t you would know them in the next 2 weeks. At the time there were very few punks around and it was like a signal to each other because of the way that we looked. You would get shit from the mainstream and get chucked out of pubs, or RSL clubs for wearing military insignia that you didn’t understand or for wearing a hat inside. I remember someone got in trouble for wearing part of a tram inspector’s uniform.”
“Walking down the street in Melbourne we used to get harassed all the time. The people in Fitzroy Street were used to it, but in the CBD people would cross the road.” Kate Buck
There was also real D.I.Y creativity late at night and the great thing was that, because venues had to provide supper with the price of the admission ticket, the punters always got fed so it didn’t matter how little money you had when you went out – and to top it off you could usually get in to somewhere for $2.
“Back in those days you had to serve food or some kind of supper if you ran a licensed venue. I still remember those ballroom suppers! Bread, Strasburg, lettuce, cheese, Savoy biscuits and French Onion dip. Sometimes there was Edgell Three Bean mix!” Cherry Ripe
“The thing that captures that time in Melbourne is that there was a capability of going out 7 nights a week and being really intellectually stimulated by the people you met and mixed with and there wasn’t a fear of difference or ideas and creativity was encouraged by people. Also there was a spirit of looking after people - people shared what they had - if you didn’t have any money you would still be given drinks or a ride somewhere. The effects are still felt now from that time.” Roland & Crusader
In Melbourne 1979, pubs closed early so people made their own fun. Closing time for most venues was still about 11pm, but after the bands were over most punters would flow out into the street to socialise and broker about where to go next. There were 3 or 4 parties thrown most nights and weekends, with bands throwing themselves together at parties, or there would be a rumour that there was a party on and because everyone turned up to the designated house it quickly turned into a party, at times often against the will of the people who lived there.
Gillian Farrow & Friend
Image courtesy of Gillian Farrow
In the 1970s punks were making a politicallycharged statement and role models such as the Sex Pistols and the Ramones influenced the scene’s dress. Military footwear, straight jeans, spiked jewellery, fishnets, brightly dyed hair and heavy eyeliner were worn by men and women.
Often, everyday objects were incorporated for aesthetic effect: purposely-ripped clothes were held together with safety pins, black tape and bin liners became dresses and skirts while razor blades and chains were used to adorn outfits. Leather, rubber and vinyl clothing, associated with trangressive sexual practices like bondage and S&M, was also common.
Designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren inspired a lot of punk's style. McLaren’s shop SEX, on King’s Road, sold the infamous DESTROY T-shirts, which featured an inverted crucifix and a Nazi Swastika.
Punk was intertwined with fashion, partly because of the relationship between the man seen as its creator and one of Britain's foremost fashion designers of the 20th century. The manager of the Sex Pistols was Malcolm McLaren, whose partner was Vivienne West-wood. Together they owned a shop on the King's Road that was originally called Sex and then Seditionaries. When the Sex Pistols started wearing their clothing, a fashion trend was born.A favourite past time for most punks of course was op-shopping. The emphasis of early punk was on individuality, so creating your own unique outfits was essential. The girl’s generally wore a mix and match of 50’s/60’s tops, dresses and costume jewelry combined with tight pants, tartan, lurex and high heeled winkle-picker or pointy toed shoes with bold makeup and Bride of Frankenstein Hair. The boys on the other hand usually wore black jeans, collared or stripy shirts, skinny ties, old suit jackets and naturally bought their shoes from Rocko’s near Malvern train station. Although there weren’t many Mohawks back then, it was still very important to have some kind of outrageous haircut that was a strong identifying feature in which to set yourself apart from the rest of society. (While this is more of a general overview of clothing and hair, naturally variations existed).
Legend has it that late 1970’s Melbourne saw a music scene that was divided
between that based south of The River, centred on the The Birthday
Party, and that based north of The River. Even the northern scene
had its own artistic schism between an emotion-destitute electronic music as
encouraged by Philip Brophy and a rampant, chaotic musical blend of electronic
and punk that became known as the Little Band scene. Whirlywirld were part of
the north-of-The-River scene and part of the Little Band scene. This is the
world the movie Dogs In Space
attempted to capture. Indeed, Ollie Olsen, who fronted Whirlywirld, was the
musical producer for this movie.
THE ARMADALE HOTEL/ BANANAS/ BOMBAY ROCK/ CHAMPION HOTEL/ CLUB HOTEL/ COLLINGWOOD TOWN HALL/
COUNCIL OF ADULT EDUCATION/ THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH HOTEL/THE EMPRESS OF INDIA/ THE ESPLANADE HOTEL/
THE EXFORD HOTEL/ THE 475 CLUB/ HEARTS/ THE GROSVENOR HOTEL / THE HELTER SKELTER CLUB/
THE JOHN BARLEYCORN HOTEL/ THE JUMP CLUB / KILLYONY CLUB / LONDON TAVERN/ MACYS/
MARIJUANA HOUSE/ THE MARKET HOTEL/ MARTINIS/ MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY/ MT ERICA HOTEL/
PRESTON INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY/ THE PRINCE OF WALES HOTEL/ / THE PUNTERS CLUB/
THE POLARIS INN/ QUEEN’S ARMS/THE RICHMOND CLUB/ RMIT/ THE SEAVIEW (CRYSTAL) BALLROOM/
THE SYDENHAM HOTEL/ STATION HOTEL/SWINBURNE COLLEGE/ THE TIGER LOUNGE/ THE TOTE/
The 243 CLUB/ THE USERS CLUB/ THE VENUE/
"We didn't have much faith in it. Some of it was very interesting
though, so we picked musical influences out of that" [Gavin] Babeez
This emphasis on accessibility exemplified punk's Do it Yourself or D.I.Y aesthetic and contrasted with the ostentatious musicianship of many of the mainstream rock bands popular in the years before the advent of punk. A 1976 issue of the English punk fanzine Sideburns featured an illustration of three chords, captioned "This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band".8 Typical punk instrumentation included one or two electric guitars, an electric bass, and a drum kit, along with vocals. In the early days of punk rock, musical virtuosity was often looked on with suspicion. According to Punk magazine founder John Holmstrom, punk was "rock and roll by people who didn't have very much skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music".9
During the first wave of punk, roughly spanning between 1974–1978, the punk scene was raging and its participants were waging war on society.
Punk rock served as a reaction against 1970s popular music such as disco music, heavy metal, progressive rock and arena rock. Punk also rejected the remnants of the 1960s hippie counterculture.
But what is Punk exactly?
- Punk is raw, fast-paced and confronting images and sounds full of defiance, nihilism, anger and energy.
- Punk challenges the current styles and conventions of rock music by stripping the musical structure down to a few basic chords with a progression and emphasis on speed 6.
- Punk is music - half sung, half screamed - savagely attacking the status quo and making them instant villains 4
- Punk band lyrics are typically frank and confrontational, and often comment on social and political issues. 7
- Punk fashion consists of ripped jeans and fishnet tights, leather jackets with patches, obscene t-shirts and bondage pants, safety pins and razorblades, studs and spikes, animal prints and tartan, garbage bags and op-shop bargains
- Punk is Noses, lips and ears pierced with safety pins, make-up that is bold and bright and hair that is vibrantly coloured and spiked for gravity-defying height and maximum effect. 5
Garry Gray quote...
Throughout punk rock history, technical accessibility and a DIY spirit have been prized. In the early days of punk rock, this ethic stood in marked contrast to what those in the scene regarded as the ostentatious musical effects and technological demands of many mainstream rock bands. Musical virtuosity was often looked on with suspicion. According to Holmstrom, punk rock was "rock and roll by people who didn't have very much skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music". In December 1976, the English fanzine Sideburns published a now-famous illustration of three chords, captioned "This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band."
1977, a second wave of the movement not only broke in both the USA and
the UK, but Australia and Canada as well. ‘Post Punk’ was named after
the punk revolution of 1977 and saw a number of bands inspired by the
‘Do It Yourself’ or (D.I.Y) spirit form with raw punk sounds. The result
was ‘Post-Punk’, a more adventurous and arty form of punk, no less
angry or political but often more musically complex and diverse. 25
Post-punk laid the groundwork for alternative rock by broadening the
idea of what punk and underground music could do. However, post-punk’s
biggest influence remains in the vast variety of sounds and styles it
pioneered, many of which proved very influential in the later
alternative rock scene. 26 ‘New Wave’ which post punk was also commonly
referred to, is a term that has been used to describe the punk rock
movement as a more commercial or chart-friendly version of punk. The
style was often mixed with other genres, such as Funk, Reggae and Ska.27
The Post Punk era saw American and UK bands like Black Flag, The Misfits, The Dead Kennedys, Neurotics, GBH, The UK Subs, The Exploited, New Model Army, Crass, Throbbing Gristle, Wire and Ireland’s Stiff Little Fingers harness the energy and aggression of earlier punk 28, while other groups, such as The Clash, who remained predominantly punk in nature were inspired by elements of the post-punk movement.
More over, the punks were marked by their attitude, where as most post-punk musicians can be marked by their lack of attitude. Punk music wanted to create a revolution. Post-punk music wanted to create art. The D.I.Y. (Do it Yourself) ethic of punk was perhaps the greatest influence the genre had on post-punk. Post-punk bands initially avoided major record labels in the pursuit of artistic freedom, and out of an 'us against them' stance towards the corporate rock world. The movement probably begins with Sonic Youth an avant-garde noise band from New York. However, there were many bands that influenced the movement like The Velvet Underground, MC5, Joy Division, and The Talking Heads.
Music lovers now had an abundance of groundbreaking, exciting bands to choose from. People were glued to their radios, wondering what new sound they would hear next. The diversity of breakout sounds hadn't been heard like this since the late 60's. For a brief moment in time, the music took precedence over the business of selling records. The New Wave 80's was a golden age of experimentation and was, as it turns out, the last great era of Rock and Roll.