Punk design

Punk. Damn, even the sound it makes – after all these years, it still sounds weighty, like you dropped a block of granite on a wooden floor. Punk. You just have to take it seriously, don’t you? So, sure, punk’s not dead – or at least, it lives on, in many forms. No, it’s not likely that the real punk ethic as created back in the late 1970s will ever truly be able to be resuscitated. After all, times change and things move on. But of all the legacies – and there are many – punk has given us, there’s one outstanding element that refuses to die – the punk design ethic.   Punk design   By its very nature, the idea of punk in terms of design was all about rewriting the rules, abandoning the accepted format and making something new that’s a departure from the old. So, after 40 years of brutal lyrics, crazy mohawks, ripped tees, leather jackets and Doc Martens, what do we have? Much like every other movement that’s crested the wave and blown open, lots of what would be considered ‘punk’ design is in fact a watered-down version of the original. Fair enough – in many cases, the rough nature of punk was very rough indeed. But as time passes, the rebellious edge seems to have mellowed with age – take, for example, the classic ‘God Save The Queen’ design by Jamie Reid. Created using letters cut out of newspapers, his artwork – created for the single by the same name, by the Sex Pistols – is considered ‘the single most iconic image of the punk era’. These days? It wouldn’t be considered particularly hectic, but then we have the benefit of 40 years’ worth of hindsight.   Punk design   Moving swiftly on: the very essence of punk is rebellion, but let’s not forget there’s a very real stripe of everything deathly and skeletal too. Why this should be for a genre of music and subculture that’s always been very much about the youth is that the situations that gave rise to punk in the 1960s and 1970s – unemployment, depressed economies and repression from conservative governments – lent themselves to a very real fascination with the darker side of life. So, it follows that a liking for skulls, skeletons and the skull & crossbones of pirate flags struck a chord, and continue to do so. So what did we get out of it? Today, you can hardly walk a street in any major city of the world without encountering the legacy of this element of punk design: skulls are on any number of products targeted at the youth demographic, and have been a prominent part of the music scene in many genres for years.   Punk design   Think heavy metal, think straight edge and even all the way through to dance music and the skate scene – the skulls that you see all draw some heritage from the classic Misfits ‘Fiend’ design and also from prominent UK bands like The Exploited.  Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull? Yep, you guessed it – without punk having broken the liberal use of skulls way back when, chances are it wouldn’t have been quite as well received. For that matter, the entire genre of steampunk wouldn’t have shaped up to much, if all it had to lean against was steam, right?   Punk design   Right – steampunk then is a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Add the edge and louche nature of punk to vintage and Victoriana, and a new creature emerges – one that’s foppish without being too much of a dandy, gritty enough to carry off the attitude of Alex in A Clockwork Orange but not quite so genteel that it’ll settle down to a cup of tea with the Queen quite yet.   Punk design Yes, it’s the punk in steampunk that really brings the idea to bear in fashion and any of the many ways in which custom culture has embraced the brass, cogs, pipes, chains, studs, copper and leather that made up much of the cobbled-together punk look of the Kings’ Road back when Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were punting their new thing at their shop, named ‘Sex’.   Punk design Add to that the rubber and bondage elements that were a very real early component of early punk as it was shaping up in the UK – and Westwood & Maclaren’s shop – and you get a look that’s not a million miles away from some of the freshest fashion found in the high streets of the world today. Studded heels? Wouldn’t have happened without punk. Kids with crazy mohawk hairdos? Never happened without punk. Cosplay? Very much influenced by punk. At the end of the day, if you dig a little deeper, you start to see where the punk movement has affected much we consider mainstream culture today. So here’s to an often-overlooked subculture that’s been very influential for design as a whole – thanks, punk!  

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