A Brief History of UK pUNK BY Digital BY bIrTH.

I was watching a documentary on the roots of the UK punk scene back in the 70’s. Interesting stuff as this is the era of punk I love the best.

It all started out when the youth rediscovered 50’s rock and roll and there was a cult revival of the time, sounds and style. At this time Macolm Mclaren was running a 50’s throw back fashion store and later soon to be punks were buying early rock and roll and RnB music from record traders and car boots. They liked the rebelliousness of the music, the attitude to life and sex and the relative simplicity of the music.

The next stage in the birth of UK punk was the London “Pub Rock” scene that emerged. These were typically bands playing old rock and roll standards but without great degrees of musical talent, however the scene was massive but mainly performed by old “beery” guys with beards and it wasn’t until young 18 and 20 years olds reached the age they could properly go out and drink that the punk evolution fully started. Two groups mainly bridged the gap between the pub rock scene and the punk revolution these being “Eddie and the Hot rods” and “Dr Feelgood”. In
the case of the latter they were basically an RnB band but they had the angular guitars of Wilko Johnson and raw, aggression of what was to come. Many see “ Dr Feelgood” as the first punk band, well in England at least. “MC 5” probably hold that honour in the USA.

As punk emerged Macolm Mclaren changed his store’s name to “Sex” and started selling punk clothes based around leather, studs and bondage. He was also key in the creation of the “Sex Pistols”. After seeing the “New
York Dolls” he decided he wanted to put together a punk band of his own and recruited a number of kids from his store. John Lydon who was to become the infamous “Jonny Rotten” was given the job of singer after he was spotted in Camden wearing an “ I hate Pink Floyd” T shirt. After one audition where he took the piss out of “Alice Cooper” songs the job was his. “King Jonny” and the Pistols were to UK punk - and indeed punk worldwide - what “Black Sabbath” were to metal – although in many ways
they were one of the first manufactured bands. Hardly punk is it?

Another of the key bands during the emergence of punk were “The Clash”. Joe Strummer was living in a squat and formed a band called the “101ers” not as a reference to the Orwell novel but just the address of the house
they had taken over. Their only ambition was to be a great “Pub Rock” band but after seeing the “Sex Pistols”, Joe was blown away by the hate and energy and after taking on Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky “Topper” Headon “The Clash” were born. The Clash were on of the first punk bands to incorporate elements of Dub, Reggae and funk way ahead of what would become the two tone movement of which they were to be embraced.

Typical 70’s UK punk included a number of diverse bands but they were unified into a scene by a few basic factors such as a hatred of the glitz and pomposity of “Glam rock” and the over complication of “Prog rock”, usually a lack of musical skills often just playing a few simple
chords – although bands like “Ian Dury and the BlockHeads” and “The Stranglers” did break this template – and lastly an attitude of raw, angry politics as a reaction to mass unemployment and bleak job prospects for teenagers in England at the time.

There emerged a number of punk bands making a a few good hits like “The Undertones”, “Buzzcocks”, “The Adverts”, “X- ray Specs”, “The Rutts” and a number of other disposable heroes. Later the scene developed in the
more pop based “New Wave” with bands and Artist like “Elvis Costello”, “Martha and the Muffins” and “The Tear Drop Explodes”, the embracing of typically black music also lead to the “Ska beat” and “Two Tone” music
dominated by such bands as “Maddness” , “The Specials” and “The Police”.

Sadly the UK punk scene eventually dissolved into the “New Romantics” movement where all the attitude was changed for eye liner, and the guitars for horrible electronic drums and blippy synths lead by people like “Gary Numan”.

The reason I take such an interest in this is that I feel that this is also the origins of our own music as “Digital BY Birth”, although taking a detour through 80’s US Hardcore, The Beastie Boys and of course the late/great Refused. Admittedly we only have two members and use
programming and machines to make all our beats much like “Ministry” or “Godflesh” but I still view us as a “Post Punk” band. To hear our small contribution to all things punk try this link.