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Punk/Noise Panel 2B

Aggression/Abjection/Transgression 2
Room G.15, Armstrong Building

Benedict Quilter (Co-Founder Independent Woman Records, NZ) – ‘Oedipus Rex: On the Myth Of Transgression In Noise Music’

S & M, Rape, Paedophilia, “Nazi aesthetics” and Sexism are as common place in fashion as they are in noise music, so why is it that those involved in so called “transgressive” art think they are subverting expectations?

In a world of normalized right wing conspiracy theories being broadcast on international news cycles where is the subversion in appropriating the iconography of the right?

Since the birth of punk in the 70s through to the birth of Industrial the lack of critical depth involved in analyzing these “subcultures” has led to a groundswell of hack artists looking to the past, exhuming Genet and Artaud and proliferating second rate nihilism. Underground currents of the 60s and 70s sought to open up the parameters of sound and vision and question established modes of looking at the world.

Writing poetry about submission and sexual humiliation with your girlfriend it seems has become the noise music equivalent of advertising for a “third” sex partner on a dating site. This talk will look at the history of these tropes in noise/underground and look at why in 2019 power electronics/industrial culture has merely been reanimated with any semblance of “cultural critique” having died off long ago.

Adam Soper (Newcastle University)
‘Swastika Girls: The Use of Nazi Imagery in Popular (Oc)culture and the Neo-folk’

This paper seeks to examine the uses of Nazi imagery in popular culture, focusing specifically on the Neo-folk movement. Neo-folk was born out of the British punk and industrial music scenes of the 1980s made up of bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Coil, and Crisis. Artists associated with the movement such as Death In June, Boyd Rice, and Current 93 have all included Nazi imagery into their work, leaving open a question if there is a systemic neo-Nazi presence in the neo-folk genre.

Extending from Jon Stratton’s account of the relationship between Jews and the holocaust within punk and glam music, this study seeks to give potential readings of the use of Nazi imagery in Neo-folk. It will explore beyond the, perhaps, simplistic reading that Nazi imagery is used for ‘shock value’ or that the work is produced by Nazi sympathisers. And, if work is produced by Nazi-sympathisers, (a question difficult to answer, concerning some groups, such as Death in June) what can the political left do to reinterpret the art and imagery to understand it through a lens of cultural trauma and coming to terms with the Holocaust? Taking into account the Swastikas multiple meanings throughout history (a good luck symbol in Ancient Rome, a peace sign in Hinduism), this paper asks is there a limit to the hijacking and repurposing of symbols by the left? If so, is the swastika that limit?

James Anderson (University of Sunderland)
‘Punk, Porn, and Politics: Pornographic Profanity in British First-Wave Punk’

This paper examines first-wave British punk’s articulations of an aesthetic language of ‘noise’ in the profane. In doing so, the paper considers the utilisation of pornographic imagery as an attempt at rupture, through at attack on ‘sacred’ conservative Middle-England values in the late-1970s. As has been well-documented, the clothing designed by Vivien Westwood and Malcolm McLaren and sold at their SEX boutique, and the later Seditionaries, were explicitly concerned pornographic images and fetish-wear including latex and bondage materials, constitutive of a ‘radical’ statement in the context of youth cultural fashions and against the norms of the period. Whilst Westwood and McLaren Whilst designs such as ‘naked cowboys’ T-shirt have been understood as an attempt to ‘shock’ indicative of punk’s attempts at provocation, their interests in fetish-ware assert a more complex relationship with icons of the sacred, as seen in their BDSM imagery, and the themes of punishment and redemption in early punk. Further, a parallel engagement with the ‘noise’ of the pornographic body is considered in the pornographic forays of Cosey Fanni Tutti, and her various art actions with Hull art collective COUM Transmissions. I discuss the culmination of Tutti’s ‘porn-as-art’ project with the notorious 1976 Prostitution show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which sparked outrage in conservative British circles; leading to the group being branded the ‘wreckers of civilisation’ in the Houses of Parliament. Through the comparison of these case studies, I proffer that whereas sexual imagery was invoked as a profane statement within Westwood-McLaren designs to ‘index a general social taboo’ (Court 2018), the work of these Tutti and COUM blurred the boundaries between pornography and art—mediating upon the sacred nature of the female body—using provocation to highlight patriarchal structures and deconstruct consumerist representations of women in British society of the late-1970s.


Published by Gustav Thomas

Claws & Tongues was started in order to provide a visible yet fluid platform with which to try out ideas for writings by Gustav Thomas that may or may not lead elsewhere, as in articles, chapters, essays, papers zines or books. Gustav Thomas is my real name in so far as it comprises the two middle names included on my birth certificate, which, as a bona fide part of my ‘real’ name makes it only a half-alias. I’m not ashamed, especially, of what one would normally consider my ‘real name,’ but I don’t intend to use it on this blog or announce it here, in this ‘about’ text, or anywhere else on this blog. That’s not because I wish to keep it somehow hidden or secret – to find out what my framing monikers are would be very easy since I’ve never sought to keep them separate from Gustav Thomas. Rather it’s because that ‘real’ name is the one that teachers, headmasters, employers, medical receptionists, the Inland Revenue, medical staff, authorities of any kind, and so on, and on, has been so thoroughly used by, and thus inextricably tied to, such institutional protocols, that it leaves me, as an individual who, like any individual has the capacity to access their own agency, very little space or scope for developing the potential power and effectiveness of that agency. Gustav Thomas happens to also be my facebook name and as a musician I also chose it (actually the first time I used it) as the pseudonym I use whenever I produced 8-bit Techno on a Gameboy (I haven’t ruled out extending that use to any beat-based project should I pursue any in the future, in preference to either Virginia Pipe or Copydex, the latter being, for obvious reasons, a strictly plunderphonic collage vehicle, anyway). Gustav Thomas also conveniently encapsulates my two ethnic provenances as half Slovene and half Welsh; they are also the first names of both my grandfathers, one a fairly well known (in his time) Slovene writer, novelist and educationalist, the other a WW2 colonel among officers who led the Normandy landings, for whatever significance that, or any other part of their own rich histories, can have, here, or in anything else that I do. Above all, I have started this blog because in my professional life, which is academic, I have made the decision, officially, to have my research assessed (by the various state bodies that do that, through the RAE, REF etc.) as much through my thinking and writing as through my art practice, which it has been exclusively so far. The kind of writing I intend to do is the kind of writing I’ve always done, over the past 15 years mostly on internal departmental blogs meant as teaching support, and will almost completely draw on things I’ve been thinking and saying within an academic context during that time. My first extended pieces, then (those that are 10,000 words or more), are being extracted from my brain as a matter of almost pathological necessity, freeing up space before I can move on and at least learn new ideas, if not make them and articulate them formally. Given the context, and my stage in life (a 50-year-old whose two kids have left home), I fully intend not to start teaching myself to write in a recognizably formal-academic style; nor do I intend for my writing to be considered as such, albeit there are inevitable traces of academia in what I’m writing due to my having earned my living as an academic for – already - too long. Instead my intention is to improve, develop and extend the style I already have which will have probably begun somewhere in early childhood when I first scrawled some short stories with the vague idea that I wanted to be a ‘writer’ and, above all which has evolved through at least three decades of learning, loving to know about, talking about, and teaching about music, art and the ideas, impulses and inherent discourses that inhabit and surround them. I am aware that I have a propensity to criticize certain other artists and commentators harshly, often with extreme formulations, in a manner easily identifiable as arrogance or some such self-interested tendency. I’m not sure exactly where that emerged from; it could be the years of being fully committed (because I knew it was right) to a mode of expressive practice that operates very consciously, and critically, beyond the reductive ring-fencing of ordained culture, what most people think of as Music and Art - Culture; it may well be, though, that I learned such an approach from certain writers I’ve read over the years – it’s in Dostoyevsky, Bukowski and DeLillo in ways I can see in my own mannerisms, but also in someone like Ben Watson/Out To Lunch, whose writing on music and ideas not only had a big impact on me but certainly also encouraged me to be bold and direct about what I knew needed saying, not least because – and this is central to everything – the way in which music, popular music, popular arts and cultures are dealt with on the day-to-day ordinary level, as in what people consume, accept and ingest, how/why they do it, manages to circumscribe completely the immeasurable seriousness regarding how politically and ideologically penetrating all art is (and was always meant to be), but especially (and this is embarrassingly tautological in a way that’s generally ignored) that which is thrust upon a people at great expense by its state and the (almost entirely) corporate (read: oligarchal) interests the State serves. I’ve been accused by colleagues of being too polemical and by Ben Watson as not being a polemicist at all, in both cases meant as identifying a weakness; I would say that to consider anything I write as polemical would be to negate any capacity it may have to say something useful – too much is being said and done by modern humanity that is unfathomably (self-)destructive. My drive in all this comes from a need not necessarily to oppose and take up the position on any opposite pole; rather I just feel that someone (as many someones as possible, starting anywhere at all, including just ‘me’) needs to be engaging in a tendency to question, starting with the very simple interruption, ‘Hang on a second… that can’t be right.’ There are tens of thousands of writers and artists already doing that very well, of course. This blog is merely a workshop from which to start making my own contribution more discernible and, just possibly, useful.

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