Curation & Disruption
The Boiler House
Francis Stewart (Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln)
‘Sounds of the (marginalised punk) underground: the use of noise in punk curation and narration’
Music is brilliant at crystallising emotional memories but sometimes – and punk was one of those times – it can also transmit a set of values. Within punk a significant means of transmitting those values is through the sounds it creates: musical, vocal, technological, shouting, chanting, feet stamping, bodies slamming, hands clapping, and sometimes, body parts breaking. Sounds of worship, value transmission, communal effervescence and really good (or bad) music can all be located within punk shows, performances and activism. These are all key parts of what being punk is about and are often encapsulated in the phrase “punk rock is my religion” but all take place in specific spaces designed to interact with sound in specific ways. So what happens to those sounds and what can it tell us about punk, when they are put on display in a different setting – one in which sound is almost an interloper – to memorialise the subculture? Utilising two sound recordings made at the British Library’s exhibition, this paper seeks to consider the role of sound in relation to punk and the norms of space. It will focus on marginalised punks to ask what is the relationship between sound, space and punk; how social norms and hierarchies within punk are reinforced through sound; the connection of sound and sacred; and how marginalised punks use sound to transgress and challenge troubling norms.
Russ Bestley (London College of Communication, UAL)
‘Visual Noise: Punk Graphic Design and Visual Disruption’
This paper explores the notion of visual noise and disruption as a key theme within punk aesthetics. While punk music embraced the rhetoric of do-it-yourself from the outset, the ambition to retain complete control was far more difficult in practice and the relationship between the origination of music and its reproduction and distribution needs to be carefully considered (Bestley 2018, Dale 2018). In parallel to the raw immediacy of some of the music produced under the banner of ‘punk’, a new generation of visual artists and designers helped to establish a visual language for the new movement that attempted “to capture, and communicate, the aggressive or discordant tone of the lyrics and music” (Bestley & Noble 1999). Like the music itself, while origination may have been relatively simple – even rudimentary – in practice, reproduction (of flyers, fanzines, record covers, posters and other graphic ephemera) brought its own complications.
In contrast to some reflective accounts, the originators of punk’s visual style were often far from amateur enthusiasts: a complex mix of inspired beginners, up-and-coming illustrators and designers and seasoned professionals within the music industry helped to establish a palette of punk-inspired and punk-reflective approaches that would become inseparable from the subculture. A desire to step away from ‘standard’ aesthetic conventions of harmony and composition, to embrace a sense of discordance, awkwardness and disruption, united a diversity of punk graphic design objects and artefacts. This paper explores a wide range of visual examples in order to highlight some commonalities in their approach to graphic design and typography and to underline their disruptive, ‘noisy’ intent.