“I think punk is people. Punk is community. Punk is like-minded people working together as one. And for as long as there are communities, there will be punk” BEN, DISJOY.
The fifth and final book in Ian Glasper’s heroic attempt to document the UK punk scene from the early eighties to the present day, weighs in at a hefty 650 pages. Previous volumes covered smaller time periods – Burning Britain focused on 1980-’85, Trapped In A Scene ’85-90, The Day The Country Died, the anarcho-punk off-shoot of the late 70’s and 80’s and Armed With Anger took on the 90’s. As in mainstream pop culture, there is a vaguely definable line between these periods, a measurable development and a loose ‘beginning and end’. Any attempt at carving up the last twenty years in such a way would inevitably prove futile, and with good reason: the internet, and subsequently social media, changed everything for everyone and the DIY punk scene wasn’t immune to its divisive charms. In-depth analysis of this is best left in the more capable hands of Sociology students and the Punk Scholars Network but suffice to say that it explains why the author had little choice but to cover a twenty year period in a single volume.
Of course, it’s impossible to be definitive. The underground punk scene of the last two decades is a multi-tentacled leviathan, with countless sub-genres and micro-scenes existing alongside, and often without knowledge of each others existence. Ironically, the infinite connections made possible by the ‘net resulted in a more fragmented scene than in say, 1985-1990, with that era’s community-building utilisation of the mail system via stamp-soaping, alongside flyers, fanzines and word of mouth. With such a seismic shift in mind, how then does one begin to capture this, the hardiest of scenes, in a single volume?
The authors modus operandi remains the same: let the bands do the talking. There are 111 music biz-shunning punk and hardcore bands the length and breadth of the British Isles here with a good cross-section of styles: UK82, anarcho, crust, d-beat, thrash, hardcore, riot grrrl, ukecore… (I made that last one up but THE PUKES are featured). The emphasis is on each bands individual stories, with the impact of the internet, social media, Covid-19 and Brexit delivering the coda. Many bands included have members who were active during pre-‘net decades, so have perspective of the before and after and this once again raises a perennial question: does the UK punk scene have enough ‘young blood’ coming through to ensure it’s survival? This is an insecurity that recurs through the years and the answer, so far, has always been ‘yes, at least enough to secure continuity through the fallow times’.
The long-standing scratching post of punk nostalgia and the Rebellion festival gets a regular airing. The punks of the late 70’s and early 80’s ridiculed teddy boys for their refusal to let go of their own musical youth and a sizeable element of the punk scene has followed that same path, right down to the Butlins Punk Specials. Fierce debate remains between the purists who believe it to be a sad spectacle of a once radical spirit and those who see it as a harmless social gathering, though the latter seem to be slowly grinding the former down as Rebellion increases its inclusion of ‘current’ bands.
There were always going to be omissions. The likes of FIG. 4.0, DAUNTLESS ELITE, THE MAGNIFICENT, DOWN AND OUTS, ARTERIES, MILLOY, JETS VS SHARKS et al, are conspicuous by their absence but there is a lot of material here. Big hitters like skate-thrash japesters PIZZATRAMP, the oddball social-commentary-pop of WONK UNIT, anarcho-noise merchants BAD BREEDING and brutal hardcore heroes THE DOMESTICS and GRAND COLLAPSE share the stage with SALEM RAGES’ death rock, THE MIGRAINES’ skatecore and the lo-fi rants of THE MENSTRUAL CRAMPS. The latter in particular, bring refreshing confrontation to a scene that, at least in the Rebellion-Nostalgia element, still holds to some pretty dispiriting sexist attitudes. So then, these are first-hand reports of a wildly varied scene, lovingly detailed, individual voices describing very different experiences but with a passion for a true DIY punk community as common denominator.
A section on grass-roots record labels would have made for the perfect addendum but alas, it has to end somewhere. Still, the book is crawling with crystal clear band photos, live shots and gig posters, another example of advancing technology aiding the documentation of this period.
The Scene That Would Not Die pointedly reports on a DIY punk scene that has proven itself to be the hardiest of street-fighters: shifting, rolling with the punches and swatting aside any and all threats to its survival. Arguably, it’s biggest obstacles are just around the corner but if the past is to teach us anything, it should be that you just can’t kill the spirit. Hopefully, there will be DIY journalists as dedicated as Glasper along the way to document it.
"DIY grass-roots punk rock is doing very well. It’s like Doctor Who – it regenerates every few years. There will always be a healthy turnover of bands and people, all very enthusiastic about making music, organising gigs, doing zines and record labels. And one of the things I love most about that is that the next generations usually aren’t quite so deferential to the bands that came before them. That’s exactly how it should be” DAVE, NATTERERS.