Sunday, March 12, 2017

Po-going places

Just as geographical distance, isolation and the local environment/context can result in the evolution of unique adaptations and varieties of particular animals, and even completely unique species (think Australia and Madagascar), so they can give rise to localised, distinctive and often surprising musical subcultures. It's this fact that prompted the Musical Cities series on Sounding Bored - thus far, we've focused on the scenes in Glasgow, Oxford and Manchester, seeking to identify their specific character and exploring the factors (economic, historical, geographical) that lie behind that uniqueness.

I've just finished reading the Manchester chapter of Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again, which details the grim environs that birthed Joy Division and The Fall and inevitably references the indisputably significant but poorly attended and much mythologised Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976. Frank Owen's account of those turbulent times - taking the reader from the scene's spiritual home at the Ranch, the basement of a gay club, to Wolverhampton by coach for a Pistols gig that ended in complete carnage, to the pitched battles with rival subcultures (the Teddy Boys, the Perry Boys, football hooligans), to the establishment of Factory as the epicentre of Manchester's music culture - might not add much that's new, but it does come from someone who was an eyewitness to events, as a member of contemporary punk outfit Manicured Noise.

Across the Irish Sea, the late 1970s punk scene in Belfast has been celebrated on the big screen in Good Vibrations, but what's perhaps less well known is that there was a subculture of Pistols-style punk music and fashion in the city in the late 1990s, focused around the Warzone collective. Ricky Adam captured the grotty clubs, ripped clothing and spiked haircuts on camera. (To be honest, it's probably a good thing that the wider world never heard the music of a band called Mr Nipples And The Dangleberries.)

Arguably even more surprising is that in the early 1980s kids in Airdrie, on the outskirts of Glasgow, were obsessed with Johnny Thunders, Lou Reed and Throbbing Gristle. That might seem unlikely, but not so according to David Keenan, at least, who has written about his formative years there in the form of an article for the Guardian and a novel (This Is Memorial Device) for Faber.

Sometimes, of course, distinctive subcultures develop not in geographical isolation but in cultural epicentres - such as the Polish punk scene in London, which appears to be in rude good health. In a piece for Noisey, Jak Hutchcraft has sketched out the history of punk's popularity in Poland, initially as a form of protest against communist/totalitarian rule, and spoken to some of the key players about the contemporary scene in the UK.

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