London Calling

March 6, 2020 / Ivanna English

With sunshine to my back, the thought of anarchy consumed my mind, and I remembered my rage with the wrongs of the world. Fend off the enemy, passivity. Restless, with fire capable of extinguishing injustice, a punk’s passion could save the world.

“London calling to the faraway towns

Now war is declared and battle come down

London calling to the underworld

Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls.”

– The Clash

The cry of apocalypse belted into a cold world — empty, yet belly full of injustice, corruption, pain, fear, silence. Something about being positive, something about avoidance, and it’s also not my problem. But it is. It’s everyone’s problem, but it’s not a cross that most care to bear. Gathering our bearings, we point to the world with sardonic smiles and surface-level composure. Or perhaps we fill our brains with ridiculous optimism, or naiveté that the world is indeed a happy place. However, the unabashed, angry youth challenge with raw emotions that the world thirsts for a passionate wave of change. Amorphous in expression, punk subculture possesses a large dose of passion-informed people that desire to live in a better world. In combination with loud voices and bleeding hearts, the ideologies of anarchy, activism and sincerity leave no choice but for punks to save the world.

Punk was born amidst the birthing pains of a dissatisfied generation that felt oppression and the conviction to do something about it. Anarchy is punk’s predecessor. Dating back to ancient China and Greece, philosophers questioned the necessity of a powerful state and its restrictions on individuality free from coercion. Since then, human resolve has abandoned questioning and taken to demonstrating against a state to affect change — reminding the state that its members are conscious, self-aware beings.

A core to being punk is individuality and preserving self at all costs. A love so intense that it seeks to destroy hierarchy and the limits it imposes on its people. There is a storied history of anarchy in the infamously class-systemed Great Britain.  With a plummeting economy, post-war UK incubated dark, disillusioned punks, whose density dissipated sunshine along with the hippies. Anarchy isn’t unique to British monarchy; the Korean People’s Association in Manchuria (KPAM) executed the same ideology as they sought freedom from Imperial Japan. Communism sustained the KPAM without a regulating body; its gift economy was backed by mutual aid and lasted from 1929 to 1931. In these territories, mutual banks, trade cooperatives and democratic schools were established, and operated without private property, class structure and currency. Fearing their influence would lessen in the area, Japanese and Stalinists killed off leading anarchists, and thus wrought the fall of KPAM. Though short-lived, KPAM could be considered an anarchist’s day-dream operating in full living (red) color. Surprise! Not all anarchists wear black and bleach their heads, they wear red too—and they’re not afraid to shed it.

Anarchy is not only a movement of opposition to a governing state and class systems, but also to norms. Modern punk women served as a fierce force against gendered injustice. Despite not achieving major commercial success, trans performer Jayne County used her talents to create a space in punk and Manhattan’s Lower East Side where trans people could be open about their identity and be comfortable in it. Courage is ardent self-love lathered in self-acceptance — especially in a world that fears anything other than what is called normal. Courage personified, County was a trailblazer for expression by turning norms on their heads and giving the bird to those who disapproved.

“It's hard to be true when they point and stare at you/ Conditioned to portraying the mask of masculinity/ Another blend of different shading/ I am what I am/ I don't give a damn” — “Man Enough to Be a Woman,” Jayne County

Diversion from norms extends beyond spoken language and into presentation and performance. Siouxsie Sioux from Siouxsie and the Banshees performed “asexual,” “violent, angular gyrations” that didn’t fit the patriarchal binary of being either a virgin/mother type or a lustful femme fatale. Journalists lacked the vocabulary to understand and convey her. She did not fit the mold, and being a multi-talented musician (lyricist, songwriter and drummer), her range gave her a heavier air of ambiguity. It was believed that women could “only perform within the scope of music, rather than be an active player that engages with it.” Sioux however, not only engaged with her craft, but she roughed it up in her own fashion, while extending the scope in which women could be perceived. Anarchy may be based on disruption and destruction, but it’s demolition to create room for a better world. However, calamity doesn’t precipitate without adding heat; to start a fire, someone has to light the match.

Punks are also activists. While musicians called out the world for its injustice, other famed punks have taken to the streets to display their disapproval. The very stitches in clothing made by Vivienne Westwood are a mad rebellion against societal norms — with bold font DEMOCRACY in the context of the current British monarchy. Asymmetrical, almost dizzying designs distort reality, metaphors for how unaware we might be to the world before us. Are we so lost in our own worlds that we can’t do anything about our shared world? Westwood designs gave us the iconic punk look for decades — tattered and torn sleeves with flairs of color that remind us of the joys and rages of life. Even deep into her seventies, Westwood continues to create thought-provoking pieces, and now fights the climate crisis. Clad in an earth-tone flannel and joggers with pops of rouge flowers and the iconic CHAOS beanie, Vivienne Westwood stepped foot in the Arctic to witness the current devastation — mounds of brown earth, distant melting glaciers and the absence of polar bears. Her concern has led to reconciling mass production, mindful of her ecological impact. She also partnered with Greenpeace, designing a logo for the now-familiar “Save the Arctic” graphic tee. Photographs of celebrities from Naomi Campbell to Chris Martin wearing the tee lined the walls of Waterloo Station in London. “Don’t listen to the politicians; listen to us, to the scientists,” she said at the exhibition’s opening.

“Bear a lily in thy hand;

Gates of brass cannot withstand

One touch of that magic wand.

Bear through sorrow, wrong, and ruth;

In thy heart the dew of youth,

On thy lips the smile of truth.”

– H.W. Longfellow

The lilies have long-wilted in the hands of youth, their faces strewn with stern opposition. Activism is a battle for the young, often attracting college-aged and educated youth. Youth often participate in the problems of adults to undo the grown-ups’ messes. Oftentimes peaceful, activism by youth leads to tragedy, violence incurred by police brutality and armed forces. A young activist’s power is great, enough to topple the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia through peaceful stubbornness, enough to aid the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa with mass protesting. These students were active players of affecting change; it didn’t matter who they had to face — steadfast, loud, joyful, angry in their convictions. To be rash and abrasive is integral to being punk; speak your mind and be true to the core of your identity.

In the veins of love and acceptance, sincerity would gush forth would it not be dammed by ironic, sardonic culture. Sincerity encapsulates punk, as it exposes the crude humanity in us all. While there is the experience of joy, there is anger, where there is courage, there is fear, when there is peace, there also lies frustration. Punk denies living at half-empty, where full expression of raw emotions is desired. Who would choose to live in a world where only the sun shines? While this world may give the essence of an endless summer, the beauty of the night sky would never be known to us. Getting comfortable in the dark is excruciatingly personal, and irony shields soft hearts from the edges in the world. In the process of protection, we become calloused, and the passion that affects change for a better world is hindered. The darkness, anger and frustration of punks is an expression of love. If punk were averse to these emotions, that would validate that there is nothing to be mad about, and that nothing, indeed, is wrong with our world. It’s not just a movement, punk is a way of life that is freeing not just for an individual, but the world. And the more emotion, the more activism, disruption and destruction that is evoked, the more I am convinced that punk will save the world. ■

By: Ivanna English

Layout: Elianna Panakis

Photographer: Abhi Velaga

Stylist: Maya Halabi

HMUA: Cameron Kelly

Models: Alejandro Garcia & Diana Perez

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 13 here.
ABOUT                  CONTACT                 STAFF                FAQ                 ISSUU