The recent arrests and the on going trial of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot confirms exactly why punk's rallying cry against authority remains as potent as ever.
Punk music has long been a haven for misfits and mavericks alike. A creative force to be reckoned with, for decades it has been a violent vehicle for self-expression. From the visceral ferocity of hardcore bands such as Black Flag, to the cutting lyrics of Propagandhi, punk has helped shatter conventional norms and tackle questions of identify and authority. Yet despite all this, one must conclude for UK at least, punk no longer has much shock value - it can even be dismissed as a mere fashion choice at best. How else, can you explain for the fact that Ramones' T-shirts can be bought in H & M - surely the ultimate bastion of the establishment? It would seem that punk doesn't exactly have the Chipping Norton set cowering in a corner and declaring a moral panic.
However, while punk's impact on the UK may resonate less forcefully than it once did, the best elements of punk - its idealism, transient urgency and thoroughly brazen attitude can be found reverberating around the world. The history of political music is rife with DIY attitude and a desire to confront restrictive regimes. Some of the most intriguing and shocking stories from these regimes come from the underground music created during them. From the folk grit of Woody Guthrie, to the righteous anger of Rage Against The Machine and the revival of socially conscious hip-hop, music still remains a vital tool in brining attention to societies' ills.
Nevertheless, the upsurge in politically motivated arrests seem to suggest that the tough questions concerning essentials freedoms of speech, thought and association are not be being asked on the streets of London or Washington DC as such, but rather in the villages of Pakistan and Israel, homes in Idonesia and squats in the former soviet bloc. The recent high profile arrests of punks by governments show that where creativity lies, power's attempt to censor it will soon follow.
Complicated questions concerning the schism between morality and music are also at the heart of these arrests. For some Pussy Riot reaffirms the moral decay that ripples through generations, while the Indonesian punks were detained in order to receive 'moral rehabilitation'. Though ofcourse the fear that music brings about the downfall of decency is as old as rock and roll itself, long before Elvis shaked his hips, music and morality had an uncomfortable relationship. It is an argument that at its root resists the change and innovation that music can bring. At it's best music embodies the contradictions of everyday life, it is inclusive while being highly individualistic and offers complex perspectives on life, death, hedonism and spirituality.
So, while it seems for now, the punks' have their backs forced against the wall, there are some encouraging signs. The emergence of Taqwacore in Pakistan and a fledgling punk movement in Israel show that as long as you have a guitar and can play the chords C,D and G the battle against state censorship and the fight for a more open society will be one not easily quelled.
Creativity has always played its part in challenging authority whether that be in the form of the Czech's Charter 77, John and Yoko's love -in or even as some would claim, the recent Occupy movement. Punk's brash enthusiasm and tradition for 'sticking it to the man' is exactly what is being put on show by these arrests. While authorities' believe that censorship will simply suppress these protests, by using state muscle, governments are inversely helping to show exactly why punk's vitriol is more pungent than ever. Hey Ho Let's Go.Suggest a correction