Words by Jess Ralph
A – Anarchy in the UK
“I am the antichrist! I am an anarchist!” snarls Johnny Rotten on the opening lines of The Sex Pistols’ debut single, released in 1976 on their Never Mind The Bollocks album. With its references to nihilistic civilian violence (“ I wanna destroy the passerby!”) , the IRA and bleak visions of capitalist greed (“ Your future dream is in a shopping scheme!”) , the track caused middle England to collectively choke on their tea-dipped custard creams when it first hit the airwaves, and made the Pistols public enemy number one in the tabloid press. Anarchy in the UK was quickly banned – which is exactly what the band’s manager, Malcolm McLaren, would have wanted – cementing the Sex Pistols, and the song, in rock ‘n’ roll infamy.
B- Batcave Club
Situated at 69, Dean Street in Soho, The Batcave was a weekly club night running from 1982-6. With its cobweb and black plastic lined walls, and musical policy of “no funk, no disco”, the club became London goth’s de facto community centre, attracting a plethora of eyeliner wearing, leather clad freaks and deviants; regulars including Siouxsie Sioux, Robert Smith, Nick Cave, the members of Bauhaus and Alien Sex Fiend.
A music venue essential to the mythology of New York City cool. Opening in 1973 in the Bowery area of the East Village- which at the time was famed for both its artistic residents and its high crime rate- CBGB’s became an incubator for New York’s burgeoning punk and new wave music scene , playing host to the early gigs of Suicide, Televison, Patti Smith, Talking Heads , Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Blondie and The Cramps to name but a few. All this, despite being one of the most misguidedly named clubs in history – “CBGB” standing for “Country, BlueGrass, Blues.”
D – Dadaism
Avant-garde, absurdist, anti-bourgeoisie early 20th European art movement. Following on from the “anti-art” movement of Marcel Duchamp and the like pre-WWII, and serving as a precursor to Surrealism, Dada (name intentionally nonsensical) first emerged in the bohemian cafes of Zurich and Berlin, before later spreading to New York and Paris. With its principles of “Abolition of logic / Abolition of memory/ Abolition of future…interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions, grotesques, inconsistencies,” (according to its 1918 manifesto penned by Hugo Ball), the Dadaists created “shock art” as a rejection of bourgeoisie subtleties spanning the mediums of painting, collage, performance art, poetry, sound works and pioneering the ‘cut up’ writing technique. Notable artists include Hannah Hoch, Jean Arp, George Grosz, and the early work of Man Ray.
E – Electrowerkz
Converted from 1920s metalworks in 1980, the (charmingly) dilapidated, industrial space of North London’s Electrowerkz is one of the capitals oldest alternative music and club night venues, most notably holding host to Slimelight, the longest running regular goth club night, since 1987. Not resting on its dark dance laurels, a night at Electrowerkz is still a regular fixture for the London raver, with newer nights such as queer techno rave Riposte, or neo-goth/performance art night Wraith bringing in the Gen Z crowd.
Shiny, shiny boots of leather! From the lyrics of Lou Reed, the proto comic book kinkery of the art of John Willie,the provocative seventies creations of Vivienne Westwood to the nightmarish gimp of cult Tarantino flick Pulp Fiction , the sexually transgressive world of fetish, BDSM (and its affiliated bondage gear) has inspired an innumerable amount of art, music, cinema, and fashion in the last century. Whether a gateway to tap into the darker crevices of human desire, or simply for those who like the feel of the squeak of latex against their skin, Bondage! Up Yours!
G – Gimme Danger
2016 documentary, directed by indie cinema darling Jim Jarmusch, charting the rise, fall, reunion and legacy of Iggy Pop and The Stooges. The film’s title is taken from the track of the same name which features on the bands Raw Power (1972) album, which was produced by David Bowie and is widely regarded as setting the musical and stylistic tone for punk rock, which emerged later in the decade.
H – The Hacienda
Iconic Manchester warehouse club, run by legendary record label Factory Records. Opening in 1982, The Hacienda struggled financially for its first few years- being mostly kept afloat by the money generated from the success of New Order’s 12” single, Blue Monday- until 1987, when it became one of the first British clubs to play Ibiza style house music. The venue became synonymous with the emerging rave subculture, pioneering acid house and Madchester bands such as The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. The club’s interior – industrial, urban, the emblematic neon yellow and black diagonal stripes- was designed by Ben Kelly, upon the recommendation of Factory Records’ graphic designer, Peter Saville.
I -In The Gutter
A glorious cut and paste mash up of punk scenester portraits, scathing soundbites and in-the-midst-of-it gig photography, In The Gutter (pieced together by TV presenter Val Hennesey and released in 1978) offers a fascinating visual diary of the bombastic rise of punk, as and when it happened.
Derek Jarman’s 1978 film begins with Queen Elizabeth I being visited by the Shakespearean sprite, Ariel. Ariel transports the Tudor queen to the dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscape of a bleakly satirised 70s Britain, where she encounters the chaotic and morally defunct world of a gaggle of misfits, artists, and nihilistic punks. Starring SEX shop girl Jordan Rooke ( who features in two of the film’s most iconic scenes, one where she ballet dances in burning rubble, the other in a campy, bastardised rendition of “Rule Britannia”), a pre dandy highwayman Adam Ant and featuring cameos from Siouxsie Sioux, Warhol superstar Jayne Country and mime artist Lindsay Kemp, the film is regarded as a cult classic, though drew criticism from the dame of punk herself, Vivienne Westwood at the time of release- Seditionaries briefly stocked a t-shirt featuring Westwood’s scorching review of the film, describing Jubilee as “the most boring and therefore disgusting film I have ever seen”!
K- Kustom Kulture
Emerging from the greaser subculture and underground drag racing first popularised in 1960s California, Kustom Kulture is the art works and fashions associated with the customising and ‘hot rodding’ of cars and motorbikes. The aesthetics of Kustom Kulture draw from a wide range of influences, including classic americana, cartoons, graffiti, and rockabilly tattoo styles; custom car builder and pin striper Von Dutch (Kenny Howard), George Barris ( who designed the bat mobile for the 1966 Batman film), and cartoonist Ed “Big Daddy” Roth were all integral in shaping the subculture.
L- Let It Rock
The first of the string of boutiques run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren at 420 Kings Rd, Chelsea. Opening in 1971, Let it Rock specialised in both vintage and newly made fashions inspired by the 1950s Teddy Boy subculture – think zoot suits, drainpipe trousers and thick soled brothel creeper shoes. Let It Rock was followed by Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die in 1973, SEX in ‘74, Seditionaries in ‘76 and Worlds End in 1980.
M- Mute Records
Independent record label started in 1978 by producer and musician Daniel Miller in 1978. Under Miller’s musical moniker ‘The Normal,’ the first single released on the label was Warm Leatherette; inspired by J.G Ballard’s controversial novel ‘Crash’ and later famously covered by Grace Jones in 1980. Mute signed many acts that were pioneering in the genres of alternative dance, post-punk, dark wave, industrial and EBM, including Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and Nitzer Ebb.
N – Naked Lunch
Transgressive Beat literature classic, Naked Lunch is a novel by William Burroughs published in 1959. A surreal, nauseating trip of a book, it was composed primarily by Burroughs’ use of the Dadaist ‘cut up’ writing, and structured in a series of loosely connected, non-linear vignettes. Following the narration of ‘junkie’ William Lee and his descension into the nightmarish realm of the ‘interzone,’ the many references to extreme violence, illegal substances (Burroughs was a well-known user of heroin) and homosexuality, the novel was the subject of many high profile ‘obscenity’ trials in the USA and was subsequently banned in Boston and California.
O-One Hundred Club
Located at 100, Oxford Street, the 100 club is the world’s longest running music venue, first opening in 1942 as a jazz and swing club catering for jitterbugging GI’s. In its over 80 years of history, 100 Club has played host to an impressive roster of bands and pioneering music scenes; from the garage rock of The Kinks and The Who in the ‘60s, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Siouxsie and The Banshees at the birth of punk rock in the ‘70s, Northern Soul all-nighters in the ‘80s and 90’s indie acts such Suede, Primal Scream and Blur.
P- Punk Poets
Punk may conjure connotations of angrily thrashing at a guitar, yet poetry has been an integral part of the subculture’s creative output since its eruption in the ‘70s, with many punk poets also being prominent musicians. In New York, Patti Smith – known as the ‘punk poet laureate’- described her seminal 1975 album Horses as “three chord rock merged with the power of word” (think for example of the prose like opening verse of Gloria: In Excelsis Deo), along with frequently performing poetry readings at CBGB’s and publishing 20 books of verse. Tom Verlaine of Television and Richard Hell of The Voidoids were also published poets. In the UK, Salford’s finest John Cooper Clarke frequently opened gigs for bands such as The Buzzcocks, The Fall and Joy Division, with his bitingly cynical and black humoured poetry focused on the realities of Thatcher’s Britain.
Cultural and social off-shoot of punk subculture that emerged in the mid-1980s, Queercore blended the anti-authoritarianism and DIY ethos of punk with LGBTQ+ activism. Queercore culture manifested itself in political organisation (protests, manifestos), punk rock, film, visual art, and independent publications- notably J.D.s zine, which was founded by Canadian artist G.B Jones and future cult queer arthouse cinema director Bruce LaBruce. The movement was explored in the 2017 documentary ‘Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution”.
R- Riot Grrrl
Emerging from Washington, USA in the early 1990’s, Riot Grrrl was an underground feminist punk movement that centred third-wave feminist politics, the (anger and rage of) the female experience and empowerment in its rock music; it was also strongly associated with the Queercore movement. Many Riot Grrrl bands had exclusively female line-ups and attacked the predominantly male, and structurally misogynistic status quo of the music industry and punk music scenes. Notable bands include Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, L7 and Babes in Toyland. Riot Grrrl influenced 2000’s feminist electroclash acts such as Peaches and Le Tigre.
Political and avant-garde art movement, founded in Europe in the late 1950s. Informed by Marxist theory, the concept of “the spectacle” (first explored by cultural theorist Guy Debord in his 1967 book, The Society of the Spectacle) and the Dadaists, the Situationists employed cultural criticism and radical ‘shock-art’ to attack capitalism, commodity fetishism, and the political apathy of modernist art movements. The ideology of the Situationists is said to have inspired the student uprisings in France of May ‘68, and their ideas and artistic language influenced punk.
Cult 1996 film directed by Danny Boyle, based on the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name. Trainspotting follows the lives and escapades of a group of societally disenfranchised heroin users in an economically depressed area of Edinburgh and is notable in its cinematic merge of gritty realism and fantastical visuals, such as the infamous scene when Mark “Rent Boy” Renton (played by Ewan McGregor) plunges into “the worst toilet in Scotland.” Also, the films stellar soundtrack, featuring Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, New Order and 90’s Britpop and dance acts such as Pulp, Blur, Elastica, Primal Scream and Underworld.
An epicentre of London’s swingin’ sixties counterculture, the short-lived UFO Club was a multidisciplinary arts space founded by IT magazine journalist John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins and music producer Joe Boyd. In its nine-month tenure (opening in December 1966 and folding by August ‘67), the venue was Britain’s first club dedicated to psychedelic rock; Pink Floyd and The Soft Machine were the house bands, along with other acts such as Procol Harum and Jimi Hendrix taking the stage. The club also hosted beatnik poetry readings, the Avant Garde performance art of Yoko Ono, and screenings of experimental art house film.
V- Velvet Goldmine
1998 musical film directed by Todd Haynes, Velvet Goldmine follows the rise to fame and demise of fictional glam rock superstar Brain Slade (played by Ewan McGregor). Bisexual, androgynous and sartorially flamboyant, the character of Brian Slade is (with no subtlety) heavily inspired by David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era, though also borrows from other glam rock icons such as Roxy Music’s Brian Ferry and Marc Bolan. The character and narrative arc of Curt Wild- a washed up rock star whom Slade idolises and tries to help get back on their musical feet- also closely resembles Bowie’s relationship with both Iggy Pop and Lou Reed in the early ‘70s. Velvet Goldmine’s soundtrack- though notably absent of Bowie’s catalogue, who refused for any of his songs to be used in the film- features many of glam rocks greatest hits, including covers by contemporary artists such as Placebo’s rendition of T.Rex’s 20th Century Boy, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke covering Roxy Music’s Ladytron, and Teenage Fanclub doing Personality Crisis by The New York Dolls.
Opening its doors in 1982 on Wardour Street, Soho, Wag Club was founded by (then still a student at Central Saint Martins, future London nightlife icon) Chris Sullivan. The Wag revolutionised British clubbing, consistently embracing new scenes and musical styles (from hosting the first hip-hop night in the UK, to helping kick-start acid house with its DJ bookings of Frankie Knuckles and Andy Weatherall) and its crowd of cool kids and eclectic mix of superstars including David Bowie, John Galliano, Neneh Cherry, Leigh Bowery, Madonna, and Grayson Perry. The Wag shut its doors in 2002, another victim of Soho’s gentrification.
Photo credit Graham Smith
X- Gen X
Sitting between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, Gen X are the generational cohort regarded as being born between 1965-1980. Gen X grew up in a time of social flux and transformation, with a simultaneously more liberal yet cynical outlook then their Baby Boomer parents. In the UK, their youth was defined by the backdrop of Thatcher’s government. The musical and subcultural styles of punk, goth, new romantic, post-punk, grunge, hip-hop, rave/acid-house, shoegaze and Britpop all emerged from Gen X’ers.
Genre defying Japanese rock group formed in 1997, that blended heavy metal, cold wave electronica and classical music. Fronted by Yui Itsuki ( who goes by the moniker “Dictator of Life, Supreme Leader of the Fairy Empire), many of the bands tracks have been used for the opening titles of anime series including Future Diary, Magical Pokan, Innocent Venus, and The Qwaser of Stigmata.
Z – Zines
DIY and independently made, self-published magazines, usually catering to a niche and outsider audience. Zines first emerged as part of science fiction fan culture in the 1940s, though became an integral part of punk subculture in the ‘70s, with titles such as Sniffin’ Glue offering in-the-know band reviews, interviews, and photography. Iconic alternative fashion and culture magazines The Face and i-D both started as zines in the early ‘80s. Since punk, zines became a fundamental part of the artistic and intellectual communication of many underground cultures, such as Queercore and Riot Grrrl. More recently there has been a revival in zine making culture, usually attributed as a reaction to the inauthenticity and homogenization of post-digital media.