With Warhol the album cover became, simultaneously, a work of art, a multiple for all, a creative laboratory and a resonance chamber for his most avant-garde ideas. The covers for The Velvet Underground & Nico in 1967 and the Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers in 1971 laid the groundwork for explosive graphic/iconographic experiments on punk vinyl sleeves that gave a core role to the photographic image. The cover of Crass’s Penis Envy (1980) used the photocopiers of the time to reproduce the simplified foregrounding of the black and white image—up with the contrast, out with the detail—started by Warhol. Said Jamie Reid, designer of those famed Sex Pistols covers, ‘I saw punk as part of an art movement covering the last hundred years, with its roots in Russian agitprop, Surrealism, Dada and Situationism’. The cover was no longer commercial packaging, but a tool for ‘articulating ideas, many of which were anti-establishment, highly theoretical and very complicated’. This artistic/political activism hijacked images like the one used for the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen: Cecil Beaton’s official Royal Jubilee portrait, found by Reid in the Daily Express. The undisguised Do-It-Yourself/collage aesthetic drawn from the photomontages of John Heartfield jelled with many punk-oriented artists’ urge to take control of both the means of production and the channels of distribution, the result being a host of independent labels like Stiff, Rough Trade, Illegal, Raw and the Buzzcocks’ New Hormones. The cover of Richard Hell & the Voidoids’ Blank Generation, whose songs are all about nihilism, self-destruction and the loss of innocence, is a thoroughgoing manifesto for that eponymous generation, with the look it invented as an antidote to this time of crisis.
‘Rock’n’roll doesn’t necessarily mean a band, a singer, or a lyric, really. It’s that question of trying to be immoral.’
Malcom McLaren (1946-2010)
1977. Punk by its very nature staked no claim to any future. A tad Situationist without knowing it, as well as tribal, unseemly and arrogant, punk spat on the economic crisis and put rock back on the street with a reminder that electric music was dangerous and kids had no time to lose. You played fast, loud and with attitude. In London, New York, Paris and Berlin hundreds of 45 singles were released weekly, every one a manifesto. Echoing Jamie Reid’s collages, Johnny Rotten declared on the radio, ‘Musical anarchy is just like: if you got a guitar, why don’t you play, as badly as you want, or as good as you can. What’s the problem?’ Then there were the songs of Iggy Pop, The Clash, The Damned and the Buzzcocks, the voices of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith crisscrossing amid the clamour of My Generation, Richard Hell responding with his nihilist anthem Blank Generation: this exhibition’s journey through sound is all guitar riffs and studio offcuts—the punk acceleration that makes you want to push the volume to the limit and celebrate what was rock’s last upsurge.
Exhibition produced in collaboration with Thierry Planelle and Bruno Blum.