Books - P

POST PUNK THEN AND NOW - Gavin Butt, Mark Fisher and Kodwo Eshun {302 pages, Repeater}
There’s an interesting, and really quite innovative premise behind this book. Obviously it’s about Post-Punk - that era where Punk mutated and progressed beyond the rhetoric and bar chords of the likes of SEX PISTOLS, CLASH et al and into a new arena with the likes of GANG OF FOUR, ADAM AND THE ANTZ, MEKONS and even CRASS. Bands that eschewed the thrash in favour of texture, angles and more focused politics but remained resolutely independent and anti-corporate. From around these bands sprung artists, film makers, zinesters and writers. This book also eschews the traditional oral biography and/or historical narrative in favour of transcribing nine lectures/ public conversations with notable Post-Punks and, in most cases, includes questions from the audience following the lecture.
Of those featured, two of the most interesting are a wonderfully out-spoken LYDIA LUNCH interview which is simply excellent reading, making the reader laugh out loud, squirm and marvel - often all within one question - which opens the book, and the closing interview with Tom Vague of Vague zine in which each issue of the zine is analysed and discussed along with his personal situation at the time and his thoughts given the benefit of hindsight.
Other notable extracts is a chat with artists Gee Vaucher (CRASS) and Laura Oldfield Ford (whose work provides the cover of the book). This, probably more than any other part of the book, highlights the difference (and similarity) between someone from the 70s and another from the current era. THE JAM and the band’s importance get an insightful discussion from Mark Fisher, and Gavin Butt analyses bands that formed in Art School. Elsewhere there are looks at scenes in Poland and Brazil.
Of course, a danger with this kind of book, and particularly when those who compile it are authors and university lecturers, is that it can come from an over-educated and slightly pretentious perspective. The Preface states the origins of the book were anything “but academic” and generally it avoids that academic stuffiness. However, the contributions from Kodwo Eshun (including an interview with Green Gartside of SCRITTI POLITTI), bored me with a rather pompous narrative and contributed the only parts of this book I couldn’t read due to tedium.
Where appropriate, the book is filled out with graphics, a brief biography of each contributor and another innovative masterstroke as an Introduction that sees a round-the-table discussion with the three main contributors.
The spontaneous audience contributions certainly added a new and engrossing dimension to the chapters and could’ve been utilised to a greater degree in many cases.
Without a doubt, this was an enjoyable read. It takes the reader back to an era that spawned a great deal of innovation and originality and gave birth to a number of individuals whose work still resonates today - and in many cases are still productive today. It would’ve been beneficial to the book in general if the burgeoning Positive Punk/ Goth scene of the time was featured - especially if it the interview would have been conducted by Dominic Johnson who was responsible for the Lydia Lunch piece.
So, does this offer any new, 21st century perspectives on Post Punk? Without a doubt it does, although some take more work to find than others. For those who were too young to ‘be there’, this is a valuable tool for reflection, while providing enough reminiscences to captivate those who were. (07.02.18)