The Year Punk Broke

I’ll get straight to the year in question. It was 1991 and according to the title above quoting a rockumentary film of the same name, this series of European concerts by a group of American indie bands points to a moment in time where music chose to make a great shift. It doesn’t happen often and usually it’s not until years later that you can put your finger on one of the events and say that is where this genre of music came about or this was the moment just before a group made it big.

When compared to other live concerts down through the years, the concerts on this DVD aren’t particularly memorable but the line up here tells a story of timing. While the likes of Sonic Youth, Babes in Toyland and Dinosaur Junior were never going to be palatable enough for the mainstream, there was a band that would be. No it wasn’t the Ramones. They had had their time in the spotlight and were arguably the godfathers of American punk. They did have billing though and it’s odd that as their starlight was on the wane, a young band called Nirvana were touring Europe for the first time with them. The following year Nirvana were the biggest band on the planet and as I alluded to in a post last year they were the driving force behind a new direction in music and a few sub-genres to boot.

The Ramones - They all had the same surname...but they weren't brothers.

The Ramones – They all had the same surname…but they weren’t brothers.

I would always describe myself as having eclectic taste in music and a curious ear. But what that ‘curious’ means to me simply is that I’m listening out for a little bit of originality not necessarily a defining moment of change. So much good music can be lost to the agendas of big corporates that have to make a buck and of course the blandness of the top 40. It’s a wonder these moments happen at all – but they do. So what about other similar moments? Well it is often these great seemingly one-off gigs that drive new musical moments. Think of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show or the rooftop concert. Think of Hendrix at Woodstock, Nirvana Unplugged or Queen at Live Aid. These are massive moments that have changed the course of music and it was as much about the cameras being there as it was about crowd size.

Speaking of crowd size, there is a now infamous gig that everybody says they were at but in truth the venue only had room for 150. Now I wasn’t there because it was played on the the 4th of June 1976 and I still had three weeks to be born. However, I’ve heard all the stories and bought into the mythology. At roughly the same time the Ramones were carving their niche in the New York punk scene, the Sex Pistols were doing the same in Britain. Before they had done their ‘Nirvana,’ they played a gig at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Hardly anyone was there however some were. Names such as Howard Devoto, Steven Morrissey, Bernard Sumner and Tony Wilson are quoted as being present. Who? Perhaps it’s better if I just mention the bands they were involved with/signed: The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, Buzzcocks, Happy Mondays and a nightclub where acid house and rave arguably had it’s origins (The Hacienda).

So what we have apart from a gig the year before the Sex Pistols made punk music their own, is a great big cornerstone in the history of rock, punk, post-punk, new wave, gothic, British indie, Brit pop, electronica and dance music. You get a sense of it watching the movies Control and 24 Hour Party People but where the next big moment is coming from, who can tell?

When I list off a bunch of Genres such as: heavy metal, funk, soul, disco, punk, techno, new wave, rap and reggae. It seems as if so many genres and sub-genres of music had their heyday in the 70’s and 80’s but that heyday hasn’t yet been recaptured. While each has evolved in some way into an accessible form that suits the now, my biggest question is: When is the next big moment and what will it be? Perhaps it happened already in a small hall in your neighbourhood and you, of all people, were there.

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