I recently did a short interview with author and punk historian Jon Savage, about his new book Punk 45: The Singles Cover Art of Punk 1976-80. Here’s the interview in full.
ØH: Punk is always seen as a year zero, but what do you think were the main influences of all the people making record labels for the punk bands?
JS: As far as the labels were concerned, I’d say that the inspiration would have been first Chiswick Records – Ted Carroll and Roger Armstrong – which began in late 1975, and Greg Shaw’s BOMP label, which began in 1974. As far as those were concerned, I should think the inspiration was enthusiasm and desperation: both came out of shops, so they would have seen a market for a particular kind of music that was not being catered to.
Later labels would have been inspired by those two, and Stiff – which began in summer 1976 – and then in terms of Punk the Buzzcocks and the Desperate Bicycles – both of whom turned Independence into a positive virtue. This idea of Do It Yourself and independence also cross referred with the produciton of fanzines and the slow spread through the UK of independent record shops that would sell non-chart and non-mainstream records.
ØH: What is the legacy of this work, in the worlds of design and art? Has the punk aesthetic grown larger than the music it grew out of?
JS: In terms of a wider impact, I would say so. The music of Punk is historical, but the images can transcend time and space. A very obvious example is Gary Panter’s image for The Screamers, which has been used by many other people in the last thirty years. Also the ideas of collage and autonomy are still very powerful.
ØH: I interviewed designer Art Chantry recently, and he told me how important the visual element was for spreading punk in the States, that it was more important than the music. “Punk was something you saw, you didn’t hear it on radio or tv or got the music in the record store. You read about it, and you saw the commercials for the records. I bought records because they looked punk, the design was the language,” he said. Do you agree that the visual element was the most important for the spread of punk around the world?
JS: The visual element was fantastically important. Even more than making music, it was something you could do for yourself without any money and you had an instant outlet for any designs that you made – either on record covers or in fanzines. I did both in the late seventies, and I wasn’t even thinking about becoming a designer. It was an opportunity that was available, thanks to Punk’s prevailing self-starter spirit and the emergence of a production and an economy which allowed artistic freedom.