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Proving That Punk's Not Dead

Nick AmiesSeptember 23, 2004

It was a movement that was destined to live fast, die young. But nearly 30 years on, Punk's not dead. In fact, it's alive and kicking and about to enjoy its first ever international congress in Kassel, Germany.

Safety pins come as standard

Punk -- the movement that espoused the "live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse drenched in phlegm" philosophy -- remains a contradiction in the 21st century. The fact that people are still dedicated to its lifestyle of anarchy, spontaneity and chaos surely challenges what the first burst of punk stood for.

Punk should've died by its own design, but the original movement that burnt out as fast as the songs that littered its soundtrack is almost 30 years old.

And yet, punk is as contemporary a scene today as it was in 1976 when it kicked its way out of the United States and found fresh impetus from the King's Road in London and then burst onto the international popular culture scene on the back of manufactured fashion, amateurish music and glorious mayhem.

It is testament to the ideals behind the hype that punk has survived and is thriving in contemporary pop culture. While the likes of the Sex Pistols extolled the virtues of a manifesto built on destruction as part of an image, the energy behind punk endures. So much so that it has reached the point that it can be considered worthy enough for its own international congress.

Kassel hosts first ever congress

Punk-Kongress Kassel
Preparations get underway for the Punk Congress.Image: dpa

Kassel in Germany plays host to the first ever international Punk congress from Sept. 22 to Sept. 26. Devotees are expected to flock to the German city -- not to fight and spit, but to congregate with musicians, social scientists, fans and artists to discuss this most enduring worldwide phenomenon.

The main focus of the discussion will be the social and cultural conditions that gave birth to punk and the creation of so many different strands after the initial death of the original wave of bands. Another main topic in the seminars will focus on the importance of punk in the former East Germany and in Yugoslavia.

US-born, European expression

While pioneered by US acts such as The Stooges and The Ramones, the first taste of punk for Europe came from closer to home. The Sex Pistols, managed by Malcolm McLaren and dressed by Vivien Westwood, spewed across the UK and eventually onto the continent and beyond.

Everywhere the message went, it was adopted in a different form, reacting to the social conditions of the time and place. In the Eastern Bloc, punk became a subversive art movement; in West Berlin and Zurich, the punks belonged to the squatter's scene.

Debate and discussion rather than destruction

Chinesische Punks
Chinese punks.Image: AP

But as fast as it had arrived, the manufactured punk scene disappeared leaving the way of life that many still live today. It is one of punk's many contradictions: why the messengers of immediacy died away so quickly while the message itself endured.

This and other contradictions will be addressed over three days and four nights in Northern Hessen as attempts will be made to analyze the movement through scientific and reflective discussion -- not the first thing one would associate with the punk movement.

"Punk is itself a contradiction: a completely nihilistic and ecstatic departure, a negation of all existing forms and at the same time a creative explosion," so reads the conference literature's introduction, a shock for those expecting simply, "destroy!"

Defying its roots

Pogo im Ratinger Hof
The energy of punk lived on as the bands imploded.Image: ar/gee gleim

The idea for the event came about after an explosion of publications on the phenomenon of punk at the end of the 1990s, each philosophizing on why a movement of such brutal exuberance, doomed to a fast demise, lived on.

"Thus came into being the idea to bring together actors from all regions," explained the organizers.

The congress has gained massive support to the tune of €140,000 ($171,000), with the organizers expecting 2,000 visitors to take part and enjoy the lectures, discussions and events. There will also be films, literature and, of course, a lot of music.

It seems that punk is far from dead.