Stage-Dive into Punk Rock’s History and Artwork

Go deep into punk history with John Malkin’s oral history about the roots of activism in punk rock and Marie Arleth Skov’s art-historical look at the incendiary artworks created by a “no future” punk art movement.

Malkin, John. Punk Revolution!: An Oral History of Punk Rock Politics and Activism. Rowman & Littlefield. Jun. 2023. 360p. ISBN 9781538171721. $34. MUSIC
Musician/activist/filmmaker/photographer/journalist Malkin (Sounds of Freedom) conducted more than 140 interviews with musicians and influencers from the 1970s to the present for this oral history of punk rock. This book examines the roots of activism in punk and explores the genre beyond its reach in the U.S. and the UK. Regarding nods to feminism and race in punk, however, it lacks a strong history and critique. The book pulls from interviews with members of bands such as Bad Religion, Crass, Dead Kennedys, Gang of Four, and Sex Pistols. The author also talks to Noam Chomsky, Kalle Lasn, Keith McHenry, Marjane Satrapi, Laurie Anderson, and Kenneth Jarecke about punk’s impact. Although there is a wide range of interviews and stories that will attract readers interested in punk or who are fans of the bands addressed in the book, the book disappointingly focuses on a few of the main interviewees—specifically Johnny Lydon and Jello Biafra—and does not share the depth and range that could potentially come from the extensive collection of interviews. VERDICT Malkin’s book will be of interest to many, but it is not the sweeping, nuanced history that punk deserves.—Rebekah J. Buchanan

Skov, Marie Arleth. Punk Art History: Artworks from the European No Future Generation. Intellect. Jun. 2023. 350p. ISBN 9781789387001. pap. $35. FINE ARTS
Berlin-based Danish art historian Skov writes an account of the provocative art, both visual and musical, of the 1970s punk movement, created by a generation of young people without jobs, without prosperity, and without hope for the future. Skov’s thesis is that punk artists saw themselves not as the avant-garde but as the rear-guard, a “no future” movement that rejected the idea of progress in favor of tearing down a world they believed to be doomed; central tenets were hedonism, trash, commercialism, anti-hero-worship, and the abject. In the work created by punks—canvases painted with bodily fluids; cigarette-vending machines rejiggered to dispense zines and smoke bombs; street art like graffiti and posters—the art world was another enemy to destroy; punk artists often didn’t identify their work as “art” at all. This book focuses on punk art and music created in London, Amsterdam, West Berlin, and Copenhagen from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, a punk scene less likely to be familiar to United States–based readers. VERDICT Some of the heavily theoretical art-historical language might be impenetrable to lay readers, but Skov also describes incendiary punk artworks in vivid detail and with an eye for humor. The book is equally for scholars and for punk kids in cities with DIY music scenes.—Sarah Wolberg

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