Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Punk is dead. Long live DIY.

Boombox clubber, June 24th 2007. Photo Courtesy of

Looking back – 30 years back, to be precise – that Punk thing was all a bit tame.

Torn t-shirts bodged together with safety pins; shops called ‘SEX’; rock stars swearing on TV; rude versions of the National Anthem... Pah! An average day’s train-surfing on YouTube kinda puts Messers Maclaren, Rotten and Strummer to shame.

"Hold-up you sacrilegious, iconoclastic twat..." I here you (start to) say. And perhaps you're right, or would have been if I'd let you finish. But I'm talking now, so shurrup and listen.

If Punk was such a damp squib, how comes, when slouched in a Greenwich cinema a few weeks back, I couldn’t help but cream my pants as the story of The Clash and their Punk-rock beginnings was retold?

(The film I'm chatting on about is Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, a gushing biog of the late Clash singer, directed by long-time friend and original Punk videographer Julien Temple. It was great, and pleasantly loud - the whole cinema shook-like-fook each time White Riot graced the generally riotous soundtrack.)

If it ain’t the messy attire and naughty words of Punk circa ‘77 that still inspires and excites, then what exactly is it?

Three letters: D-I-Y

Forget about the angry, anti-establishment bravado that fuelled the original Punkstars. It’s the DIY ethic that we owe Strummer et al eternal thanks for.

And DIY is back. Big time.

Except this time it’s not angry.

All over the world (OK, all over the East End of London, Greenwich Village in NYC and other urban hotspots) the kids are doing their thing, making their shit, and generally DIY-ing it up.

Don’t believe me? Check out or for a snapshot of the DIY chic that’s rocking Shoreditch clubs like Boombox, Durrr, Foreign, Trailor Trash and Modular Club. It’s a scene where weird is wonderful and every fucker’s a self-stylist.

OK, so the kids are dressing crazy again. Who gives?

Well, that’s not even half the story. Straddling the epicentre of this new movement are gangs of DIY artists, designers, photographers, musicians, DJs, promoters and bloggers who create and communicate their own trend-setting agenda. They don’t hate the establishment. They just don’t take any notice of them. They’re doing it ALL for themselves, with a little help from interweb communities that gorge on pre-party-planning and post-party-scanning. (Yes, I’m talking about Myspace – not the apogee of middle-class dullness that is Facebook.)

Take Alistair Allan of Dirty Dirty Dancing fame (see link above), who has become a major celeb on the London fashion scene, just by taking party snaps and posting them on his makeshift web gallery the next morning. French Connection wanted him for their next shoot. They couldn’t have him: Alistair’s too busy taking pics of Hoxton eccentrics to give a toss about some poxy ad campaign.

Similarly, blogging fashion photographers like NYC's The Sartorialist are reclaimed global street-style from the magazines and advertisers. His improvised portraits match the DIY ethic of the style-conscious urbanites that feature on his blog.

Put simply: there’s a self-sufficient DIY culture out there (in London's East End, NYC and beyond) that has spawned, nurtured and showcased itself. The DIY club kids style their own kerazy-cool outfits, the DIY promoters and DJs provide the ents, the DIY photographers take the snaps, and the DIY bloggers spread the word (not forgetting the image).

Want more DIY? Check out Matthew 'the new Andy Warhol' Stone
(here and here), who shoots his !WOWOW! Collective friends in faux-renaissance poses (see below), showcasing the results in DIY exhibitions under the South Bank railway arches. Or have a flick through !WOWOW! bible Super Super, which stewarded the rise of New Rave - a fashion and music aesthetic that epitomises the nouveau DIY movement, complete with smiley overtones.

'New Rave!' you squeal. 'Isn't that hideously mainstream?' Well yes, it has become so. But that only serves to demonstrate the power and timeliness of DIY's second-coming.

I quite unashamedly attended an all-ages Hadouken! gig at ULU Union a couple of weeks back. It really was a sight to behold: hundreds of 14 / 15 year-old kiddywinks dressed-to-impress in their finest New Rave garb. I triple-cursed myself for not having a camera about my person, as this was trend heaven. The sophistication and downright impressiveness of the DIY-styling on display put your average fashion show after-party to shame. Even the simplest of looks incorporated the ubiquitous Hadouken! logo tee - buried under layers of clashing colour and complete with personalised felt-tip scrawlings, of course.

Hadouken! epitomise the DIY spirit as manifested in the current UK music scene. It's a case of grab yourself a guitar / bass / sampler / synth / glockenspiel /mic and start boshing out some noise. Folk? Rock? Electro? Electro-rock?. Ged-over-it. Genres are out the window. Other noteworthy DIY acts that have blurred boundaries to devastating effect include Bonde do Role and CSS (both recent graduates of Brazil's emergent DIY scene), plus Enter Shikari, Jack Penate, New Young Pony Club, Trash Fashion, Patrick Wolf, and (the now seasoned genre-buster) MIA. Check out the Modular Records label and their weekly East End basement rave-ups for a quick introduction to DIY dance music culture.

Music - both now and then - has been a convenient vehicle for DIY's journey toward the mainstream. But in today's tech-obsessed world there are other drivers of the DIY revolution. Diginatives empowered to create and distribute all manner of interestingness via the web are embracing DIY like never before. Marketers call it 'user-generated content'. Your average teen calls it 'videoing a band on my phone camera, uploading it to the YouTube and sharing it with me mates'.

So what does this all add up to? A new dawn for DIY. A revisiting of Punk minus the anger. A new post-Punk era that reaches beyond the Blitz Kid clique.

As some bloke in fancy trainers once said: just do it.

MTV does the green thing...

...and does it rather badly.

Firstly, the new site has no sound, just a deathly silence - which is more than a little weird coming from MTV, whose existence is (or was) premised on music promos.

Then there's the cringe-worthy copy that chats on about 'consuming' as if that were an established part of the youth venacular.

Hey, at least there's some 'ads from top agencies' - just what I was looking for. Oh, and hang on, there's something here about carbon footprints too.... *yawn*

It gets better: the 'cool stuff' section is 'coming soon!'. Great. I'll stick with the 'ads' and the 'celeb shouts' then.

Credit to MTV for managing to talk both over and under their audience at the same time, using a mixture of industry speak and patronising kiddy chat ('We've got to save this planet. SERIOUSLY!') to really miss the mark.

Christ, I've just stumbled upon the accompanying MySpace page and blog. They're not pretty.