Punk Survivors & Cosey Fanni Tutti

Friday 12th May
Written by Kaya Purchase 

 “It’s all about breaking down the fourth wall.” This was one of the many ways in which DJ and filmmaker Don Letts described his take on what punk was all about. This could also be used to describe the atmosphere in LEAF Bold Street on Friday 12th May for Writing on the Wall’s Punk Survivors night.
Although a spacious venue, I’d never been to a panel show with such an intimate feel. No seat in the audience was left empty, everyone felt involved in the discussion as opposed to just a witness.
This feeling of intimacy and involvement was heightened by the inclusive energy of Letts. Perched on the edge of his onstage sofa, he would repeatedly leap to his feet and bounce about the audience, at one point in the Q and A taking a seat next to someone in the crowd. It was evident that he is still filled with all the energy of punk and that to this day the deeper nuances of its attitude, its subtle influences beneath the confrontational and explosive exterior, still continue to inspire him.

Pauline Murray, of Punk band, Penetration, on the other hand had a much softer approach but her absolute dedication to music rang through her words as clearly as her aversion to, or at least scepticism of, the music ‘business’.

Then there was Steve Ignorant, singer, artist and co-founder of Crass, with his shrugging passiveness. He brought an element of upfront humour to the panel, stating that the thing that he remembers most about being a punk was wanting ‘to get pissed’ and that his mates ‘couldn’t afford to look punk so they just looked messy.’
“You have all these music colleges where they draw all these creative young people and they’re discouraged from being creative. They’re just told how to make it in the music business so that they’re all the same.”

Letts appeared however to disagree, taking the stance that young people weren’t so much being prevented from being creative and radical, it was more that they didn’t have the aspiration to be that way in the first place.

“One of the biggest problems in the West,” he said, “is the mentality of young people. A lot of them get into the (music) business not to be anti-establishment, but to get into it and walk on that red carpet and be on MTV. You need to have your values and say ‘fuck all that!’
This idea of passive consumerism calls to mind Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where the establishment isn’t challenged or even questioned, because people live in a world of consumerism. Anything they may need is all too accessible and life is so finely tuned and manufactured to conformity that it poses no challenge or possible risk. In this existence feral savagery and everything that is raw and natural is considered some sort of exotic hell hole to those so brain washed.

Could it be that with the rise of internet, today’s society is creeping into a Brave New World- esque dystopia? That the raw and feral energy of punk couldn’t possibly rise again because it would be considered a revolting onslaught to this generation of make-up tutorials, internet shopping and Itunes, where reality TV, Netflix streaming and the dynamic dust ball of media trash is opted for over political consciousness? Why have concern for the rest of the world’s realities when it’s easy to be cradled in a soft bubble of feel-good music and disposable Kardashian highlife?

Dave Grohl has been known to pose the same question, saying about pop music these days, “It’s fun to listen to, to turn up in your car when you’re in traffic, but there’s no substance at all. It’s devoid of any meaning. I’m not just saying that as a 45-year-old rock musician, I’m saying that as a human being. If the Number One song is about your butt, that’s a problem.”
Grohl’s words ring true. Most chart songs seem to be about sex, lost love or how great the singer feels in their own body. Of course, love as a theme has always dominated songs, as it should, but it seems that in today’s society we are distracted from any real issues.

Don’t think I’m not aware that music is fundamentally a form of entertainment. I appreciate that it doesn’t always have to be political and I have many beloved songs and bands that aren’t political at all. And I fully appreciate that to have some escapism is always a good thing. But the question left to ponder in the panel show is what survives punk and its anti-establishment aspect certainly isn’t visible in music today. So, what could be a possible solution to this?

Pauline described how ‘everyone did their own thing. No one was trying to fit into a particular blueprint of the music. Everyone was distinctive. It was all about your own creativity.’
Letts described how ‘it was a small step to take from the audience to the stage’ and how ‘a lot of people who went to the gigs took away that spirit and energy and it influenced everything they did. (The punks) said if you’re brave enough and you’ve got a good idea you can be involved too… it’s about breaking down the fourth wall.’
And so, we’re back where we began, but this seems like a crucial thing to take note of. The upside of living in an internet age is that surely technology enables us to ‘Do It Ourselves’ more effectively than ever. If we really want to break out of this well of apathy let’s turn punk’s D.I.Y. attitude to what we do in the everyday and utilise the technology at our fingertips to break down this fourth wall.

Steve Ignorant, once again keeping his comments short, punchy, but so relevant, gave the advice to “go down the local pub with a dictaphone, write what you think and publish it on Google to stop all this banal crap…”

Could this be the potential new wave of punk? Low key journalists sick of the system? Possibly. Watch this space!

As Letts said, "There’s no punk committee… The minute you try to bag it or define it, it loses its interest..."
The evening culminated with an intimate conversation with Roger Hill and Cosey Fanni Tutti discussing her avant-garde way of life, whether she considered herself as punk and explored her work as an artist and musician. Similar to Pauline Murray, Cosey was proud and unapologetic. She commanded the conversation and there was a definite passion for art and music she had produced.