Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night

Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night

An anthology featuring the most astute commentators and participants of the underground rise of punk, in this nuanced portrait of the era.


This original collection of insight, analysis and conversation charts the course of punk from its underground origins, when it was an un-formed and utterly alluring near-secret, through its rapid development. Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night takes in sex, style, politics and philosophy, filtered through punk experience, while believing in the ruins of memory, to explore a past whose essence is always elusive.


Composed of essays, interviews, memoirs and manifestos by veterans of London’s punk scene, Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix’s Punk is Dead is a nostalgic, intelligent homage to the brief, hazy era of “pure” London punk, before it was named, over-described and turned into another sub­cultural phenomenon. This golden age lasted somewhere between four and eighteen months, depending on who’s recollecting, although most agree that by 1978, it was over. . . . A yearning for its own prelapsarian state was built into punk’s ethos. As the punk musician-turned-philosopher Simon Critchley tells Gallix, “Because of the acute awareness of the fact that punk . . . would become a creature of the very music industry whose codes it subverted, we knew that it was going to be shortlived. And that was fine” The book is also a homage to youth and lost possibilities. In her foreword, Judy Nylon (formerly Niland) describes arriving in London in 1970 with an overnight bag and $250, wearing jean shorts and a black Borganza coat. . . . “Bands are necessarily approximations of the dreams that conjured them up”, Gallix writes in his essay “Unheard Melodies”. Punk is Dead shows the transmission of culture as a kind of lucid group dreaming. The accounts of its contributors capture the role that coincidence plays in history. Ideas can rarely be traced back to one person; they accrete and recur. . . . Gallix is eloquent in his defence of nostalgia against the cult of an amnesiac future. Punk might be not only the last great subculture in the rock and roll mode, but the most analysed and documented. Nevertheless, art and cultural histories are always reductive, and, as he writes, “the past is subtly rewritten, every nuance gradually airbrushed out of the picture”. Some of the contributors to Punk is Dead are professional writers and critics, although most of them are not. Cumulatively, their contributions evoke the texture, meaning and sensation of being young four decades ago in a now-unimaginably derelict London. They recall the smell of new vinyl records, beer, cigarettes and hair dye; the pointless squabbles with band mates; the composition of outfits; the eruption of street fights; the sweet taste of cherries picked outside a squat; and the ubiquitous brown packets of speed. . . . Some of the pieces are historical documents, while others appear for the first time in this anthology. Together, they capture the collective soul of an era. ~ Chris Kraus, Times Literary Supplement

Perhaps that’s why this anthology, Punk Is Dead, published on the eve of Never Mind the Bollocks’ 40th, feels so relevant. Punk may be, as co-editor Andrew Gallix admits, “probably the most analyzed youth cult ever,” but its resonances with the contemporary zeitgeist make it ripe for such analysis—even if, he is also quick to add, it continues to resist tidy theses. Gallix, the founder of literary webzine 3:AM, and his fellow editor, music journalist turned playwright Richard Cabut, are wise enough not to attempt any grand summations. Instead, they curate and contribute to an eclectic, dialectic collection of 28 short essays, juxtaposing historical testimonies from the eye of punk’s hurricane with more critically distanced analyses of its aftermath. The result admirably captures punk’s fractured, anarchic early spirit—if also, inevitably, some of its clannishness and opacity to newcomers. . . . As its title implies, the ultimate failure of this revolution in the head is the closest thing the book has to a running theme. Virtually every contributor avers that punk, in its most exciting form, was over before it ostensibly began. As Gallix writes in his essay “The Boy Looked at Euridyce,” the movement died “as soon as it ceased being a cult with no name… Punk—in its initial, pre-linguistic incarnation… was the potentiality of punk.” By enshrining these six months or so of ferment, before the cult became a commodity, Punk Is Dead embraces what is, on its surface, a decidedly un-punk emotion: nostalgia. But this is not the ineffectual, ideologically empty nostalgia of events like 2016’s “Punk London” celebration, presided over by the city’s then-mayor, Conservative politician and chief Brexit cheerleader Boris Johnson. Cabut, Gallix and the other contributors use their critically productive nostalgia to correct decades’ worth of the former variety: to prevent punk from being, as Judy Nylon puts it in her foreword, “reduced to a coffee-table book of white English boys spitting.” . . . [I]f reading these essays in early 2018 brings any solace, it’s the knowledge that punk has retained its vitality as an ideal, even if it has long since failed as a movement. “Once we were part of punk,” Gallix writes. “Now punk is part of us.” ~ Zachary Hoskins, Spectrum Culture

The specific purpose of the book is to celebrate that original evanescent wellspring of creativity when punkemerged as a "stylish boho response to the modern world of inertia andconsumption" and retained the "innocence characteristic of childhood" of a movement yet to be frozen by being named or sullied by exposure topopular vitriol and acclaim alike. ~ Colin Coulter, The Irish Times

In his introduction Gallix admits that punk is not only “probably the most analysed youth culture ever”, but that it’s also one of the most resistant to analysis, a problem that his book “has not quite solved”. Indeed, any attempt at a definitive examination of a movement risks a killing, like an animal categorised through vivisection. Accordingly, he and Richard Cabut have instead chosen the theme of punk as a transformative force, a becoming, not just in terms of the music and the culture around it, but in terms of the humans involved, fans icluded. Cabut and Gallix are just about old enough to be first-hand witnesses to punk: among these pieces are their own memoirs of the time. Accordingly, the book is as much testimony as it is criticism. ...Many of the essays are welcome acts of preservation. Some are taken from rare 1970s fanzines like Kill Your Pet Puppy, long extinct magazines like ZigZag and Sounds, and early 2000s blogposts, such as a typically theoretical take from the late Mark Fisher's blog K-punk. Often, these historical documents are newly annotated by their authors. . . . This layered reading gives the book a feeling of vital historical scope, rather than indulgent nostalgia. ~ Dickon Edwards, The Wire

The punk movement has, as this book readily acknowledges, been more closely analysed and chewed over more thoroughly than any other moment in pop history. While it’s true that it meant and continues to mean very different things to different people, it’s also true that in recent years the potted history version, shorn of its more interesting edges and lesser characters, is the one that’s prevailed in the age of post-pub BBC4 viewing. While this book is more of a collection of everything from academic essays and lists to personal recollections than anything claiming to be a definitive history, its chorus of different voices and agendas ultimately creates a more accurate narrative. The opening piece sees Snatch’s Judy Nylon – that’s her referred to in Brian Eno’s 1974 song ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’- reminiscing on her time in London, hooking up with Chrissie Hynde and partying with Nureyev and Keith Moon. It sets the tone well, emphasising that punk had a past as well as a future, the role of women and the American contingent in the capital’s scene, and the fact that it didn’t all revolve around McClaren and the Pistols. Elsewhere there are several big name contributions, including an essay that Simon Reynolds wrote in 1986 arguing that, on its tenth anniversary, modern music needed to escape its punk-ness to show any hope of progress. ‘England’s Dreaming’ author Jon Savage provides a fascinating history, in list form, tracking the use of the word ‘punk’ from 1946 onwards in 123 different entries. Crass figurehead Penny Rimbaud, meanwhile, shares the experience of the band’s third ever gig in ‘Banned From The Roxy’, originally penned in 1977 but now viewed with the benefit of hindsight and some honest self criticism. The most interesting bits here are the descriptions of the cast of thousands that populated and/or surrounded the scene at the time. People who weren’t in the bands that made it, those that were just there, feeding off the energy and the anarchy and reacting to it in a million different ways. The inhabitants of North London described in ‘Camden’s Dreaming’ by Richard Cabut, for instance, or the more impressionistic ‘Camera Squat Art Smiler’ by Neal Brown. They both stand up as vivid snapshots of the time as seen through their own eyes rather than any all seeing overview. This is definitely a book for those who’ve read and digested all the starter level punk literature and are seeking something a little more. They’ll find it here for sure - a generous hit of the hard stuff. ~ Ben Willmott, The Extricate blog

This is a well-selected collection of essays about punk and its cultural impact, which mixes contemporary accounts with more academic reflective approaches (sometimes in the same chapter). This means it's quite uneven but that seems appropriate given its subject. You do come away with some kind of feel how exciting it must have been to be involved in what was happening in 1976 and 1977 and how quickly the excitement seems to have dissipated. A good companion to books like Jon Savage's England's Dreaming. ~ Michael J, NetGalley

The book's title (Modernity Killed Every Night) quotes Jacques Vaché, friend to the surrealist André Breton. But Punk Is Dead isn't end-to-end cultural theory; there's a lot on clothes. Three strands unfurl - papers, essays and first-person accounts. Cabut and Gallix have included historical documents - such as Penny Rimbaud's 1977 essay, Banned from the Roxy, newly annotated by the Crass drummer - while Gallix argues that punk started ending when it acquired a name. Jon Savage is here, and Ted Polhemus and Vermorel. (...) As an interview with the punk turned philosopher Simon Critchley attests, punk unleashed ideas. It palpably changed suburban teenage futures, rather than ending them. -- Kitty Empire, The Observer, 19 November 2017 ~ Kitty Empire, The Observer

I thoroughly enjoyed Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night (Zero Books). Edited by Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix, this anthology of essays, interviews and personal recollections reflects on the ways in which punk was lived and experienced at the time. Gallix flips his finger at those who see nostalgia as an affliction and rightly attempts to promote the fragmented and contested legend of punk to "a summation of all the avant-garde movements of the 20th century . . . a revolution for everyday life. -- Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Deborah Levy has chosen Punk is Dead as one of her books of the year in the New Statesman, 17-23 November 2017: ~ Deborah Levy, New Statesman

A very fascinating book if you are interested in what the punk scene was. ~ , NetGalley

Utterly fascinating and brilliant ~ Lee Rourke, novelist

Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night **** Edited by Andrew Gallix and Richard Cabut ZERO BOOKS £17.99 Academic reactions to punk four decades on Punk‘s power lies in its highly fragmented legacy: on the one hand, nostalgic weekends in Blackpool, on the other, key critical thinking as collated here. Editors Richard Cabut (formerly of positive punks Brigandage) and Andrew Gallix, founder of 3:AM Magazine, corral some of punk’s finest theorists to document the “blank zone” in which a scene blossomed; early chroniclers such as Jon Savage and Jonh Ingham remind that it was a series of cultural seeds scattered, trigger points for what followed. Penny Rimbaud of Crass, psychogeographer Tom Vague, Barney Hoskins, Judy Nylon, Simon Reynolds and late theorist Mark Fisher all cast an academic eye over punk, finding it in Parisian art galleries, squat-land, the Angry Brigade, conceptual non-bands (Chrissie Hynde’s The Moors Murderers, Julian Cope’s Nova Mob), jive-talking McLaren wannabes, proto-Dadaist Arthur Cravan , French Situationism and German Romanticism. The subtext here suggests that punk was an outward-looking movement against the end of the British empire. Ben Myers ~ MOJO magazine, Ben Myers

Richard Cabut
Richard Cabut Richard Cabut is a writer, playwright and musician. Richard’s fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including The Edgier Water...
Andrew Gallix
Andrew Gallix Andrew Gallix has lectured at the Sorbonne University (Paris IV) in Paris since 1992. In 2000, he launched one of the first literary webzine...
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