This article, encouraging and intellectualizing the use of punk style in graphic design, is not entirely punk. All apologies. That being said…
Sometime in the 70s, the youth started getting dissatisfied. Tired of what they were being spoon-fed by a mainstream media who no longer seemed to care for them, there began a small — but quickly growing — uprising of bands. They took 1950s style rock ‘n roll, turned up the volume, and increased the speed.
And punk rock was born.
The Ramones at Eric’s Club, Liverpool, England by Ian Dickson
Don’t Accept What They’re Giving You
With New York and London were at the epicenter of this invention of a subculture, and bands like New York’s The Ramones and London’s The Sex Pistols led the punk uprising from a small sect to a phenomenon. With these newly formed identities and values came new forms of graphical expression to match their means and their ideals. Punk expounds an aesthetic and a mood that is aggressive and contemporary, urban and raw, ephemeral and instantaneous, regressive and regurgitated. It’s about a group of people calling for change through joyful havoc.
F*** Your Typesetter
Seminal album artwork for seminal Sex Pistols album God Save the Queen, design by Jamie Reed
Due to punk’s nature as a movement outside of the mainstream, and particularly outside of general capitalist and consumerist media, lots of punk imagery was created by the innate needs of the culture and the access of its’ members to the requisite technologies. In their creation of their own graphical style for album sleeves, concert flyers and self-published zines, a general Do It Yourself (DIY) ethos was adopted out of practicality and to show autonomy from what was going on in the industry at large.
Typesetters, aside from being expensive in a poor economy, also situated text on a rigid grid. In order to get around these limitations and restrictions, punk imagery took to a variety of methods to showcase their simple, dirty and aggressive messages. This collage style suggested a ripping up and starting again. The style takes a commercial image and repurposes it for revolutionary purposes. With punk’s general disdain for all things conventional the freedom this hand created format allowed punk style to break out of the typographic grid that was limiting to most designers at the time when text was regularly formatted in this standardized method.
Made famous most originally with this album artwork for The Sex Pistol’s first major album release, God Save the Queen, the Pistols both subverted status quo opinions on the British monarchy and standard methods of typesetting. Although Reid’s use of borrowed and mish-mashed lettering could be seen as an inexpensive shortcut, it was also an imagery ‘borrowed’ from the graphic language of anger and protest. A ransom note seems to scream GIVE US WHAT WE WANT! Punk music screams that with a fast drum beat.
The Art Critic (1920) by Raoul Hausmann, an Austrian Dadaist. The imagery has shocking similarities to the ‘revolutionary’ punk montages of nearly half a century later.
The ransom note style fit into the larger scheme of collage in the punk imagery. This reappropriation of current culture imbued these cut-and-paste designs works with an added edge of ideological flair. Take your culture and shove it. Its silly and we’re gonna make it our own.These ideas were directly taken from who might be the under-recognized predecessors to punk, the Dadaists, who — much like the punks — valued scissors and glue over paint and brushes. They believed in recycling old material to create new thought. In many cases this was taken to the benefit of certain underrepresented groups, such as females or the working class... Read more
Article by Maya Lekach