Visitors may question whether a display portraying anti-establishment views and revolutionary ideologies is best suited to such an iconic sanctuary of information that is the British Library. However, the irony of it makes the exhibition all the more daring.
An in-depth introduction to the rock band, the Sex Pistols, is exposed, detailing the influence and foundations they laid for the uprising of the proclaimed chaotic culture. Beginning at the group’s formation and the release of their debut single ‘Anarchy in the UK’, the exhibition guides guests through to the recording of their controversial debut album, Never Mind the Bollocks, which was refused to be sold in shops, and explains the constant rejection of their music by various record companies. Facts on The Clash joining the Sex Pistols on tour are shared along with the story of how Sid Vicious joined the group and how the single ‘God Save the Queen’ was released in time for the Queens Jubilee celebrations in 1977.
A rare interview in Street Life newspaper with the famed manager Malcolm McLaren explores concepts behind punk as a ‘new youth movement’, accompanied by a pillow-case t-shirt that was co-created with Vivienne Westwood. Meanwhile on an adjacent wall, a large series of framed photos taken every 30 seconds of the Sex Pistols performing live on stage captures their rebellious nature with the band’s distinct scruffy appearance and stern mannerisms.
During an entertaining audio clip of a BBC Radio Newsbeat interview, broadcasted on 25 November 1976, struggles with acceptance and social deviation is bluntly explained. When talking about Great Britain, a member of the Sex Pistols stated ‘the countries a rights mess’. The interviewer responded, ‘What are you trying to do about it?’ to which a member of the band said ‘make it worse!’
There is an amazing display of genuine records from bands including the Ramones, The Jam, Patti Smith Group, Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex and many more, alongside a collection of charismatic ‘fanzines’. Guided by an amateur designed publication Sniffin’ Glue, these homemade looking magazines were created by disgruntled fans that challenged the under-reported music genre of punk rock, causing a mediated explosion that was strongly rejected by the mainstream music press.
Authentic flyers, newspaper clippings, posters, fashion, original drafts of song lyrics, rehearsal lists, scattered audio clips, records, photos and artwork all help to tell the story, along with an easy-to-follow timeline of events.
Punk 1976-78 is a free exhibition that explores a historic sub-culture and the importance of the music born four decades ago in this Punk era. It celebrates and journeys through a new wave culture born in London, and libraries are there to provide the incredible historical reference.
Punk 1976-78 is on display at the British Library until 2 October 2016.
British Library, 96 Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London, UK, +44 1937 546546