A Few Thoughts On The Sex Pistols, Selling Out and Being Punk as Fun

So the other week, everyone had a big freak out over the Sex Pistols credit cards, at least in the marketing world. Richard Branson decided that he wanted to make finance ‘sexy’, so evidently, some bits of plastic with the word ‘bollocks’ on that you can swipe to make purchases with was the way to go about it. The Daily Fail et al have all jumped on it, the comments sections of virtually every website yelling loudly about how the Sex Pistols continue to ‘sell out’.

I hate to break it to you, aging punks everywhere, but I’ll let you in on a secret that pretty much everyone else knows – the Sex Pistols were basically sell-outs from the start.

Malcolm McLaren’s London boutique, Sex, was a mecca for obnoxious young people everywhere. One two, fuck you, here’s an expensive pair of tartan bondage pants designed by Vivienne Westwood. The Sex Pistols, at the right place at the right time, became a marketing vehicle for McLaren – tailor-made to swear, shock, and look punk as fuck. They were lucky in that they actually wrote some pretty decent songs – to this day, I still crank up the volume whenever ‘Bodies’ comes on in the car – and later, when John Lydon went off to form PiL (ultimately far, far better), their punk credentials were kind of set in stone. To the average bloke, at least, The Sex Pistols were the very definition of punk. So then when Johnny Rotten appears on the telly selling Country Life butter, or a crappy ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ design shows up in Topshop, the average bloke is outraged. What happened to punk? Where’s all the meaning gone?

Asides from ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and ‘God Save the Queen’, and maybe ‘Pretty Vacant’, The Sex Pistols’ magnum opus was less about political unrest and far more about fun. Even ‘Anarchy in the UK’ is imbued with a sense of fiendish joy, a feeling of intense glee at the prospect of giving the world a middle finger and fucking off into the haze of the London underground. But I ask – does it need a message? Can’t we just be content with fun? If you wanted politics in your punk, the 70’s saw plenty of bands who were very good at that, whose very existence was a direct affront to the norm, but The Sex Pistols were not it. Striving to find a message other than general discontent, and a hell of a lot of fun, in Never Mind the Bollocks is fairly pointless – just enjoy it for what it is.

Similarly, the new album by Slaves, a guitar-drum-punk duo from Royal Tunbridge Wells, has raised similar questions with regards to its message. It’s rare I disagree with Punktastic, but their review of Are You Satisfied? asked when Slaves would find their message. What they missed is that it’s already there – just go out and have some bloody fun. Stop moaning about stuff. Enjoy life, in every way that you can.

Of course, there’s a world of difference between Slaves and the Pistols. For a start, Slaves can write a much better song. But at their very core, it’s all about making a lot of noise and having a lot of fun when you’re doing it. There’s a certain level of ridiculousness coming back to punk, which arguably has lost its sense of fun when it isn’t being diluted down into sub-genre after sub-genre, and I for one am pretty stoked. And admittedly, it’s actually quite nice to see a punk band back at the top of the charts in amongst all the usual tat. Now go and be nice to your pets.

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