Anarchy in the Archive Again: An Account of a South African Punk Rock Music Collection

By de Jongh, Santie | Fontes Artis Musicae, April-June 2013 | Go to article overview

Anarchy in the Archive Again: An Account of a South African Punk Rock Music Collection


de Jongh, Santie, Fontes Artis Musicae


Punk Music in South Africa: Short Introduction

The British punk movement, initiated by Malcolm McLaren in 1975, originated with the working classes. (2) The importers of punk music in South Africa, starting from 1977, inherited this musical form from the British. Ironically, the South African proponents of this phenomenon hailed from the middle class. These were university students from the white, urban, middle-class of the ruling minority, not disenfranchised or marginalised youths. (3) With reference to their identification with British punk music, Michael Fleck (aka Mick Sick/Johnny Teen) of the band Wild Youth points out in an interview that the band could identify with the music, but not the lyrics:

   Obviously we can't identify with the dole queue. We'd be hypocrites
   if we did identify with them, because we aren't poor. But we can
   identify with boredom and the sort of things that get on your
   nerves that the punks sing about--police getting you down and this
   sort of thing ... (4)

British punk music played a substantial role in the development of South African punk music. Michael Fleck, who was particularly impressed by the punk movement in England, formed the band Wild Youth in 1978 shortly after he had returned from a trip to that country. Initially they imitated the British form, but gradually changed to adapt to the South

African context: rebelling against oppression and commenting on South African issues. (5) South African punk musicians articulated their differences, as exemplified in Wild Youth's song, 'Wot 'Bout Me?' (1978) where the singer contrasts himself with international musicians (Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Elvis Presley and others), but establishes himself as punk musician and prides himself in his local identity. (6)

The city of Durban is regarded as the centre for the development of punk music in South Africa. (7) Research has pointed towards the liberal tradition of the University of Natal in Durban as the reason for the development of punk music there, but as South Africa's largest port, Durban was also culturally more cosmopolitan than most South African cities. (8) This hypothesis is not unrelated to, for instance, the reasons why the port city of Liverpool was one of the major centres of the booming rock culture in 1960s Britain. (9)

Punk in South Africa arrived at a time of political turmoil: the Soweto uprisings and police violence of 1976 continued into the 1980s. (10) Looking at punk as a form of resistance of working class youth against parent culture, politics and monarchy, (11) the South African equivalent of this movement in the late 1970s and 1980s displayed characteristics of resistance against the dominant culture and ideology of apartheid. (12) Since the punk movement coincided with the apartheid years, it can be seen as countering the apartheid ideology. (13) Song topics included the inferior nature of the Bantu education system and unjust apartheid laws, for example the songs 'Freedom' and 'Disgrace'. (14) Besides taking a political stance and expressing their frustration with authority, South African punk bands also criticised the record industry, (15) such as Wild Youth's 'Record Companies' (1979). (16) Adhering to the 'do-it-yourself' ethic, most South African bands played their own compositions, with occasional cover versions of British punk bands' music. Technology also allowed ordinary people to write and perform their own music on their own home recording equipment. (17) These bands organised performances and made posters. A number of bands also produced their own demos and singles, which were distributed through close-knit networks, at concerts, and also worldwide. (18) In these ways they circumvented and undermined the mainstream music industry, (19) including the recording and distribution of this music. The endeavours of Ernesto Marques (aka Ernie Pap), who is the subject at the centre of the archive on which this article focuses, are a clear example of this phenomenon. …

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