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Post-Punk's attempt to democratise the music industry: the success and failure of Rough Trade

  • David Hesmondhalgh


Punk's widely accepted status as a watershed in British music-making has produced some fine academic and journalistic studies. Greil Marcus has devoted much of the last twenty years to an assessment of the legacy of punk rock (Marcus 1989, 1993). Dave Laing's One Chord Wonders provides a multi-layered approach which might serve as a model for any analysis of a particular musical–cultural moment (Laing 1985). The most detailed and thorough account is Jon Savage's England's Dreaming (1991), a paean to the mischievous self-consciousness of punk and a sly put-down of its earnest political wing. Yet there are some important gaps in this literature. Only Laing (1985, pp. 14–21) has addressed the institutional and economic effects of punk in any detail, but his account ends, like that of Savage, with the incorporation of punk imagery and sounds into the mainstream of British cultural life at the end of the 1970s. The symbolic death of punk is marked by the election of Margaret Thatcher as British Prime Minister in May 1979. Marcus traces the underground simmering of punk in 1980s America, and his vision of post-punk as a lasting source of vitality and rebellion in an increasingly conformist culture is a compelling one. But he is drawn primarily to the situationist and dadaist elements of punk politics. As in Savage (1991), lasting institutional repercussions are sidelined in favour of an exploration of punk's cultural impact. What follows, then, is an assessment of punk's significance as a long-term intervention in the British music industry. This means tracing the development and mutation of punk initiatives into the 1980s–long after its supposed incorporation.



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Post-Punk's attempt to democratise the music industry: the success and failure of Rough Trade

  • David Hesmondhalgh


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