The Most Rotten and Obscene Band In The World

Aris Setyawan
Aris Setyawan
Posted underartcultural studiesculturemusicmusik

In July 1976. The weather in England was hot. The air feels dry and hot with temperatures ranging from 30 degrees Celsius. The heat condition is not just literally to describe the weather. However, all aspects of the life of the United Kingdom at that time were indeed heating up. The summer of 1976 will be recorded in statistics as the hottest record since 250 years of the existence of the British Empire. The government’s setback has just been officially announced, millions of families are forced to use roadside pipes as a source of water, and grasses across the country change from green to brown, a sign of drought. “Global warming” at that time was still a minor issue, marginalized, but with a very hot summer conditions, scientists began to think about it.

This hot weather is of course the main topic of conversation and in the future it will be a topic that is still persistently discussed. Not only the weather, the political condition of the British economy is also heating up. The UK economy is in the worst condition; the value of interest rates is at 17% and millions of workers are forced to be unemployed for the first time since the time of the great depression. The industry began to collapse, and prime minister James Callaghan could hardly be expected to overcome all this chaos.

So, at the beginning of the next millennium, nostalgia has changed from mild comfort to a national obsession, television networks reflect this trend with other documentaries, to legitimize the use of old news recordings on production line strikes and unemployed prosecutors emerging from the labor market. In addition, television shows how white, half-skinned, white-eyed, half-colored people as red as lobsters.

In addition to the case of the different class of economic political turmoil between the working class and the middle class, there is a third subject that is worthy of discussion in regard to British media content at that time: music. About how Elvis Presley rocked, the Beatles landed at the Kennedy airport. At that time, what was referred to as ‘punk-rock’ by the mass media, still not too widely known by the public, there were only a few small coverage that appeared in Musical Express, Melody Maker and Sounds. And even then it only ranges no further than Wishbone Ash’s latest tour schedule, four pages about Robin Trower, or a bad review of Genesis’s album. It still takes a long time for everyone in the UK to know the ‘explosion of punk-rock’, and they will be forced to choose parties – there is little room for those who choose half-heartedly.

With all the shifts of modern culture, over time the camera needs new seeds to be recorded. Thus, punk-rock was exposed in the mainstream media. However, at this time the media only focused on exposing this movement on the rock side ‘n’ roll, equated with Elvis and the Beatles.

The roots of punk will be debated and argued for a long time in the following years. Some chronic writers insist that the British political landscape as mentioned above is a fertilizer that grows punk seeds. However, despite all the truth that appears in this assumption, they are far from conclusions. Research on the surface of the punk movement failed to consider the importance of figure.

The main figure of the punk-rock movement is easy to recognize, and in fact there is only one figure in the United Kingdom: Malcolm McLaren. With his colleague Vivienne Westwood he opened a shop on London’s King’s Road. Borrowing from the philosophy of the French situationist movement that existed between the late 1960s, Malc and Viv were troublemakers who were never satisfied, but especially Malcolm, had a concern for ‘big chance’. He understood that both of their fashion creations—mostly sold to the Teddy Boy community—could not satisfy his lust for fame and wealth.

Malcolm has some experience in music business; in 1974, on his way to a fashion show in Manhattan, he entered into the glam-trash-proto-punks, the New York Dolls—a band that had just been kicked by their record label after two very influential recordings that had poor sales figures, and are guessing what they should do next. McLaren, feeling that Dolls’s crude approach was tied to his ability to promote such crimes could be something big, so he offered his services.

But the flaw in his theory soon emerged; McLaren focuses on the image of the group that he built with communist markers. Unexpectedly, he mistook how conservative American record labels still exist. He was forced to return to England, but his image as rock impressario has been formed, this is the main key to his future grand plans.

Upon McLaren’s return to England, he already has a new group. Throughout his months in America he had been approached casually by his shop clerk. They talked about McLaren managing his band. McLaren agreed even though he knew there was nothing special about them. Two things McLaren knows for sure are that they have to find a new singer and no hippies should be allowed.

At that time Steve Jones’s position as a vocalist was important in the band which was later called The Swankers, as Glen Matlock as a bass player. Even though Steve has a small musical ability, his personality makes Steve an essential figure for the band. Without him, there would be no band at all.

When Malcolm went to America, The Swankers—who later called themselves the Sex Pistols—had tried Nick Kent as lead singer and guitarist. But when Kent appeared to want to take power in the band, he was immediately removed. When McLaren returned to England, Steve Jones was still the lead singer. The Sex Pistols also ignored McLaren’s instructions and maintained Wally Nightingale as a guitarist. In the end Wally will not be able to survive in this game; Malcolm found out from day one, and the other band members finally realized too.

With the band in trio format, Jones played guitar that he still learned—one of which was a guitar purchased by McLaren from America, previously owned by the New York Dolls guitarist, Johnny Thunders—while trying to sing, the needs of a lead singer became a necessity. Malcolm tried to persuade Richard Hell: Hell had just left New York pioneers art-punk Television to form the Heartbreakers with Thunders and Jerry Nolan. Hell was interested in joining the Sex Pistols, but Matlock, Jones and Cook were not interested. They feel that there must be an English frontman. At that time Johnny Rotten appeared to fill the position of lead singer cum frontman.

Controversy is common in the music world, more specifically rock music. However, perhaps there is nothing more controversial than this British band: the Sex Pistols. Although the band formed in London in 1975 had a short musical career—two and a half years of productive life, released four singles and one full album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols—they were touted as one of the most influential band in history of popular music. Their influence can be seen from how the Sex Pistols initiated the punk movement in the United Kingdom, and inspired many punk and alternative rock musicians later on.

The manifestation of the Sex Pistols was vocalist Johnny Rotten aka John Lydon, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook, and bassist Glen Matlock. Later in 1977 Matlock was replaced by the famous John Ritchie aka Sid Vicious. Under the management of Malcolm McLaren, a visual artist, performer, fashion designer, and boutique owner, the Sex Pistols sparked controversy that provoked public attention. Their concerts repeatedly faced difficulties with event organizers and authorities, their appearance in the public sphere often ended in chaos. The single, which they released in 1977 titled “God Save The Queen”, attacked the social conformity and crown of the Queen of England. The subjects in their lyrics are usually rotten and obscene, a kind of harsh criticism of the music industry, consumerism, abortion, violence, apathy, anarchy, fascism, British royal aristocratic families, and the holocaust.

The Sex Pistols is an icon. They are marker of the time, and are still being talked about even up to decades later. Behind all the controversy that surrounds it, this British origin provides many lessons for the next generation: how we must behave towards an unfair world.

This writing was made after repeatedly listening to Nevermind The Bollocks … by the Sex Pistols on a hot Friday in Yogyakarta. This writing contains a lot of informations from many resources.

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