“Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print 1976-1980” is the Must-Have Book for Spring 17
Photo: Spread from Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print 1976-80 by Toby Mott (Phaidon).
Forty years ago, a revolution took shape and stormed the shores of the U.K. Punk had arrived—and it could not, would not, refused to be denied. It took everything the nation held dear and turned it upside down, then dropped it on its head, with the aim to break it open and find freedom. Gone were the polite niceties, the veneer the nation upheld while the empire crumbled. Punks knew there was nothing nice—or civilized—about it all. No pretense could cloak the truth about the subjugation of the world.
As the U.K. struggled to rebuild, a new generation came forth calling out the fraud, the perpetrators, and the imposters. The took shots at the establishment from the outside, embracing their place as upstarts, rebels, and anarchists. From nothing came something—one of the greatest cultural movements of all time: the ethos of Do-It-Yourself that fueled their drive. From music and fashion to art and design, D.I.Y. became the a force of liberty, equality, and modernity. It produced some of the most iconoclastic images of the time, which are beautifully showcased in the new book Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print 1976-80 by Toby Mott (Phaidon).
Oh So Pretty draws its name from the seminal Sex Pistols lyric that paraded punk as the antithesis of mainstream culture that sought to beautify the ugly—or even better hush it up. The result was merely pretty, it left folks “pretty vacant,” unable to think critically in a world filled with logical fallacies and cognitive dissonance. In a line that could best summarize the ethos of the time, Johnny Rotten rants, “I don’t believe illusions ’cause too much is real / So stop your cheap comment / Cause we know what we feel.”
The truth behind this raw, unvarnished, yet deeply personal sentiment can be seen in the Mott’s phenomenal collection of ephemera made during that seminal period in history. The book presents some 500 artifacts including zines, show posters, flyers, and badges from famous, infamous, and obscure bands, designers, clubs and concert halls, and politically related groups who seized the time and made some noise.
As Mott writes in the book’s introduction, A Punk’s Progress, “We didn’t use the term ‘punk’ to describe ourselves: that was another label to reject. We were the ‘new wave’, preoccupied with music, drink, speed and sex….We called ourselves ASA, Anarchist Street Army … a bunch of dispossessed glue- and solvent-sniffing kids from Pimlico Comprehensive. Our attempt at forming a band resulted in noise that even by punk standards was rubbish.”
But the beauty of punk was the rubbish was legit. It was the effort to find one’s truth that mattered, not some perfectly packaged commodity designed to sell fantasies and disinformation to a zombified public. Punk was the wake-up call to a new generation of youth that were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore—to quote Network.
The kids already knew what life had to teach and sought to forgo that tragic slide into middle age brought about by trying to work with the system, knowing that the game is rigged. Instead of joining the system, they bombed it shamelessly. Oh So Pretty takes you back to that gleeful time and reminds us why the punk spirit continues to resonate and inspire new generations of kids to do it themselves—cause if they don’t, who will?
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.