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No More Bad Future

Bleak strategies: punk in a pandemic

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While it’s always been gauche to think too hard about punk, least of all in a global pandemic, none of us are short of time. One of the many sweet blessings about writing for Maximum for eleven years is that for all the paragraphs I definitely wasted, I never had to waste one providing situating definitions for what I meant, and didn’t mean, by punk. Thank god. But, as I’ve realised recently, when anything that’s been such a constant just… stops, you can trace its most honest shape from the space it leaves. Plus, as mentioned, not short of time here.

What is gone? There’s punk as cultural practice (room), and there’s the subsequent conveyor of products available as part of an international micro-economy of hobbies, business, and hobby-businesses, and then we have punk as a way of being together, and punk as a way of being.

There are countless other sides to our idiotic dice, every spin subject to an indefinite COVID-induced pause, but it’s the latter seems like the only one we might use lockdown to safely fortify, or at least repoint, punk as a way of being. The globalised punk universe approaches middle age on lockdown. Which of its old habits and rhythms could we stand to shed for a post-Corona world? Coupla provocations, then. Bryony No’s Bleak Strategies, if you will…

  • Who is first in line for a community bailout – givers and receivers?
  • Should these be determined by social capital or access to capital, and how?
  • Is mutual aid going to be enough once enough people start dying?
  • If that button brings a delivery person with no sick pay to your door, do you still press it?
  • What exactly is it you miss right now?
  • People or a feeling? Sound or a sensation?
  • Have you told them?
  • What is next for collective joy?
  • Has your life slowed down or sped up?
  • Does it feel more like boredom and malaise or panic and stress?
  • How much are you willing to give up for things to go back to normal?
  • How much are you willing to give up for things not to go back to normal?

Is No future still seductive, or has punk’s apocalypse imaginary packed up and gone home? Mad Max is baking sourdough, horny on main. Maybe the romance of it relied on the world not actually ending but in that shared, sexy fervour of being the clued-in ones, ready to stare down coming doom while others only fiddled.

Punk as generalised non-compliance is always a big mood but come on, no one wants to get pneumonia to make a point about liberty. There is no time for nihilism when the only thing between life and death is soap and distance.

Most attempts at punk as a way of being together during all this require internet access. We’ve had a grim but lusty side-eye towards The Online since it appeared. Don’t let me ever forget a column in the print iteration of this mag that walked us through setting up a MySpace band account with the foreboding energy of a doomsday prophesy. Punk prior to the virus was physical fetishes enabled with digital means, our push-pull of desire for access, and a self-loathing disgust at the bourgeois convenience of it all. It’s no surprise that electronic music bends itself with much less cringe to the first digital global pandemic. So where does this leave the Discharge Industrial Complex as we face down a year of no band practice?

Look, I can see you eyeing that acoustic guitar, and I know you’ve been on your phone a bunch. It’s okay. We dip in and out and in and out of timeline vortex, strapping our sinewy ankles into the mental illness machine for another day of cycling. The impulse to repeat behaviour in search of occasional reward is called a ludic loop. You keep scrolling and you don’t know why. In the Big Bad Now, we are caged animals slowly wearing away our frontal lobes from repeatedly nudging at the days-empty food hatch. Your brain wires still listlessly seek serotonin hits among the death counters. The total saturation makes the news appear uncanny, too, like those fake newspapers and social media interfaces you see in films, created to carry one headline only for a plotline. We can only marvel at the new moral universe of everything and perhaps attempt to keep our critical minds sharp with a game of Cop COVID or Comrade COVID. Usually, they are both on patrol, rarely observing the two metres apart rule.

The political choice to exploit the crisis for PR? The will to reputation-manage a virus? Cop COVID. In Tory Britain, this looks like a domestic violence awareness hashtag brought to you by the party that has defunded and closed 1 in 6 UK refuges since 2010. It looks like their endorsement of a weekly doorstep ‘clapping’ campaign for healthcare workers from the same system that brought you Social Murder, gutting NHS funding for decades, and somehow unable to unleash the mighty power of UK Plc to, perhaps, order them some decent fucking masks. But here is the strange inversion. The tears that came hard on hearing the roaring clapping and impromptu fireworks on my street despite my cynicism? A grounding display of pro-social behaviour as the state solemnly locates £330billion to pay their wages because they know there is no other choice? Definitely a Comrade COVID flex.

There is something slightly succulent for leftists witnessing the exact steps we’d prescribed for the demise of capitalism being taken with a grimace by our sworn enemies. Comrade COVID winks. The parameters of the possible are bust open by that smug prick named Political Will who we always knew had the only keys. That all this may come at a cost of hundreds of thousands of excess bodies, and that it may still all be temporary, should provoke in all but the most Malthusian scum a kind of ‘wait… not like this!’ horror. Still, that which was for so many of us already laid bare is now running around showing the entire world its ass: inequality kills and this virus is no leveler. The conditions under which you work predict how likely you are to die from this virus.

Can’t have class consciousness if you’re dead.

Fixed national character is fiction and all of our lungs look like trees. But did you notice how in response to a crisis, America blusters and buys more guns, Australia laughs and buys more toilet paper, and Britain hurriedly wheels out a war metaphor? Nurses not given access to masks are ‘heroes’ and the Prime Minister will recover because he is a ‘fighter.’ The nation readies its seventy-five-year-old hard-on for a tasty bit of battle as the suburban pastime of curtain switching and irate ‘tsk’ing swings upwards. Big Cop COVID hours. The personalisation of individual responsibility in a collective crisis only serves to insulate the powerful. There’s less scrutiny over the logistical infrastructure we all depend on than there is for our neighbours exercising habits. Humans are obsessed with shame. The Final Cancelling of whoever went to that party or shook that hand will never come. Ultimately, there is only a patchwork of deeply human culpability that covers all of our shoulders. In this, we are disastrously, fatally­­ – or perhaps ecstatically – one.

The truth of our interdependency smiles placidly back like “Come on, you always knew.”

The imperatives from this may take a minute to reveal themselves, and our embodied social world must wait. Punk mutes her mic to fart on a Zoom call. In the meantime, what we can do is fortify each other, redistribute, rebalance and ensure we use the limited energy of our weakened souls to direct rage at the right targets. These extraordinary times should make certain truths crystal clear, finally. Go to your window yell it out at anyone who will listen for as long as your precious lungs will let you.