A Hopeless Generation | The Music Diary
In the new Disney+ series Gun, which tells the story of the Sex Pistols, there is a scene in which singer John Lydon’s character shouts to his bandmates, “It’s about the fact that our generation has no future!” He’s talking about their song “God Save The Queen,” but the sentiment is gravely familiar today.
Lydon and the band were writing music and pushing a creative wave in response to the economic decline and poor social conditions of 1970s Britain. Almost 60 years later, today’s young people feel the same sense of despair, facing dark and heavy problems such as the housing crisis, the ecological disaster and the political and social uncertainty resulting from a world post-Brexit and post-pandemic.
In Gun, directed by Danny Boyle, we see the various members of the group reuniting – singer John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock, later replaced by Sid Vicious – in London at the mid 1970s. Young working-class musicians find themselves in a community of artists, creatives and activists at a time when social unrest is boiling. Over the course of six episodes, we see scenes of picket lines, cramped apartment buildings, and dark urban settings. The common story is that the punk movement – its music, art, politics and fashion – was initiated around this time by the Sex Pistols, but Gun shows the community and the wider scene that have been intrinsic to the movement gaining momentum and becoming a reality.
We see a young Vivienne Westwood with Malcolm McLaren (her partner and the creative entrepreneur who later ran the band) running Sex, a boutique in central London. Both were keen to start a social and creative movement, to usher in a new era for Britain with progressive fashion, art and ideals. Together they nurture and bring together a team of loud and inspired young people that includes members of the Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde and punk fashion icon Pamela Rooke. We also see Siouxsie Sioux and the NME intermittent music critic Nick Kent, and a tribe of zealous and committed comrades. There’s a real feeling that the scene is coming together – the Sex Pistols are getting gigs and getting attention in the media and across the country (albeit mostly in a negative light); The Westwood boutique is packed with regulars dressed in graphic tees, ripped mohair cardigans, piercings, and outrageous hairstyles and makeup; and we see scenes of young fans sneaking out of their parents’ house to attend concerts and be part of them.
Reflecting the present moment
Watching Gun, I couldn’t help but think about the current wave of post-punk in Ireland and how it also reflects the current moment. In recent months, three significant albums have been released by performing groups; fountains CC with Lean fia and Just Mustard with heart under (both on Partisan Records), and last week Robocobra Quartet released their third album, the aptly titled Living is not easy (First Taste Recordings). All three bands are musically unique from each other – Fountains CC with their poetic dark guitar rock, Just Mustard with their layers of moody rhythmic sounds and Robocobra Quartet whose style is as much avant-garde and jazz as it is post-punk – but they are all connected by the undercurrents of their music.
There’s more to these three though. There is a community of musicians in related genres across the country including Pillow Queens, NewDad, Junk Drawer, FUNDS, Pretty Happy and Gilla Band (formerly Girl Band). It’s also happening in Britain, with bands like Squid, Black Country, New Road, Wet Leg and Dry Cleaning.
Features include dark rock guitar walls, talk-singing, experimental riffing, and distorted instrumentation and amplification. Thematically, they often reflect the social, political and personal unrest that has arisen in recent years, responding to the gloom and anxiety of heavy issues such as the ecological disaster, the pandemic, the Russian-Ukrainian war, food shortages, inflation, Brexit, the Northern Ireland Protocol and growing unrest in the six counties, massive distrust of the media and fake news, and the rise of the far right.
In ‘Flew Close’, the opening track of Robocobra Quartet’s new album, we hear the lyrics ‘Living is not easy’ against a dark, contemplative backdrop of minimalist synth and percussion sounds, with the signature talk-sing style. by singer Chris Ryan. . It sets the tone for the record and aligns with the overall mood of that moment – moody and dark. In ‘Chromo Sud’, over a fuzzy saxophone line, Ryan repeats the words ‘Shit house, shit flat / Got keys, got out’ over and over again, until they almost lose all meaning. Except they don’t lose their meaning. Anyone in their 20s or 30s in Ireland at the moment can relate to the volatile nature of the housing market, whether renting or buying. “You know, some people don’t even have enough to eat,” he exclaims later in the trippy 9-minute long saga piece.
“I love you” from Fontaines DC’s Lean fia is a lament for Ireland, from the perspective of an Irishman abroad. “But this island is ruled by sharks with the bones of children stuck in their jaws,” barks vocalist Grian Chatten over subtle instrumentation, as the song tackles dark elements of Ireland’s past and present. “I’ll tell them all / About the nerve of Fine Gael and the failure of Fianna Fáil”.
At Just Mustard’s heart under, while none of the songs are overtly political, the mood is dark and the music engulfs you, drowning you in its sonic layers. Like sitting in an armchair that is too soft, you sink into it, you sink deeper and deeper into the recesses of the material that envelops you. With minor keys, dense and intricate instrumentation, and sometimes chilling vocals in singer Katie Ball’s distinct style, it’s hard not to correlate its effects with the overall mood of that era. “There was sadness and grief on the album,” Ball said. “It was like being underwater and under something very heavy. We let that influence the music, but it wasn’t a decision – it happened naturally like that.
Last week, President Michael D. Higgins gave an impassioned speech on the housing crisis at the opening of a homeless youth facility near Naas, County Kildare, saying “it’s not is no longer a crisis, it’s a disaster”. He added:
I often wonder… how republican is what we have created, and isn’t it sometimes much closer to the poverty law system we thought we were coming out of.
The Group chat podcast, hosted by news correspondents Gavan Reilly, Zara King and Richard Chambers, released an episode last week on the housing crisis, fuel prices and Northern Ireland protocol. Appearing on the podcast as a guest was Ciarán Mulqueen, who manages the Instagram account crazy house prices. Mulqueen, who has become an important voice in the conversation about the crisis, said in the opening minutes of the interview, “we have reached the threshold of disaster”, regarding the stories he hears from people about their experiences of purchase and rental .
When common topics of conversation between my friends and I include attempts to buy houses, the price out of cities and rental accommodation, and emigration in order to afford to live comfortably, sadness, gloom and anger that this current wave of post-punk music is articulate is both real and depressing.
Gun showed how the Sex Pistols garnered media attention for their shocking lyrics, performances, and behavior. They were hated by many and when their track “God Save the Queen” reached the top of the charts, it didn’t even get airplay on the radio. While you hear the music of Fontaines CC on the radio and TV, rarely do we hear the rest of the bands performing, or really talk about the context of what they’re singing. As Lydon’s words resonate today, let’s hope someone is listening.