The Sex Pistols: A manufactured boy band | Or why illegal downloads are the BPI’s own fault

Sid Vicious was a prison bitch

Sid Vicious was a prison bitch

The 1970s gave us thousands of hours of music performed by gifted wonderful musicians. But music journalists from all persuasions, from NME and Rolling Stone to mog.com bloggers are each and all determined to retrospectively eject the contribution of innovators like Herbie Hancock and Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren and supplant them in the collective consciousness of those of us who weren’t yet born or weren’t paying attention at the time, with an ill conceived C.S.E. grade art project that got exceedingly lucky.

A bunch of lads from London, who just as surely paved the way for Britney Spears and Paris Hilton as they did Simon Cowell and the so-called MTV generation, the Sex Pistols were specifically designed by Malcolm McLaren to produce as much return on as little investment as possible. The total year on year profits of Boy-Zone, Blue and Take That combined are dwarfed by those of the band which gave us such innovative concepts as spitting on the audience, on-stage substance abuse, slam “dancing” and the wearing of Nazi Swastikas as fashion.

The social hangover of punk should be familiar to anyone today living on a housing estate with rising youth knife crime, that to engage in the illusion of control over their own destiny, youths must first rid themselves of any cultural or historical awareness, and fight to protect their ignorance by celebrating the illiteracy of their peers.

John Joseph Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten

John Joseph Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten

Previous to punk the recording industry had laboured under the illusion that for something to sell, it had to be melodic and played by musicians. Punk, headed by The Sex Pistols, set out to prove that this was bollocks; that if you marketed it right, if you managed to convince enough people that they were part of ‘something’, even if that amorphous something was substantively ‘nothing’, they would nevertheless rush out in their droves to buy whatever clothes and music they’d been told to buy, and rejoice in their bought and paid for canned identity, as if it were uniquely their own.

As legions of wannabes line the streets of your home town to audition for the next series of (insert name of premium rate phone-in freak show “talent” TV here), desperate for their 15 megabytes of fame, consider the lineage of the manufactured pop act. Its similarities to the way in which punk was devised can hardly be lost on even the least cynical among you, who continue to buy into the bottle-fed notion that although you didn’t personally “get it” at the time, punk nevertheless undid decades of pomp and elitism which needed undoing for not just the British music industry to survive, but youth culture itself.

This lofty ambition, inserted after the fact into the story of punk, once its profiteers blended into the establishment they pantomimed such an unconvincing struggle against, betrays the real world devastating effects which punk had on the music business and how quickly the industry learned from it, that to mistreat the ears of the audience is even more profitable than mistreating actual musicians; who for decades before Vivian Westward had begrudgingly accommodated each other in a simian act of mutual grooming for the juicy fleas of commercial chart success, fame and fortune.

Punk tilted this fragile ecosystem on its side, rolling the most heavily bug infested chimps onto their backs, exposing their genitals to the yawning wide open mouths of every A&R department in Christendom, each more desperate than the last to suck down every last morsel of mass-produced smegma which squirted from punk’s white middle class brand of boil in the bag teenage angst, until it was drained and the next money chimp to come along was ready for the milking.

Zzyowwmmmm

Zzyowwmmmm

The dawning realisation that while you can’t polish a turd, you can nevertheless put it in a pretty box and tie a ribbon around it, came at exactly the right time for a music industry which desperately needed to rid itself of the escalating costs involved in paying people with talent to write, record and promote creative melodic music. The shitter it is the better it is “style” of punk saved many a struggling independent record label, who quickly found themselves swallowed up by the major publishers, savvy to the fashion trend.

The victims of the cull were acts who didn’t comply. Look through the back catalogue of any artist who’d been around for a while circa 1978. That difficult third album which didn’t sell as well as it should, will contain somewhere on side two, just after the American FM radio rock ballad, a “punk sounding” cut, hurriedly mixed to give it “that raw edge all the kids are going for”, as the cooking-pot pressure mounted on artists with any degree of substance and taste to “get with the times”.

And now here we are, the year 2008. The music business has so catastrophically failed to develop an on-line strategy, the UK has become the first place in the world to afford new legal powers to ISPs, to criminalise people who the British Phonographic Industry have deemed unworthy of an internet connection; who’s effrontery to show their disdain for the way talent has become nothing more than a genre of TV game show, by turning their backs on what “the man” considers to entertainment and instead seek out the sound we love in the collective consciousness of our brothers and sisters in music around the world.

Search Google for live music venues in your area. Go see a band. If they can play their own instruments and you like their music, buy a CD directly from them. Upload it to the internet and tell people who also like it to go see the band live too. No record companies involved, no Feargal fucking Sharkey making you feel bad about loving music, no obligatory fashion accessories to “enhance the image” – you listen to music with your ears and your good taste.

Just maybe, given enough time (although you’d be right to say they’ve had long enough already) the music industry will wake up to it’s real failings, which are not based so much in how to more effectively sell shit to deaf cattle (Cold Play fans), but more constructively, how it might rectify decades of greed and London-centric art-house stupidity, by investing in music made by musicians, the development of artist with something to say worth listening to and a way for their fans to be confident, when they pay an artist directly for a copy of their music, that most of the profits will go towards recording and touring, instead of glorified Pepsi ad promo videos and drug rehabilitaion programs. How about that for a modest proposal?

19 comments on “The Sex Pistols: A manufactured boy band | Or why illegal downloads are the BPI’s own fault

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  4. Jim Gardner; what an ignorant arsehole…Mclaren and the lads did a sterling job, and you’re just trying to be contrary in your negative criticism of one of the most inventive and influential acts of the last 40 years…are you from the US, Jim? Typical insular-type of Baby Boomer arsehole or what? Or just old before your time? Look! your colostomy bag is full, better call for the nurse now.

  5. KC, if you’re trying to be rational throwing up petty insults doesn’t really help you. You say they ‘did a sterling job’, of what? ‘One of the most inventive and influential acts’ why do you think that? You can disagree with the author but why resort instantly to ridiculous insults? It just makes it seem like you don’t have much to back up your opinion.
    It’s an interesting opinion, the sex pistols were certainly tacked together by Malcom McClaren to tap into the a specific market – surely you can see comparison with say Simon Cowell and The Spice Girls? Identify an audience and form a group to tap into it.

  6. Listen to Bad Religion. Listen to what Green Day is trying to do to the really young kids that are listening to them. You kid yourself thinking that true art can achieve the minds of everyone. Pop has always existed and always will exist Even as counter-culture. It’s human nature, moreso in today’s society (which will hold it’s core principles for quite a while, with interdependent economies and whatnot). Do not underestimate what Sex Pistols managed to achieve, directly or indirectly. What the sentiment of indignation can do to very impressionable people. Even if pure market fueled it.

  7. Sex pistols paved the way for British bands such as the clash, joy division, the slits, the pogues, the cute, the damned, stone roses, , the stranglers, the jam, siousxie and the banshees they in turn went on to influence american bands such as dead kennedys, flipper, melvins, nirvana, faith no more, hole all these band then went on to influence many others etc etc don’t underestimate the the power of debasing an indulgent system that is happy to let the less fortunate rot at
    their feet.

  8. Jim, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and in my opinion, you are way off the mark here. In their first incarnation, the pistols could actually play their instruments and although Johnny Rotten is far from pitch perfect, his stage presence and energy are undeniable. Agree or disagree with his message, you have to admit that he was and still is true to himself and his beliefs. He wasn’t just in it for the cash or he wouldn’t of left the band when he did. He then went on to form the highly influential PIL and the rest is history! I do not know your background but I do have to question where you were when punk blew up in the UK and how old you were!? The country was going through a period of abysmal leadership, poverty and civil unrest and however you want to look back at it…if you weren’t actually there when it was all kicking off, you are not really qualified to comment on it!?

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  10. A lot of this colouful articles message makes sense, if your a music lover seek out your own musical choices rather than being spoon fed by the industry – if your an artist and anti music industry: Go do it yourself and cut the middle man out – a true punk ideal, along with think outside the box, don’t listen to “the man” (Press/Government/Corporations) and be an individual.

    The contention is that the Sex Pistols were manufactured. The slant of the article is already in favour of the “idea” that the Pistols were merely Malcolm McLarens stooges ready to fulfil their art school counter culturalists managers every whim and that the Punk movement in turn caused “old skool” artists to be discounted and wiped from the cultural map. Is this correct?

    Everything in life is a matter of degrees.

    Starting with the idea that established innovators were wiped from the map and discounted over a C.S.E. grade art school concept that got lucky ignores the force of intellect that established the Sex Pistols as leaders of a musical movement. The Afrika Bambattaas and Hancocks of music are still widely recognised then as they are today as innovators.

    Did Malcolm advertise/audition/assemble each member like a Monkees or Saturdays type band? No, although he decided who should stay or go. The original incarnation: The Strand, then The Swankers (Wally Nightingale, Paul Cook, Del Noons and Steve Jones) already existed and John Lydon was transplanted in as the “vocalist.” Nightingale was sacked for being “too nice”. Glen Matlock was drafted in at McClarens request.

    It was Steve Jones who pursued McClaren for representation because McClaren had briefly managed the New York Dolls (with little success it would seem). The management choice should give you a clue as to the authentic direction the bands sound was heading in.

    Little of this article mentions the actual SEX PISTOLS MUSIC, being dismissive of it. Here is an opinion that matters: Search Simon Price’s (producer) opinion on Steve Jones guitar work or watch classic albums video. It was the tightest rhythm playing he’d ever heard. The riffs, rhythms, lead guitar breaks and Jones guitar sound are blisteringly fresh. It is THE sound of the Sex Pistols along with Lydons completely unique and uncompromising vocal invective and delivery. All of this can not be managed or manufactured by McLaren.

    Lets also mention that the confrontational, anti establishment lyrics are Lydons, not McLarens. The early/mid 1970’s were grim, with high employment, inflation, miners and refuse collection strikes, it wasn’t a pretty picture. The output of Lydon’s next band, Public Image Ltd has revolutionised the sound of music. The first wave of PUNK music wasn’t manufactured it was an organic reaction to the pomposity and inaccessability of a musical climate that was staid, corporate and elitist.

    Also forget not that both John Simon Ritchie aka Sid Vicious who latter replaced Matlock on bass and Lydon were total “clothes hounds.” It was this meeting of minds (Lydons and McLarens that brought them together at McLarens shop called SEX on the Kings road in Chelsea, London). Manufactured style? Probably not. That came a little later with the waves of punks wearing their compulsory leather jacket and mohawk as every Tom, Dick and Harry with a cheque book jumped onto the band wagon. Lydon had the courage to be different and stand out. His political and anti monachy stance got him stabbed. McLaren wasn’t raised in a deprived community housing estate in Finsbury Park, London, Lydon was.

    As for the politik of the band, the influence of McLaren is obvious. Educated and steeped in French Situationist theory he set about to destroy popular cultural with his new “protoges”. The guy had balls. That or a personality defect. Whatever was said about him he was an entertainer. Remember also at one point after the EMI and A&M fiasco (both labels dropped the Pistols) he is quoted as saying that he then considered the idea of the band not releasing an album at all! Absurd? Not for a Situationist!

    in the end Lydon gave the game away recently (and I think for the believers it maybe a hard pill to swallow) as to the EXTENT that his persona and behaviour was contrived. Its about half way through the British Masters series 8, interview with John Doran. But is Lydon an uncompromising and angry man? Undoubtedly. Does he speak the truth? Probably more than anyone in the entertainment then and since, had had the courage to do. (Notice we are back full circle with: X Factor musical tripe, the establishment (politicians/bankers) creating the worst economic depression – since even before the 1929 Crash – and high unemployment along with unprecedented corporate invasiveness). Is any new musician/artist railing against these forces with the same energy as The Sex Pistols did?

    What is clear is that you can’t manufacture the response that the Sex Pistols music had on the alienated youth culture of the day.

    As for the claim that the Sex Pistols were a “manufactured boy band” the word manufactured implies that it is fake. There was nothing fake about the bands sound, message or style. John Lydons’ output with Public Image is a testimony to that.

    God Save The Sex Pistols.

  11. Again, another iconoclastic band that continued to push the musical boundaries and which helped to sow the seeds that kickstarted the Manchester scene (which would usher in the electronica and beats that is so prevalent today). Blue Monday is a testament to that, although I preferred the Ian Curtis incarnation.

    Joy Division also suffered from a Management/financial standpoint as their profits were ploughed into the Hacienda which cost Factory Records dearly.

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