Ahead of Synth Punk Fest LDN 2017 that is happening in just 2 DAYS(!!!), here’s the Synth Punk Manifesta that we put together to explain the politics behind the event, which also underlines a lot of our reasons for doing what we do in general and being involved in ‘punk’, DIY and activist communities.
CN: brief references to various forms of oppression (racism, classism, misogyny, ableism, transphobia, heterosexism, fatphobia, ageism, SWERFism, speciesism), prison, abuse
I know that using dictionary definitions is usually something that’s looked down on in the punk scene and this has ended up being a bit long and wordy, but i thought I’d look up some basic definitions/etymologies of ‘synth’ and ‘punk’ to see if that really made sense with what we’re trying to do with Synth Punk Fest.
I’ve always been sceptical of ‘punk’ as an aesthetic style, with music and fashion, because being a millennial, i wasn’t around when ‘punk culture’ started and was actually considered anti-establishment. The punk sounds and looks i grew up with had already been assimilated into white-cis-hetero-male dominated-capitalism (for examples see: Camden High Street, Afflecks Palace, etc.) and when all the bands look and sound the same how is that still a meaningful statement against conformity? Especially when bands and music fans who share similar politics but don’t look and sound the same are shunned from the scene.
So no, ‘punk’ doesn’t really mean anything to me if its defined by anyone else. (Doesn’t that defeat the point anyway?) So i went to look for a meaning that i could identify with (that also included synthesizers, just because i love synthesizers… so what?)
I didn’t look that hard tbh, i just looked up the meanings on Merriam-Webster because i saw they did some good tweets about non-binary genders a while ago, so I’m constructing my own definition of what ‘Synth Punk’ means to me as an organiser of Synth Punk Fest from what i found there, which brought up some interesting thoughts.
Beyond the obvious of a synth being a “computerized electronic apparatus for the production and control of sound”, a synthesizer is “one that synthesizes” and ‘to synthesize’ is “the combining of often diverse conceptions into a coherent whole”. To me this sounds pretty similar to what i understand ‘intersectionality’ to be, in the words of Shiri Eisner “it means understanding that different kinds of oppression are interlinked, and that one can’t liberate only one group without the others”. i.e. racism, classism, misogyny, ableism, transphobia, heterosexism, fatphobia, ageism, speciesism, etc., whilst working in different ways and against different people, are all parts of a bigger system that seeks to divide and oppress as many people as possible so those at the very top can dominate. Intersectionality is acknowledging the differences and finding the similarities so that political struggle can be more unified. “When we don’t pay attention to the margins, when we don’t acknowledge the intersection, where the places of power overlap, we not only fail to see the women who fall between our movements, sometimes we pit our movements against each other.” (Kimberly Crenshaw)
The second definition “the dialectic combination of thesis and antithesis into a higher stage of truth” also highlights for me the need for self-reflection and staying critical of our own scenes, movements and politics, something that I see a significant lack of (in the DIY/punk/anarchist/feminist communities i’ve been a part of at least). Staying aware of the fact that none of us are perfect, and neither are our politics, is important to keep learning and progressing and ultimately doing better at being respectful humans. Personally, i learnt this from a song by DIY queer decolonial punk band Screaming Toenail in the simple but powerful line: “Teach yourself to fail, that’s how you grow” and feel like it’s a sentiment we should all consider when people make mistakes. It’s important to listen to each other, knowing that each of us with our different experiences, thoughts and feelings, will be able to learn something new from someone else, and we need to stay open to that (within marginalised communities i mean, i’m not talking about giving fascists the time of day or being mansplained to or anything so just let rip on them as much as you want).
Now the dictionary definition of ‘punk rock’ is “rock music marked by extreme and often deliberately offensive expressions of alienation and social discontent”, which is all fine by me, and given the broadness of the term ‘rock music’, I can’t see why this can’t include elements of other genres such as EDM, hip-hop or pop for example as well (despite what some Hardcore PunksTM might have to say about it).
Following the dictionary links through, the etymology of ‘punk’ threw up some new meanings i didn’t know about before as well. Let’s look at them in turn:
I never knew this was an early definition of ‘punk’, but yep, i guess sex workers are punk, so you know what ISN’T punk? That’s right, hating or shaming sex workers and general SWERFism (sex worker exclusionary radical feminism)! Glad that one’s cleared up, moving on…
2. Nonsense, foolishness
Maybe also the ability to not take oneself too seriously or to recognise one’s own faults? Take note macho punk dudebros…
3a. A young inexperienced person, beginner, novice
So, beginners are punk as well, as should be supporting beginners and acknowledging that not everyone has had the same time/experiences/opportunities to be as knowledgeable or skilled at something as you, whether it’s as a musician, an artist, an activist etc. and once upon a time you were a beginner as well, so let’s show people the ropes if they’re willing to learn!
3b. A usually petty gangster, hoodlum, or ruffian
In other words, probably a working-class person who has been forced into ‘illegal’ activities because the ‘legal’ system has failed to provide for them what they deserve as a human being.
3c. A young man used as a homosexual partner especially in prison
So i might be extrapolating here but this is what I’ve got from this sentence: being gay is punk too, so is being a prisoner, and so is being forced into or to stay in a relationship that you might not want to be in.
Bringing all this together, for me, Synth Punk is clearly not only the combination of electronic music with punk rock, it’s a space where musicians, artists and other cultural creators, skilled or novices, can express their dissatisfaction with the world as it is. A space to fight against systematic, social and institutionalised oppression, drawing from the resources of all different struggles marginalised people face. A space that supports sex workers, working class people, queer and trans people, prisoners, survivors, people of colour, disabled people, women and femmes. A space that is self-reflective and self-aware, that doesn’t take up space from others who need it but stands its ground when necessary. A space to recognise when we’ve messed up and learn and grow from our mistakes. A space to listen, to new ideas, different perspectives and those who are too often silenced (as well as gr8 dancey-shouty-messy-bleepy-bloopy music!)
This is the space that we’re trying to create at Synth Punk Fest.
If you would like to help us with this or have an idea on how we could make it better then please let us know or just share the event with people who you think might be interested! If you feel offended or threatened by the idea that music communities should be politically active in supporting people in these ways, then it’s probably best you stay at home.
Synth Punk Fest co-organiser