For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com My name is Nick
. I have been a member of the punk rock movement since Rancid released ‘And Out Come the Wolves’ 15 years ago, though I refuse to adopt the label of punk rocker because I have the soul of a hippy and the lifestyle of a spiritual nomad. I have spent the better part of the last 10 years wandering through some of the most feared and misunderstood corners of the earth, to seek beauty and to experience first-hand the equality, solidarity and unity of all people.
For a few years now I have been living in Taiwan, one of the most homogeneous and conformist cultures on earth. I have my reasons and I love my life here, but an underlying component of my lifestyle is a persistent nostalgia for those aspects of my own culture that I miss the most: explosive creativity, colorful freaks, amazing music, shows, thriving subcultures. Where I live now these characteristics are rare to non-existent due an ancient tradition of obedience and a society-wide competitive struggle to study, work and survive.
As a foreigner living
in a very homogeneous, I can get away with wearing just about anything I want and all the while having a job that pays nearly the same wage as a doctor. If I look a little strange, they just write it off as ‘western’ and allow it because they are polite and want to be open minded. But as the years pass, an overwhelming energy builds up inside of me because my lifestyle lacks the release that can only be found in a punk rock show. So can you imagine my excitement flying across the world to meet my best friend/sister (who I haven’t seen in a year) and a few other friends for the biggest punk festival in the world?
In my opinion, the show is the focal point of the punk rock movement. Politics, expression, social rebellion, fashion and art are all of part of it, but all of these components manifest in the show. Shows are where the punks congregate to watch the music they love, it is what they look forward to the most in their life, it is where they display the works of art that are their own bodies, it is where
they can find release from anger and other negative feelings through of expression found in aggressive music and dance. In some ways, the punk rock movement differs very little from the hippy movement in its social and political objectives, though it adopts a visually different façade and a more aggressive approach to anti-establishment.
Critics, poorly made documentaries and ex-punks preach that punk died the day that Sid Vicious killed himself in 79 and then it was revived with the emergence of grunge music and Green Day. This statement is revolting to any genuine punk rocker or even music fan. The Sex Pistols were a fabricated band, and all that happened in the early 80’s is that punk returned to where it was meant to be, in the underground, and in that niche of society it thrived and spread throughout the world to this day.
When punk influenced music and fashion makes its way into popular media and culture, it only serves to strengthen the core of the movement, which is found in the halls and small venues of the world, DIY (do-it-yourself) music, gigs, and clothing. The appropriation of style and music by the corporate, money
hungry world is unavoidable and has happened to all subcultures, but by refusing to buy or listen to their shit, the common punk can maintain his or her integrity and pride.
It must also be noted that punk music in its present state is highly evolved and varied. Wearing a safety pin in your nose, trying to offend people and dying your hair pink in 1977 was a much greater social statement than it is today. But to compensate for their increasingly accepted rebellion, some punks went on to become more involved in direct political action, organization, and exploration of non-corporate forms of lifestyle. But in the end, it cannot be denied that the punk style and message can sometimes come across as rigid and formulaic in it’s own right. But in its defense, if something is good, than why change it? You don’t even have to like punk music to appreciate the beautiful people you can see in the pictures on this page.
Surveying the crowd at Rebellion festival, I saw 5000 individual people. Each one is unique because they made or altered their clothing in some way, and they custom designed their body and
hair. When a person buys something, they are voting with their money, essentially saying, ‘I agree with this product and how it was made’. Therefore the DIY ethic is a fundamental aspect of the punk rock movement; a form of civil disobedience through non-participation is corporate society.
I was also blown away by something else at the festival. Over the course of 4 solid days and nights of drinking and hundreds of musical performances under one roof, I did not witness a single act of aggression, a fight, conflict, or even somebody who drank too much and got kicked out. I came there with the preconception that the British were some of the rowdiest drinkers in the world. The punks were polite, and all weekend I felt a sense of unity through common love of music and togetherness.
There was actually a stabbing in the same city during the festival, but football related. Local punks later explained to me that this is usually the case in England, and it serves to reinforce my belief that (with some exceptions of course) sports contribute to competitive mentality while music generally serves to unite.
As the weekend progressed, I
met and became friends with punks from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Italy, America, Canada, Spain, South African, Australia, and of course, all over England. In fact, I left the festival wishing there was more time to solidify some of these new friendships, though my eardrums and liver told me it was time to go.
One unfortunate occurrence in the history of punk rock was the appropriation of punk fashion and music by misguided, ignorant and hateful youth, or ‘Nazi Punks’. This was particularly devastating for the skinhead branch of punk rock, who later had to deal with misconceptions from common people regarding their choice of style. This is one reason that over the decades a strong anti-fascist and anti-Nazi message has been a repeated theme of punk and skinhead music, patches and t-shirts.
I was also moved to note that at Rebellion Festival this message was conveyed with particular enthusiasm from the bands coming from the ex-fascist states of Italy and Germany. I must admit even I was a little surprised to listen to muscular Italian skinheads preaching in heavily accented English against animal abuse, sexism, and homophobia. It was inspiring to say the least.
Every single style of music associated with punk rock was represented at Rebellion, including oi!, streetpunk, hardcore, metal, ska, reggae, dub, rockabilly, psychobilly, folk. I don’t care to drop band names, but the most amazing thing was that literally dozens of original bands from the 70’s punk movement played the show. There is no equivalent to this in any other genre of music anywhere else in the world. Before our very eyes we witnessed, for days on end, 40+ year old men and women who not only invented a style of music that changed the world of music and fashion as we know it, but who kept it alive when the sellouts grew out of it and the mainstream media forgot about it. Even America, England’s comrade in the development of the original punk rock movement, could never boast half the line-up today, even though a few American pioneers were represented at Rebellion.
In the same way that every style of music was represented, every style of punk kid was too. From crusty street kids to aging skins, homeless to established mothers and fathers, middle class white kids to international devotees.
The choice of
Blackpool to host the annual festival is a strange one to say the least. An awkward seaside resort town for holidaying British families, the core of Blackpool is made up mainly of amusement parks and Bed & Breakfasts where overweight families seem to spend most of their time drinking beer and playing pool in stale hotel pubs.
Few of these families were prepared for what happened this weekend though, and as the festival progressed, my friends and I were subjected to a bombardment of questions regarding our hairstyle and requests to pose for photographs. Living in Asia I am pretty used to posing almost daily for photographs just because I am white, so this didn’t really bother me. In fact, I was especially happy to pose for a photograph for some local Iraqi Kurdish immigrants who worked in a fast food shop, having recently visited this region of Iraq and meeting some of the most hospitable people in the world (see one of my older blogs).
This was my first time in England, and I came primarily for the show. Some overall impressions: your food is awful, ‘English breakfast’ is clearly responsible for the regular emissions
The Edmonton, Canada Crew
L to R Mike, Leanne, Me, Adam, Dillon
of toxic gasses I smelled in the pit, your weather is horrid, and your people drink more than any other culture I have encountered. I nearly lost my mind trying to drive through London in our rental car on our last day, and have since been told by locals that even they wouldn’t try driving in London. The countryside is bland but pretty and reminded me of landscapes from my home province. Like my travels in many parts of the world, it was the people I met, the punks and skins from all over the country and world, that made my experience.
More than half my reason for coming to the festival actually was to enjoy it in the company of my best friend and sister Leanne (unfortunately my other best friend and also sister Jen couldn’t join us), her boyfriend Mike, and my friends Dillon and Adam. Our short time together was more awesome than I could have imagined, and I was overwhelmed with emotions.
The punk scene gets a lot of slack, but try to name one ideology or form of cultural expression that is without its own hypocrisies. Punks are
anti-fashion but we spend hours perfecting our look. Outside the show we chat and pose in pictures with police officers wearing funny hats while bands inside sing about hating and fighting against them. We preach anarchy and non-conformity, but the vast majority of us have jobs and relatively established lives. We advocate chaos but treat one-another with love and compassion. There are more digital cameras in the pit these days than most of us are proud to admit.
While some would conclude that the movement has weakened and clings to an ethic and style that is no longer equated with true rebellion, I would argue the opposite. The movement has grown with the world around it, become more intelligent, fully aware of and proud of what it is, and while other scenes pop up and then die out just as fast, punk survives carrying an absolute refusal to abandon a message that forms the basis of it’s longevity:
All humans are equal, but those that oppress others do not deserve our submission or respect. Corporations and governments are fueled by greed, and it is the duty of the individual to recognize this and refuse participation in
destructive forms of living. By creating our own music, lifestyle, and clothing, we are demonstrating that people are capable of governing themselves, and in solidarity we drink in the streets, because the streets belong to us; we raise our fists in the air and embrace our brothers and sisters in the pit as our favorite bands play, bands whose members are our friends, not rock stars, and we live life to the fullest.
please see below and the next 2 pages for more pictures!
ANARCHY AND PEACE For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com
SEE YA IN THE PIT!
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