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In a statement against the commercialisation of punk, Joe Corre burnt a hefty £5 million worth of punk memorabilia last Saturday. As the son of former Sex Pistol manager Malcolm McLaren and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, Corre’s extensive collection included a pair of Johnny Rotten’s trousers, a Sid Vicious doll, and test pressings of Sex Pistols records… which was all sent to ashes. Corre passionately declared that ‘punk was never ever meant to be nostalgic’, and criticised how the movement has been immortalised by museums and corporations. According to Corre, punk has become a ‘marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need’. Corre is particularly protesting against Punk London, a commemorative event which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of punk this year, and is sponsored by institutional figures such as the Mayor of London and the National Lottery.

The burning has been controversial to say the least, with Twitter users labelling the act as “selfish”, “pointless”, and “fucking sad”. Corre has been criticised for failing to use the sales to support charities, which could utilise the money to achieve more practical ends.

While effectively destroying £5 million may seem outrageous, burning the memorabilia can be seen as an artistic statement. Destroying things of ‘value’ has a history in performance art, where it is used to question what constitutes its high monetary worth. Ironically, maybe burning punk memorabilia is ‘punk’ in itself. As British art rock band Django Django tweeted, “Isn’t burning a load of valuable punk stuff cos you’re over punk just a bit… Punk?”. What Corre is suggesting is that looking to the past by buying ‘punk stuff’ contradicts the essence of the movement’s ideals. Perhaps the legacy of punk is better remembered by the burning of its artefacts rather than displaying them in museums… because the shock value that such an act attracts makes a statement against the establishment, and that’s what the movement is all about.

According to Corre, “rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a fucking museum piece or a tribute act”. Rather than stepping back to the past by buying Sex Pistols t-shirts and attending ‘punk’ exhibitions, Corre calls us to “investigate the truth for yourself”, and do something about current issues such as immigration and climate change. The Sex Pistols were revolutionary, but they are a voice of the past. Although burning £5 million worth of memorabilia is undeniably a high price to pay, maybe it will engender the voices we need for our generation.

You can watch the full ceremony here (and fast forward to the 19-minute mark to get to the good stuff).

  • Words: Maki Morita

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