Punk in 2017 feels like a diverse, even contentious subject. Now approaching its 40th anniversary, there’s little doubt that what was once a moral panic causing act of youthful rebellion, is now accepted, even celebrated, by the establishment it once sought to rebel against (look to PUNK.London, for example, as proof). While the movement has become ingrained in British culture, often to the point of caricature, the general disenfranchisement felt across the social strata is crying out for another similarly motivated movement.
Of course, the politics of punk always played second, or indeed third string to both the music and the general nihilism with which it was entrenched. A nihilism which arguably went on to be punk’s downfall. As the ’80s rushed in on a wave of burgeoning neoliberalism, punk was seemingly all but forgotten everywhere but the hearts of crusty diehards in Camden squats, images which further the idea of punks as a caricature. Although the social climate in the UK needs a kickstart to get past its complacent bitterness, people seem all too wrapped up in punks’ leather, bristles studs and acne image to consider its politics as a genuine option. But it doesn’t have to be that way, at least not according to East London garage-punks, False Heads.
“The right wing is rising again and the left are too busy being whiny cunts to deal with anything,” exclaims frontman Luke Griffiths. “That’s what I find terrifying to be honest. If the right was rising and I felt the left had its shit together, I would feel a bit less hopeless about the state of everything.” From the opening point in our conversation, it’s clear the band have some pretty strong views on politics. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the current state of things however, their politics are fiercely passionate and well thought through. “Just engage in a proper conversation or debate with people, somewhere you can’t just delete someone or block someone for having a different opinion. Don’t use the words like bigot, racist, sexist and anything with heavy connotations unless the person actually is one. Some people just have a different opinion. There’s a difference. Using those words instead of debating them, you lose them and add to the support of people like Trump”.
So for a band whose politics are both visible and progressive and who have been daubed with the punk brush since their outset, could it offer a viable alternative to the current status quo? With their music has already impressing the likes of Iggy Pop and Danny Fields, False Heads are clearly tapping in to an energy and urgency lesser acts have been unable to. But do they think a new wave of punk is going to happen any time soon? “Definitely. It doesn’t have to be called ‘punk’, I don’t care if it has a label or a name, but I think some sort of jolt from the left field needs to blow smoke in the faces of both established mainstream music and politics. There’s a malaise that is creeping into the bones of society. Mediocrity is being celebrated and that will not fucking do.”
“There’s a malaise that is creeping into the bones of society. Mediocrity is being celebrated and that will not fucking do.”
Fortunately, mediocrity is a word which one could hardly associate with False Heads. Their blistering brand of garage rock has been turning heads almost since their inception. With Fred Perry Subculture recently declaring 2017 as the “year of the British guitar band”, and including False Heads in their round-up, do the band agree with the sentiment? “Sort of. It feels like it could either break or just stay just as fucking boring. I don’t think ‘indie’ means anything any more. ‘Indie rock’ is just utterly meaningless now. Take The 1975. They’re a pop band. Why am I being told that they’re ‘indie’ or ‘indie rock’? Maybe more of a shift will happen in 2017, I hope so.”
Though there’s more than an element of truth in what Griffiths says, featuring alongside the band on the same list were several notable acts that aren’t your typical cut and paste indie outfits. Bands like Cabbage and Blackwaters, who are genuinely refreshing in an indie scene that’s always in danger of stagnating. But does their current popularity signify the beginning of a shift? Are people genuinely getting fed up with the middle-class indie boy image harboured by a lot of bands? “Fuck yes. They almost seem to churned out of a factory. They look the same, dress the same, sound the same, say the same shit. And they’re all signed to majors! I have nothing against major labels or bands that sign to them.” The band themselves are signed to Gary Powell’s 25 Hour Convenience Store. “If you can sign a contract, keep control of your creative output but have more money and more exposure, you’d be an idiot not to take that. Fuck all that ‘punk rock’ shit, you would be stupid to not do that.” Griffiths seems to consider his words for a second. “I mean if a label wants control over your creative output then fuck that, that is wrong. My point is that you see it time and time again. A band signs to a major, suddenly they’re everywhere. Every blog, every radio station etc. and yet they’re all so boring. The majors have bought all the indies, and employed their way of thinking they’re scared of having something that is a bit chaotic. If we represent something more aggressive, more chaotic, I’m glad.”
Clearly the band are driven by punk’s anti-establishment ideals. But they harbour a pragmatists approach, one which sees past the movement’s nihilistic attitude, instead tapping in to its unifying potential at a time when the establishment seem intent on creating social division. “Look, I know what spurs me on.” Griffith concludes “I hate the right wing, and I don’t see my leftist values being represented by the ‘voices’ of the left. I also find mainstream music fucking awful and I find a lot of the ‘alternative’ acts we’re told are an antidote to that music just as boring and pristine. I think a lot of people feel like me as well. They’re just frustrated and maybe that’s why a band like us has a chance.”
It’s a fair approximation. The reasonable popularity of bands such as Fat White Family and Sleaford Mods suggest that, though punk as it was once is well and truly dead, absorbed and celebrated by those it sought to distance itself from, its spirit lives on in those providing a mouthpiece for a voiceless majority. False Heads could very well join them.