Loads of controversy surrounds this
Swastica symbol and it's presence in
the punk scene, even today!
It's been used by many over the years
for very many different reasons and
concepts. Either to cause controversy
and shock or to confront the straights
or a corrupt system with it's own
demons. But most of you with enough
suss will realise the swastica was
never a direct political statement within
punk rock. It was part of the punks
desire to repulse a nation of
convention! This piece is to shed a bit of light on it's punk rock origins.
I'll leave your own mind-set to draw conclusions.
For what it's worth the swastica and punk have had a long sometimes
explosive relationship. Like a lot of aspects in punk it was all about
The use of the swastika in punk imagery has several roots. Perhaps
the first people to be defined as punks who used the swastika were a
band who hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, called The Electric Eels.
These wackos are credited with having released one of the first ever
punk singles called "Agitated"/'Cyclotron' in May, 1975, although the
actual songs never made it onto an official release till 1979
(Rough Trade seven-inch, RT008).
As early as 1974, The Electric Eels were causing outrage by wearing
White Power T-shirts and putting swastikas on their posters. They
described themselves as art terrorists and nihilists, intent on
upsetting as many people as possible. Another of their tricks, for
example, was causing fights in bars by pretending to be gay tee hee.
Of course these were preceded by Ron Asheton of the Stooges
fixation with SS uniforms.
Also in America, at around the same time, The Ramones were just
starting out. For their record sleeves, they were using the gay
Mexican artist, Aturo Vega, whose work often incorporated Day-Glo
swastikas. In the US fanzine, Punk, which is often credited as having
given the movement it's name, an interview with Dee Dee Ramone
revealed that he liked "comic books and anything with swastikas on
it"; a comment that was often thought to be clearly designed to
further the band's carefully (snigger) controlled image of dumb,
blank teenagers who cared about nothing.
What these early punks were really doing was trying to annoy their parents and authority figures by being rebellious and
unpleasant. As the not very well respected (in some punk circles) Mary Harron, who wrote an interview with The Ramones
in Punk put it, "Punk embraced the things that cultured people, and hippies, detested."
Meanwhile, 6,000 miles away in Britain, the manager and
future svengali behind The Sex Pistols, Malcom McLaren,
and his designer girlfriend, Vivienne Westwood, were
running their clothing shop, Let It Rock, which had become
Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die in 1973 in London's
King's Road. The swastika had already cropped up in
Westwood's designs when she worked on the costumes for
Ken Russell's movie, "Mahler".
In a dream-sequence the composer meets his Nazi enemy
who is dressed in a black leather skirt with a swastika
studded onto it. Then came her "anarchist" shirts;
second-hand shirts which were dyed red and black and had
slogans painted on them and sometimes a small portrait of
Karl Marx or a swastika attached. The idea was to shock, and
the shirts were intended to be provocative, outrageous
statements in the tradition of the avant-garde Situatiohist art
By 1975, Westwood ana McLaren's shop had been
re-christened Sex. One employee was called Jordan who, in
Jon Savage's definitive history of punk, "England's Dreaming"
(Faber And Faber, ISBN0-571-I679I-8), gives
another reason for the appearance of the swastika, "Malcom
was in awe of the symbolism," she said. "He had a stock of
Nazi memorabilia, including Nazi Youth badges, gold SS
wedding rings and swastika hankies." Given that McLaren
was Jewish, anti-Semitism seems a very unlikely explanation
for this obsession. Westwood claimed they were setting out to
de-mystify the swastika. De-mystified or not, another Sex
employee, Alan Jones, was beaten up in Notting Hill for
wearing a swastika armband.
Another rising star in the punk scene was Siouxsie Sioux, who was often
seen wearing a swastika armband. "It was an anti-mums and dads thing,"
she claimed. "We hated older people always harping on about Hitler, 'We
showed him,' and that smug pride. It was a way of watching someone like
that go completely red-faced."
The use of the swastika remained a divisive issue within punk ranks. The
Clash's manager, Bernie Rhodes, once wouldn't allow an early line-up of
Siouxsie And The Banshees use The Clash's equipment at 100 Club
Punk Festival in 1976 because he took exception to Sid Vicious' (then
Siouxsie's drummer) felt-tipped swastikas on his T-shirt and Siouxsie's
Despite the sick-joke of the Sex Pistols' track, "Belsen Was A Gas", and
the appearance of an actor playing the Nazi war criminal, Martin Boorman,
in the Pistols' film, "The Great Rock N Roll Swindle", use of Nazi imagery in
punk was no more sinister than a misplaced fashion ideal combined with a
youthful desire to shock.
While early punk bands like Skrewdriver who later turned into and out
and out skinhead outfit with a singer with nazi beliefs, they didn't actually
use the swastica to promote their records. In the early 80's other high
profile punk bands who delved into swastica territory was the Dead Kennedys
who used the 'Swasticastor' design again to promote their
debut 45 and the Exploited, whose singer Wattie had a passion for
Westwood styled t-shirt designs.
To bring us more up to date. A young American punk emailed me
wondering whether "Torcha Shed (45 released in 2003) in were for white power
and all that shit?
Because my friend got me into Torcha Shed (well what songs you had)
and he was like man they're all into nazi shit so fuck em because their
cover was all nazi blah blah. Anyways I was like no I don't think the lyrics
aren't anything about that, so anyways that would be great if I could prove
Well the actual swastica that appeared on our 45 'Nihilism On The Prowl!' that came out on Puke n Vomit records in 2003,
was in actual fact a copy of Jamie Reids 'stratoswasticastor' nicked off the Dead Kennedys poster and it wasnt a main
feature of the sleeve just one part of the sleeves theme which was Nihilism On The Prowl! and all that that statement
signified in various forms. Hope that's answered that minor punk footnote.
For more information on the Swastica and Punk go to the Summer Of Hates well informed page that deals more indepth
with the Sex Pistols use of the image at...www.acc.umu.se/~samhain/summerofhate/punk.html#punk
You can also check out the Electric Heels at...www.electriceels.com/