Patrick Deer

Patrick Deer teaches twentieth century literature and culture in the English department at NYU. He is the author of Culture in Camouflage: War, Empire and Modern British Literature (Oxford, 2009) and a member of the Social Text editorial collective.



"'The Cassette Played Poptones': Punk's Pop Embrace of the City in Ruins"

The embrace of the city in ruins was a familiar rallying cry of punk music. From raucous calls for “a riot of our own” (Notting Hill Riots/The Clash, 1977), dub influenced declarations of provincial alienation “Babylon’s Burning with anxiety” (Hayes, Middlesex/The Ruts), anthemic satire of Cold War apocalypse “We got the neutron bomb” (LA/The Weirdos, 1977), voyeuristic detachment in the face of urban decay “I see the city’s ripped backsides…and I ride and I ride” (Berlin via Detroit/Iggy Pop, 1979), to critiques of inner city racism “Concrete jungle…the animals are after me” (Coventry/The Specials, 1980), the city was both a scene of violence and of potential safety. In the conflict torn cities of Northern Ireland during the “Troubles” in the late 1970s, the anarchic growl of punk music confronted sectarian violence, unemployment, and a militarized state of emergency. Helicopter noise was deployed against demonstrators; surveillance technology listened for snipers and paramilitary plotting; white steam noise was used to break down internees. The bands of the era, like The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, The Radiators From Space, or the Virgin Prunes, pitched punk negation and artlessness against the sounds of a partitioned city with unpredictable results. Pop evanescence emerged as often as dissonance. Was this selling out to pop, as diehards heckled The Undertones for playing Northern Soul harmonies about the death of Hunger Striker, Bobby Sands, in 1981, or, as this talk explores, the playing out of an internal contradiction inherent in punk when confronted with extremes of urban conflict?

My Speakers Sessions

Friday, March 23

9:00am EDT