Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology (AJE), Vol 1 (2011)

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Stranded Out of Place: Environmental Alienation in Australian Punk

John Parham



Working within ‘environmental justice ecocriticism’, this paper explores and compares British and Australian punk and new wave arguing that the environment comprises one way in which a socially disadvantaged urban poor register an experience of injustice and alienation. The paper connects cultural studies of place/environment in popular music with ecocritical arguments that stress the centrality of place to identity and the importance of sound, oral cultures and music towards conveying that sense of place. Engaging with debates about ‘authenticity’, a concept being substantially re-appraised in popular music studies, the paper will explore recurring motifs of the city, street, pollution, and the body questioning the idea of punk as a ‘spectacular subculture’ representative of ‘the death of an aesthetics based on […] the "authentic"’ (Iain Chambers)—through Allan Moore’s argument that ‘social alienation’ is ‘the ideological root of […] striving for the authentic’ in popular music. Suggesting (cf. Jude Davies) that British punk, after 1978, became increasingly sophisticated (musically speaking), articulate and politicised, the textual analysis comprising the body of this paper, will compare an example of secondary, British ‘new wave’—e.g. The Jam—with one of the environmentally-specific Brisbane punk bands (e.g. The Saints). I examine, in particular, three aspects of punk/new wave’s recurrent registering of its environment: sound, or sonic effect, looking at the lack of conventional harmony and structure, and various alienating devices; lyrics; and vocal delivery (looking at regionalised or working-class accents, and aggressiveness / alienation of tone).


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