Three Minute Heroes

The punk movement between 1976-84 represented a distinctive period in the development of youth culture in Britain. Whilst certain principles paralleled earlier generations and youth movements, they were married to an outspoken ideology that declared ‘anyone can do it’ and an overtly nihilistic attitude toward the music industry itself. This led to a situation where ‘anyone’ did, in fact, ‘do it’, and the resulting deluge of independent, do-it-yourself records, concerts and networks of activity threatened to seriously disrupt the commercial stability of the popular music business, albeit temporarily.

The seven inch single sleeve might be taken as the central graphic design focus for this subculture. Early UK punk espoused an ideology that set itself in opposition to the contemporary fashion in popular music toward heavily produced, musically complex arrangements, usually in the form of long playing, twelve inch 33rpm albums. Punk songs tended to be short,fast and aggressive, and the widely repeated credo that “...if it can’t be said in three minutes, it’s not worth saying” was adopted as standard practice. The seven inch 45rpm single, a mainstay of earlier Rock and Roll, Pop and Glam Rock styles, was widely adopted by punk groups as a cheap, accessible, effective and ultimately disposable format for the quick dissemination of musical ideas.

God Save History

If you’re going to reminisce, then you need to do it properly
(The Mekons, 1st Guitarist, CNT Records 1982)

This website is based on research conducted by graphic designer and punk historian Russ Bestley over the past seven years. An interactive timeline of UK punk rock single releases shows the development of graphic styles related to a number of evolving punk sub-genres across the wider regions of the country. It is also based on a broader timeframe than that which is usually associated with UK punk – from the First Wave of UK punk to the regional diaspora and DIY innovations of the Second Wave, and new interpretations of the musical, visual and political aspects of punk within the early 1980s Third Wave. Around 1,200 UK punk single sleeves are mapped regionally and chronologically, showing the development of local stylistic approaches, while individual sub-genre displays relate the sleeve artwork to the development of a range of sub-genres of UK punk which had political and cultural significance, particularly within a local framework. Many contemporary histories are highly selective in their range of sleeves and artists used to describe the development of UK punk: the inclusion of a number of punk-related releases which could be said to be on the periphery of the genre, for instance those defined as Proto Punk or New Wave, also helps to clarify the musical and graphic characteristics of punk as a distinct category. Large format and interactive screen-based versions of these matrices were developed as an exhibition, Hitsville UK: Punk in the Faraway Towns, which was shown in London, Southampton and Blackpool during the spring and summer of 2007.