Four generations of punk luminaries – including John Doe and Exene Cervenka, Ian MacKaye, Aaron Cometbus, Shonen Knife, Victoria Ruiz and members of Pussy Riot – will gather at Cornell Nov. 1-5 for a weeklong celebration of the cultural, political and historical impact of punk.
Punkfest Cornell will feature film screenings, performances and panel discussions, and will celebrate the opening of Cornell University Library’s punk collections with an exhibition, “Anarchy in the Archives.”
Punkfest – taking place on Cornell’s campus and at concert venues around Ithaca – is organized by the Department of Music and the Department of Comparative Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell University Library and Dan Smalls Presents.
Punk culture, which has included music, fashion, literature and visual arts, burst out from underground theater and rock scenes in New York and London in the mid-1970s. As it spread around the world, punk set the stage for independent music, third-wave feminist politics and musical activism up to the present day.
Punkfest coincides with the 40th anniversary of punk’s year zero in 1976, when many early punk bands released their first recordings. “It’s an ideal moment to examine punk’s historical and ongoing influence,” said Judith Peraino, professor of music, who is co-organizing Punkfest with Tom McEnaney, assistant professor of comparative literature. McEnaney and Peraino co-teach a class on punk culture.
“Punk has always been about figuring out the relationship of the present to the past in sound and identity,” said Peraino. “The way it joins a political stance of refusal with the rebelliousness of rock’n’roll continues to be important.”
McEnaney said: “From the Sex Pistols to Bad Brains to Bikini Kill, punk has consistently provided a noisy megaphone for ideas, attitudes and people that would otherwise be muted. This conference, and the living archive it celebrates, gives people a chance to hear that history and continue building from it today.”
Cornell’s punk archive began arriving in 2012, when collector and author Johan Kugelberg donated around 3,000 items documenting punk’s emergence to the library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. The library’s punk collections – with rare posters, flyers, fanzines, recordings and photographs of iconic performers such as the Ramones, Iggy Pop and Blondie – have since grown to record the development of punk and its offshoot musical genres in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Midwest.
“Cornell’s nationally prominent archival collections on contemporary music, including punk, show how musical subcultures emerge from the underground, challenge the status quo, spread and become globally influential,” said Katherine Reagan, the library’s curator of rare books and manuscripts. “We are excited to open our punk collections to a wider audience for the first time.”
Kugelberg, Peraino and McEnaney are co-curating the “Anarchy in the Archives” exhibition, which will open with a reception in the Hirschland Gallery in Kroch Library Nov. 4 and will run through May 2017.
Punkfest event highlights include a panel discussion with Pussy Riot, the Russian punk and protest band whose members were imprisoned for nearly two years on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
Other talks will feature John Doe and Exene Cervenka, co-founders of the influential L.A. punk band X; Ian MacKaye, founder of the independent record label Dischord Records and the Washington, D.C., bands Minor Threat and Fugazi; Victoria Ruiz, vocalist of the Downtown Boys; Aaron Cometbus, fanzine writer and former drummer for the band Crimpshrine; and journalist Jon Savage, author of the book “England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond,” as well as many others who helped punk evolve from a countercultural youth movement into an international force.
Off-campus, former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins will appear in spoken-word performance at the State Theatre Nov. 3, John Doe at the Haunt Nov. 4, and the legendary Japanese pop punk band Shonen Knife at the Haunt Nov. 5.
Punkfest has additional support from the Department of Performing and Media Arts, University Courses, the American Studies Program, the Department of English, the Department of History, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies, the Society for the Humanities, the Department of Romance Studies, the Department of Anthropology and the Latin American Studies Program. The “Anarchy in the Archives” exhibition is supported by the Stephen ’58, MBA ’59, and Evalyn Edwards ’60 Milman Exhibition Fund.
Melanie Lefkowitz is staff writer, editor and social media coordinator for Cornell University Library.