How Punk Changed the Music Poster Industry

How Punk Changed the Music Poster Industry

The late 60s and early 70s were big business for the music poster industry. However, in just a few short years, something would happen that was going to shake everything up.

1967 saw psychedelia burst onto the music scene, heralded by the likes of The Byrds, Kaleidoscope and the 13th Floor Elevators, and pushed into the swirling spotlight by bands such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. From 1967’s Summer of Love to 1969’s iconic Woodstock Festival, trippy troubadours dominated the turntables everywhere.

The relationship between drugs and music was nothing new, although it seemed to define this decade. The worlds of jazz and blues were already rife with coke and speed, but newer drugs, such as LSD, mescaline and peyote found their way into folk and rock circles, giving their music a hazier, lazier edge. With the advent of psychedelia, drugs had found a voice.

Powders, Potions and Posters

However, the same pills, potions and powders were also being embraced by up and coming pop artists and fashion designers. With boutique shops, such as Granny Takes a Trip springing up in Swinging London, the psychedelic era also found its style. At the same time, art college students and creative collectives were experimenting with mind-expanding substances and listening to music that had been inspired by them.

Before the 60s, music posters had been functional, rather than artistic expressions. More often than not, they’d be wordy affairs, adorned with a cartoon-style image, at most.

As the 60s counterculture blossomed, artists and design groups, such as Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, began to push the notion of what music posters could achieve. The basic delivery of information was replaced with intricate imagery that required attention and appreciation and was occasionally used to camouflage sexual symbolism and drug references. Famous posters, such as the Grateful Dead’s Skeleton and Roses, designed by Mouse and Kelley, the Vintage Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper and Milton Glaser’s flower-powered creation for Bob Dylan were all born during this decade.

The Excesses of the 70s

The 1970s saw music go back to its bluesier roots and poster art followed a similar direction. Bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Rolling Stones eschewed their hippy weeds in favour of a heavier sound that would eventually help to spawn heavy metal and glam rock. Similarly, poster designers abandoned the intricacies and swirls of 60s psychedelia, to replace them with more realistic or stylised images.

With the younger generation venting their frustrations against the politics, wars and social inequalities of the previous ten years, acoustic protest songs were swapped for electric-driven anthems and blistering hooks. As the music took on a more immediate aspect, music poster designers saw their medium as a way to capture both the mood and the moment. Artwork became more iconographic and symbolic, with designers such as Jim Franklin and Bill Narum creating stark, stylish posters for artists such as Taj Mahal and Frank Zappa.

The 70s also saw another massive change in the music industry; one that would prove to be the catalyst for change in the way gigs and bands were marketed.

If the 60s were swinging, the early 70s were all about excess. As the music became louder, small tours of pubs and clubs were eclipsed by swaggering, epic tours, pioneered by bands such as the Stones, Elton John, and Zeppelin. Magazines, such as Zigzag and Rolling Stone, became essential reading for music fans and posters became a new commercial commodity. Companies including Personality Posters and Scandecor jumped on the bandwagon and established themselves as some of the biggest and best distributors of posters and music paraphernalia in the world. While music had continuously been ‘sticking it to The Man’ over the last 20 years, The Man had found his way into the industry and was quietly reaping the benefits.

The mass-production and sale of music prints quickly became one of the most lucrative enterprises of the 20th Century.

And then punk happened.

The Birth of Punk

Iggy Pop – Loco Mosquito 1979 11/11 Print. Click the image to learn more.

Punk was born out of a reaction against the over-commercial, over-produced excesses of 1970s culture. According to music historians, it first found its feet in the West Coast of America, an offshoot of the type of garage rock spearheaded by the likes of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. However, in true anarchic fashion, punk started in the UK as an art movement, rather than a musical revolution, although the sound was hot on its Doc-Marten-clad heels.

Although there had been fashion and cultural revolutions in the 60s and the early 70s, the disenfranchised, working-class youth of 1975 didn’t see it that way. In their eyes, the mods had merely traded in business suits for branded ones, and the rock ‘n’ rollers uniform was made from denim. Punk declared that you could wear what you want, from bin-bags and safety-pins to tartan trousers and Mohican haircuts. Anything was fair game.

After soaking up New York’s punk scene, entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren and designer, Vivienne Westwood, returned to London to set up a boutique and a band. That band was to become the pioneering outfit for the London punk movement: the Sex Pistols.


To promote their ramshackle gigs, McLaren employed an art-school friend, Jamie Reid, to design posters. Already sympathetic to the anarchist movement, Reid set about dismantling the overblown art of early 70s posters, with lo-fi images and the ransom-note lettering that has become synonymous with the music between 1976 and 1979. Posters for iconic albums such as Never Mind The Bollocks, the Anarchy in the UK tour, and legendary gigs, such as The Anti-Nazi League’s Carnival 2 were rooted in simplicity and up-yours-attitude.

However, this basic approach had an unexpected effect on the music poster and print industry. As more burgeoning musicians became aware that you didn’t have to be a virtuoso to put a song together, more and more punk bands were formed, both in London and beyond. Reid’s nuts-and-bolts posters became the templates for punk bands across the UK. Rather than having to invest in high-quality production techniques, punk posters could be made at home, from collages of newspaper lettering and chopped-up magazine images and printed cheaply. Within months of punk kicking off, there was barely a wall, bus-stop or pub door that wasn’t plastered with garish images and DIY designs, letting the fans know where the next gig was. For bands such as the Sex Pistols, this guerrilla approach was perfect. Overheads were driven right down, and the underground punk movement developed its own gritty identity.

For around five years, the vast poster distributing corporations didn’t take much notice. For them, punk was a flash in the pan and wasn’t to be taken seriously. Unfortunately for them, it lasted longer than they anticipated and posters were being bought and sold between fans and bootlegger-style traders. For a while, The Man was being beaten at his own game.

Because the posters surrounding punk were often fan-made or released in ridiculously short runs, they’ve become supremely collectable, with early posters for the likes of the Pistols, The Ramones, The Stranglers and The Damned clocking up thousands of pounds. However, you don’t have to break the bank to shop for punk posters at Burst Gallery. Browse our collection, and you’ll find everything from prints and photographs to rarities and originals – mementos of a time when, briefly, music and design charted their own, anarchic course.

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