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British Punk

Although Britain wasn't the birthplace of punk rock, it was the place where punk had the greatest musical and cultural impact, catching hold as the ultimate music of outrage and rebellion in a way it never quite duplicated in America. British punk was partly inspired by the back-to-basics rock & roll of the pub rock movement and the anything-goes theatrics of glam rock, but the main catalysts were early New York punks like the Ramones and the New York Dolls. Arriving in a class-conscious country struggling through an economic downturn, punk seemed to threaten the very fabric of British society, giving voice to the rage of the lower class and the dissatisfaction of the nation's youth. And it did so in the loudest, fastest, most confrontational way possible. The first and most influential British punk band was the Sex Pistols, who hit the scene in 1976 and made an immediate impact by directly inspiring just about every British punk group that followed. Their simple, raw, stripped-down guitar riffs set the blueprint for much British punk, and their provocative, playfully subversive rhetoric got them demonized in the press and even physically attacked on the streets. The other key British punk band was the Clash, who were not only the most politically idealistic group on the scene, but also the most musically eclectic, incorporating early rock & roll and reggae. Yet even early on, the scene was quite diverse: the Buzzcocks wrote tense punk-pop tunes full of witty romantic confessions; the Jam tempered their social criticism with mod-inflected celebrations of British youth; the Damned were a riotous bunch of yobs who beat out the Sex Pistols to release the first British punk single ("New Rose"); and X-Ray Spex was just one group to prominently feature female members. Regardless of their musical approach or lyrical subjects, what these and other British punk artists shared was a crackling energy, a distaste for the overblown mainstream music of the time, and a liberating sense that anyone -- regardless of technical skill -- could pick up an instrument, get on stage, say whatever was on their minds, and bash out some glorious noise. The Sex Pistols and the Clash both signed with major labels, the only outlets then available; however, their D.I.Y. aesthetic helped create a thriving independent music scene around the U.K. The first wave of British punk ended with the Sex Pistols' breakup in January 1978, but the scene remained fertile -- and its sounds recognizably punk -- until about 1982. By that time, the remaining original punks had expanded their sounds, and British punk itself had mutated and splintered into a number of subgenres: pop-oriented new wave, arty and challenging post-punk, icy and forbidding goth-rock, anarchist hardcore punk, and early alternative rock.