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Music

Watch famous punks discuss the concept of "selling out"

Nowhere has authenticity been more important than in the world of punk. The genre originated, in part, as a response to the inauthenticity of the rock elite and has since come to be regarded as a defiant cultural expression of individualism in an innately commercialising world. In the below footage, famous punks discuss the concept of “selling out”, how rock music has battled against commodification, and the unavoidability of compromise in an industry that asks musicians to perform for profit.

Historically, subcultures have always been consumed by the mainstream. In this sense, punk followed a well-established trajectory. Almost all well-known artistic or intellectual movements originated from a small group of individuals who didn’t feel enthused by the dominant ideology. In response, they set about cultivating their own aesthetics, ideas, and beliefs. Slowly but surely, these subversive outliers become accepted by cultural gatekeepers and by mainstream society as a whole.

From the very beginning, punk was preoccupied with this facet of subculture. As children of the ’60s, early punks were keenly aware that counterculture could be commercialised with ease. They’d seen it happen with their own eyes and so did everything they could to bypass the power structures at play in the media. They swapped Melody Maker for fanzines, sold offensive T-shirts, and generally pissed off the establishment. Unfortunately, the very disgust they intended to generate became their calling card. In fact, the whole idea of creating a “totally rotten” boy band wasn’t a grassroots idea at all; it was dreamt up by impresario Malcolm McClaren and used to jaw-dropping effect with Sex Pistols.

Here, grunge, hardcore and pop-punk-era musicians like Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Henry Rollins, and Josh Homme discuss the problem with labelling someone a “sell-out”. For some, the term is just an indication that an artist’s music got popular on a huge scale and became innately uncool as a result. For others, selling out has always meant “letting the money in”. In other words, heading over creative control to label executives. While the musicians interviewed can’t seem to settle on a firm definition of selling out, they all agree that it’s as much a tragedy for the artist themselves as it is for the fans.