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Sensing Divisions - Queen's University Belfast Virtual Conference 21-22 May 2020
Dr Jim Donaghey presented 'Punk Song Counter-Narratives to "War" and "Peace" in Northern Ireland, 1977-2020'
For over 40 years, punk has provided a critical counter-narrative to sectarian ‘two traditions’ mentalities in Northern Ireland. From punk’s earliest appearance here, punk set its stall outside or against the ethno-national conflict, whether in the vein of The Undertones’ saccharine pop escapism (‘Teenage Kicks’ 1978), or in Stiff Little Fingers’ visceral vision of an ‘Alternative Ulster’ (1978). Bands from the early 1980s, such as Ruefrex, situated themselves within their own sectarianly demarcated communities, even while arguing against sectarian division. Anarchist-informed punk in the 1980s, such as Toxic Waste or Stalag 17, sharpened the critique of the conflict, denigrating both ‘sides’ as socially domineering and oppressive – bands associated with the Warzone Collective have continued this anarchist counter-narrative throughout the 1990s (e.g. Pink Turds in Space), 2000s (e.g. Runnin’ Riot), and 2010s (e.g. 1000 Drunken Nights). This anarchist punk counter-narrative has been just as sharply critical of the post-1998 ‘peace’ as it was of the Troubles ‘war’.
Other bands have set their political sights beyond Northern Ireland, appealing to wider themes of resistance, class-based solidarities, or animal liberation, but avoiding ‘local’ issues entirely. The ‘escapist’ trope has persisted as well, with numerous bands eschewing ‘Politics’ to focus on themes of alcohol- and drug-fuelled self-destruction, horror and gore themes, sex, or banal rock ‘n’ roll – but in the context of Northern Ireland, perhaps such an eschewal of ‘Politics’ is intensely political after all.
This paper took the form of a curated chronological playlist of Northern Ireland punk songs, aurally sketching this punk counter-narrative through the songs themselves. The presentation is available on YouTube. https://youtu.be/z-1GTfPyZM0
Annotated lyric sheets and artwork were provided to guide the listening experience, and participants were invited to share their reflections on the playlist in the post-paper discussion.