Punk Archivist: The Hidden Significance of Preserving Punk Concert Ephemera.


            Has the information age eradicated music’s physical presence, and completely changed into an all-encompassing digital media? It may sound like a question with an exaggerated proposal, but there is little doubt that our current digital age has made music more wide spread than ever, with fans turning up by the literal click of a desktop icon. With so much attraction towards new bands and musicians being derived from the internet, some may wonder if there will be any physical traces of past music scenes in the generations to come. Well, there certainly is a physical presence for today’s music culture, and it’s at its most shared and solidary state through the avenue of live concerts and shows.

            While not the be-all-end-all for musicians seeking to accumulate a profit, it is necessary for bands to tour heavily as it strengthens their fanbase, and gives them strong rapport with the concert-going community. Concerts have always been big money turners, and some bands have even become more regarded for their live shows than for their recorded material. It’s a strange time to be a musician right now, but it also applies to being a music archivist. With it already being clear that live concerts are in hot demand, then it is only feasible that an archivist should ask this: “What happens after it ends?”

It’s necessary for archivists to look back at the history of popular music, and decide what era/movement had the biggest impact on the way things currently look. Many (if not most) people would say that the birth of rock and roll in the 50s, and the subsequent British Invasion of the 60s are the definitive periods to look at. When one really observes today’s scenes, both underground and mainstream, somebody might feel that there was another movement that was just as seminal, creative, and even more recent. So much influence and ground work for current tropes in music can all be found in the initial punk movement that swept America and Great Britain during the 70s and 80s. Everything from advertising, to fan-to-fan communication was being implemented by this movement, in a regard that’s rather similar to the way the internet functions now. Also, punk is a culture that has continued to evolve over the years and gone through several phases, while there hasn’t necessarily been a second British Invasion.

            As any fan of the genre will tell you, punk rock isn’t just music, as it’s an ideology, a lifestyle, and a cultural movement as well. Ever since bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols spear-headed punk during the mid-70s, their rugged music, wild life-style, and left-wing politics became the norm for millions of people, and it’s safe to say that the music industry has never been quite the same because of it. While it took a while for punk rock to gain mainstream exposure in America, it’s undeniable that it had a key influence on 90s rock. Mega popular bands of the time like Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine and Greenday were all very much indebted to the rebellious nature, grinding rhythms, and loud delivery that was everything that popularized punk music.

            Besides music though, punk was groundbreaking in the methods it used to form a community for its fans. Today, many bands reach out to fans through the internet, as it’s where fans are most likely to discover new things. It’s not unusual at all for people to comb the web looking for new music, and it’s also relatively easy for music fans to meet like-minded people as there are online social networks like Last.FM and Spotify. A little word of mouth and Presto! An act already has a group of new fans in an atmosphere that’s liable to encourage people to write down their opinions, as well as share their discoveries with other online users.

In the decades before the internet, however, people had to be a bit more creative with how people took notice of their music, but the rewards were arguably greater, and certainly more physical. Self-published fan magazines (more commonly referred to as fan-zines, or just zines) were popularized during this era, as they were a method to talk about current happenings in this alternative culture while being free of the unwanted corporate advertisements that sustained commercial periodicals. Also, self-made pamphlets, posters, and in some cases comic books were distributed by punk bands, and all of this material became an aesthetic unto itself for the punk rock zeitgeist. In the present day, it’s easy to see this mode of communication acting as the prototype for bands forming fan-bases through the World Wide Web.

Printed materials are still used to promote concerts. Therefore, punk concert ephemera(be they zines, posters, flyers, pamphlets, set-lists, etc.) are representative not just of their era, but of the lifestyle that they have continued to sustain for generations. It is a necessity that these objects be located, archived and preserved for future generations, but this is undeniably a problematic area. By being ephemeratic it means that they were not designed to last long, and certainly not to be preserved.

Purpose of Study

This research project will be used to discover the necessity for preserving punk ephemera, and clarify the image of the punk zeitgeist, all while look at promotional materials intended for concerts and live performances. While the collecting of concert ephemera has become common place for archivists in recent years, the interest towards the collecting of punk ephemera has not been nearly as documented, outside a few noteworthy individuals (Toby Mott being perhaps the most notable one). The project will be structured somewhat like a list, with the chosen items being described, and then analyzed for their significance towards history and art. By the end of this essay, it is intended for readers to be able to find a lot of weighty historic value in ephemeratic material like a zine, a flyer, or even a poster for a local act. Punk is a music genre, a culture, a movement, and quite possibly a new way to preserve the past.

Research Questions

1.      What aspects of punk ephemera make them worthy of preservation?

2.      How does ephemera from punk culture seem so reflective of the punk ethos as a whole, and for what reason?

3.      What does punk ephemera hold in the physical sense that would be lost through the digitalization process?

4.      Have these materials lost the distinction of being called “ephemeral”?     

Literature Review


The word ephemera is the noun form of ephemeral, which typically is used to refer to anything that is created to last only a brief period of time. Some definitions have referred to ephemera solely as materials that are not to be archived. Of course, like so many previously established terms in today’s society, the universal definition for ephemera has indeed become a gray area, with its exact meaning changing several times throughout the generations. The term was reportedly first used to describe a fever that only lasts one day, and then in 1977 Rickards defined it as “the transient everyday items of paper–mostly printed–that are manufactured specifically to use and throw away”. In fact, most people certainly don’t acknowledge that the word is actually supposed to be the plural form of ephemeron, although now ephemera is most often used to refer to both singular and plural items (Launder, 2002).

Perhaps the most important contributor to the legitimization of ephemera collecting was an Englishman named John de Monins Johnson. During the 1920s and 30s, he began to construct a large collection of what he called “everything printed which is not actually a book.” During his lifetime he collected over 1.5 million items from 1508 to 1939 (his cutoff date), which included items like hand bills, posters, broadside prints and more. Throughout his life, Johnson would frequently refer to the items in this collection as “printed ephemera” which wasn’t an established term throughout the duration of his lifetime. In 1962, however, John Lewis wrote a piece on the John Johnson collection entitled “Constance Meade Memorial Collection of Ephemeral Printing”. This writing proved seminal and has served as the reference point for countless archives who have worked with ephemera.(Lambert, 2008)

            In recent years ephemera has come under much discussion from librarians and special collection handlers. Many members of the archiving community have been reassessing the intrinsic value that ephemera might have, and are finding a wealth of history in these items. Michael Launder has made some rather outstanding claims about the preservation of all sorts of ephemera, including daily items that are usually discarded such as sales receipts, or business cards. He feels that they represent the flow of daily life, as well as the intricacies of human function. Of even more curiosity, Launder writes that he feels that these items contain little details that other more “refined” documents might lack. Launder uses a stunning example, by bringing up a case involving oil company road maps that point to the origins of the nationally recognized highway Route 66. Geographer Arthur Krim had found that the bought road maps were more elusive than the unused ones, as these ones had been personalized and used, making it easy to infer if there was a collective conscious for people navigating Route 66(Launder 2002).It’s a rather fascinating case study, and even raises some solid psychological inquiries, such as how human minds behave in such a similar fashion.

            Launder does still understand that not all ephemera should be preserved, as there is a massive amount of it, and many of these materials don’t have the desired amount of intrinsic value. So, archives need to set priorities and guidelines for deciding what degree is necessary for ephemeratic items that fit inside their policies. “For an object to be relevant as evidence, it must meet certain criteria: it must be pertinent to the issue being studied; there must be a likelihood of its use as evidence, and its use as evidence must be important rather than trivial,” says Launder. “There must also be a community of interest that views both the issue and the evidence as significant concerns.”(Launder, 2002)

Literary ephemera is a growing field, which has allowed archivists to discover how different cataloging used to be in previous centuries, as well as uncover ephemera related to esteemed novels like Ben-Hur or Jane Eyre. It’s important for book culture to understand ephemera as a whole, as many of these items used text in a similar sense to books, but in a different way. The printing processes used for ephemera (such as security printing, perforating paper, lithography and packaging) were rarely the same ones that were used for books,  nor were the substrates which were often tin, silk, colored paper and similar articles. Perhaps the most fascinating difference between books and ephemera printing, however, is that in ephemera, image and text were integrated onto the page right from the start(Lambert, 2008).It’s a method that could easily cause a scholar to see ephemera as being more organic than books from the era, with its seamless merging of pictures and text.

Archivists have really been making great strides through the examination of medical ephemera, which pertains not just towards the study of past medical practices, but also reveals historical facts regarding the book trade. The John Johnson collection carries a large section of materials that were carried by booksellers from the 17th century onward. In search of medical ephemera, researchers discovered that these booksellers not only carried patented medicines, but also scientific, mathematical and musical instruments. Many historians were unaware of the items that were exchanged within book culture back then, as so much of it has become lost(Lambert, 2008).

It’s completely sensible that ephemera has taking on a new sense of being, especially as human kind becomes more fascinated with finding external ways to experience the past. While our established records and books do a fine job of looking back at history, ephemera seems to remain more unfiltered, and in some ways a more fascinating door to explore history. These items can take viewers on a journey through the public conscious regarding a particular phenomenon or movement. For lack of a better term, ephemera can act as existential history lessons that are potentially more organic than the text we’ve read in books or other documents.

Practices for Preserving and Cataloging Ephemera

Until recently, it appeared that the popular consensus for archivists was that ephemeratic items that were meant to last would do so by their own means. John Johnson felt that these materials should be preserved by history, and letting those who come across the material act accordingly. John Johnson only collected materials from the past, mainly avoiding ephemeratic items from his era as he felt there was such a large supply of it and that it wasn’t rational to be concerned about preserving it. Thing is, since Johnson’s time, other archivists have caught on to the sanctity that ephemera holds, and it has become common for people to start preserving ephemera as soon as the brief duration of their intended purpose is complete if not sooner(Lambert, 2008).

The problem with ephemera is that it encompasses such a wide body of items, that it can be hard to categorize them. For that reason, archival funds towards the preservation of ephemera are relatively low, nor do they fall inside established archiving frameworks such as EAD or ISAD(G). For that reason, archivists will often have to start from scratch when they receive boxes of ephemeratic items, and then go through the contents to compose a catalogue. Julian Anne Lambert, the current Librarian for the John Johnson Collection of printed ephemera, has even made a suggestion that boxes that are sent in should include descriptions from the senders, that refer to what sort of collection they intend for us to incorporate these materials into.Institutions that carry ephemera often hold particular guidelines and training programs in order to assure their special collection department fully understands the materials that they are working with (Yamada, 2006).

What methods/materials are used for preserving ephemera though? Well, as stated earlier this is a tricky area as ephemeratic items were obviously not made with preservation in mind. Print ephemera often suffers from both internal and external factors, such as poor make-up constituents, ineffective storage, and over usage. Serious action must be immediately considered whenever a collection decides to house ephemera, but there’s really no reason for people to grow too worried. Like most printed materials, these items only need good collection management and upkeep in order to survive, and the usual guidelines used to maintain library materials applies here as well (Yamada, 2006).

It is of utmost importance that an archivist use some form of packaging with these items. It goes without saying that using boxes and folders designed for long-term storage is a must, and it’s even more important to make sure that these materials are completely free of acidic content. The most chemically stable boards and packaging are ones made from cotton, but unfortunately this is the most expensive packaging out there. A chemically purified, alkaline buffered, woodpulp board is considered a good alternative by most groups, however, and there’s always the option of using plastic. Polyester is considered the best form of plastic packaging to use, with mylar bags usually considered the most convenient ones to use, as opposed to flexible Japanese tissue which can leave the material vulnerable(Yamada, 2006).

Also, Ephemeratic items have indeed found their ways into museum exhibitions, starting with public displays of John Johnson’s collection in the 70s. It’s important that displays be cautious in terms of lighting, as prolonged exposure can prove to be damaging at a quick rate. Also, archivists need to decide how their items will be displayed, and mounts are used rather frequently. Standard mounts, however, are not recommended, and it is insisted that archivists use specially crafted mounts that are designed by professional conservators. If one cannot afford a conservator, however, there are numerous ways that an archival staff can be creative with constructing efficient mounts. One easy tactic is to cut off a piece of mount board that is slightly larger than the object, and then wrap polyester around the item to the back of the mount where it will be held in place with double-sided tape. Some institutions have even begun to use magnets for their items, in which they will situated a metal baton or mounting board behind the item, and then use magnets to ensure that they safely connect. Archives that specialize in ephemera collections really should make a great effort to put up public exhibitions, as they have the potential to enlighten the the general population about why it is so important to preserve these items. Such awareness will easily allow for more contributions and studying within this field (Yamada, 2006).

Digitalization has also made some serious headway for ephemera collections, and opens a whole new plethora of ways to do research with it. Digitalization is indeed allowing these items to become more accessible to a wider audience, and also allow for a cleaner image. Lambert writes that by putting these materials on line, it allows the internet resource to list valuable information front-and-center. It allows patrons easy access to meta-data and research notes that would be far more time-consuming for one to come across if one were looking through just a physical catalogue(Lambert, 2008).

Of course, as with virtually every other field of archiving, there is plenty of skepticism regarding digital archives as well. Many people feel that digitalizing is altering the image of ephemera in an inorganic way, and that it’s spoiling the degree of discovery that archivists can receive through physical means. Many researches feel that making digital copies of print ephemera destroys the little nuances that make them such products of history, such as the lines, dots or hollows in the paper that can be seen through magnifying glasses. There are also concerns that the technology used to hold the digital imagery won’t last long either, and many people feel that microfilming is still the better preservation tactic, as it protects the item without changing anything about the appearance(Lambert, 2008). Despite these opinions, digital archiving will only continue to evolve in the generations to come, and the technology will only increase in terms of satisfactory output. It will only lend more insight for those engaged in ephemera archiving.

The Relativity of Concert Ephemera

            In recent years, concert ephemera has taking on a particular degree of interest from scholars and archivists. Posters, flyers, playbills, set lists, and other forms of physical advertising are now weighed to have great intrinsic value. In 2008, music historian Christina Bashford wrote an essay called Writing (British) Concert History: The Blessing and Curse of Ephemera, that talked about how there has been an increased interest in the research of concert ephemera since the 90s. Scholars have been looking at posters, handbills, tickets, reviews and other ephemera derived from concerts that took place in Britain over the last 500 years, and have been finding them very rewarding towards dissecting daily life at the time.

As previously elaborated on, print ephemera is very telling towards a culture’s aesthetic, and entertainment ephemera can be immediately telling. The materials they have found from these early concerts are undoubtedly solid evidence for stating the printing press was perhaps the most pivotal invention of the last millennium, and we can use these objects as a stepping stone towards examining the evolution of text and printed materials over the centuries. Combined with statistical data regarding attendance, economics, and community, researchers can use ephemera to fill in some very valuable notches regarding the impact concerts had on society(Bashford, March 2008).

However, as the essay’s title implies, Bashford does not find this to be a seamless research area, and has even described her relationship towards it as “love-hate”. She cautions that researchers not take a lot of these materials at face value, as it can cause a misreading of the significance of an item. For instance, concert programs at the time could be inaccurate, as last-minute changes were common for British concerts, and the actual performers/contributors would remain unlisted. Until the mid 19th century (and perhaps even longer than that) concert programs rarely gave enough information to be considered an unequivocal source for concert information. Also, she feels that an unfocused research strategy can result in an opaque historical narrative that isn’t really saying anything(Bashford, March 2008).

She does still agree that this is a very rich area for those that are interested in the hidden quirks of collecting ephemera. For example, she finds a lot of telling subject matter in disclaimers that were handed out during shows, such as notes that actually asked for gentleman to light their pipes, as it was once believed that doing this would help them concentrate on the performances. She also writes about how protocols were handed out to tell audience members when to applaud during the show, as during the 19th century movements would have to be met with applause before moving on to the next one (and often repeated). To avoid pitfalls, she feels that researchers need to become familiar with historicization as well as become familiar with certain written documents, but after that time-consuming process is over, than one can certainly use ephemera as prime sources for research. She ends the essay by saying that proper cataloging, footnoting, and triangulation can yield very productive research (Bashford, 2008).

This interest towards collecting printed ephemera has posed some rather existential questions for the longevity of concerts themselves. People have been wondering if a performance ceases to exist, or does it continue to last not just in the attendee’s memory, but through the extended collective conscious of culture? It’s a philosophical and ethical concern that has plagued intellectuals for many generations, but now people are arguing that concert ephemera makes a firm case that staged performances, both musical or otherwise, have an eternal quality to them.

A recent discussion that brought up this question on concert longevity occurred at an interdisciplinary conference at the University of Wales. Back in July 2008, the college hosted an event called Archive Fever, where archivists and academics were asked to come hold conversations with each other and talk about how their respective fields meshed with one another. It was here that two men, Paul Clarke and Julian Warren, were brought forth two questions: ‘How do performances remain? How do they produce traces, or document themselves?’ ‘How do documents perform and are archives performative; what do they do?’ The dialogue that followed proved rather fascinating, touching on subjects such as the transcending ability of ephemera, as well as preservation tactics that can be used to make sure they hold on to their integrity. It was transcribed by the Journal of the Society of Archivists into an article entitled Ephemera: Between Archival Objects and Events (Clarke and Warren, 2009).

“Since the 1960s, performance’s origins have been ontologically founded on

disappearance and ephemerality as vanishing,” explained Clarke near the article’s beginning. “Rebecca Schneider has disputed this ontology, proposing that ‘performance remains. The challenge of performance for archiving is that it both ‘becomes itself through disappearance’ and remains. Its disappearing acts produce remnants, which take place as part of the work (the ergon) of the performance, or can be placed within its frame (the parergon), framing the past event as performance. As Schneider notes, events tend to survive differently to other artefacts, often in immaterial forms that resist preservation and collection.” (Clarke and Warren, 2009)

He remarks how items from the concert that specify it’s passing (such as through listing a date) act as ontological devices that document the concert’s existence. Clarke feels that these documents can be archived and used to represent an ideology which he terms “life art”. He also points out that while archivists generally try to avoid making predictions of how the items in their collections will be used by future researchers, Clarke insists that curators make conscious decisions on what materials an article can keep, and what is probably better off sent to the land fill. It is therefore imperative that archivists study the performance as well, and ultimately collect metadata to pass onto future generations. (Clarke and Warren, 2009)

Julian Warren, the archivist of the two speakers, feels that this is a very tricky area, and even suggests that he feels it might be a more proper decision to just leave these items in the boxes they arrive in, with no further care administered. He says that his job to sort through hundreds of boxes can certainly be problematic, when you are questioning what to keep, what to discard, and for what reason. It’s even harder to make these decisions with ephemeratic “live-art”, as these materials had not previously been envisioned as archival. Still, he also suggests that life itself is ephemeral, which is why one can find so much relevance in items that show age and discreet evidence of the time period they were from. For that reason, he feels that minimal preservation tactics are necessary, if any. (Clarke and Warren, 2009)

Of course, both researchers feel that the physical act and duration of the concert is the true life force, rather than any ephemeratic by-product. Paul Clarke brings up that researcher Chalerles Merewether said that “what passes by leaves a trace of what has past”. Concert ephemera is the epitome of that description, as it links the time and place of that event to the viewing public at large. However, the piece of ephemera is not the concert itself, and it’s beneficial to see ephemera acting both as a reminder of the temporal duration of a performance, as well as a lasting article from it. (Clarke and Warren, 2009)

Clarke calls for a special breed of archive that acts more as live memory than a memorial towards the past. He describes it as a “system for collected ephemera, unstable and shifting remains, differing with each recall and reorganized in relation to contingent circumstances. Things-as-events, which behave like performance, open to alterity and tending towards disappearance.” Julian greeted this suggestion with utmost enthusiasm, and even suggests using online resources (like blogs and wikis) to start the appraisal process. They both then began to discuss how peer-to-peer networks could be so beneficial for this system, as this would allow a new realm of collective consciousness and understanding into the project.It’s a most fascinating idea, and hopefully one that will come to realization in the years to come, as performance art becomes more immersive with the online age.

All of this discussion on concert ephemera has proven very powerful in the archiving world. It showcases how the essence of a concert can be carried on through the little things, and communicate to researchers on the historical and cultural context of a particular sort of music or performance. Indeed, the roots of contemporary “angry teenage music” can indeed be found in the wealth of research that has gone into deciphering the intricacies of concert ephemera. While the musical genre of punk is a fairly recent trend, it’s important to know where punk currently stands in the spectrum of popular contemporary music, and how its influence has touched so much in its 40 years of existence.


1970s: Genesis

            After the supposed failure of the hippie movement during the 1960s, it’s logical that a darker and louder sub-culture might arise from the subsequent decade, and punk rock fit that bill plentifully. If bands from the British Invasion laid the blue print for the majority of the mainstream rock acts to follow (I.E. Led Zepplin, U2), than punk arguably was the motor oil needed for independent acts like The Pixies and Pavement to really find a voice. One look at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s punk/post-punk inductees will tell you how unique the culture was amidst their other rock peers. Bands like The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin certainly don’t have display cases that show off horror movie derived t-shirts (like The Ramones) or intentionally oversized suits (like The Talking Heads).

            While punk is generally thought to have been birthed in the 70s, there were several crucial bands that came out amidst the plethora of different artists that arose during the 60s. Perhaps the band most important for given punk artistic license (as well as establishing New York City as a proverbial home for the genre), however, was The Velvet Underground. The New York-based rock band is considered prophetic in this day and age, for how their songs of sex and drugs felt so harrowing for the time, and how their signature hip style was emulated by so many acts from various genres. While not initially a popular act (in large part because of the band’s edgy subject matter that kept them from receiving too much radio play), their debut album The Velvet Underground and Nico became the blue print for countless other bands (i.e. The Stooges, The Modern Lovers, The Ramones) in the decades to come, and were arguably one of the first acts that’s success was not measured in record sales.

            In 1974 the Queens-based band The Ramones was formed, who are often considered the first punk band. From this point on punk rock entered the pop-culture lexicon, and not just because of the music is spawned. While certainly bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash introduced a new sound that would be copied for generations to come, it would be most unbecoming to forget that Punk rock spawned a re-interest in independent print magazines, which formed a strong connection between the artists, writers, and fans of the movement.

The Significance of Zines

            While the subject of punk concert ephemera has received rather scant attention from literature/scholarly outlets, one ephemeral facet of punk that has received a fair amount of intellectual discussion is fanzines. While not entirely related to concerts, one of the best ways for an outsider to truly gain a visceral and transcendent grasp on punk rock culture is to scour through some zine collections. Zines were a very intergral part of this culture, as they were a way of communicating with fans in a private and stylish manner generations before the internet could do such things. Zines not only captured the zeitgeist of this movement, but it’s relevant towards the archiving world as these books in many ways suggested that the musicians, journalists and fans of these sub-cultures were archivists themselves. In many ways, old zines can be read as untarnished historical documents.

            A zine by definition is an informal and self-published fanzine, and focusing entirely on specialized interests. Zines tend to be cheaply made, given a limited circulation, and usually not created with profit in mind. Other qualities a zine is likely to have is a radical slant towards established norms, and heavy use of pop-culture awareness in an attempt to construct an identity (albeit one that’s only recognizable to a particular community). Besides these common trademarks, however, the format that zines carry can be rather varied, with some taking on a more journalistic approach with the inclusion of articles and columns, while other have a more erratic look that utilize minimalist text, and incorporate esoteric musings in an order that can range from “stream-of-consciousness” to just plain random.

            Fan-zines originated during the 1930s and were heavily involved with fans of science-fiction novels of the day. In the 1970s, however, fanzines were seemingly legitimized by punk music as so many participants in this culture wished to self publish their thoughts, and in fact the culture even gets its name from a zine. Indeed, in 1975 a hugely influential zine called Punk arrived, and it focused on alternative art and music that was arising in New York City. The zine proved rather groundbreaking for a number of reasons. Not only did it focus on an area of underground music that more mainstream music publications (like The Rolling Stone) were disregarding, but it also proved as an outlet for female writers, artists and photographers who had been disavowed positions in the male dominated underground publishing scene.

            This liberating sense for female artists would continue throughout the generations, and perhaps climax during the 1990s, when the Riot Grrrl Movement was in full swing. Started by Bikini Kill, an all-female quartet from Washington state, the movement brought the abrasiveness of punk culture, and meshed it with feminism concerns regarding patriarchy, and the media’s overt sexualizing of women. It wasn’t the first time that feminist and punk culture collided, as female-driven punk bands like The Raincoats and the Slits had made their debut during punk’s first phase back in the late 70s, but the Riot Grrrl movement practically made punk rock and feminism synonymous. The wealth of new bands, zines, and terminology that the Riot Grrrl movement spawned was rather staggering, and even had some writers consider if it marked the beginning of the end for “boy punk bands”. It wasn’t, but it was the beginning of several other things (Frere-Jones, 2012).

The Riot Grrrl movement led to some of the most fascinating insights into zine culture, as its stance on female empowerment brought a new layer of appeal to punk, which before-hand could have been seen as being rather hefty in terms of machismo. Like Punk itself, Riot Grrrl received its name from a seminal zine. Bikini Kill put out the first issue of Riot Grrrl in July 1991, and the group would then go on to hold group meetings where they would help like-minded females over issues such as sexual abuse, homosexuality, and other insecurities that come with being a woman in America(Frere-Jones, 2012).

            Zines have been having a bit of an extended shelf life with the popularity of blogs, as people can now scan the images and place them on websites. Still, many people clearly prefer the authenticity of having an actual copy of the zine in their hand, and they can indeed be found at several special collections located throughout New York City (such as the New York University’s Bobst Library, and The ABC No Rio Zine Library). Still, these collections aren’t so available and user friendly as public libraries, and journalist Chris Dodge has made a case that these books do have a right to be placed in public libraries, as they showcase an edgy alternative culture that more people should be aware of. Zines often deal with real world issues such as homosexuality, AIDs, racism-derived violence and more, which he feels give them a strong air of cultural and educational value. He also explains that these books are cheaper than academic journals, and there edgy style speaks more to younger audiences(Dodge, 1995).All sound theories, especially when one considers that youth culture is more likely to visit their local library than seek out a private special collection or archive.

Of course, he also is aware that there are many problems to be found with placing a zine in an accessible public library. Zines are often sexually explicit, profane, and irreverent with their subject matter, which may cover homosexuality, AIDs, rape, bigotry, and other topics. Many libraries would consider this content intouchable for their collections, and they feel that it’s exactly the same reason they don’t hold pornographic magazines in their periodical section. Even the titles that zines have can come off as uncouth (I.E. Holy Titclamp, Castration Threat). (Dodge, 1995)

            So while it is unlikely that zines will find their ways into public libraries for the time being, it is readily becoming a concern that these items be preserved as soon as possible. Many zine issues are published only once, as these books are self-published, and it’s often financially cumbersome to maintain them. Zines tend to not accept advertising deals as it goes against their ethos, and as we all know conglomerations hold all the power in this area. Most zines tend to only last a relatively short while, (Maximum Rock and Roll is currently the longest running one, as it has been on-going since its publication in 1982) but there’s relevance in this as well. Certain zines can be seen as representative of their generation and era during their entire duration of existence, and even the unpolished areas of zine making (i.e. poor photocopying, weak stapling) can now be seen as an aesthetic worth preserving.


Purpose of Investigation

            Punk music has gone through a vast image change since its genesis, becoming more commercial during the second half of its existence. While early punk bands like The Ramones and The Buzzcocks all had pop sensibilities, complete with hooky cords and anthem-esque choruses, they were still mainly shunned by the mainstream for their unpolished sound, and lyrical content which often dealt with sex and drugs. In the 90s, however, a pop-punk explosion began when bands like Greenday and Blink 182 gained colossal air and radio play, and spawned similarly successful groups like New Found Glory and American Hi-Fi. No longer was punk seen as a source of controversy by media outfits, but instead it was seen as being fun and accessible. Many fans of earlier punk acts found these new bands to be disgraceful, as in a way they were selling out and disregarding the anti-consumerism message that punk was based on. Therefore, to keep the original feeling of punk alive, it’s important that we conserve the gritty semblance of its roots.

            Entertainment critics have been looking towards pop-culture for a very long time now, trying to uncover any links they can that may retain to cultural, historical, or psychological links to humanity. It’s been an eternal question for these people to uncover the real role that entertainment plays for the human condition: do we work solely that we may afford leisure, or is leisure the means that give our minds and bodies the power to work (Erikson, 1980). From the viewpoint of punk, however, it would appear that the latter is the case, with so much emphasis put on DIY ethics, and the fact that these people were making entertainment for causes they believed in.  Furthermore, punk was music made by the fans and for the fans, carrying an independent mantra referred to as DIY (do it yourself). 

            One facet of punk that is immediately viewable in the aesthetic of their concert ephemera is the aura of independence and community. Despite a differing sense of music, style and fashion that could be found throughout the various sub-genres of punk, it always seemed that these musicians lived by a universal mantra that asked that people do their work by themselves, and precisely the exact way that they wanted to do it.  Punk was seen as an escape from the established norms of society, with most punks shunning institutions and authority. The DIY function of punk was integral for the culture’s existence, and did bring in a huge sense of community. People were attracted to the fact that these people ran their own record labels, put out their own press and marketing, and held a mentality that was more interested towards the success of art than commerce. The DIY ethics also led to more individuality within the genre, and perhaps it’s responsible for the reason why different sounds were adopted by punk bands in different regions.

            While DIY values applied to plenty of non-ephmeratic items such as fan-made t-shirts, ephemera is perhaps a more blatant resource to bring up when discussing the movement’s core values. Pamphlets were often handed out during concerts, art shows, and other events, that explained punk music’s DIY ethics to outsiders, in a style that’s not dissimiliar from the various religious/political vendors you’re likely to see in a major metropolitan area. Also, the graphics used on flyers, posters and other advertisements are so relevant to the culture, as they’re attraction lies in their esotericism. Like zines, these posters tended to use imagery both minimalist and expansive that immediately struck a chord with the collective interests of punks, often using methods of collage and/or montage. It certainly carries an artistic integrity to it, and also brings to mind advertising techniques that have since come to arise on the internet.

            Also, the punk movement is still ongoing, even if people might be referring to it as something else(i.e. hipster culture, slacker culture, etc.). The spirit of rebellion is the most visible it’s been in quite some time right now. The headlining grabbing Occupy Movement of last year is enough to say that the punk ethos isn’t so much a cult semblance anymore, and that so many Americans are willing to speak their minds about what they perceive to be unjust. It’s integral that we store pamphlets and other revolutionary calling cards from this era, so that the future might understand the extent to how furious some people were in this day and age, as well as allow us to decide from a historical standpoint where this strife originated from.

Site Visits

            The research for this project was mostly performed in New York, due to its continuing history with the punk scene. New York has had a long standing history with punk rock as it was the home base of The Velvet Underground, The Ramones, and is also responsible for birthing punk-related bands such as post-punk (I.E. Talking Heads, Television), and the even heavier sounding bands of the No Wave movement (Sonic Youth, Swans). It’s no wonder that the city crafted such a renaissance, as New York has long been seen as a metropolis that welcomes artists and creative types. Given the city’s continued alliance with this culture, chief examples of punk-related archives abound throughout the five boroughs, particularly in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Generally, the most visited library for this project was The Fales Library at NYU (http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/research/fales/). A formidable special collection, that carries a very respectable amount of punk ephemera. Covering almost 10,000 linear feet of archive, the site covers rare books and manuscripts, but also houses collections dedicated to punk scenes such as The Riot Grrrl Collection and The Downtown Collection. The latter of which is the contents of a project that began in 1993 that intended to document the downtown art scenes that amassed in SOHO and The Lower East Side during the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s. According to the collections website description, “During this time, an explosion of artistic creativity radically challenged and changed tradition literature, music, theater, performance, film, activism, dance, photography, video, and other art practices.” Punk is indeed an integral part of the phenomenon intended to be archived here, and the collection houses numerous flyers, zines, photographs, stills, and pamphlets that tie into the subject of performance

Criteria for Research Materials

            The materials looked at had to match at least one of the following descriptions.

1)      Had to act as a historical reminder of punk. Early materials from the 1970s were most telling towards punk’s seminalism, but there was also plenty to gain from materials that referred to later movements, namely the Riot Grrrl Movement.

2)      They had to be directly related to concerts. For this reason, advertising materials (i.e. posters, pamphlets, handouts, flyers, etc.) were most sought after. As much as zines were crucial to the punk zeitgeist, this project is more interested in uncovering the workings and lasting effect of performances.

3)      Materials were preferred that had context that could be related to the present-day. Punk rock has proved very influential on today’s youth, even if they aren’t fully aware of it. Materials were searched for that might have any correlation to the way things now look, especially if they seemed to hold context to the way people communicate on the internet. Items that contained slang words, event invitations, and a semblance of a social community were therefore approached with a keen eye.

Methods of Research

            The Fales Library acted as the central base of operations for research, but also individual collectors were consulted, art books were studied, and blog sites on the internet were utilized as well. The ephemeratic items themselves were the research tools for this project, as they acted both as the subject, and the necessary materials needed to unravel it. Using existing literature, and applying archival practices, this research project was intended to discover the important transgressions that had occurred in punk’s methods of reaching out to fans, and ultimately uncover how this ties so thoroughly into the online age.

Research Findings

Punk: An Aesthetic

“Unlike it’s hippie counterpart, the aesthetic of the punk movement has not really become the sole discretion of nostalgia hounds, history rewriters, or reenactors. More common is to see the trickle-down of a punk graphic style infusing anything from the work of contemporary street-art satirists like Kozik, Banksky, or Zevs to corporate advertising like Nike of John Varvatos-or, for that matter, the superbly amusing Johnny Rotten commercials for Country Life butter. We also see the punk do-it-yourself ethos impregnate blogs, literary salons, the curatorial slant of major cultural institutions, and, less fortunately perhaps, mall shops and youth-targeted branding. We hear the rudimentaries of the punk sound of 1977 infuse any number of Disney Channel bands, and the recent antiquarian frenzy surrounding mimeographed poetry publications and rock-and-roll fanzines originates here too.”

                                                                        -Johan Kugelberg, On Punk: An Aesthetic

Kugelberg is a writer, editor, curator and prinicipal of the Boo Hooray Gallery. A renowned writer on the subject of music, Krugelberg has released publications on everything from metal (True Norweigan Black Metal) to hip-hop (Born in the Bronx). His most recent book, Punk: An Aesthetic, is an art book that collects images of the start of the punk movement, and most of the materials are taking from ephemera. Zines, flyers, pamphlets and the like are all presented here, so it was blatantly relevant to this research project. Not only did it showcase items that would have been difficult to locate otherwise, but it showed the publishing potential for really reaching out to uncover the aesthetic of punk rock. One section of particular interest were pages 48-50, which showed off concert flyers from the group Suicide. All the posters say a lot about the band, but one large poster covered on a two page spread (48 and 49), was the most beneficial for a lot of different reasons.

Suicide Poster

Print Quality: 4      Design: 5

            Unlike other punk flyers which had obscured text due to poor print quality, in this case the disheveled look of the artwork only adds to the flyer. The word Suicide is written in big dark ink on the center of the page, with traces of the pen then spread out throughout the page giving off a streaming flow. Suicide’s music has always seemed evocative of dystopia, and this flyer captures that apocalyptic sense. It’s a tactic that has been used by film maker Lars von Trier, as his bleak apocalypse drama Melancholia used title cards with a remarkably similar sense of craft. The text below the band’s name reads the location (the Village Vanguard at 7th Ave. S. nr.11th NYC), and date (Sunday, December 13, 1970 5PM) and admission price ($1). This informative text is presented in a typed format, but it does not contrast with the highly visible and encompassing title of Suicide that is directly above it.

Historical Context: 5

Suicide was an electronic music duo composed of vocalist Alan Vega and musician Martin Rev, and they are often considered one of the most important groups to come out of the proto-punk era of the early 70s, as they’re influence spread to a multitude of different genres. Various punk bands took influence from their tone and image, and their musicianship inspired different genres such as new-wave and techno, with highly recognizable acts like Radiohead, R.E.M. and even Bruce Springstreen all calling the pair a major influence (Lester, October 10, 2008). Besides their status as innovators, this poster is so rich in historical relevance for another visible reason too: it’s one of the first cases when a contemporary act was described as “punk”.

This poster represents a concert of theirs from December 13, 1970, which is seven years before the release of their first studio album. Still, this poster shows that even at this early stage of their career, the band was already in their element, as art décor already suggests that Suicide had adapted their style at this point. It’s also hard to believe that this band used to do shows for only a dollar, which still was incredibly cheap back in the day. It’s a shame that a physical copy of this item could not be located, but already this photocopy is so telling on how constructive the early years of punk were. It was extremely helpful for determining what factors should be examined while viewing punk concert ephemera.

Fales Library Downtown Collection

            This collection proved to be the most helpful for this project, in terms of providing relevant and physical punk concert ephemera from important generations. The materials in these folders contained posters, flyers, and invitations, which arose from the burgeoning New York art scene of the 1980s. The materials all gave off a strong sense of community here, as well as communicated that there was a natural understanding of the culture among like minded people. What’s more, the roots for contemporary advertising and artistry was very apparent in the papers looked at here. Of all the sub-categories in this collection, there were two that were unquestionably the most beneficiary: A’s Events Flyers and the Richard Hell papers.

A’s Events’ Flyers

As described on the Fales Library’s finding aid: “A’s events was a series, curated by Arleen Schloss, that was part traditional art show, part salon, and part performance, occurring at 330 Broome Street.” 330 Broome Street was an interdisciplinary loft space referred to as A’s, and it became very pivotal for the downtown art scene throughout the 80s. Performers such as Thurston Moore, Ai Weiwei, and Mania D all did work here, which inspired a great zeal of experimentation from like-minded artists in the area. The site only continued to modernize too, as in the 90s the A’s turned into A’s Wave, where art based web-sites and digital media was shown.  

The flyers in this collection are very authentic in their representation of the burgeoning art scene that was going on in the Lower East Side at the time, and perhaps even more so they carry a design to them that is con-current with today’s art music scenes. They used heavy usage of collage, taking images both from photographs of past events, as well as others that were derived from pop-culture (Captain America could be found on at least one of the posters). Many of the flyers spoke of holiday events too, such as New Years and Halloween-themed parties, with the latter including a poster that depicted film reel footage of a woman screaming. Of even more curiosity, many of these posters also said B.Y.O. or B.Y.O.B. on them, the universal acronym for “bring your own booze”. Today, most establishments are strongly against patrons bringing their own alcoholic beverages to shows, as sales at the bar give so much to them financially. In fact, several of the A’s Events Flyers posters also stated that if guests brought their own drinks with them, then they could get into shows at a discounted price. Is this evident that the sense of community was stronger in the punk scene back then, as opposed to how it is now? A heavy question, but those that lived in this previous generation would almost certainly inform you that this could very well be the case.

There were two flyers in particular that really stood out in this collection. They were both roughly the size of standard printer paper (approximately 8.5 by 11 inches), composed in black and white, and advertised performances that occurred in 1980. The first one was a poster for a performance by the now-famous Glenn Branca that gave some very curious insights into the early career of this venerated artist. The second one was for the less remembered act The Idiot Orchestra, but it carried a very unique design to it. Given the early dates of both these posters, it allows one to understand that A’s was set on making history right from inception.

Glen Branca A’s Concert

Print Quality: 4  Design: 4

            The flyer carries a design to it that is both clean and polished. The main caption merely reads “Glenn Branca – Guitar”, and underneath it is the information regarding the date (January 23), the location (330 Broome Street), the time (8 PM) and the admission price ($4). The poster does not have any flashy designs, artwork or font, nor does it have any of the blemishes to it that became a staple for other punk rock flyers.

Some may find that this poster does not carry the punk style at all, but those more educated on the subject would tell you otherwise. Mike Joyce (author of the new punk/swiss modernist inspired art book, Swissted) says that he feels many people have made inaccurate conceptions on what punk is. Joyce explains, “Album covers by the likes of the Adolescents, Germs, Gang of Four, the Buzzcocks, and Public Image Limited used minimal or bold typography to create memorable and lasting cover art which was at odds with what people perceived to be ‘punk.’” Indeed, the lack of flash on this advertisement is fitting for Glenn Branca’s music as he is a minimalist composer, who only gives his works the bare essentials.

Historic Value: 4.5

It’s important to note that A’s was an outlet that Glenn Branca played at during his early years, as he is now a most recognizably influential avant-garde composer. With a background as a theatre major at Emerson College, Branca found a theatrical element in guitar performance, and began to write pieces that brought a sense of harmony and experimentation to electric guitars.  His sense for song structure and guitar technique is now considered groundbreaking, and he has since become known for holding extravagant shows in concert halls where a single performance might see him bring out over a hundred guitarists on stage, and then conduct them in a performance of one of his pieces (Woodard, 2001).

This poster recalls a simpler time for Branca, when he couldn’t be brought up along other renowned contemporary composers such as Philip Glass or Steve Reich. The concert cost $5 for admission (still rather expensive for A’s), and the loft space was certainly a far-cry from the expansive concert halls that he now performs at. Still, even back then it feels that Branca was known well enough that there was only one description that was needed to be placed for his act: guitar. Branca’s lengthy pieces brought out a very avant-garde style to electronic guitar, and it’s easy to see that his presence at A’s would prove important for other local acts like Swans and Sonic Youth.

The Idiot Orchestra A’s Concert

Print Quality: 2

The printing on this poster was poor. It isn’t hard to make an inference that punk culture has received an extra layer of polish in recent years, as recent acts often use posters which can be colorful, bright and even laminated. Almost all of the early ephmeratic materials looked at for this project carried the mark of limited funds, and now-antiquated technology. The posters recalled inefficient printings taken from micro-film machines. The posters were all Xeroxed in a shoddy manner, with either too much dark, or too much light protruding on the image. Still, this was undoubtedly a by-product of the non-expensive lifestyle punk catered towards, and this low-quality printing has indeed become an aesthetic of the subculture itself. Kugelberg’s book even carries a cover (and place holder) that is intentionally modeled after the low quality paper that practically sponsored the lifestyle.

In this case, the flyer had a degree of obscuring darkness to it, although it is by no means illegible because of it. There are dark marks on the poster’s corners, and some dots scattered throughout it. This is the most unfortunate aesthetic of the poster, as there is a very unique design and style to this poster, not to mention it’s rough coloring somewhat obscures the concert’s date (February 13, 1980). Still, it’s a telling reminder on how these artists worked with their limited budgets, and still managed to conjure memorable advertisements.

Design: 4.5     

            The strongest reason for why there is a need for this flyer to be preserved. The poster has an isometric design to it, which was rather uncommon for concert posters at the time. It depicts a boardwalk-esque background, with three dividing lines running parallel to each other. Shadowy human figures are seen crouched along the lines, with the band’s name written in big black letters in between them. The date of the concert is on the poster’s lower right hand side, and on the left is the inscription A’s and what appears to be a janitor mopping it up. It is a very fascinating design that immediately grabs the viewers attention, regardless of whether they’re familiar with the act or not.

Historical Context: 4.5

            The Idiot Orchestra was not a well-remembered group, but the poster represents a sort of turning point for punk-derived artwork. Today, isometric artwork is far more common for concert flyers, and the renderings have indeed become more detailed. While the printing quality leaves something to be desired, the design more than makes up for it.  In fact, if not for the low-quality printing and the inscribed date that’s on this paper, it would be conceivable that someone could mistake this for being a more recent advertisement. This poster acts as a book mark in the period when punk rock was transitioning from a low-brow teen craze, to a more substantial form of high-brow art.

Richard Hell Papers

            Richard Hell was a very active member of the punk scene, and often considered a huge contributor to the culture’s style of fashion. He was one of the first punk musicians to wear ripped clothing while performing, and his taste for safety-pins, spiked hair and graphics became widely imitated by other punk bands such as The Sex Pistols. He was in several important punk bands throughout the 70s such as Television, Neon Boys, and The Heartbreakers, but it was with Richard Hell and the Voidoids that he came closest towards making himself a household name.

This collection was the most relevant for the project, as it housed exactly the type of content that matched all of the criteria. Hell did indeed collect concert ephemera (mostly posters), and therein were the details needed to explain the punk movement’s physical presence. Within the collection could be found plenty of flyers for shows by early punk bands like The Ramones and Television, the latter being a group that Hell was once a member of. The majority of the posters were indeed from Richard Hell’s bands, and they covered most of his decades-spanning career. Some of the prettiest posters in the collection actually came from a Japanese tour that Hell performed with The Voidoids during the 90s, that was painted in bright neon colors. It could be difficult to choose one poster for this project to really elaborate on, but there was one advertisement in this collection that really shone a brilliant light. Not only was it easy on the eyes, but it most resembled what this research project had in mind in terms for unearthing definitive pieces of punk concert ephemera.


Richard Hell and the Voidoids Tour Poster

Design Quality: 5 Print Quality: 4

            It’s a poster for a 1977 English tour that Richard Hell and the Voidoids had with The Clash back in 1977. It’s a large poster that is about four feet in height and three feet in width. The most distinguishing thing about this advertisement is that the top half is taking up by a very stylized image of Richard Hell. With his skin colored a bright green, his eyebrows and lips a bright red, and his eyes simply cut-out, the aptly-named Richard Hell certainly appears demonic here. Underneath this ghastly image are black-and-white images of members of the Voidoids and The Clash, presented in a collage-esque manner. We see the words Blank Generation written down in the second half with accompanying text that says that this is the name of both the band’s new single and album. In the lower half’s center is a list that reads the locations and dates for this tour.

            It’s a very attractive poster, and any printing blemishes that it may have only adds to the characteristics. It’s certainly isn’t the most polished piece as it uses collage tactics, and the texture is intentionally grungy. The poster somewhat resembles something in the spirit of Halloween, which is appropriate as much of the listed tour dates occurred in the fall. It’s conceivable that any self-respecting punk fan from the era who was collecting posters would have this particular one framed and on display. It’s a real keeper in terms of viscera.

Historical Context: 4.5

            What makes this poster so intriguing is that it focuses on Richard Hell, despite the fact that this was a concert that The Clash was headlining. This was in 1977 when The Clash had recently put out their first album, and would only continue to grow in popularity and acclaim in the upcoming years. Richard Hell and the Voidoids were not as consistently popular as The Clash, but still had their loyal fanbase, and this poster is speaking directly to them. Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ first album Blank Generation had just been released, and it arguably was more constructive on the design of Punk. While the Clash were often considered more aligned with classic rock bands, Richard Hell is more attributed to sparking the angry mood and dirty nature of punk that would permeate the culture’s entire existence. After the band released Blank Generation, Richard Hell would only sporadically release new albums, but he would go on to be productive in the punk scene as a writer of both novels and non-fiction. This flyer brings to mind the importance Richard Hell had as a figurehead during the birth of the modern punk scene, even while in the presence of band’s that had more lucrative success. 

Riot Grrrl Collection

Kathleen Hanna Papers

Also on site at the Bobst library is an extensive collection of Riot Grrrl memorabilia, brought forth by the courtesy of such icons from the movement like Kathleen Hannah, and Tammy Rae Carland. As explained in the literature review, the Riot Grrrl movement hosted a plethora of ephemeratic items, due mainly to their influx of zines. Also though, the Riot Grrrl movement saw a more modern take on artwork come to concert ephemera, and it’s shocking to find that this was in some of the most minute details observed.

 This was readily evident in The Kathleen Hannah Papers, which was a collection of materials from 1988-2005 that were submitted by the Bikini Kill and Le Tigre front woman.  The collection contained zines, posters and periodical snippets, as well as official business documents such as contracts and resumes. In an early folder dating back to the early 1990s, there could be found a series of several identical Bikini Posters. These flyers were found most relevant toward the project’s statement on the ability for ephemeratic materials to transcend their humble beginnings and share something far richer with the viewer.

Bikini Kill logo poster

Design: 3.5

            The flyer is something of a collection of logos and bumper stickers that represents Bikini Kill’s aesthetic. The pictures include drawings of a cartoon bunny, a sock puppet, and the record player that appears on their singles compilation album. The images are all arranged in a lopsided order, in order for them all to appear on the 8 by 11 inch sheet. Depending on what angle you look at the flyer the pictures may appear upside down, or horizontal. It’s not so much a poster for a concert as there is clearly no date or location given for a concert, and it’s likely that these flyers were distributed at several of their shows. Instead, the flyer acts as a collected sense of memorabilia for the band.

The cartoon figures on the flyer makes a lot of sense when one considers some of the words Kathleen Hanna has said in the past. The Kathleen Hannah Papers also contained a transcript of a dialogue Hannah had with Princess Magazine, where she discussed issues of patriarchy and class. She felt this built-in-system was dehumanizing people and making them into cartoon characters. It’s hard to determine if the pictures on this poster stem directly from this interview, but there’s no question that it comes from a similar mentality.

Print Quality: 4

            This Bikini Kill poster came in two varieties in this collection: One on all white paper, while the other all red. Both of these variations were alike in other regards though, in terms of design, print quality, and paper, the latter of which seemed to intentionally mimic that of sticker paper. There’s an aura of juvenilia surrounding this flyer, as the materials used to make them seem akin to what one might find during an arts and craft session at a preschool. That sense accompanies Bikini Kill’s constant model on gender subversion. The group’s message on patriarchy is communicated with this paper that is of a quality that appears innocent, but the subtext give off a darker vibe. It’s a subtle call for female empowerment, just like their songs White Boy and Don’t Need You.

Historical Context: 3.5

            At first it can be difficult to see anything too historically relevant in this flyer as it doesn’t act as an advertisement, nor is there any text evident except for the words Bikini Kill. What can be reasoned as important, however, is the use of cartoonish graphics on this sheet. The bunny rabbit and sock puppet have a style that fits with the manic nature of Bikini Kill, and also feels very much at home in the 90s. While there had been plenty of other bands beforehand that had used cartoon-derived artwork, this posters drawing have a cute-yet-ugly quality to them that wasn’t necessarily popular before the premiere of Nickelodean’s The Ren and Stimpy Show. Later pop punk bands such as Blink 182 and Greenday would use cartoon mascots for their memorabilia (most noticeably t-shirts). Bikini Kill may not have been the sole influence for this transition, but it’s still important to note that they mark a segue way point into a time when it became considered marketable to have your band’s name accompanied by an image of some crazy looking bunny rabbit.

Bikini Kill’s Olympia Show Poster


            This poster was found in a collection of flyers that Kathleen Hannah had made herself, and it’s an advertisement for a show the band had during the early 90s in their hometown of Olympia, Washington. On the bottom half of the flyer is black-and-white images of the head’s of the band mates plastered on top of bodies that appear to have been taken from The Power Rangers. On the left hand side of the flyer is the list of other bands that are playing there (Fitz of Depression, Excuse 17 and Nub) and on the right hand side it lists the show’s date (May 11th), admission price ($5), and location (Chambers Prarie Grunge Hall). What’s more interesting though, is that under the site’s location can be found further directions written in Pen. It says, “Corner of Yelm Hi-Qay and Henderson Blvd. Call 357-4437 for directions.”

The Power Rangers was an extremely popular children’s show in America during the early 90s, and there’s something really all-encompassing in this band capitalizing on that. Not only is it in tune with the band’s signature sense of humor, but it follows previous collage samples used by punk bands where they’d subvert familiar images. Here, Bikini Kill seem to be knowledgeable that their fans see them as heroes or icons, so they’ve transfixed that image in a light that is admonishing towards these claims, but done in a very amiable way. It’s an act of self-parody, that states that the group members aren’t quite the superheroes some perceive them as, and it’s also a carry-on for their feminist values. The fact that this Riot Grrrl act has combined their image with that of the bodies of these male Power Rangers is in essence another poke at masculinity, parodying the absurdity of male values aligned with entertainment and fantasy. A very appealing and long-lasting image, that sub-consciously states that the group’s hometown show will be both fun, meaningful, and invigorating for their most dedicated fanbase.

Print Quality 3.5

            Unlike the logo poster, this flyer is a Xeroxed copy. There are spots on it, and the band-mates designs are a bit blurry. Still, it is appropriate in a way for this poster to carry a rather shoddy look to it, as it adds a layer of intimacy and community to it. As stated earlier the poster is advertising a show that’s occurring at Bikini Kill’s hometown of Olympia, Washington. The flyer has no need to be too polished, as it’s mainly intended for the attention of close friends and fans of the group. The print is a reminder that Bikini Kill, in spite of their nation wide recognition, can still be a local act if they desire.

Historical Context: 5

            This flyer is a testament to how Bikini Kill would become so renowned during the 90s, and foreshadows how bands would communicate with fans in the years leading up to the internet boom. Also, the flyer says that the show costs $5 for admission and is all-ages, which was fairly common for punk bands to do in the 1990s (Fugazi concerts almost always had the same standards). While the flyer’s satirical design is certainly attractive, it’s the fact that this flyer contains hand written information for the fans that continues this visible trend of pre-internet concert flyers presenting a stronger sense of a built-in community. Kathleen Hannah obviously feels so connected with her fan base, that not only has she written directions on the flyer on how to get there but she realizes that those directions are only useful if you live in the area. For that reason, she has also included a phone number to call for those who still need help getting to the venue. Even the intentional misspelling of highway (“hi-way”) comes off as prophetic now, as internet lingo has become ever more accepting of people incorrectly spelling out words, especially when people are communicating informally. Besides shortening the word to free up space, it acts as a cheeky remark on how friendly everyone in this scene is.

            Granted, there is a level of privacy to this poster that becomes more seeable when giving more thought. It’s a local show of course, so perhaps this flyer was only hung up in locations where Kathleen Hannah knew that her fans/friends would procreate in. Also, seeing that this flyer has the directional information written in pen, it’s easy to surmise that only a few of these flyers with the additional information were sent out, and most likely only to a select few individuals that were close to the band. Regardless, this shows how bands would make there shows accessible to their devoted fans in the days before the internet. Today, people can invite people to events through emails and social-networking sites that have secure privacy settings in-tact. In the days beforehand, however, artists worked with what they had in order to bring forth a big turnout.

Tammy Rae Carland Papers “I (heart) Amy Carter” Collection

            The Kathleen Hannah papers certainly were enough to illuminate one to the attractions of the Riot Grrrl lifestyle, but Hannah was not a visual artist. Her friend, Tammy Rae Carland, was however, as well as a zine publisher, film maker, and gallery operator. Her collection at the Fales Library contained two rather enticing samples that really captured the humor and radical slant that this movement carried, as well as the subtle nuances that spoke a message.

Television Card

Design: 4.5

            It’s a small, but very appealing work of ephemeratic art,that was most likely handed out at one of Carland’s art shows, or at a Riot Grrrl concert. It’s a small cardboard square about 3.5 inches in both width and height, that holds an image of a television set right in its center. Painted in streaks of pink, red and yellow, it resembles water colors, and certainly carries a pretty look to it. Surrounding the drawing of the television are words that spell out “television scare scares me”, and inside the television are the words sex, violence, and alienation.

Print Quality: 5

            It isn’t a photocopy, but is instead a hand drawn work of art, and perhaps a one-of-a-kind artifact of Riot Grrrl Ideaology. The fact that this item was the original artist’s creation really allowed its streaks of color too show, as we can see the brush strokes right on the cardboard. A photocopy of this item would remove much of the artistic nature that is inherent in this card, and subtract at least a few layers that make this image take on such a subversive air. Of all the materials viewed at for this project, this item was probably the most beneficial to view as a physical object.

Historical Context: 4.5

            While the card doesn’t carry a date to it, we know that this Tammy Rae collection only carries materials from 1989 to 1996. The picture is clearly a product of the 90s Riot Grrrl movement, as it speaks feminist issues in a colorful and flagrant method. It’s not difficult to determine the card is speaking of the harmful effect of television, which is still understandable two decades late. The words sex and violence are very relatable, as television has constantly been considered a medium that conveys those two acts in abundance, and not necessarily in a realistic manner. The meaning behind using the word alienation isn’t as clear, but there are numerous sound theories one can make in its relation to the artwork. The fact that Tammy Rae writes that television is scary suggests that she finds the whole concept of it demeaning, and it alienates one’s character into responding to its drudgery.

The card has also arguably increased in potency with age, as its intended message has become even more provocative in modern times. Violent and sexual content on television certainly hasn’t seen a decrease since the card’s origins. True, we now live in an age where we have television shows that are lauded for their genuine social commentary (i.e. The Wire), or have strong female characters that deal with realistic gender issues(i.e. Girls), but these exceptions feel like relatively small blips on the television landscape, which still houses plenty of content that a feminist might find objectionable (i.e. reality televion). Perhaps this is reading too deeply into whatever cultural significance this tiny little piece of Riot Grrl paraphernalia may have, but there’s little doubt that Tammy Rae Carland wanted this work to provoke thought, which it does instantly.

Pregnant Jimmy Carter Postcards

Design: 4.5

            A really silly picture, that’s playful, harmless, and overtly humorous. It’s a postcard with a pink background that has a large oval image right in its center. The image within it is an illustration of the 39th American President Jimmy Carter, and he is depicted as having an overlarge stomach that implies that he is with child. On the back of the postcard is a sentence that reads this: “Sometimes imagination is all we have.”

Print Quality: 5

            This postcard is from the year 2005, when the necessarily poor Xeroxed copies of punk’s beginnings were all but a distant memory. The post card is of very high quality, with not a blemish in sight. Of all the ephemera looked at for this project, this one was the most modern, and seemingly legitimate

Historical Context: 3

            Well, even though this postcard depicts a former American president in a most unusual light, it’s too early to tell what historical relevance this object will have. If anything though, the picture has a bit of a timeless quality to it, despite the aforementioned polish that refers us to the fact that it recently was created. There was certainly no great amount of media attention going in Jimmy Carter’s direction during 2005, yet the image is both familiar and strange to the casual viewer anyway. The aforementioned sentence on the back of the card really says it all, as it’s full purpose is to merely be a mark towards the ingenuity of creativity. Nonetheless, it has a place in archives, if only because it shows how far punk ephemera has come in terms of print quality, as well as showcase that there is a lighter side to this mentality.


This project yielded plenty of interesting material regarding the area of punk ephemera. It did uncover a physical sense of the zeitgeist that’s visible in these materials, and carries on an aura that is both esoteric yet universal. Historical documents on this era are mostly told from outsiders, or analysts that had little to do with the punk movement. Concert ephemera, however, was made by the artists that spear-headed the culture’s sense of individuality, and comprehended the meanings towards the style’s fashion, design, and politics.

Still, these materials can only tell us so much about this culture. Much of the material is already damaged, as they were printed on low-quality paper, with often shoddy use of color and ink. Also, while so much of this material shows how intelligent and forward thinking these people were, the use of slang terms and naïve ideas around politics suggest that these people weren’t intellectuals in the normal sense. For that reason we should have more documented research on the punk culture through more encompassing research projects that can yield valuable books relating to how integral the culture now is. By preserving punk concert ephemera than we are succeeding in keeping the aesthetic alive, but it is only through continued study and documentation that we can allow the culture to truly flourish.

            What are the desired results from these findings? Ideally, this project will constitute further research into the subject of punk, and allow others to realize how dense a culture it really is. There is a great amount of punk material waiting to be found, that can branch into a multitude of different thesis concepts. We could see an historical analysis on why different punk sub-cultures arose in different locations, or why other more recently popular music genres (such as hip-hop) seem to have been jump-started by the punk movement’s early days. If this project spawns the urge for individuals to write personal essays, then it will already be considered an astounding success. Opinion pieces could prove very enlightening towards the culture’s lasting appeal, and like the ephemera brought up in this essay, a personal essay has the potential to act so representative of the zeitgeist that it acts as both an internal and external factor towards.

            We currently are living in an ideal generation to attempt to probe further exploration into the subject of punk rock. The internet did not exist during punk’s formative years, which undoubtedly strengthened its appeals and artistry. Today however, the internet can function not just as a research tool for archivists, but it can be an enabler for sharing with the world research findings, and inciting other specialists to join in projects. Blogs can allow archivists to comment on discoveries made while looking into punk, and already digital archives have been birthing whole new formats to archive these materials. In November 2011, Dischord Records launched the Fugazi Live archive, a website dedicating to putting up audio recordings of every show the band Fugazi ever performed. The project has since released hundreds of unreleased audio files onto the web, and have indeed been uploading images of concert ephemera to their sites(Sisario 2011). It’s easy to see this archive as a huge innovation for modern digital archives, and perhaps it also means that punk’s cultural influence is still just beginning.

Works Cited

·         Anne Lambert, J. (2008). Immortalizing the Mayfly: Permanent Ephemera: An Illusion or a (Virtual) Reality? RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, & Cultural Heritage. Retrieved from http://ehis.ebscohost.com.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=66118edc-b9a5-449a-b28b-0219911f3f29%40sessionmgr14&vid=4&hid=5

·         Bashford, C. (March 2008). Writing (British) Concert History: The Blessing and Curse of Ephemera. Notes. Retrieved from Library Literature and Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson)

·         Clarke, P. and Warren, J. (April 2009). Between Archival Objects and Events. Journal of the Society of Archivists. Retrieved from Library Literature and Information Science Full Text

·         Dodge, C. (1995). Pushing the Boundaries: ZINES AND LIBRARIES. Wilson Library Bulletin. Retrieved from Library Literature and Information Full Text

·         Erikson, N. (September-October 1980). Popular Culture and Revolutionary Theory: Understanding Punk Rock. Theoretical Review. Retrieved from http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/theoretical-review/19801802.htm

·         Frere-Jones, S. (November 26, 2012). Hannah and Her Sisters: Bikini Kill Sparked the Riot Grrrl Movement. It Also Made Great Music. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/musical/2012/11/26/121126crmu_music_frerejones


·         Kugelberg, J. (2012). On Punk: An Aesthetic. Punk: An Aesthetic (pp. 43-46). New York, NY: Rizzoli


·         Launder, M. (July 2002). Saving Printed Ephemera: Setting Priorities in Preserving Evidence of the Everyday. Current Studies in Librarianship. Retrieved from


·         Lester, P. (October 10, 2008). How the Godfathers of Punk Kept the Fairth. JC.com. Retrieved from http://www.thejc.com/arts/music/suicide-how-godfathers-punk-kept-faith

·         McCarthy, E. (March 4, 2013). Swissted: Punk Rock Gig Posters Reinterpreted in Swiss Modernist Style. Mental_Floss. Retrieved from Google

·         Sisario, B. (2011, November 25). Fugazi Rises Again in Online Archive. The New York Times. Retrieved from the http://www.nytimes.com

·         Woodard, Josef (September 2001). A Raucous but Rigorous Experiment. Los Angelas Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2001/sep/23/entertainment/ca-48787

·         Yamada, L. (2006). What should I do with paper ephemera? Looking after ephemera in a library. Art Libraries Journal. Retrieved from Library Literature and Information Science Full Text


2 thoughts on “Punk Archivist: The Hidden Significance of Preserving Punk Concert Ephemera.

  1. […] ol’ Netflix’d column. It’s been a busy month for me with me completing my thesis(here), but thankfully there was a masters degree at the end of all those dead-lines. I guess now begins […]

  2. dcshowspace says:

    Hi! Can you shoot me an email at dc[dot]showspace[at]gmail[dot]com and let me know who the author of this paper is? Did you write it for library/archive school? I’m working on a project at work related to building a DC punk archive at the public library and want to give the author credit if I reference this paper in a presentation. Im not going to reference it if I dont hear back. Thanks!

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