John Yates is, by trade, a graphic designer who also runs Allied Records, did a zine of socio-political graphics called Punchline and releases books compiling his work like Stealworks. You may have seen his work adorning some of your favorite album covers.
How have you seen punk rock change since you became involved with it?
John: It's gone full circle in a way, essentially. I got my first record in '78 and at that point, punk rock was owned by the majors again, and it seems to have come full circle within that time frame. It's at the same spot right now. It's a lot more commercialized and I think there's bands these days that start out and that's the route they want to take. They want to be a Green Day or whatever. I don't get much impression of newer bands being as much into the DIY working ethic as far as being a band and being with a smaller label and stuff like that. I think definitely it's very corrupted in a sense, and it's very disappointing as well in many ways.
Is it better now or worse than when you got involved?
John: It sucks now, for the most part I think. There are definitely a lot of cool aspects about it still. I mean, I grew up in England and so bands that inspired me to get going and motivated were pretty much bands that stuck with ideals, you know, their ideals they stuck by and I would like to think I have at least, you know, through to now, whereas I think kids who are getting into the music these days, again, it's just like the tail end of the 70's. It's a fashion statement. To me, it was an ultimate lifestyle. It was a different way of approaching things and looking at things and being involved in things. Now I think it's become a packaged commodity that is bought and sold on Haight Street.
Do you think there's anything wrong with punk?
John: Yeah, I guess I pretty much covered that in the last two questions.
What's good about it?
John: There are still a lot of great bands and labels and zines out there that are still committed to a grassroots approach to things, and I think that's always going to be there. It ebbs and flows as far as what the current atmosphere is like. There's always a positive aspect to it that I think will probably be around as long as it's around, but other than that, I don't really know how to answer that question adequately. These days, for the most part, I get very frustrated and very disillusioned with it all. I feel like jacking it in about once every month and that's just increased frustration out of the music scene in general, outside of the commercialization of what is again called punk rock, loosely. It's pathetic. It's a joke. It's about as challenging as my grandmother.
How have you seen the crowds and people at shows change?
John: Well, for the most part, I quit going to shows. No bands really inspire me live these days. I don't know whether that's because I'm getting older or what, but I got increasingly frustrated with seeing bands do the same thing over and over again and nothing really creative. Plus, the other aspect of it was I got sick and tired of having my health affected by cigarette smoke, so I rarely go to shows these days. I guess that's basically the answer.
Do you see any problems with the way people act at shows?
John: There are always knuckleheads, there always have been. I'm sure I was one of them back when I was a kid. The obvious thing you note when you "grow up" or whatever, there's a certain respect for people around you where definitely people at shows these days, I mean, again because it's farmed out by fucking MTV and whatnot, the pit and the crowd, stagediving and all of that stuff, it's just another MTV action sport or something and kids totally buy into that shit. They believe whatever they're told on that show, so that, I think, is a big part of the problem of things today is the proliferation of MTV. I guess it's always been there, but these days. I never watch the program myself at all, but it's unavoidable. It's just so much in everybody's face and it essentially, unfortunately, does dictate the way things go in the music industry. There are problems at shows. I find it's frustrating as hell, having to deal with some knucklehead throwing himself around and whatnot. It's a pain in the ass.
What can we do to make the scene better?
John: Good question. When you come up with an answer, let me know.
Final thoughts? Anything you'd like to add?
John: Not that I can think of. It's just too wide a scope of a question to really be able to answer in a couple of questions, I mean what's right and what's wrong about punk rock. It's as complicated or as simple as you want to make it basically, so I guess I don't really have anything else to add.