still picking a pretty pocket or two...Was punk closer to X Factor than we would like to admit?
still picking a pretty pocket or two...Was punk closer to X Factor than we would like to admit?

John Robb‘s 91st nightmare…’was punk closer to X factor than we would like to admit?’

I was sat there on the radio slating X Factor…hitting the usual riff about managers manipulating young artists, exploitation and bending the truth to suit themselves and then I had a hideous thought…

still picking a pretty pocket or two...Was punk closer to X Factor than we would like to admit?
still picking a pretty pocket or two...Was punk closer to X Factor than we would like to admit?

Was punk was just the same…gullible youthful bands getting bossed about by older managers who dressed them up and hyped them into a bored market place for maximum gain with only the soundtrack being better.

It’s a nightmare thought that has been nibbling away at me for the last week or so, please tell me I’m wrong! Were the Clash and the Pistols pure young renegades taking on the world or were they just a more talented version of the auto tune freaks who clog up Saturday night TV? Was punk a con, was i conned? is pop music the same old production line? is Simon Cowell the Malcolm Mcclaren of these grubby times?

Have you got the feeling you are/were/still being cheated…

comments please!

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. It’s always been that way. Rock n Roll, motown, glam, punk…

    Grunge was possibly the first wave to not have that issue.

  2. every corner of the music industry is infected with greed and manipulation.. that’s a side effect of the buisness, but its only an underlining format that doesn’t have any connection with the music itself. with any movement there are some sincere products and then a string of followers.. so im sure this occured in the punk movement. but the general direction of punk couldnt be more opposed to x factor.
    I get annoyed that it’s become “real life”. it’s just a tv competition that you can choose to watch or turn off.. now people go on it talking about how they hate their full time job and will sink into a cloud of depression if they aren’t launched into instant fame.

  3. Yes and no – the big bands of punk were the same as the big bands of every other genre – up to their necks in management, branding and product. But the movement they grew out of had a creative DIY ethic that is the antithesis of X Factor.
    Of course, if you want to be a “pop star” you choose to deal with these crooks. If you just want to create and share your music and ideas then crack on – what is there to stop you?

  4. Come on John, cheer up… punk was nothing like X-Factor, in anything it was the complete opposite. We took the power back from the centralist record companies, set up our own networks, recorded and published our own material, staged our own gigs… effectively created an alternative ‘industry’ for our music to exist in. Sure, at the top end the majors chewed punk up and spat it out and a few bandwagon hoppers got their 15 minutes but the long term effect was it gave platforms to people like thee and me to do our thing…

  5. err… irony or what…? This post just had the ‘Tic Tac’ ‘win tickets for X-factor’ advertisment top right!

  6. forget managers manipulating young artists, exploitation and bending the truth to suit themselves. Ask yourself if any of those clowns on the X Factor could write a song like Whiteman In Hammersmith Palais……..and sleep sound tonight John.

  7. No definitely not. Remember most bands were mates who did the hard slog from scratch after being inspired watching other bands live writing performing whilst learning the trade and with some principles. Not wannabe entertainers desperate for fame singing crap songs picked for them along with voice coaching etc.

  8. For the majority of the punk bands there is no comparison. But the Pistols (we can’t describe them as pretty boys can we!!?) were a manufactured band. The Clash , The Stranglers, Buzzcocks manufactured through damn hard graft and gigging they were the true punks. The pistols (you may be able to sense my loathing) were just pretend. Talentless puppets of Malcolm Mclaren.

  9. Russian canded camera is reality t.v. The postbox moves as you go to post a letter has turned into the girl nextdoor singing karaoke

  10. I wasn’t around then but the way I see it now – which was very much NOT the myth we 80s kids were fed (which told us it all suddenly happened overnight at the start of 1976) – is that pub rock had been getting harder and faster and angrier until it wasn’t a massive step from what Dr Feelgood and the prototype Stranglers were doing in 1975 to the supposed Year Zero music of a year later. Hair was getting shorter and trousers tighter, and yes, McLaren and Rhodes picked a couple of bands from this growing movement that they could play with and sell as a new revolution, but that doesn’t mean the music didn’t exist already.

    Simon Cowell on the other hand doesn’t have any interest in selling a revolution, or picking up on an underground / niche youth cult and marketing it – because the market and therefore revenue is rather limited, he simply wants to sell the mainstream for maximum return.

    So the Sex Pistols had some help, and on a purely musical note they were never as interesting as what came after, and as a direct result. The wild creativity of early post-punk such as Magazine, Swell Maps, Joy Division, The Pop Group was catalysed by the first wave of punk and I don’t see Leona Lewis or Matt Cardle directly inspiring loads of completely new forms of music, do you?

    so, um, yes / no. delete as applicable.


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