As we continue to celebrate Schott’s 100-year anniversary, we’ve pulled out this vintage leather moto jacket from the BKDG archives. It’s a beauty and in great shape for its age– typical of Schott’s great handiwork. It bears some battle scars: a repaired sleeve-rip, a skull and crossbones pin, and prominently large painted 1980s punk band logos. The jacket’s also been tagged with the artist’s (owner’s?) initials, “JJ,” and a date, “1989.” This jacket is no Johnny-come-lately 2000s homage to original punk jackets– this is the real deal. This is the kind of jacket worn by punks at ABC-No Rio and Lower East Side squats, the kind of subcultural artifact that has made biker jackets symbols of cool for nearly a century.
The jackets that 1980s punks wore were not expensive fashion pieces picked from boutiques. That was for Sex Pistols fans (See: Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s Sex). These jackets were never bought new, instead they were thrifted, shoplifted, traded for, or stolen from other punks. The means of acquisition was not that important. The end, the goal, was possession, coolness, and ultimately, customization. Many punks put studs on their jackets, others sewed on patches (sometimes with dental floss so they never came off), and what hand painted band logo(s) you put on your jacket was very important. The right assortment of patches and paint, the right visual affiliations, could be the difference between being accepted by the right crowd and getting beaten up on sight on Avenue A. Stakes was high.
Punks’ leather jacket uniforms had practical applications as well as sartorial ones. In the 1990s the LES was still shady, in the 1980s it was a war zone. If you were a punk during that period in New York, or Europe, you faced daily dangers at parties, shows, or on the streets– fights, spilt beer, stabbings, or being thrown down stairs. At the end of the night you might be sleeping on the floor of a squat. The thick leather outer shell of these punk jackets helped protect you from beer, blunt force trauma, and the bites of rats and lice.
This jacket prominently features the logos of three crust punk bands. We know what you’re thinking, what the hell is “crust punk”? It sounds dirty, like a disease you might catch on moldy yoga mats at the gym. If you’ve ever paid attention to the hygiene of some of the most visible contemporary crust punks– those begging in NYC parks accompanied by bedraggled, dispirited canines– that’s oddly close to home.
Some readers will already be familiar with this subgenre of punk, but we’re conscious that many will not. Here’s the deal: after the Sex Pistols broke punk to the mainstream in the late 1970s, Discharge, a 1980s British second-wave punk band whose logo is on this jacket, took this new genre of music, changed the beat, the vocal delivery, and the instrumental mix, made punk angrier, darker, harder, faster, and in effect helped invent hardcore punk (see Black Flag and Minor Threat as opposed to the Ramones). The Sex Pistols were fashionable nihilists; Discharge were grimy outsiders, anarchists and pacifists in a way that could have arguably only happened in a country where socialism was still a viable political ideology as late as the 1980s. Other bands of the period, like Amebix, also featured on this jacket, had similar politics, lyrics, and sound. These proto-crust bands’ chunky, thick bass sound, shouted vocals, and drumming style sound dirty and grimy, and before long, in 1988, this genre had an appropriate name: crust punk.
To the general populace these logos are just crude painted symbols ruining a cool vintage jacket. To punks, they’re a holy trinity. On the back of the jacket there’s a Discharge graphic, a hand painted approximation of the cover of the British band’s 1983 EP, “The Price of Silence.” If there was any band to put on the back of the jacket, in pride of place, it would be them, one of the most famous punk bands of the 1980s and the first band most people think of when they talk about crust punk. One sleeve features a green Amebix logo– it’s a menacing, otherworldly, half-discernible face peering out at the viewer, with rays of light emerging from the figure’s head. This logo is iconic and distinctive; I’d recognize it from 100 feet away. It’s what first caught my attention when we found this jacket. Amebix existed in England around the same time as Discharge, sang about similar anarchist politics and apocalyptic end-games, but mixed heavy metal elements with a punk base. Discharge, in their lyrics and iconography, were alarmist and angry; Amebix were moody, menacing, and apocalyptic. Voivod, featured on the other sleeve in white paint, were Canadian, not British. Existing in the 1980s, they were primarily a metal band– they featured soaring Rob Halford-like vocals and metal guitar solos– but they had a vaguely crusty musical tone and political elements and before long they were many crust-punks’ favorite metal band.
Crust punk is a genre of music largely invisible to the larger world. This is not a surprise: it’s abrasive, confrontational, and inaccessible. It’s not a recipe for MTV, and it never was. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. No one really wants to go back to the old days of New York and Manhattan, when you were more likely to get stabbed in Alphabet City than to find yourself at a lawyer’s condo party. But this jacket is a reminder of that time; it’s a piece of a cultural history that many have forgotten or didn’t care about in the first place. And it still looks amazing.
WORD & IMAGES: DAVID VIBERT