Jeff Hayton: Culture from the Slums. Punk Rock in East and West Germany (Review)

Cover Jeff hayton Culture from the Slums

Jeff Hayton’s monograph on punk culture in the Federal Republic and GDR could have become the standard historiographical work were it not for the many small and serious shortcomings and scholarly carelessness that undermine almost every positive aspect of the work. In fact, there is a lack of historical studies on German punk culture: since the early 2000s, only journalistic, cultural and social science works on punk in the Federal Republic have appeared, including publications in English. The steadily growing series of books on punk in the GDR have also lacked historical expertise. The only exception is Florian Lipp’s historical in-depth study on punk and New Wave in the last decade of the GDR, published in 2021, which, as Hayton himself writes, appeared too late to be included in his work. Consequently, the chapters on punk in the GDR do not offer much new information.

In his introduction, Hayton explains the relevance of a historical reappraisal of the development of punk in both German states as well as the subsequent social and political reactions: according to him, nowhere else did punk “[burrow] deeper into the socio-cultural woodwork than in Germany”; it contributed to the emancipation and pluralization of divided Germany and was a medium for alternative life and a motor for social change (2, 7, 9). Moreover, an exploration of punk, he claims, would help to explain why the Federal Republic flourished and the GDR collapsed: while the GDR failed to absorb punk in its own advantage and East German punks continually undermined state legitimacy, Western democratic capitalism was able to tame alternative currents like punk that challenged its power, value and meaning (9). On top of that Hayton argues that the alternative music scene was “more or less founded by punk”, that German-language lyrics in popular music found their initial mass popularization with German punk and that punk influenced other genres such as hip-hop and techno (2).

Impressed, the reader wonders how a subculture that comprised only a few thousand members in the West, and even less than 1,000 in the East (57), could have such a strong impact on both German societies. But Hayton achieves his construction of such a feat only by subsuming various scenes and movements under the term “punk”, some of which even opposed the punk subculture. This approach could have worked under certain circumstances if Hayton had used “punk” as an analytical term for a “subject cultural” movement (in the sense of Andreas Reckwitz) whose description went beyond the well-known characteristics and narratives of resistance and back-to-the-roots ideas.

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Florian Völker

Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter des Leibniz-Zentrums für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam (ZZF). Die auf der Dissertation beruhende Monografie "Kälte-Pop. Die Geschichte des erfolgreichsten deutschen Musik-Exports" erscheint 2023. ___ Research Fellow at Leibniz Centre for Comtemporary History Potsdam. The book "Kälte-Pop. Die Geschichte des erfolgreichsten deutschen Musik-Exports" will be published in 2023.

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Florian Völker (February 23, 2023). Jeff Hayton: Culture from the Slums. Punk Rock in East and West Germany (Review). PopHistory. Retrieved July 15, 2024 from

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