Cool History: The Origin of Punk Rock Logos

Ever wonder where Black Flag’s black bars came from? Or who came up with the design for the Dead Kennedys’ “DK?” This comes from Green Room Radio.

In many ways, perhaps the all-time best punk logos, I think, were always the easiest to reproduce or draw on your jean/leather jacket, skateboard grip tape, notebook cover, or spray-paint onto a brick wall, half-pipe, or cop car. But they needed to convey “not really normal” or “I am rather pissed and don’t need society.” Many of the people making logos, remember, were not necessarily artists, graphic designers, or anything other than a friend or member of the band itself. There are some exceptions, and a few artists who had terrific skills made them as well, like Pushead’s lettering and stippling dots, Winston Smith’s sharp X-Acto blade collage work, Dave King’s stencil genius, Chris Shary’s precision line work, etc. … But that was more uncommon. They did make some of the more memorable ones. The D.R.I. (Dirty Rotten Imbeciles) skanking man, for example, was drawn by their original drummer, Eric Brecht, who did it as a school project designing a company logo—the company was their label and band. Think of the mileage that one still gets … not bad for a school assignment.

Whereas larger bands had someone from an “art department” to consult and get help from, the best punk ones were made out of necessity, and generally had way more energy, life, and rawness in the crooked angles, odd jarring shapes, and bumpy curves. These were the symbols used to quickly distinguish, and were signifiers to others that this band was real and serious, kind of like a gang or graffiti tag. Ever notice how the letters get sharper in rougher neighborhoods? Same idea was sort of at play with punk logos. When you saw the infamous Black Flag bars (made by Raymond Pettibon), you knew it was heavy and wasn’t meant to be taken lightly. It was a flag or a shield, and not something lightweight or flimsy. They were playing hard, aggressive, gnarly music; the logos were representing that and the feeling of being an outsider, misfit, or freak that came with being a card-carrying punker.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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