Summer 1976 and the sound of the suburbs


As the British heatwave continues, more and more comparisons are being made with the notorious summer of 1976, which saw temperatures and droughts unlike anything in living memory. But how does 2018 stack up against that exceptional summer?

Well, summer '76 saw the government worried enough that they appointed a Minister for Drought, Denis Howell, who encouraged people to save water by telling them about how he bathed with his wife. That year also has the edge when it comes to temperatures, generally staying hotter at night than it has this year and with daytime temperatures going over 30°C for 18 consecutive days.

But the heat affected more than just water levels; it had an effect on culture, too. When the mercury rises, so can tempers, with the sleepless nights leaving the wild and reckless youths to walk the streets with a freedom that they may never had experienced before. Is it a coincidence that this crazy summer came just before the punk explosion in London? It was October of that year when London's own The Damned released New Rose, arguably the first British punk rock single of the era. By the end of the year, the Sex Pistols had made their notorious Bill Grundy TV appearance, and Anarchy in the U.K. had charted in the Top 40. Other acts to form during this year were The Lurkers, X-Ray Spex and The Slits, as well as bands like The Jam and Madness, who managed to go mainstream later in their careers. Not bad for a year that had previously seen the UK win the Eurovision Song Contest with Brotherhood of Man... 

A short interview segment from a 1976 episode of London Weekend Show - 28-11-1976 Janet Street Porter interview

1977 is often thought of as the year of punk, as immortalised by The Clash on their debut album, but it was the previous year that saw it start to gain mainstream recognition. In fact, many of the bands who came to define British punk were formed earlier than that, often in 1975, and American protopunk had been on the airwaves for a while before that. But, ironically, it feels like it took the strain of that arid '76 summer – which saw public riots at the Notting Hill Carnival and prison riots in Hull destroying two-thirds of the building – to give punk the fertile soil from which to really flourish.

With many millennials and gen Zers suffering many of the same frustrations as their counterparts forty years ago – from economic uncertainty to the sense of a growing generational divide – will we see a similar cultural shift come out of this extraordinary summer? Is it time for a new sound of the suburbs?