Greg Lake: 'Punk Is Not A Form Of Music, It's A Fashion Statement'

Prog rock legend discuses punk movement, claiming the music won't stand the test of time.

Ultimate Guitar

As a member of Emerson, Lake And Palmer and a co-founder of prog giants King Crimson, Greg Lake helped create and define prog rock with his voice on classic tracks such as "21st Century Schizoid Man", "Epitaph" and ELP's "Lucky Man".

Although his input on rock music is often overlooked and underrated, the work of Lake and co. Didn't pass unnoticed by the punk movement, causing much hatred among the upcoming punk bands. One of such bands were the legendary Sex Pistols, whose loathing of ELP was way beyond normal, as one of their '70s live shows trademarks included burning life-size statues of keyboard player Keith Emerson. They were even named as the main reason for the punk revolution to happen in the first place.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Lake has addressed these claims, as well as the punk movement in general. And apparently he's not too keen on the whole thing, although admitting that prog rock groups really did "disappear up their own a--".

"Well, no... Look, you've got to understand. Punk is not a form of music. It's a fashion statement. If you wanna talk about real punk music, you've gotta look at people like The Who, The Rolling Stones... The people who initially had that kind of punk attitude, that right-up-in-your-face thing. But they had a form of music to go along with it. This sort of thrashing away on a chord and just screaming abuse through a microphone doesn't constitute art to me."

"You know, you can call anything art, right? You say it's art, it's art. But I don't think the music will stand up in the test of time. The fashion may. It may be a fashion icon thing with the safety pin through the nose, the kilt, the stupid, spiky hair and all that. But really, what does it stand for other than trying to jump on the publicity bandwagon to make money from rock music? That's all it was. Then following that, it was a genre a week. New Wave, garage... There was a genre a week."

"I say all this, but not trying to deny that progressive music not only ELP, by the way, but a lot of other so-called progressive bands really did disappear up their own a--. They really did look like turkeys. It all became so overblown."

"21st Century Schizoid Man" was recently sampled by Kanye West on his song "Power". When asked to share his thoughts about the track, Lake said that it still "sounds modern", adding that "it's an honor when something like that happens," despite not ever being asked to approve the use of samples.

"In a way, that song still sounds modern to me. I think when you hear Kanye West do it, or include it in his own song, it's relevant. He's speaking about that crazy world that we live in. It's as true now as it was then. It's an honor when something like that happens."

So what are your opinions about this one? Do you agree with punk being just a fashion statement? And how about that Kanye West track with King Crimson samples? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

133 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Is this guy serious? Punk is so much more than some fashion. Yeh The Pistols were a fashion statement, that I cant deny but The Ramones were so much more, The Clash were so much more & their music's stood the test of time & is still important & relevant today. The Clash did everythin, they were one of the first punk bands to take their music to the next level identifying with the Reggae & Ska/2 Tone movement which made way for The Police & so much more, we needed punk & we still do.
    I think we all can agree with your statements, but I believe Lake is referring to most modern bands who just hit 4 different power chords, throw a small melody between them, and yell generic and overused lyrics into the microphone. Those types of bands are where the "fashion" aspect thrive and dominate the idea of being original and artistic with the notes you play
    Clearly, you have not heard any punk lately. Witch Hunt, Star Fucking Hipsters, the Two Funerals, the Riot Before, Defiance Ohio, This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Lumeria, Appalachian Terror Unit, Bomb the Music Industry, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, Bikini Kill, the Bastards of Fate, Fucked Up, Pedals on our Pirate Ships, Pissing Contest, Off With Their Heads, Static Radio, Know Your Saints, Boris (punk to a certain degree), and the list of talented punk bands that are out and amazing just keeps going. Greg Lake is clearly ignorant as all hell.
    There is a shitload of good punk out there, just like theres a shitload of good music within every genre, however even ask most punk guys and they'll tell you it's more about attitude and image than any particular sound. There are definitive punk sounds out there but you can't be choosy about whats acceptable in a genre who's entire point is simply not giving a ****. I had a friend that was really into to punk and to this day I find what passes as good mainstream punk is pretty sad, however I feel that way about the mainstream end of every genre of music so that's not saying a whole lot.
    Not to judge a book by its cover JelloCrust, but based on those band names I'm glad I haven't heard punk lately
    He is coming from a position that I definitely understand. His bands spent years studying music and music theory, and working their asses off to become experts at their instruments. Then they collaborated on some incredibly complex, cerebral, and virtuoso performances.... On the other hand, all Sid Vicious did was bloody his face up, grab an instrument he didn't even know how to play, and start talking s*** on all professional musicians. Anyone in Greg Lake's position would strongly resent that. Now some incredibly talented bands such as The Clash aside, in my opinion punk was not just "merely a fashion statement", but it WAS mostly just a trendy attitude. Case being, for a few years it was suddenly cool to hate Zeppelin.... How long did that last?
    I seriously hope that Greg Lake, as a man who has been among the music world for more than 40 years, can separate the fact that he might have felt offended somewhere back in 1977 from his opinion on the music and the punk "movement". I also hope that he knows that music does not revolve around complexity or technical skills (not bashing both at all, since I also like progressive rock) and that there's a million ways to make music. Also, Greg himself described why people suddenly hated on progressive rock or how it was "cool to hate Zeppelin": "I say all this, but not trying to deny that progressive music not only ELP, by the way, but a lot of other so-called progressive bands really did disappear up their own a--. They really did look like turkeys. It all became so overblown." People just could not relate anymore to prog or hard rock. They were waiting for a breath of fresh air to come and punk was it. It was something social. Still, to generalize a genre/movement that has spanned almost 4 decades now, that split up in millions of other ramifications, each one with their ideologies, as a "fashion statament", to me sounds like a very narrow-minded thing to do. Also, does he know how many of those ramifications of punk went underground with the years? Doesn't seem very "trendy" to me.
    This topic could literally be argued over for years, and has been too. I think most of the differences of opinion are in that everyone has a different idea of what "punk" means to them. To some, its purely the music that came from a handful of bands over a few years. To others, its an attitude or ethos towards music and/or the world in general. To some its a scene or a lifestyle, and to some its a trickling musical influence that continues in bands even today. Because of all this, I agree with some of the points you make, but disagree with others. Most of it is just semantics.
    Petey D
    When was it cool to hate Zeppelin? I must have missed that one....
    It was cool for some time (and still is some Places) because they suddenly often began hogging the no. 1 spot on many lists. Yeah, I know, sounds petty and ridicoulus, but I kinda noticed it when talking to people on/off the internet. I never really cared though, since people never seem to realize that any top -insert number- list doesn't reflect reality, only the views of those who created it.
    Ive read interviews of both Johnny Rotten AND Johnny Ramone ripping on Zeppelin. I don't know why that would even surprise any of you anyways... The whole punk thing at the time was that all the big rock bands were "wankers" or "were pretentious sh**"
    Masturbatory musicianship is the reason for the hate. Also if Lake is just mad at the Pistols, then maybe he should crawl out his own ass and stop hating on the genera as a whole, especially considering that many bands have excellent players, who in a show of much better musicianship, don't start using their instrument to whack-off.
    "...who in a show of much better musicianship, don't start using their instrument to whack-off." Yeah, let's not even go there. You wouldn't like it at all. (None of us would in the end, because we'd all looks like *****s in the end.)
    Petey D
    Oh, so we're talking about the late 70's/early 80's. Ok, that's cool, before my time. I thought you were refering to a recent trend.
    Honestly it wasn't just Zeppelin. The Stones, Elvis, The Who, The Kinks, and even The Beatles really. Joe Strummer talks a bit about it in his documentary and I've read several interviews with Mick Jones(Clash guitarist) basically saying that those bands took everything and didn't really leave anything for the rest of the musicians which I suppose brought of this spite for those bands. It wasn't so much a hatred of the MUSIC. I know Strummer liked The Stones and Elvis, and Jones was big into the glam rock scene which was huge in it's own right. Kind of hypocritical but I love'em to death, The Clash that is. Just my thoughts.
    Over the years, Greg has never appeared to have much of a sense of humor (unlike Keith Emerson) so his comments here don't really surprise me. And the UK punk movement really went after the prog bands like ELP as examples of bloated dinosaurs so it seems Greg hasn't forgiven & forgotten much. That being said, being a co-creator & front line contributor of an entire musical genre (prog) for 40+ years gives him a platform to be heard from. As with most extreme positions (ALL punk was fashion vs ALL prog was overblown) the truth is somewhere in the middle. What he doesn't want to see is that 21st Century Schizoid Man (Crimso), Bodies (Pistols), Karn Evil 9 (ELP), & Bleed for Me (Dead Kennedy's) all have something in common...they all kick ass!
    There is a funny Greg Lake quote I found in a Robert Fripp journal entry. In 1969, during the early days of King Crimson, guitar player Robert Fripp had a white guy afro (like Clapton, Noel Redding, etc). He announced to the group that he was no longer going to play standing, but sitting on a stool. Greg Lakes reply, "you can't just sit there, you'll look like a mushroom." This proves Greg Lake does have a sense of humor, he just chooses not to use it.
    I prefer prog over punk anyday of the week , but he is talking out of his elitist arse isn't he ? Most music IS fashion to the people who love it . Loads of people were into prog in the 70's who look back and think what the hell was I listening to ? That's right , following their friends tastes , that'd be a fashion statement .
    I never heard a Punk Rock album as bad as ELP's "Love Beach", how in the world Greg Lake thinks he has any sort of moral authority to criticize anything when he contributed to one of the albums that helped to bury Progressive Rock back in the 70's for the worst reasons possible?
    Sounds to me like he was just taking a dig at punk because of all the bad blood between him and punk rockers; like finding the specific things punk fans dont want to be labeled as and saying that's exactly what they are. That being said, I wouldn't like bands that burned a ****ing statue of my bandmates to express their hatred for my music so I can see why he's so god damn grumpy lol.
    I have no doubt whatsoever that punk has and will stand the test of time.
    Darth Wader
    "Punk Is Not A Form Of Music, It's A Fashion Statement." Um...incorrect.
    You can't simply narrow down punk into a "type of music" or "fashion statement". You have to take into count - Lifestyle, beliefs, amongst other things.
    You can say that most mainstream "Punk" bands today are simply a fashion statement. Where you seem to find the actual Punk bands are in the underground. (And that's not really a hipster comment, because it's true. Also, I don't even like Punk. /shrug)
    I look back at Prog music from the 70's and see amazing artists like ELP, YES, The original Genesis (where Phil Collins kept his mouth shut and played the drums)King Crimson etc and the truly talented musicians/songwriters that comprised these groups (something I see little of today). Having said that Lake has always had issues with the Pistols and he needs to get over it. Punk is as legitimate as his form of art. Maybe more-so.....
    "Maybe more-so..." Let's not get into whether music genre A is better than genre B. Because, frankly, arguments like that are stupid. I agree with everything else you said though.
    I thought this whole Progressive Rock VS Punk Rock thing was already buried in the 70's...
    And if not then, it should have been buried when Mars Volta came around and did Prog Punk. And yes, they aren't really all that "punk" but a lot of their sound carries over from At the Drive In which is definitely Punk... Post-Hardcore... whatever. Genres, can't live with 'em.
    Man, I thought most people got past this kind of silly atitude a long time ago, just as punks generally got past the immature 'prog sucks' attitude from a long time ago. It's a disappointment to hear such an ignorant statement from someone who made music I respect - and by that I mean King Crimson, not ELP, who I realy never got into.
    "But I don't think the music will stand up in the test of time." 3 decades of Bad Religion proves this wrong. And his description of the punk "fashion" is pretty outdated. Lake needs to check his facts before making statements like that
    Guns N' Chains
    Gotta disagree with his statement. Sometimes, with punk, its not always about the music. Sometimes its about the energy and atmosphere and angst. You can say this along with Thrash and Death Metal. But, if you want more in-depth, creative, "complicated" music (Which I highly enjoy and appreciate by the way) then you listen to something like Prog. I like both Punk bands and Prog bands, so when listening, you just get a different feeling and appreciation for both.
    That was a dumb statement, punk is as much of an artform be the way they dress, play music etc, as is any prog music. Punk is like a Jackson Pollock painting, and Prog is like Magritte/Dali paintings
    Prog is like comparing two Music genres to two different painters. Punk is like comparing two music genres to two different pieces of feces. Oh, and I don't mind either.
    I'm not gonna agree or disagree with him. All I'm going to say is that punk is the easiest genre of music to weed out the posers.
    Greg Lake's statement would only hold weight if every punk band was The Sex Pistols. Other notable punk bands like The Clash made great music that crossed boundaries. And the way Kanye West used that "21st Century Schizoid Man" sample in "Power" was awesome. One of my favorite songs off of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
    I love King Crimson to death, and respect the hell out of Greg Lake. I'm not going to pretend that the guy's not 100x more entitled to his opinion than the majority of people here simply because of his accomplishments and the fact that's not just making an inflammatory statement anonymously. That said, it's like he put his hands over his eyes when the Sex Pistols broke and never bothered to take a peak. His evaluation of punk sounds like it was dug up from an obscure interview he may have done in 1978. It's just one guy's opinion. There's no burden on anyone here to know what they're talking about before they let their wrists flap, so I can't really hold anything against Greg Lake. Do I disagree with him? Hell yes, I love punk and the kind of metal I gravitate to simply wouldn't be around without punk and hardcore. But it's one view of his, period. I'm perfectly happy enjoying King Crimson, Yes, or Camel while I enjoy Discharge, Black Flag, Die Kreuzen, etc. One guy's opinion is exactly that, nothing to get riled up over, especially when you're countering one honest opinion with baseless ignorance and flames.
    UG users should pool together and get a trademark on the phrase 'ignorant statement', I swear it's in every other post when someone says something controversial. That said, the guy's from an age where punk was in opposition to everything he did and ragged on him constantly. Not surprised he feels that way but he is, of course, wrong.
    I hate what he said about punk because I love punk but I love what he said about Kanye. "Power" is so freaking good man. I'm glad he appreciates it. Edit: Yes, this is a guitar site and I like Kanye. *sunglasses fall on face* Deal with it.
    I'd take Punk anyday over his shtuff. And he IS the reason Punk Rock happened.
    Money is the reason Punk Rock happened. Just like all other forms of music Money is what makes the boat float.
    except not with punk. a lot of good punk bands don't make much money, they just enjoy doing it. let's take a band like world inferno friendship society for example. they make just enough money to pay their traveling funds and whatnot. I remember chatting with one of the members a few years ago and she was saying after every show each band member only earns roughly $10 in spending money. they basically have enough money to pay for food and gas.
    You can find bands from any genre doing the exact same thing--that's not a particular trait about punk.
    Punk is not real music yet Kanye West is relevant? i don't get this guy.
    Nobody on this site has ever, for even one nanosecond, insinuated that Kanye is relevant in the world of music.
    Did you finish reading the article? It appears as if Mr. Lake actually considers Kanye'es use of his material as a compliment. After saying what he did about punk music in general, I would say that is inching toward kanye being more relevant than punk music. Which is asinine, really.
    You don't have to like anything about it, but Kanye West is arguably the most important Hip Hop producer of the past decade, which is relevant to music. He is clearly a moron of the highest degree, but in my opinion the man makes great beats.
    I challenge anyone seriously though to go your local shopping mall, and find a teenager with liberty spikes and wearing a skin tight sex pistols t-shirt. Ask them what their favorite sex pistols album is, and what you'll most likely hear is something like "Their 1st album was the best" or "I like all their albums"
    Petey D
    I challenge you just to go to a shopping mall and find a teenager with liberty spikes. You could say the same thing about any teenager wearing any trendy band shirt.
    You're missing the point completely. To a lot of young people "punk" IS merely a fashion. Personally, I understand that it is much more than that, but the mere existance of all these people makes it easy for Greg Lake to fire back with potshots like this.
    Well I'm a teenager (No, not the "I'm 13 and I like -insert rockband-, and everyone else in my class likes -insert popstar-, but they can go **** themselves! Please like me!" kind of "teenager", a real one), and I think it's honestly ridicoulus to wear the shirt of any band if you don't listen to them. We all know that what they really want people to think of them is "He/she doesn't follow the trends of today, he/she is a man/woman of his/her own opinions, and cares little about others", but what it really says about them is "I'm terribly self-conscious with how people view me, and I don't have the brain capacity to go bother challenging myself to listen to different music than pop, so I will just choose some random non-pop style that will make me special, and different, though I have no knowledge of it what so ever." However, luckily those kind of phases wear off pretty quickly, since they after a while often gain the attention of REAL fans of whatever band they want people to believe they listen to...
    Is there a way to agree with him without sounding as pompous? And Kanye West shouldn't be allowed the pleasure of even hearing King Crimson let alone smapling it.
    What an arrogant, pretentious douche. EDIT: Bad Brains says hi to your "thrashing away on a chord" theory.
    "The Who, The Rolling Stones... " Charging 1000 for a ticket will never be punk. That's called corporate greed. Punk is a lifestyle, a philosophy, a way of thinking. The who or the rolling stones will never be punk.
    Do you think that punk would be anywhere without the song "My Generation"? No. The Who was punk rock before punk rock. They just expanded and grew out of it.
    Actually I'm pretty sure punk would have still existed and expanded since there were plenty of other influences and reasons for it to happen. Greg Lake knows jack shit about it.
    This guy is just as bad as slacker guitarists complaining about Dream Theater. Music is music. My two all-time favourite bands are Rush and the Ramones. Punk and Prog are both just as relevant and influential.
    I always thought of punk as a political statement for the conditions that people lived in at the time. Especially the Thatcher era in Britain which is why I guess most punk bands are left leaning.
    Punk = Creative? No. Expressive? Hell ****ing yes! And isn't that what music is about anyway? Expressing yourself? It doesn't have to be overly complicated.
    I'd say "Holiday In Cambodia", to use just one example, is pretty damn creative.
    How many bands were inspired by The Ramones? And have done Ramones covers? RHCP, Metallica, KISS, U2, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie... that's just including popular bands and not the THOUSANDS of punk bands they have inspired. This dude is just pissed cos he worked his ass off to play and all his music sucks and no one likes it, while the punks play from their heart and are remembered forever. Never seen a teenager with an ELO shirt but sure have seen a lot of Ramones ones. Whatever you wanna think, old douche.
    Punks been around 35 odd years now I'd say its already stood the test of time. And to say its a fashion statement rather than a music genre is quite silly as every type of music has a certain way of dressing attached to it it's just stating the obvious someone go tell kirk Hammett everything you ever did isn't music or art because you've got long hair and wear black jeans you dress metal and that's just a fashion statement my lad. The fact is anyone and everyone who picks up an instrument has something to contribute even if its "thrashing away on one chord" and putting others down because you think your better just makes you an elitist c**t :-D
    Hence My Name
    Well...I disagree. Punk has always been an escape for me ,and it makes me feel good. It is not a fashion statement, well, except for emo f*gs who think their punk.
    I don't know who this guy is, but his opinion sure sucks. Punk was and is bigger than you will ever be. Get over it, you crotchety old man.
    You don't know who the guy is? I wouldn't brag around with that to be honest...
    Really, because last I checked, King Crimson hasn't been relevant to anybody since the late 80s, but to those holding onto the memory of prog.
    If nothing, their first album will always be relevant. It started prog rock. Period.
    Even ****ing death cab for cutie uses some of the chords Robert Fripp invented (check out the first chord in the verse of frame by frame and then the beginning of tiny vessels, same chord played with almost the same phrasing), once you get into their sound you'll start noticing the techniques they pioneered everywhere. To call kind crimson irrelevant would be like saying metal's probably just a passing fad (king crimson are largely responsible for the evolution metal and if you listen to red you'll see what I mean, metallica and many other early metal bands where hugely inspired by king crimson as well as the punk movement so thank goodness we had both)
    The late 80's? You really don't know anything about King Crimson do you? Crimso closed shop in '85, reformed in '95 and continued releasing new material and playing live in various forms until summer 2012.
    But who, aside from musicians and from prog heads, actually listens? Yes I do know about King Crimson, because I disappeared up my own ass back in high school too.
    "But who, aside from musicians and from prog heads, actually listens?" So if musicians listen to a band, that makes them irrelevant? "I do know about King Crimson, because I disappeared up my own ass back in high school too." So being into bands that play complex or difficult music means you've disappeared up your own arse? Your argument is getting more bizarre with every post.
    It was '84. Last show was recorded for Absent Lovers record. Best. Album. Ever.
    Got it. I figured 3 of a Perfect Pair was released in '84 and the tour continued until '85.
    The downvotes on your comment reveal the butthurt of a million angry prog fans.
    lol, last you checked. I don't know anyone who likes Sex Pistols except hipsters who want to say they like punk without actually listening to it. Woah, that argument took me all of 2 seconds to think up. Now I see the appeal.
    I'm not bragging. I know who King Crimson is. That doesn't mean I have to respect one of its members whose name I've never heard. The fact that he was in an influential prog band doesn't give him some sort of free pass to say whatever dumb garbage pops into his head.
    People like punk because it is easy. One dimensional. All attitude, nothing else. Greg Lake has sold more albums than any punk band, so he gets to say what he wants. All you kids need a history lesson.
    If you're basing music's worth on how difficult it is to play, if anyone needs a lesson it's you. People like punk as music for the same reason anyone likes any form of music. If you're a musician you may listen for different reasons than the average person, but you're up your own ass if you think those reasons are superior.
    Actually they are, because I know for a fact Greg Lake invented a form of music with King Crimson. Unless you are The Who, punk is boring, predictable kids music. Ohh, I live in suburbia and my life is soooo harrrd. I only got an iPhone 4s. First world problems. That is what punk music is today.
    The offpsring's "Smash" sold 10 million copies on a completely independent record label.
    First, I love ELP, second of all of the punk bands I have heard most are monotonous noise and just fashion, so he's not to far off base, but not all punk is fashion, bands like, the ramones, the clash, dead kennedys, black flag, were just being themselves
    I agree with this completely. With the exception of a few bands, punk is a terrible genre. It's garbage. It's "music", but it isn't music. It's loud, bullshit noise for the sake of making loud, bullshit noise.
    Bullshit noise with a political statement behind it, means much more than some ego-tard shredding a thousand notes per second and singing about goblins and dragons.