gray high rise building

Decopunk

By Ellen Brickley

Decopunk is one of the more glittery punk genres, inspired by the technological innovation and decadence of the interwar period of the twentieth century. 

Some writers consider Decopunk a subset of Dieselpunk, which focuses on the same time period but deals with the heavier tech of locomotives, early air travel, machine guns, and the introduction of technology into warfare. Writing about dieselpunk, author Scott Westerfield says that the first World War was “the dividing point where modernity goes from being optimistic to being pessimistic. Because when you put the words “machine” and “gun” together, they both change.” 

It’s hard to disagree with any of that, but decopunk embodies a different aspect of the same era.

The Twenties were a time of powerful social change in Europe and America. World War One, known then as the Great War, was followed by the 1918 flu pandemic, and together they killed millions of people. Life seemed precarious, fragile and therefore to be treasured. Women and minorities had gained access to more work and more opportunities during the war years and were reluctant to give them back. In many countries, women had been granted the vote. A cynicism about the generation that caused the war had crept into young people and the time seemed ripe for a change. 

A renaissance in art, music, writing and popular culture in the US has now become synonymous with the decade. Art Deco, jazz, radio and cinema exploded, and classic African-American music genres like blues gained new prominence. Authors like Hemingway returned from war with a new voice and new experiences to share. Looser, wilder forms of self-expression were everywhere, and new technology allowed recorded music, cinema and transport to develop in ways no one could have imagined even a few decades earlier. Around this time, the US banned alcohol, and speakeasies – illicit drinking dens – began to emerge. Defying Prohibition created an idea of the interwar period as a time of rebellion, hedonism and glittering nightlife.

This combination of technological wonders and rebellion against the established order means that decopunk barely needed to be invented. The elements of a punk subgenre were all in place during the 1920s and 1930s. On the one hand was the darkness of two wars, the rise of fascism across Europe, an economic cycle of boom and bust, a tragic familiarity with loss. On the other, there was fun new tech, amazing art, music and writing, and a rising wave of social progress. 

Decopunk takes all of these elements and spins them into fiction. Bathtub gin optional.

Ellen Brickley is a novelist and essayist. Her writing has appeared in Banshee literary journal and the Irish Times. She was the recipient of a Literature Bursary from the Arts Council in 2017 and is currently working on an essay collection. Ellen has been a member of Cupán Fae for four years and has contributed to Cupán Fae Anthologies: Dublin’s Fierce Cityand Fiercepunk.

Check out Ellen Brickley’s story ‘Speaking Easy’ in Cupán Fae’s Anthology, Fiercepunk, now available in paperback and on Kindle.

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