Gateway to heaven

Much is made about gateway beers, though what about punk as a gateway music to a world of different sounds, movies, authors, and even clothes styles? That’s what Adrian Tierney-Jones reckons anyway

 

I have of late come to the conclusion that punk is what Blue Moon is to beer. 

It’s a gateway music, whose noise and fury and DIY ethos opened up my mind and many others’ to different sounds, aspects of culture, movies, authors, clothes styles and just a way of living your life. It was not a full-point but the opening of a book, a chapter, an essay, a song cycle. And then I went exploring. 

When I now listen to the music I worshipped after ditching flares and long hair for Levi’s drainpipes and a spiky, short-haired barnet, I just hear nostalgia and music that set me on the way. Yes, there’s a certain frisson in hearing the tinny dramatics of the Clash’s first LP or the drone of the Buzzcocks’ Boredom, but it’s my youth and I’m not young. 

More positively, I also hear music that brought me to Joy Division, Franz Kafka, semiotics and Elizabeth David (I was already with the Stooges, MC5 and Motown). Heaven knows I might have been miserable without punk’s clearing of the way and still be listening to prog rock (gulp). 

All this is why I have never felt that destroyed or bothered when a certain Scottish band, sorry I mean brewery, does something its fans declare to be un-punk (talking of which Punk IPA seems to have become a gateway beer). Was it John Lydon who yelled at the final Pistols’ concert: ‘ever got the feeling you’ve been had!’ Mind you, PIL’s Metal Box was fantastic. I digress. 

What do we mean by gateway beers? For some, they are beers that are not explosively flavoured and certainly not on-trend opportunities for Instagram or Twitter, though some contrary souls might like the idea of letting the world know how down with the people they are as they pose next to a man-sized can of Blue Moon (surely there must be one). 

So that means gateway beers are mass-marketed beers, produced by a large brewing operation? Anheuser-Busch as EMI, Heineken (think Maltsmiths) as CBS. That’s easy and worth a punk-like sneer. However they can also be part of a smaller brewery’s portfolio, a seductive outreach to the beer-drinker who always plumps for a pint or glass of the same. 

They can be beers as different as the aforementioned Blue Moon’s Belgian witbier, a pleasant and inoffensive thirst-quencher, or instead Thornbridge’s Tart, an ideal starter sour beer for anyone who pulls a sour face at the very idea. 

Without punk, though, would we have had Burning Sky, for instance (there might be no Original Gravity either or dirty burgers). For founder and owner Mark Tranter, punk ‘was about doing it for yourself, about being able to take control and operate independently, to make what you want to make, regardless of outside influences. I also liked the sort of misfit nature of it, the ideas, the music, aesthetics and the fact that although the first wave of punk quickly became a commercial operation, what happened afterwards was more of a network of friends, going DIY, fans doing fanzines.’

Which was presumably why he left Dark Star and set up Burning Sky, whose beers are some of the most creative and boldly flavoured in the country. Could the likes of Coolship #1 and Saison à la Provision be called gateway beers? Possibly, but only In the same way Cantillon Gueuze was my gateway to that most enigmatic and envious of beer styles, Gueuze.  

On the other hand, I would like to think that Tranter’s custodianship of Hop Head down through the years made it into a gateway beer. Punk as what Hop Head is to beer? That’s more like it.