Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle have been playing punk rock together as the Buzzcocks for just about as long as punk rock has been a thing. Despite cycling through a few rhythm sections over the last 41 years, the English punks have steadily remained one of the most consistent and iconic groups in rock history since reuniting in 1989. Next up on their radar is Burger Records’ annual Burger Boogaloo festival in Oakland this weekend, where they’ll be joined by some other punk legends.
“It’s a good lineup with Buzzcocks and Iggy Pop, isn’t it?” Diggle says. “That’s going to be a fun, knocking show. The Stooges were an influence in our early days, so that’s going to be a good combination I think.”
Of course, back when the Buzzcocks were being influenced by artists like Iggy Pop, punk rock was still in its infancy. Like many of the historic punk acts from the late ‘70s, neither Diggle nor Shelley believed their act would really be a long-term thing. They certainly never expected that elements of punk rock would be accepted as a part of mainstream music — or that they’d be co-headlining festivals — a few decades later.
“When we started out, we couldn’t think past a week at a time,” Diggle says. “We never thought it would be around this long. The world has changed over 40 years, but we haven’t. We kind of sang about the human condition, and those things still apply today. The band is better than ever now. We still rock out, and now we have a whole bunch of songs that people know around the world.”
As fondly as we may now look back on those early days of punk rock, Diggle points out that the genre was essentially born out of necessity. Much like how folks complain about the lack of real rock music on the radio today, the Buzzcocks began in part because there was a lack of music that they wanted to listen to at the time. These days, at least festivals like Burger Boogaloo are providing punk rockers from all generations (and John Waters) the chance to perform on a major stage, so fans can see some of punk’s founders and punk’s future in the same place.
“There was this serious intent and attitude, and I kind of feel that people had forgotten rock ‘n’ roll at the time,” Diggle says of the early days of the Buzzcocks. “We remembered our influences, but a lot of the progressive bands had kind of lost their way and there was nothing doing. That’s when we started out. Here we are all these years later, and it’s a much broader picture. We’re playing with more experience for three generations now. Me and Pete Shelley have been there the whole time, and it’s quite a powerful thing to see. We were there at the beginning and kind of split the atom of punk rock back in the day, and there aren’t so many people still doing it from that time.”
But after four decades (other than the bulk of the ‘80s) as a band, one might think that Diggle and Shelley would be tired of working with each other. After all, the pair of 62 year olds have been in cahoots for roughly two-thirds of their lives now, and there’s no reason to think they’re going to be hanging up their guitars anytime soon. Thankfully, Diggle says that the duo’s relationship has never been stronger and that they haven’t even had to deal with too many disagreements over the years. As it turns out, they don’t even really have to try to make tracks like “Why Can’t I Touch It” and “Ever Fallen in Love.”
“It’s something we didn’t bargain for, but it’s been a good journey,” Diggle laughs. “We’ve had a few ups and downs on artistic things, but generally it’s been good. There’s a magic chemistry between us, so we don’t have to force it. We just pick up our guitars and it flows. Right from day one, we knew that chemistry was there, and we didn’t have to work for it. If we had to sit down and force that kind of thing, it wouldn’t work.”
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Even all these years later, Diggle believes he and Shelley are still finding brand new twists and takes on their music. With 2014’s The Way, the classic band conquered new subject matter like the use of cell phones and computers on “People Are Strange Machines,” which Diggle mentions never could’ve been written on their classic records like Love Bites or A Different Kind of Tension.
“You can only make certain records and certain things on the days or the weeks you’re doing them,” Diggle says. “The last record came out two or three years ago, and that’s what we were doing then. I think it’s a great record, and a lot of the solid fans like it as much as the early stuff. You can’t re-create the first album every time.”
Buzzcocks, Iggy Pop, X, and many others will be at Burger Boogaloo July 1 & 2 at Mosswood Park in Oakland.