Musician, fashion designer and, first and foremost, skater – Alex Wonk, lead singer of Wonk Unit, can’t be pinned down. He’s been an active part of the punk scene since 1992 and has gone to great lengths pushing the genre into the 21st century. The thing that resonates most about Alex is his complete disregard of what is expected of him as a musician, but not as an arrogant rebellion against an ideal. He just stays true to himself: the very first punk rock gentleman.

Ahead of his appearance at Manchester Punk Festival this April, we caught up with him to talk about sex, stinging nettles and skating.

You’ve said in the past, “I loved punk rock, but not as in what it stands for.” What aspects of the genre do you not enjoy?

That quote and that whole interview is scatty as fuck. I was so hyperactive at the time that I never finish a sentence. Okay, so in referring to me not liking the punk scene, my meaning was I’m not into dwelling in the past, ie 1977. I’m all about the future. So, yeah, gimme new bands, new blood. I’m so fucking bored of all the punk rock festivals pushing the same bands, year in, year out, for like 30 years. That was in 2011. It seemed that very few people controlled UK punk. It’s different now. Those people disregarded the new blood coming through and it’s our scene now. We have Wonkfest, Manchester Punk Fest, Dead Good Gathering, Podstock, to name a few.

There’s a genuine need for proactivity and activism, and I’m proud of the DIY underground scene for embracing that need, for promoting universal equality, for the food bank collections at gigs, for the safe community spaces they create. I love the UK punk scene, the UK underground. Not the flogging-a-dead-horse, big-time gig promoters raking in serious dosh selling nostalgia.

What does your music stand for?

Wonk Unit is all about my life and everyday life in general. The mundane. About loving your neighbours and respecting people. It’s also a place where people can be open and honest about addiction and sobriety. Honest about sex and just being human. A place where fellow fuck-ups won’t be judged. I’ve been there, done it, worn the hat, survived. If my experience can help people recover then great.

You’ve been the front man for several bands, including The Flying Medallions, Wonk Unit and Five Shitty Fingers. Which band did you enjoy playing with the most?

I’ve loved everything about Wonk Unit, because I’m just making music for myself. It’s the same as skateboarding. You don’t skate for others, to be judged. You skate for fun. I don’t really give a fuck what people think as long as I enjoy making my music. It’s my AA, my release, my therapy. Obviously I’m stoked that folk love Wonk, but I’ve never forced it on others. Our ethos remains the same today as it was ten years ago – to never ask for a gig, review or record deal. We only go where we’re asked.

Do you enjoy playing in front of a live audience?

Yes. Playing live and having a good gig is like having a good skate. It’s the way I unwind. Our gigs are always unpredictable. I never know where I’ll take ‘em. I love to push it with the audience as far as I can.

What is the weirdest thing to have happened at one of your gigs?

One time I was wearing baggy shorts. I was playing bass so had my hands full. This lady put a camera up my shorts and took a photo of my binky then shared it with the audience. That was kinda weird. Actually, the band Vanilla Pod once attacked us with stinging nettles that they picked en route to the gig. That was the funniest thing ever.

Over the last ten years you’ve played all over the country. Do you have a favourite place to perform?

There’s been loads of rad, fun venues. The Hairy Dog in Derby is lovely, the Brixton Windmill, Stockwell Grosvenor, The 12 Bar, 3 Tuns in Whitehaven, The Owl Sanctuary in Norwich, Maguire’s Pizza Parlour in Liverpool, and Manchester’s various venues have always been rad.

In the past you’ve received a lot of criticism about the wording of your songs and poems. How have you dealt with that?

I write to the offended folk asking what has offended them so I can explain myself, but they never reply so I never find out what offends.

Since your recent tour with Slaves, your fan base seems to have grown considerably. Do you have big hopes for success within the next year?

Our fan base on social media has grown a fair bit since the Slaves gigs. It’s great to get some new blood in the Wonk fam. We haven’t really seen any significant increase in numbers live yet though from those Slaves gigs. Our audience has been on the steady rise since the release of Nervous Racehorse on TNS in 2014. That release has definitely been the point when things really started happening.

How would you describe the atmosphere at last year’s Manchester Punk Festival?

Lovely, happy and chilled – the Northern Wonkfest.

Wonk Unit play at Manchester Punk Festival at Sound Control, which takes place from 21 to 23 April.

wonkunit.com
manchesterpunkfestival.co.uk

Emma Nay