A scream swept across a dusty field packed with teen-agers bristling with black leather, chains and tortured hair. "Prohibit work; prohibit pay," was the cry. "People are dying."

Thus began the final concert of the Jarocin rock music festival, a celebration of loud guitars, exotic styles and aggressive alienation that has become a remarkable forum of independent expression for Poland's young generation.

About 20,000 youth traveled here this month to party, camp, and cheer bands who sang of hopelessness, aimlessness and fear of nuclear war. "No goal, no future, no hope, no joy: that's the picture of our generation," went the lyric of one popular song.

Such themes blared out from this small town in Poland's rich midwestern farmlands for five long nights, to the bemusement of both Communist authorities and emissaries of the Roman Catholic Church. Bands performed under such names as Jail, Trial and Dead Scab Formation.

The audience dressed according to clan: there were skinheads in leather and chains, punks in black lipstick and dyed, teased hair, and even a few hippies in T-shirts and pony tails. English-language buttons for "Anarchy and Peace" were on sale, and, despite heavy security, the smell of marijuana was occasionally in the air.

The scene was in many ways derived from the punk rock subcultures of Western Europe and the United States. The Jarocin festival has taken on an added significance as both a rare Polish outlet for social and economic frustration and a barometer of youth coming of age after the upheavals of the Solidarity era.

"We are creating national culture, like it or not," said Walter Chelstowski, a festival organizer. "A generation of poets is being born here with strong ties to reality. They are making wise and fantastic and heartbreaking music."

The youth attracted to this movement are mostly teen-agers from working-class families who say in polls that they are frustrated with life, alienated by schools and jobs, and fearful about the future.

"For them, rock seems to be the only alternative," said an organizer of the festival, which began in 1980. "After martial law was introduced in 1981 , rock became special because it was the only youth activity that was not prohibited."

Since then, the young have become a special concern for both the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski and its political opposition. The ruling party's Central Committee has held two meetings to discuss programs for youth in the last four years, and both Communists and opposition activists have called for special efforts by their organizations to win over Poles now in their teens and twenties.

Nevertheless, neither side seems to have had much success. "It is a paradox that in a socialist state [the party] is not in a condition, at the most neuralgic moment of young people, to overcome . . . the antisocialist atmosphere," Polish Socialist Youth Union Chairman Jerzy Jaskiernia said at a party conference last year.

To judge from polls carried out at the festival, many Polish youth simply feel adrift. "All answers tend to go in the direction of being uncertain and being lost," said Jerzy Wertenstein Zulawski, who has conducted surveys among the festival fans for three years.

Eighty-two percent of those polled by Zulawski agreed that "the law is not equal for everyone in Poland," and only 26 percent said they felt free. Yet few expressed open support for the political opposition. Asked to name a figure of moral authority in their lives, only 6 percent named Lech Walesa, the leader of the banned Solidarity trade union. Twenty-six percent said no such authority existed.

When Zulawski asked if they expected "things to get better," a third said no. Others said they expected improvement, "after death" or "after the apocalypse." "The world has to be unjust," wrote one. "To try to make it better is a waste of time."

For many participants, the attraction of Jarocin seemed to be its very removal from the restrictions and institutions of everyday life. Arriving in a normally sleepy town of 20,000 inhabitants by train, bus and car, more than 8,000 rock fans pitched tents in a special campground and moved in groups, according to taste for various styles of music.

Easily distinguishable by their dress, fans of punk, heavy metal or reggae music found their coenthusiasts, sharing food, drink and clothing and occasionally battling rival groups.

"Here, I can forget about everything," said Wojciech Raubo, 19, a student who carried a ragged banner proclaiming his affinity for heavy metal. "I can express myself completely."

Government authorities have been accused of tolerating the festival as a way of distracting and manipulating youth. In recent years, however, official disquiet with Jarocin has surfaced in a series of measures to control the event, including censorship of some groups' lyrics, a ban on alcohol and a requirement that all concert-goers wear identification cards with photographs.

"The Ministry of Culture has an ambiguous attitude toward us," said Chelstowski at a press conference. "They do not understand what this festival is about."

The institution that has worked the hardest to reach the rock fans -- the local Catholic Church -- has also had uncertain results. The Rev. Andrzej Madej, a monk who came to Jarocin for the festival, spent a week roaming through the town with 100 volunteers seeking to entice youth to a local church for films, masses and free food.

His most conspicuous reward was a request by the leader of a group of 500 punk fans that a "punks only" mass be staged in the church at midnight. The punk leader demanded that Madej deliver a homily saying that "punks have to be united at all times," Madej said. "His problem was that when his punks got into fights, some of them were running away."

Madej said he complied with the request, only to be faced with a tough flock of youths who stamped the floor, waved their arms and shouted at him throughout the service. "If it were up to me, I would be against the festival," he said afterward. "But there are very authentic things in what they do, and we have to try and support them. Here these youth are able to fully realize themselves."