Where’s the Punk?!
By Jackson Somes
If you have trouble thinking of a current band that falls under the musical genre ‘punk’ you’re most likely not alone. Political angst and social rebellion manifested through music has fallen out of the spotlight, leaving a void and social blackhole in its wake. Punk music met its conceivable end, it sold out and broke up. Many of the most prominent punk bands and musicians joined major record labels, making it harder to fight the establishment when you’re a crucial part of it, and the genre divided into a multitude of subgenres.
The genesis of the punk movement was in the 1970s with bands such as the Sex Pistols, The Clash and the Ramones. It was characterized by fast, heavy music accompanied by political and anti-establishment lyrics. As fast as the genre rose, its fall was even faster.
Record companies pounced on the opportunity to cash in on this new social sensation. As punk music grew and expanded, major record labels like Warner Music Group were buying up smaller punk independent labels and bands were offered major record deals, joining forces with the same ‘Man’ they were protesting.
The punk schism began with new wave bands like the Talking Heads in the 70s to pop punk groups like Blink-182 and Green Day in the 90s.
Punk music exploded into a myriad of different categories throughout the years. Everything from Sonic Youth to Jimmy Eat World, Sublime to Rage Against the Machine, the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Alkaline Trio can trace their origins back to the humble beginnings of the 70s.
Although the genre has fallen out of the spotlight, it still lingers on. Perhaps two of the most prominent bands to carry on the original punk label are Against Me! and Rise Against. Both of these bands carry the the two establishing features of punk music: aggressive music and rebellious lyrics. The lyrics, however, may ring hollow as both of these bands have been with major labels for several years and a handful of albums. Congratulations on the success, but it’s hard to fight the establishment when you are an integral cog in it.
Desaparecidos is another band that holds true to the origins of punk. Unlike Against Me! and Rise Against, though, Desaparecidos chose to stay independent. Created by Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst, Desaparecidos lyrics range from satirizing the over-consumerist culture of America to a hard-edge love song about Chilean communist leader Camila Vallejo.
Although punk as a whole may be dying off, two subgenres appear to be growing in popularity. Both folk punk and pop punk have established and dedicated fan bases with room for expansion.
Folk punk is the truest representation of social rebellion in the remaining punk scene. It tends to follow a very strict do-it-yourself ethic. As the genre title suggests, folk punk blends the elements of folk and punk music. Lyrics tend to be socially and politically defiant, but told through stories and personal revelation. The music is often acoustic and not as hard-edge as most punk music but can still be fast-paced at times. Bands like Ramshackle Glory, Andrew Jackson Jihad and Defiance, Ohio serve as cornerstones in the folk-punk genre.
Pop punk is the other punk offspring keeping punk music relevant. Although the music of pop punk is typically fast paced and aggressive, consistent with the origins of punk, the lyrics stray away from any semblance of rebellion and are more melodic and poppy.
Notably headlined by Blink-182 and Green Day, these bands found a large audience in the early 90s and were launched into mainstream success. Two decades after their initial success, pop punk dramatically fell in popularity largely because other pop punk bands were unable to achieve the success of the initial founders. But pop punk’s not dead. Although lacking mainstream and successful acts the genre has a very devoted underground following which sustains many smaller bands. Bands such as The Wonder Years, The Story So Far and Four Year Strong have kept the genre active and alive despite a mainstream collapse.
As a native of Rochester, New York, I can gladly say that my hometown has offered two notable contributions to the pop punk genre. The bands Polar Bear Club and Such Gold are next in line to carry the torch of pop punk. Both are playing in San Diego this semester. I hope to see you there, keeping punk alive.