The diverse ideologies of Punk shook the world when bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols instigated a huge cultural phenomenon, one that is still defiantly strong today and, in some ways, more relevant than ever.
There are two reigning factors that could indicate the return on the Punk ideologies; 1) Today’s charts are overrun with club ready tracks mashed out of of pop, hip-hop, electrohouse and dubstep and, naturally, there are those rejecting the commercial sound and tampering with genres that defy current culture. 2) Punk, essentially, was a movement that clawed its way out of the oppressive, politically corrupt and financially dismal times that the 70s were shrouded in… a situation that, Europe in particular, is facing again today. Is the sound of Punk about to come screaming back? or is it the ideology that formed the core of this movement that we're going to be seeing more?
The term Punk was first used in music by American critics in the early 1970s, to describe the sound coming from garage bands and their devotees that were typically short songs with simple instrumentation and based on themes of anti-establishment and the rejection of the mainstream. Particularly in the U.K., it wasn’t only felt in music, with fashion, art, TV and even food all embracing the ideologies that Punk represented. Front-runners of the movement were soon established and bands on both sides of the Atlantic were recognized as the faces of this new culture; The Ramones and Patti Smith from New York and The Sex Pistols and The Clash in London. These bands channeled their anger and frustration into their lyrics, punching the gloom that they were living in with a new kind of anti-establishment rock, following on from the beginnings of the punk movement that are rooted in local scenes, where garage bands were tackling politics head on and taking no prisoners.
As punk’s influence on youth grew stonger, subcultures emerged, expressing the rebellion against ‘the system’ and becoming increasingly characterized by distinctive styles of clothing and decoration. The clothing was embraced and celebrated by the iconic designers Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier, both of whom still draw upon punk ethics in their designs today. Typically, it was deliberately offensive t-shirts with tears in them, heavy military style boots, leather jackets, safety pins, tight jeans, leopard patterns and use of bondage material that Punks identified themselves with.
It wasn't just music and fashion that tapped into the counter-cultural movement; art, dance, theatre, literature and television also joined the band wagon. The scene was documented throughout the 70s by New York City based publication PUNK that published 17 issues between 1976 and 1979. It also offered an outlet for female writers, artists and photographers that had been cast aside by the male dominated underground scene. Punk Magazine is back on the shelves this year, celebrating the best of the fanzine and the impact that it had 'back in the day'. The book has proved a hit on the charts, with those investing in it for its nostalgic value and younger generations who are attracted to the message that punk carries.
As the sound developed, subcultures of punk emerged, mainly in the U.K., U.S.A. and in Australia. The initial wave of punk aimed to distance itself from the endless guitar solos and sentimental rock that had become stagnant in the early 70s, opting for a ‘no bullshit’ approach to rock ‘n’ roll and stripping away what was considered nonsense and replacing it with the rebellious wild youthfulness that the rock ‘n’ roll of the late 60s was originally charged with.
Of course, as the popularity of punk and its ideologies became more mainstream, various cultures linked to punk started cropping up, involving those that wanted to keep the roots of Punk alive and those that wanted to experiment with the sound. There was Hardcore and Oi!, the prior being more popular in the States, and later the more experimental post-punk and new wave, which fed into bands like Blondie, Ultravox, David Bowie etc with the likes of New Order, The Cure and U2 crossing over into the mainstream.
As the initial power of punk started to wane the sound started to slip off the chart. America saw a revival of punk during early 90s by the likes of Bad Religion, Offspring and Green Day, the latter influencing today’s pop punk found in the charts. Pop punk became commercially available with the likes of Offspring, Blink-182, Sum-41, Good Charlotte and Alien Ant Farm all having international successful, winning over fans who were also listening to popular pop records by Britney, N-Sync etc. It was 2002 when pop and punk became truly united in the form of Canada’s Avril Lavigne, who went on to be one of the most successful females of all time. Pop Punk peaked during 2005, letting Emo bands lead the charge forward.
So, 2013? Well, as it was suggested above, Europe is treading waters similar to when the punk scene first emerged; Financial corruption, political tension and job cuts are a few of the issues that we're currently facing. Surely there are musicians making a stand and raising a middle finger to 'the man'?
We've seen Russian all-girl band Pussy Riot sent to prison after singing on the alter in Moscow, Punk music festivals have been growing in number and iconic bands from the movement are reforming and going on tour. Bands that are circulating today and that have been enjoying success as punk musicians are the likes of Middle Finger Salute, whose sound leans heavily on Hardcore and then there are those who are channeling Punk ideologies in a very unexpected way... First Love Band's Game On
So, if punk only reserved to a particular sound? Looking at the politically charged songs of the last decade, we can find punk ethics cropping up all over the place; The country light pop of First Love Band, Bruce Springsteen's 'We Take Care of Our Own' or Killer Mike's track 'Reagan'. This would indicate that punk is still very much alive but the way in which we are used to differentiate aspects of punk has changed.
Punk is still very much alive in today's society but the culture of punk evolved on from what it used to be, as with all genres and scenes. Whether the sound that defined punk will make a come back with the same strength as it did back in 70s is something that is always anticipated. We are in the right climate for something to kick off and, judging by the bands like Warm Soda gaining popularity on local scenes, so maybe we shouldn't lose hope just yet.