Tuesday, March 4, 2008


by Hanno

What constitutes 'punk rock?' I ask because having seen 'The Filth and the Fury' (great documentary, btw), I was struck by the crowds and the Sex Pistols were in now way stereo typically punk at least prior to Sid Viscous' arrival. No Mohawks. No spikes. No died hair (other than JR's.) No dressing up for the show in any way. Without JR's lyrics, voice and concert style, little in the band is a classic punk sound, and that voice and style are not classic punk either, just sneering and weird. The music is aggressive, rough with a strong rhythm, but not so different than the Stooges or the Ramones. It seems clear that the Pistols may generate the genre, and epitomize the attitude, but were not a part of it. I have a good feel for the sound I would call punk, and the Pistols aint it, oddly enough.

I still find this fact extraordinary: At one concert in 1976, where only 42 people attended, the audience included many who would later form bands including theBuzzcocks, Anthony H. Wilson (founder of Factory Records), Bernard Sumner, Ian Curtis and Peter Hook (Joy Division), Mark E. Smith (The Fall), Adam Ant, Morrissey, and Mick Hucknall (simply Red), Billy Idol, Siouxsie Sioux (of Siouxsie and the Banshees), and members of the Clash. Clearly, the influence is deep.

Should only stereotypical punk bands be called punk? Is it punk if it leaves out the pistols? Is it more of an attitude? A scene? or a true genre?


Anonymous said...

I think you're asking distinct though related questions.

First, I submit the band SMP. They are a punk/industrial/rap band. They are certainly of the proper mentality. They are activists via their music. They are not the typical "Seattle sound", regardless of what might be intended by that term. They are rebels with a cause, both in the socio-political sense, and in refusing to adhere to some predefined genre of music.

Should only stereotypical punk bands be called punk?

Are you sure that isn't a contradiction in terms? Can one be stereotypical and be punk? I suppose if one is being stereotypical in order to poke fun at the stereotypical that would be allowable, but then you aren't really stereotypical. You just seem to be.

Is it punk if it leaves out the pistols?

If the term doesn't accommodate the pistols, then it seems insufficient. Of course, some people didn't consider The Ramones punk.

Is it more of an attitude?

One can certainly be punk without playing an instrument. Hell, some punkers are in bands, and still don't manage to actually play an instrument.

But I think we're obviously using "punk" in this instance in much the way some things are called "metal" or "rock and roll", without meaning the music itself. Perhaps the question should be: is this other usage an essential property of punk? I'd err on the side of saying yes.

A scene?

Are you effin' kiddin' me?

or a true genre?

Define "genre". Define "true".

Hanno said...

If we can recognize the sound, or hear its musical influence, must it not be a genre?

We all know the stereotype: mohawk, died hair, ripped clothes, etc. etc. rotten hated the way punk lost its hyper individualism for the stereotype. True, you may argue that it has lost its true punk nature when it did so, but then we need to separate true punk from punk as a stereotype, even though our idea of punk is mostly shaped by the stereotype (what image come to mind when you think 'punk?')

I agree, whatever punk is, if it leaves the Pistols out, it aint punk.

Anonymous said...

To me punk is an ethos: the do-it-yourself movement (DIY). In a previous post, I had mentioned Refused and At The Drive-In as quintessential punk bands. However, they tend to emphasize political rhetoric over DIY.

Fugazi, on the other hand, embodies the punk spirit through their pragmatic focus on simple living. They thought that pricey tours simply result in price gouging loyal fans, so they put a $5 max on entrance to any of their concerts.

As a result, they often played at Elks lounges and pizza places. They were also straight-edge (against drugs, alcohol, and violence). This exluded them from the stereotypical hardcore punk coming out of the seventies.

Also, these guys could play. Ian MacKaye once described the band as "the Stooges with reggae."

DIY and simple living are at the heart of punk, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

If we can recognize the sound, or hear its musical influence, must it not be a genre?

But then we must distinguish punk-as-music, punk-as-movement, punk-as-ideal, punk-as-style, etc. And, while that might not be a total waste of effort, it seems more than you're asking for at this time, since you don't seem to be willing to totally separate the music and the mystique, which is part of what I was trying to point out. We combine all the disparate elements when we tend to think "punk", because it's not just the torn jeans, and three chord songs, but also the politics, and the rebellious attitude, the fierce streak of independence, etc.

what image come to mind when you think 'punk?'

The Crimson Ghost/Fiend.

DIY and simple living are at the heart of punk, in my opinion.

Well, according to Cake, excess ain't rebellion. You drinkin' what they're selling. I suppose I would have to concur.

On a related note, "pop-punk" does seem to therefore not actually be punk.

Anonymous said...

Though I have been listening to punk rock for years, it is STILL hard for me to constitute what makes something punk. Is it punk rock if the Dead Kennedys sing it? Is it punk rock if the Dead Milkmen sing it? Or can punk rock even be (dare I say it) the infamous Nirvana. Aside from the obvious musical differences each three of these bands had, my "itunes" still lists each of them under "punk rock". Why is this?

Is Jello Biafra more punk rock than Joe Jack Talcum? Is Joe Jack Talcum more punk rock than Kurt Cobain? Or more importantly, WHO CARES!?

Well, I did.

And then it hit me:

"There's nothing more you can leave behind
So forget about seeing, get into your mind
Everything looks better when the world is black
Grab a fork, make the first attack
Lights out!
Poke poke, poke your eyes out
Lights out!"

Everything is better when the world is black. And I didn't (and still do not) care what anyone else had to say about it. Because after all, I am the one buying the records. Not you.

So to answer your question, punk rock is most certainly an attitude.

- Mike Chavez