Monday, 24 September 2012

Contemporary Counter Culture - Punk Rock

"Punk rock is just a rebellious rock fold kids follow, not a bunch of old men playing music for your mothers and fathers, that's what you have now it's what they call rock" - Johnny Ramone

Throughout this mini essay I will be referring quite a lot to the 2007 documentary "Punks' Not Dead" directed by  Susan Dynner. As far as information goes, this film was the most eye opening and proved a valuable source of information for almost everything related to punk rock albeit slightly condensed.

The beginning of punk rock is not official defined however it is believed that the movement originated between 1974 and 1976 in North America, Australia and The United Kingdom. It was a period of political unrest, then president Ronald Raegan's "raegonomics"policies. The punk movement was solidified in it's desire for rebellion, and the dissatisfaction with the status quo and mainstream culture and music. Punks were initially hated by the public, Mike Ness of Social Distortion said "They would shout at us on the streets, "hey you punk rock faggots" you know, and we flipped them off and they came back and we fought". During the beginnings of punk rock culture Shawn Stern of Youth Brigade recounts "if you were walking down the street and saw somebody that looks like that it was instantaneous that you became friends with that person". Punk rock culture is rooted in the DIY, do it yourself idea, many of the bands wanting to put out records had to do it on their own, as Derek O'Brien from Social Distortion says "In the early stages, you know, there were no record labels at all that wanted to work with a punk band, let alone major record labels, you know it was kinda like 'this is crazy shit'. They didn't look at it like a viable commodity like they do today, they saw it as an insurance risk". Punk rock is cited to be an important time in musical history, when kids put together their own bands, put out their own records, set up touring networks and the major labels were completely unaware. In the United Kingdom several iconic bands such as The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Cramps, Stiff Little Fingers provided an outlet to the citizens there. Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols describes the movement as "working class, it's nothing to do with the arty fart middle class, 'were alright' trip" the music was perceived as honest and reflective of society, the way people were pacified and afraid of punks again through the use of media, ah the media our good old friend.

Early Punk Bands, and variety of looks:

Sex Pistols - UK

Black Flag - California USA

Minor Threat - Washington D.C USA

The Buzzcocks - UK

Various Punk Looks, although keep in mind that nowadays its mostly about the fashion, nobody is shocked by the look anymore, unless it's maybe your parents. These are examples of more recent fashions.

The Casualties

Anti Flag

The Inter(national) Noise Conspiracy

During it's heyday, Black Flag was perceived as one of the bands that defined American hardcore punk. Early punk rockers were attributed to be very masculine and angry(hence the 'hardcore') and with that said, there were elements in place that allowed punk rock to start its evolution into something different. Billy Joel Armstrong from Green Day says "at the time everyone was playing fast, everybody was playing aggressive, everybody was macho. Everybody was taking off their shirt and showing their muscles to other young boys who were taking off their shirts and showing their muscles and we were like well that's not really what we want to do, we want to get into more songwriting". Prior to Nirvana which had it's roots in punk rock, there were only a few major bands running neck and neck in a quiet competition or popularity. During the late 1980's there was a period of decline in the overall popularity of punk music, a lot of bands threw in the towel because there were just not enough fans to support them. Luckily in 1988 Bad Religion release 'Suffer' which is deemed to be one of the albums that re-ignited the punk rock scene. Bad Religion took a newer approach to punk rock by focusing on songwriting. Their lyrics even to this day have a lot to do with the human condition, focusing on emotions and interactions between human beings. The release of 'Suffer' was a cornerstone in punk rock culture and is attributed to starting the 'punk renaissance'. Joe Escalante of The Vandals says "There were always a few splashes of punk in the mainstream, but not from a young new band that was part of the movement". With Nirvana being one of the few punk inspired, alternative bands to reach astronomic success, the gates opened up for the aforementioned young new bands such as Rancid, L7, Pennywise, The Offspring and Green Day. Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedy's mentions that he is surprised by the amount of time it took for punk rock to be accepted and adopted into the mainstream, saying "..part of the reason I guess was that the music was so intense, it delayed the inevitable mass embrace".

With Punk Rock gaining even more popularity over the years, like any medium it has been diluted and 'bastardizes' as some older generation punks will tell you. John Doe from punk bad X says "I think it's kinda wonderful and kinda sad that it doesn't have the shock value anymore, but it's kinda cool that if a kid wants to dye their hair blue they don't have to put up with all the grief. Punk rock as it was in late 1970's is a paradigm of the past, and with times changing the music has to change. There has over the last decade been a lot of name calling,because what the media has to do when they look at a band is say 'they belong in this category' so often bands are faced with a stigma of being too poppy sounding, or too mainstream when some of the bands actually play music for the same reasons that the punk rockers of the 1970's did. Ultimately what it comes down to is a band is either in it for the money and fame, or simply broadcasting a message, if the latter occurs and it so happens that that band becomes popular and people are willing to pay money for what they do then is it selling out? I personally don't think it is although today things seem a little ambiguous, you never know if a band is going for the fame and money or the genuinely like doing what they do. What it has come down to is more the music itself, if you like it then buy it, if you don't like it you don't buy it it's a simple as that, you can even choose the specific songs you want thanks to services like iTunes and Beatport.

In recent years, the contemporary 'punks' have taken a stand on issues that were not present 35 years ago such as deforestation, destruction of the environment an the start of an anti-globalization movement. This particular movement opposes corporations and the power the gave to cross borders without consequences. However there are other outlooks, Jim Lindberg from late 80's punk band Pennywise says "The problem is ok if you decide that ok I'm not going to have anything to do with corporations 'cause I'm so much of a crusty gutter punk and I'm the most punk guy in the world well you're pretty much going to have to sit in your house and never go outside because unfortunately if you live in America or anywhere else in the world corporations make the food that you eat, the clothes that you're wearing, the antiperspirant that you're wearing". There is the debate that tours and shows that are sponsored by corporations are just a venture designed to make money for everyone that's involved and take all the money off the people coming to the gigs. On the other hand the bands themselves have the ability to reach audiences that they could otherwise never reach playing basement shows. It just comes down to a matter of personal standpoint, some punks will say that its the most punk thing in the world to use the money that the corporations are providing as a tool to reach audiences everywhere, others see it again, as just some corporate venture that swindles people out of their money. From my own point of view, making music, touring and just generally being in a punk band is just something to do, if you started a band with the intention of getting signed by a big name label and making lots of money then you could probably achieve it, however that was never what punk rock was all about. It's a heart statement of who you are and what you believe it.

"If the kids are united then we'll never be divided" -Sham 69

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