Punk rock has always been my favorite genre of music. During high school my friends and I would go to the local punk shows every weekend just to hang out. I would often spend my free time researching and discovering new bands to add to my repertoire. Being an avid life-long fan of punk rock, one of the things I often hear nowadays is that punk is dead. I couldn’t disagree more.
There are two areas to look at when looking at whether or not punk is dead. The first is the musical genre of punk rock. Punk rock was a major underground force in the 80s and 90s mostly driven by a younger crowd often associated with anarchy or rebellion, something I will touch upon a little later. Punk rock as a genre of music during these times was usually characterized by fast, 3 or 4 chord rhythms with a lot of energy and often low production values due to the underground nature. The genre was heavily focused around an idea or persona more than the music itself. However, just as people grow and evolve, so does music; and so did punk rock. During the 90s and early 2000s, punk rock made its way into the mainstream, mostly through a sub-genre called pop punk. Pop Punk bands like Green Day and Blink 182 hit it big in the mainstream by taking the simple yet energetic music style of the underground punk bands and adding more catchy melodies and higher production values. Bands like this were often criticized for “selling out,” but over time the line between mainstream and underground punk began to blur. Many previously underground bands like Bad Religion and NOFX began getting noticed outside of the underground scene, sometimes unintentionally.
In recent years punk has fallen out of the mainstream view. Many of the bands that made the genre popular in the 90s and 2000s either disbanded, fell out of the spotlight or changed their genre all together. It’s easy to see why people would come to the conclusion that punk is dead. The truth is, punk is not dead, it’s just out of the public’s eye. There are still a lot of older punk bands that are still going strong. Bad Religion is a good example. Bad Religion is often seen as being at the forefront of the 80s and 90s punk rock scene. The band has been around for 30+ years and has been able to evolve their style without losing their unique sound.
Bad Religion in 1989
Bad Religion in 2010
Long lasting punk bands are often criticized by long-time fans (whether they be vocal minorities or not, I don’t know) who say their new music sucks in comparison to their old music. Sometimes, this is probably true, but I would mark most of these instances as cases of nostalgia.
But there are still new punk bands forming all of the time and pushing the genre into the future. Bands like Broadway Calls hearken back to the pop punk bands from the 90s early 2000s like Fenix TX that helped bring punk rock to the mainstream.
Broadway Calls in 2009
The band I feel best represents how punk rock is still alive, relevant, and evolving is a band formed in 2002 called The Swellers who were originally heavily inspired by melodic hardcore bands like No Use For a Name but have since developed their own more contemporary sound.
The Swellers in 2009
Another common criticism I’ve heard of punk rock is that it is too simple. I’ve never understood this complaint. The majority of modern music is written around 3 or 4 chord progressions. That is a trait of modern rock music, not just punk rock. To you say you hate punk because it’s too simple is to say you hate the majority of modern music. If that happens to be the case that you hate almost all modern music because it is simple, than I guess that is fair, but to say you hate one genre of music for one thing, but like other genres that follow same patterns is a faulty argument. Plus, I don’t understand why simple equals bad.
As I said before, there were two areas to look at when discussing punk. The first was the genre of punk rock, the second is punk as an idea and a way of life. I said before that punk is often associated with anarchy and rebellion and while there are many punk bands and punks that professed this outlook, I always thought of it less as anti-establishment and more as pro-individuality. I never considered myself a punk but I have always considered myself as someone who promotes individuality even when it doesn’t necessarily coincide with the established norm. These ideas on both sides of the spectrum; anti-establishment and pro-individuality, both still exist whether they are by those who declare themselves as punk or under other names.
Tying this into punk music, once again I never related to punk music as a genre that attacks establishment and promotes anarchy. I believe laws and government and other forms of establishment are important for keeping the world balanced, but the world is not black and white which means that the established norm does not always work in every situation. Punk music, just like any other type of music, is about declaring what is important to the individuals, it just so happens that many individuals who have declared themselves as punk found fighting authority as something important to them.
Punk is still alive. It is still growing and evolving. It is not what it once was in it’s golden age during the 80s and 90s but nothing stays the same forever. Staying the same is what makes something grow stale. I hope people who were once followers of the genre take the time to search out some newer punk bands and give them a shot, or take the time to rediscover some of the many punk bands who have been around for years and evolved with the times. As for those who have not followed the genre, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a band you currently listen to that is in fact a punk band and you didn’t even know it.