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What is Punk?

What is Punk?

I had an interesting question asked of me the other day. My friend asked me “What is Punk?” My first reaction was to tell him that Punk is a form of music born in Britain in the 1970’s, but then I really thought about what “Punk” is. It really is more than a genre of music. Punk has evolved into a culture and a lifestyle for many people. For others it has evolved into a sign of the coming apocalypse. Any way you look at it, Punk is far more than a genre of music.

When my friend asked me what “Punk” really is, I first wanted to tell him that is a form of music that expanded out of the disenfranchised youth of Great Britain because that’s what the music is. I wanted to tell him that today punk has evolved into a form of music that is characterized by simple fast guitars, raspy vocals and lyrics based on a culture of working against the “man.” But once again, that’s what the music is.

Punk has really evolved into a culture and it seems that the culture is more important to the people than the music. The culture has changed slightly from year to year but it has always been characterized by an alternative clothing style, tattoos and piercing, extreme political involvement and a general hatred for the established mainstream culture.

In the 70’s, punk culture was characterized by spiked hair dyed any color that was not natural, lots of leather and large metallic spikes. As punk expanded the clothing styles changed. The development of hardcore punk and emotional hardcore (true emo) in the 90’s marked a change in styles. “Hardcore kids” are recognized by their very basic jeans and t-shirts. Early in the 90’s hardcore kids wore only white t-shirts, while the true emo

kids were more likely to wear band t-shirts. As punk mutated into “emo-core”

kids began to wear clothing much like the true emo kids were wearing but wearing

it much tighter (girls, this is why your brother is stealing your jeans).

The body art of Punk has also grown since the 70’s. In the 70’s there were tattoos and body piercings, but they were not nearly as widespread as they are now. At the time punk was growing, tattoos and piercings were almost always done by friends or (like me) done by the person themself. Punk could (and should) be recognized as the reason for tattooing’s popularity. As punk grew, the people who were doing tattoos for their friends decided to start opening shops and well, just look at Hot Topic and you’ll see how popular tattooing has become.

The political involvement of punk rock is one of the things that really surprises many. Punks, from the beginning, have always been very vocal about their political views. Whether they were anarchist, liberals, or conservatives, they would always talk about it in their music and through their rags (magazines). In the 70’s anarchy was popular but as the 20th century continued the liberals began to take over punk- resulting in today’s “Rock Against Bush Tour.” Outside of the political spectrum, the punk movement has also been known for its service work for groups that help the disenfranchised. Punk labels such as Sub-City/ Hopeless Records have established the “Take Action Tour” and donated a portion of each record sale to different charities- always outside of the mainstream, of course.

As I explained punk to my friend I also explained the mainstream bastardization of the genre. MTV has taken punk and made it into a way to make money. The promotion of bands like Fall Out Boy and Yellowcard and labels like Victory Records and stores like Hot Topic have turned “punk” into the very thing it has been fighting against for 35 years.

Punk is such as loose term, it encompasses music, culture, and a lifestyle. This makes it so hard to say “this is Punk.” Maybe this helped. I hope it did.

-Scott Landis