Punk Rock is an anti-establishment music movement that began about 1976 (although precursors can be found several years earlier), exemplified by The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. The term is also used to describe subsequent music scenes that share key characteristics with those first-generation "punks". The term is sometimes also applied to the fashions or the irreverent "DIY" ("do it yourself") attitude associated with this musical movement.
The phrase "punk rock" (from "punk", meaning rotten, worthless, or snotty, often applied to a street hustler or juvenile delinquent; also meaning a beginner or novice ) was originally applied to the untutored guitar-and-vocals-based rock and roll of U.S. bands of the mid-1960s such as The Standells, The Sonics, and The Seeds, who now are more often categorized as "garage rock".
The term was coined by rock critic Dave Marsh , who used it to describe the music of ? and the Mysterians in the May 1971 issue of Creem magazine. The term was adopted by many rock music journalists in the early 1970s. For example, in the liner notes of the 1972 anthology album Nuggets, critic and guitarist Lenny Kaye uses the term "punk-rock" to refer to the Sixties "garage rock" groups, as well as some of the darker and more primitive practitioners of 1960s psychedelia. Shortly after the time of those notes, Lenny Kaye formed a band with avant-garde poet Patti Smith. Smith's group, and her first album, Horses, released in 1975, directly inspired many of the mid-70s punk rockers, so this suggests a path by which the term migrated to the music we now know as punk.
In addition to the inspiration of those "garage bands" of the 1960s, the roots of punk rock also draw on the abrasive, dissonant style of The Velvet Underground; the sexually and politically confrontational Detroit bands The Stooges and MC5; the UK pub rock scene and political UK underground bands such as Mick Farren and the Deviants; the New York Dolls, and some British "glam rock" or "art rock" acts of the early 1970s, including Gary Glitter and Roxy Music.
The British punk movement also found a precedent in the "do-it-yourself" attitude of the Skiffle craze that emerged amid the postwar austerity of 1950s Britain. Skiffle music led directly to the tremendous worldwide success of The Beatles (who began as a Skiffle group) and the subsequent British Invasion of the U.S. record charts. Punk rock in Britain coincided with the rise of Thatcherism, and nearly all British punk bands expressed an attitude of angry social alienation.
Punk rock was also a reaction against certain tendencies that had overtaken popular music in the 1970s, including what the punks saw as superficial "disco" music and grandiose forms of heavy metal, progressive rock and "arena rock." Punk also rejected the remnants of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s. Bands such as Jefferson Airplane, which had survived the 1960s, were regarded by most punks as having become fatuous and an embarrassment to their former claims of radicality. Eric Clapton's appearance in television beer ads in the mid-1970s was often cited as an example of how the icons of 1960s rock had literally sold themselves to the system they once opposed.
The influence of the cultural critique and the strategies for revolutionary action offered by the European situationist movement of the 1950s and 60s is apparent in the vanguard of the British punk movement, particularly the Sex Pistols. This was a conscious direction taken by Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, and is apparent in the clothing designed for the band by Vivienne Westwood, and the visual artwork of the Situationist-affiliated Jamie Reid, who designed many of the band's graphics.
The Emergence of Punk Rock
In the mid-1970s, influential punk bands emerged in three different corners of the world: The Ramones in New York, The Saints in Brisbane, Australia, and the Sex Pistols, The Damned (the first band to market an album as "punk"), and The Clash in London. Early punk bands were operating within small "scenes" that included other bands and solo performers as well as enthusiastic impresarios who operated small nightclubs that provided a showcase and meeting place for the emerging musicians (the 100 Club in London, CBGB's in New York, and The Masque in Hollywood are among the best known early punk clubs).
An important feature of punk rock was an evident desire to return to the concise approach of early rock and roll.
Punk rock emphasised simple musical structure and short songs, extolling a DIY ethic that insisted anyone could form a punk rock band (the early UK
punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue
once famously included drawings of three chord shapes, captioned, "this is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band"). Punk lyrics introduced a confrontational frankness of expression in matters both political and sexual, dealing with urban boredom and rising unemployment in the UK — for example, the Sex Pistols
' "God Save The Queen
" and "Pretty Vacant" — or decidedly anti-romantic depictions of sex and love, such as the Dead Kennedys
' "Too Drunk to Fuck."
One of the first books about punk rock — The Boy Looked at Johnny by Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons (December 1977) — declared the punk moment to be already over: the subtitle was The Obituary of Rock and Roll. The title echoed a lyric from the title track of Patti Smith's 1975 album Horses; this "obituary" for punk came when the Clash had only one album out and the Dead Kennedys had not yet formed.
In the UK, punk interacted with the Jamaican reggae and ska subcultures. The reggae influence is evident in the first releases by the Clash, for example. By the end of the 1970s punk had spawned the 2 Tone ska revival movement, including bands such as The Specials, Madness and The Selecter.
Punk attitudes and fashion
The punk phenomenon expressed a rejection of prevailing values in ways that extended beyond the music. British punk fashion deliberately outraged propriety with the highly theatrical use of cosmetics and hairstyles: eye makeup might cover half the face, hair might stand in spikes or be cut into a "Mohawk" or other radical shapes, and might also be drastically colored. The clothing typically adapted or mutilated existing objects for artistic effect: pants and shirts were cut, torn, or wrapped with tape, and written on with marker or defaced with paint; safety pins and razor blades were used as jewelry (including using safety pins for piercings); a black bin liner bag (garbage bag) might become a dress, shirt or skirt. Leather, rubber and vinyl clothing was also common, possibly due to its implied connection with transgressive sexual practices, such as bondage and S&M. A few musicians and fans also included Nazi -connected elements in their outfits, primarily the swastika, the Iron Cross and German Army helmets, but many of them claimed (somewhat disingenuously) not to understand the connection nor why people were so upset.
Punk bands and fans were often accused of nihilism, anarchism, willful stupidity, hooliganism, and of behavior and dress that existed merely for shock value. This may have been true for some bands and fans, but for many the music, dress and lifestyle also (or primarily) included elements of irony, absurdist humor and genuine suspicion of mainstream culture and values. Furthermore, many bands (The Clash being a prime example) openly espoused a liberal or progressive social and political philosophy.
Some of the furor over punk was caused by the behavior of the fans at shows, which often appeared to the uninitiated to be more of a small-scale riot than a music concert. This behavior included spitting on the band, throwing beer bottles at the band and each other, stage diving, pogoing and slam dancing (which eventually led to the mosh pit), the destruction of music and sound equipment and destroying or defacing the venue itself. Fights both in and outside the venue were not uncommon. Again, while for some bands and fans this violent and destructive behavior may have been an end in itself, for others it was a physical expression of frustration with both their personal lives and with the perceived shortcomings of society in general.
The DIY aesthetic of punk created a thriving underground press; you could not only start a band, you could also be a music journalist and critic. In the UK Mark Perry produced Sniffin' Glue. In the United States magazines such as Search & Destroy (later REsearch), Maximum RocknRoll, Profane Existence and Flipside were leading a movement of fanzines. Every local "scene" had at least one primitively published magazine with news, gossip, and interviews with local or touring bands. The magazine Factsheet Five chronicled the thousands of underground publications in the 1980s and 1990s.
In the 1980s a second wave of anti-establishment and "DIY" bands came into their own in the UK and the United States, a genre known as Hardcore punk. The period from approximately 1980 to 1986 is considered the peak of hardcore punk. Early hardcore bands include Black Flag, Bad Brains and The Germs and the movement developed via Minor Threat, Minutemen and Hüsker Dü, among others.
In the UK, meanwhile, post-punk bands as diverse as Joy Division, The Fall, This Heat, Public Image Ltd and Gang of Four, each with their own distinctive sound, contributed to a musically adventurous era, although their influence on later 'punk rock' is debatable.
A thriving Punk Rock subculture can still be found in many cities. Krakow and Jarocin in Poland have colourful street punk cultures. Punk rock underwent a commercial renaissance in the 1990s with bands like Rancid, Green Day and The Offspring making "punk" more accessible to the average person. But there is still a thriving punk scene in the U.S. and Britain, though not nearly as noticeable. In the early years of the 21st century bands such as My Chemical Romance, The Used and Taking Back Sunday have become the new commerical "punk" sound, playing poppy hardcore music which the music media terms Emo. The "punk" status of most of these recent bands is commonly debated.
Punks and punk rock were once denigrated by the overwhelming majority of the population, including young people. To be a punk rocker and play punk rock music was to ostracize yourself from your peers and be the subject of scorn. Today it is relatively socially acceptable to be punk and play punk rock music. Thus, some maintain that the punk scene has lost the very heart of its former nature as one of explosive creativity, rebellion, anger, hate, and individualism and that it has become a mere caricature of what once was.
Extensive lists of relevant bands and so on can be found at the following sub-pages: