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Punk rock (often referred to simply as punk) is a rock music genre that developed between 1974 and 1976 in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, although some believe it to have started somewhere in the mid-60's with bands like The Velvet Underground and The MC5. Rooted in garage rock and other forms of what is now known as protopunk music, punk rock bands eschewed the perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock. They created fast, hard-edged music, typically with short songs, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY (do it yourself) ethic, with many bands self-producing their recordings and distributing them through informal channels.
By late 1976, bands such as the Ramones, in New York City, and the Sex Pistols and The Clash, in London, were recognized as the vanguard of a new musical movement. The following year saw punk rock spreading around the world. Punk quickly, though briefly, became a major cultural phenomenon in the United Kingdom. For the most part, punk took root in local scenes that tended to reject association with the mainstream. An associated punk subculture emerged, expressing youthful rebellion and characterized by distinctive clothing styles and a variety of anti-authoritarian ideologies.
By the beginning of the 1980s, even faster, more aggressive styles such as hardcore and Oi! had become the predominant mode of punk rock. Musicians identifying with or inspired by punk also pursued a broad range of other variations, giving rise to post-punk and the alternative rock movement. By the turn of the century, pop punk had been adopted by the mainstream, with bands such as Green Day and The Offspring bringing the genre widespread popularity.
The first wave of punk rock aimed to be aggressively modern, distancing itself from the bombast and sentimentality of early 1970s rock. According to Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone, "In its initial form, a lot of [1960s] stuff was innovative and exciting. Unfortunately, what happens is that people who could not hold a candle to the likes of Hendrix started noodling away. Soon you had endless solos that went nowhere. By 1973, I knew that what was needed was some pure, stripped down, no bullshit rock 'n' roll." John Holmstrom, founding editor of Punk magazine, recalls feeling "punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that [acts] like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock and roll, when to me and other fans, rock and roll meant this wild and rebellious music." In critic Robert Christgau's description, "It was also a subculture that scornfully rejected the political idealism and Californian flower-power silliness of hippie myth." Patti Smith, in contrast, suggests in the documentary 25 Years of Punk that the hippies and the punk rockers were linked by a common anti-establishment mentality.
Throughout punk rock history, technical accessibility and a DIY spirit have been prized. In the early days of punk rock, this ethic stood in marked contrast to what those in the scene regarded as the ostentatious musical effects and technological demands of many mainstream rock bands. Musical virtuosity was often looked on with suspicion. According to Holmstrom, punk rock was "rock and roll by people who didn't have very much skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music". In December 1976, the English fanzine Sideburns famously published an illustration of three chords, captioned "This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band." The title of a 1980 single by New York punk band The Stimulators, "Loud Fast Rules!", inscribed a catchphrase for punk's basic musical approach.
Some of British punk rock's leading figures made a show of rejecting not only contemporary mainstream rock and the broader culture it was associated with, but their own most celebrated predecessors: "No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977", declared The Clash song "1977". The previous year, when the punk rock revolution began in Great Britain, was to be both a musical and a cultural "Year Zero". Even as nostalgia was discarded, many in the scene adopted a nihilistic attitude summed up by the Sex Pistols slogan "No Future"; in the later words of one observer, amid the unemployment and social unrest in 1977, "punk's nihilistic swagger was the most thrilling thing in England." While "self-imposed alienation" was common among "drunk punks" and "gutter punks", there was always a tension between their nihilistic outlook and the "radical leftist utopianism" of bands such as Crass, who found positive, liberating meaning in the movement. As a Clash associate describes singer Joe Strummer's outlook, "Punk rock is meant to be our freedom. We're meant to be able to do what we want to do."
Musical and lyrical elements
Punk rock bands often emulate the bare musical structures and arrangements of 1960s garage rock. Typical punk rock instrumentation includes one or two electric guitars, an electric bass, and a drum kit, along with vocals. Punk rock songs tend to be shorter than those of other popular genres—on the Ramones' debut album, for instance, half of the fourteen tracks are under two minutes long. Most early punk rock songs retained a traditional rock 'n' roll verse-chorus form and 4/4 time signature. However, punk rock bands in the movement's second wave and afterward have often broken from this format. In critic Steven Blush's description, "The Sex Pistols were still rock'n'roll...like the craziest version of Chuck Berry. Hardcore was a radical departure from that. It wasn't verse-chorus rock. It dispelled any notion of what songwriting is supposed to be. It's its own form."
Punk rock vocals sometimes sound nasal, and lyrics are often shouted instead of sung in a conventional sense, particularly in hardcore styles. The vocal approach is characterized by a lack of variety; shifts in pitch, volume, or intonational style are relatively infrequent—the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten constituting a significant exception. Complicated guitar solos are considered self-indulgent and unnecessary, although basic guitar breaks are common. Guitar parts tend to include highly distorted power chords or barre chords, creating a characteristic sound described by Christgau as a "buzzsaw drone". Some punk rock bands take a surf rock approach with a lighter, twangier guitar tone. Others, such as Robert Quine, lead guitarist of The Voidoids, have employed a wild, "gonzo" attack, a style that stretches back through The Velvet Underground to the 1950s recordings of Ike Turner. Bass guitar lines are often uncomplicated; the quintessential approach is a relentless, repetitive "forced rhythm", although some punk rock bass players—such as Mike Watt of The Minutemen and Firehose—emphasize more technical bass lines. Bassists often use a plectrum due to the rapid succession of notes, which makes fingerpicking impractical. Drums typically sound heavy and dry, and often have a minimal set-up. Compared to other forms of rock, syncopation is much less the rule. Hardcore drumming tends to be especially fast. Production tends to be minimalistic, with tracks sometimes laid down on home tape recorders or simple four-track portastudios. The typical objective is to have the recording sound unmanipulated and "real", reflecting the commitment and "authenticity" of a live performance. Punk recordings thus often have a lo-fi quality, with the sound left relatively unpolished in the mastering process; recordings may contain dialogue between band members, false starts, and background noise.
Punk rock lyrics are typically frank and confrontational; compared to the lyrics of other popular music genres, they frequently comment on social and political issues. Trend-setting songs such as The Clash's "Career Opportunities" and Chelsea's "Right to Work" deal with unemployment and the grim realities of urban life. Especially in early British punk, a central goal was to outrage and shock the mainstream. The Sex Pistols classics "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen" openly disparage the British political system and social mores. There is also a characteristic strain of anti-sentimental depictions of relationships and sex, exemplified by "Love Comes in Spurts", written by Richard Hell and recorded by him with The Voidoids. Anomie, variously expressed in the poetic terms of Hell's "Blank Generation" and the bluntness of the Ramones' "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue", is a common theme. Identifying punk with such topics aligns with the view expressed by V. Vale, founder of San Francisco fanzine Search and Destroy: "Punk was a total cultural revolt. It was a hardcore confrontation with the black side of history and culture, right-wing imagery, sexual taboos, a delving into it that had never been done before by any generation in such a thorough way." However, many punk rock lyrics deal in more traditional rock 'n' roll themes of courtship, heartbreak, and hanging out; the approach ranges from the deadpan, aggressive simplicity of Ramones standards such as "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" to the more unambiguously sincere style of many later pop punk groups.
Visual and other elements
The classic punk rock look among male U.S. musicians harkens back to the T-shirt, motorcycle jacket, and jeans ensemble favored by American greasers of the 1950s associated with the rockabilly scene and by British rockers of the 1960s. The cover of the Ramones' 1976 debut album, featuring a shot of the band by Punk photographer Roberta Bayley, set forth the basic elements of a style that was soon widely emulated by rock musicians both punk and nonpunk. Richard Hell's more androgynous, ragamuffin look—and reputed invention of the safety-pin aesthetic—was a major influence on Sex Pistols impresario Malcolm McLaren and, in turn, British punk style. Early female punk musicians displayed styles ranging from Siouxsie Sioux's bondage gear to Patti Smith's "straight-from-the-gutter androgyny". The former proved much more influential on female fan styles. Over time, tattoos, piercings, and metal-studded and -spiked accessories became increasingly common elements of punk fashion among both musicians and fans. The typical male punk haircut was originally short and choppy; the Mohawk later emerged as a characteristic style. Those in hardcore scenes often adopt a skinhead look.
The characteristic stage performance style of male punk musicians does not deviate significantly from the macho postures classically associated with rock music. Female punk musicians broke more clearly from earlier styles. Scholar John Strohm suggests that they did so by creating personas of a type conventionally seen as masculine: "They adopted a tough, unladylike pose that borrowed more from the macho swagger of sixties garage bands than from the calculated bad-girl image of bands like The Runaways." Scholar Dave Laing describes how bassist Gaye Advert adopted fashion elements associated with male musicians only to generate a stage persona readily consumed as "sexy". Laing focuses on more innovative and challenging performance styles, seen in the various erotically destabilizing approaches of Siouxsie Sioux, The Slits' Ari Up, and X-Ray Spex's Poly Styrene.
The lack of emphatic syncopation led punk dance to "deviant" forms. The characteristic style was originally the pogo. Sid Vicious, before he became the Sex Pistols' bassist, is credited with initiating the pogo in Britain as an attendee at one of their concerts. Moshing is typical at hardcore shows. The lack of conventional dance rhythms was a central factor in limiting punk's mainstream commercial impact.
Breaking down the distance between performer and audience is central to the punk ethic. Fan participation at concerts is thus important; during the movement's first heyday, it was often provoked in an adversarial manner—apparently perverse, but appropriately "punk". First-wave British punk bands such as the Pistols and The Damned insulted and otherwise goaded the audience into intense reactions. Laing has identified three primary forms of audience physical response to goading: can throwing, stage invasion, and spitting or "gobbing". In the hardcore realm, stage invasion is often a prelude to stage diving. In addition to the numerous fans who have started or joined punk bands, audience members also become important participants via the scene's many amateur periodicals—in England, according to Laing, punk "was the first musical genre to spawn fanzines in any significant numbers".
Garage rock and mod
In the early and mid-1960s, garage rock bands that came to be recognized as punk rock's progenitors began springing up in many different locations around North America. The Kingsmen, a garage band from Portland, Oregon, had a breakout hit with their 1963 cover of "Louie, Louie", cited as "punk rock's defining ur-text". The minimalist sound of many garage rock bands was influenced by the harder-edged wing of the British Invasion. The Kinks' hit singles of 1964, "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night", have been described as "predecessors of the whole three-chord genre—the Ramones' 1978 'I Don't Want You,' for instance, was pure Kinks-by-proxy". In 1965, The Who quickly progressed from its debut single, "I Can't Explain", a virtual Kinks clone, to "My Generation". Though it had little impact on the American charts, The Who's mod anthem presaged a more cerebral mix of musical ferocity and rebellious posture that characterized much early British punk rock: John Reed describes The Clash's emergence as a "tight ball of energy with both an image and rhetoric reminiscent of a young Pete Townshend—speed obsession, pop-art clothing, art school ambition". The Who and fellow mods The Small Faces were among the few rock elders acknowledged by the Sex Pistols. By 1966, mod was already in decline. U.S. garage rock began to lose steam within a couple of years, but the aggressive musical approach and outsider attitude of "garage psych" bands like The Seeds were picked up and emphasized by groups that were later seen as the crucial figures of protopunk.
In 1969, debut albums by two Michigan-based bands appeared that are commonly regarded as the central protopunk records. In January, Detroit's MC5 released Kick Out the Jams. "Musically the group is intentionally crude and aggressively raw", wrote critic Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone:
Most of the songs are barely distinguishable from each other in their primitive two-chord structures. You've heard all this before from such notables as the Seeds, Blue Cheer, Question Mark and the Mysterians, and the Kingsmen. The difference here ... is in the hype, the thick overlay of teenage-revolution and total-energy-thing which conceals these scrapyard vistas of clichés and ugly noise. ... "I Want You Right Now" sounds exactly (down to the lyrics) like a song called "I Want You" by the Troggs, a British group who came on with a similar sex-and-raw-sound image a couple of years ago (remember "Wild Thing"?)
That August, The Stooges, from Ann Arbor, premiered with a self-titled album. According to critic Greil Marcus, the band, led by singer Iggy Pop, created "the sound of Chuck Berry's Airmobile—after thieves stripped it for parts". The album was produced by John Cale, a former member of New York's experimental rock group The Velvet Underground. Having earned a "reputation as the first underground rock band", VU inspired, directly or indirectly, many of those involved in the creation of punk rock.
In the early 1970s, the New York Dolls updated the original wildness of 1950s rock 'n' roll in a fashion that later became known as glam punk. The New York duo Suicide played spare, experimental music with a confrontational stage act inspired by that of The Stooges. At the Coventry club in the New York City borough of Queens, The Dictators used rock as a vehicle for wise-ass attitude and humor. In Boston, The Modern Lovers, led by Velvet Underground devotee Jonathan Richman, gained attention with a minimalistic style. In 1974, an updated garage rock scene began to coalesce around the newly opened Rathskeller club in Kenmore Square. Among the leading acts were the Real Kids, founded by former Modern Lover John Felice; Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, whose frontman had been a member of the Velvet Underground for a few months in 1971; and Mickey Clean and the Mezz. In Ohio, a small but very influential underground rock scene emerged, led by Devo in Akron and Kent and Cleveland's The Electric Eels, Mirrors, and Rocket from the Tombs. In 1975, Rocket from the Tombs split into Pere Ubu and Frankenstein. The Electric Eels and Mirrors both broke up, and The Styrenes emerged from the fallout.
Britain's Deviants, in the late 1960s, played in a range of psychedelic styles with a satiric, anarchic edge and a penchant for situationist-style spectacle presaging the Sex Pistols by almost a decade. In 1970, the act evolved into the Pink Fairies, which carried on in a similar vein. With his Ziggy Stardust persona, David Bowie made artifice and exaggeration central—elements, again, that were picked up by the Pistols and certain other punk acts. The Doctors of Madness built on Bowie's presentation concepts, while moving musically in the direction that would become identified with punk. Bands in London's pub rock scene stripped the music back to its basics, playing hard, R&B-influenced rock 'n' roll. By 1974, the scene's top act, Dr. Feelgood, was paving the way for others such as The Stranglers and Cock Sparrer that would play a role in the punk explosion. Among the pub rock bands that formed that year was The 101'ers, whose lead singer would soon adopt the name Joe Strummer.
Bands anticipating the forthcoming movement were appearing as far afield as Düsseldorf, West Germany, where "punk before punk" band NEU! formed in 1971, building on the Krautrock tradition of groups such as Can. In Japan, the anti-establishment Zunō Keisatsu (Brain Police) mixed garage psych and folk. The combo regularly faced censorship challenges, their live act at least once including onstage masturbation. A new generation of Australian garage rock bands, inspired mainly by The Stooges and MC5, was coming even closer to the sound that would soon be called "punk": In Brisbane, The Saints also recalled the raw live sound of the British Pretty Things, who had made a notorious tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1965. Radio Birdman, cofounded by Detroit expatriate Deniz Tek in 1974, was playing gigs to a small but fanatical following in Sydney.
Origin of the term punk
Prior to the mid-1970s, punk, a centuries-old word of obscure etymology, was commonly used to describe "a young male hustler, a gangster, a hoodlum, or a ruffian". As Legs McNeil explains, "On TV, if you watched cop shows, Kojak, Baretta, when the cops finally catch the mass murderer, they'd say, 'you dirty Punk.' It was what your teachers would call you. It meant that you were the lowest." The first known use of the phrase "punk rock" appeared in the Chicago Tribune on March 22, 1970, attributed to Ed Sanders, cofounder of New York's anarcho-prankster band The Fugs. Sanders was quoted describing a solo album of his as "punk rock—redneck sentimentality". In the December 1970 issue of Creem, Lester Bangs, mocking more mainstream rock musicians, made ironic reference to Iggy Pop as "that Stooge punk". Suicide's Alan Vega credits this usage with inspiring his duo to bill its gigs as a "punk mass" for the next couple of years.
Dave Marsh was the first music critic to employ the term punk rock—in the May 1971 issue of Creem, he described ? and the Mysterians as giving a "landmark exposition of punk rock". In June 1972, the fanzine Flash included a "Punk Top Ten" of 1960s albums. That year, Lenny Kaye used the term in the liner notes of the anthology album Nuggets to refer to 1960s garage rock bands such as The Standells, The Sonics, and The Seeds. The fanzine Bomp! also used punk in this sense. In May 1973, Billy Altman launched the short-lived punk magazine. Bassist Jeff Jensen of Boston's Real Kids reports of a 1974 show, "A reviewer for one of the free entertainment magazines of the time caught the act and gave us a great review, calling us a 'punk band.' ... [W]e all sort of looked at each other and said, 'What's punk?'"
By 1975, punk was being used to describe acts as diverse as the Patti Smith Group—with lead guitarist Lenny Kaye—the Bay City Rollers, and Bruce Springsteen. As the scene at New York's CBGB club attracted notice, a name was sought for the developing sound. Club owner Hilly Kristal called the movement "street rock"; John Holmstrom credits Aquarian magazine with using punk "to describe what was going on at CBGBs". Holmstrom, McNeil, and Ged Dunn's magazine Punk, which debuted at the end of 1975, was crucial in codifying the term. "It was pretty obvious that the word was getting very popular", Holmstrom later remarked. "We figured we'd take the name before anyone else claimed it. We wanted to get rid of the bullshit, strip it down to rock 'n' roll. We wanted the fun and liveliness back."
New York City
The origins of New York's punk rock scene can be traced back to such sources as late 1960s trash culture and an early 1970s underground rock movement centered around the Mercer Arts Center in Greenwich Village, where the New York Dolls performed. In early 1974, a new scene began to develop around the CBGB club, also in lower Manhattan. At its core was Television, described by critic John Walker as "the ultimate garage band with pretensions". Their influences ranged from garage psych pioneer Roky Erickson to jazz innovator John Coltrane. The band's bassist/singer, Richard Hell, created a look with cropped, ragged hair, ripped T-shirts, and black leather jackets credited as the basis for punk rock visual style. In April 1974, Patti Smith, a member of the Mercer Arts Center crowd and a friend of Hell's, came to CBGB for the first time to see the band perform. A veteran of independent theater and performance poetry, Smith was developing an intellectual, feminist take on rock 'n' roll. On June 5, she recorded the single "Hey Joe"/"Piss Factory", featuring Television guitarist Tom Verlaine; released on her own Mer Records label, it heralded the scene's do it yourself (DIY) ethic and has often been cited as the first punk rock record. By August, Smith and Television were gigging together at another downtown New York club, Max's Kansas City. Max's Kansas City, alongside CBGB's, played a large role during punk's developmental years, especially for musicians like The Ramones and Sid Vicious, who played his final shows at Max's.
Out in Forest Hills, Queens, several miles from lower Manhattan, the members of a newly formed band adopted a common surname. Drawing on sources ranging from the Stooges to The Beatles and The Beach Boys to Herman's Hermits and 1960s girl groups, the Ramones condensed rock 'n' roll to its primal level: "'1-2-3-4!' bass-player Dee Dee Ramone shouted at the start of every song, as if the group could barely master the rudiments of rhythm." The band played its first gig at CBGB on August 16, 1974. Another new act, Blondie, also debuted at the club that month. By the end of the year, the Ramones had performed seventy-four shows, each about seventeen minutes long. "When I first saw the Ramones", critic Mary Harron later remembered, "I couldn't believe people were doing this. The dumb brattiness." The Dictators, with a similar "playing dumb" concept, were recording their debut album. The Dictators Go Girl Crazy! came out in March 1975, mixing absurdist originals such as "Master Race Rock" and loud, straight-faced covers of cheese pop like Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe".
That spring, Smith and Television shared a two-month-long weekend residency at CBGB that brought major attention to the club. The Television sets included Richard Hell's "Blank Generation", which became the scene's emblematic anthem. Soon after, Hell left Television and founded a band featuring a more stripped-down sound, The Heartbreakers, with former New York Dolls Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan. The pairing of Hell and Thunders, in one critical assessment, "inject[ed] a poetic intelligence into mindless self-destruction". In August, Television—with Fred Smith, former Blondie bassist, replacing Hell—recorded a single, "Little Johnny Jewel", for the tiny Ork label. In the words of John Walker, the record was "a turning point for the whole New York scene" if not quite for the punk rock sound itself—Hell's departure had left the band "significantly reduced in fringe aggression".
Other bands were becoming regulars at CBGB, such as Mink DeVille and Talking Heads, which moved down from Rhode Island. More closely associated with Max's Kansas City were Suicide and the band led by drag queen Wayne County, another Mercer Arts Center alumna. The first album to come out of this downtown scene was released in November 1975: Smith's debut, Horses, produced by John Cale for the major Arista label. The inaugural issue of Punk appeared in December. The new magazine tied together earlier artists such as Velvet Underground lead singer Lou Reed, the Stooges, and the New York Dolls with the editors' favorite band, The Dictators, and the array of new acts centered around CBGB and Max's. That winter, Pere Ubu came in from Cleveland and played at both spots.
Early in 1976, Hell left The Heartbreakers; he soon formed a new group that would become known as The Voidoids, "one of the most harshly uncompromising bands" on the scene. That April, the Ramones' debut album was released by Sire Records; the first single was "Blitzkrieg Bop", opening with the rally cry "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" According to a later description, "Like all cultural watersheds, Ramones was embraced by a discerning few and slagged off as a bad joke by the uncomprehending majority." At the instigation of Ramones lead singer Joey Ramone, the members of Cleveland's Frankenstein moved east to join the New York scene. Reconstituted as the Dead Boys, they played their first CBGB gig in late July. In August, Ork put out an EP recorded by Hell with his new band that included the first released version of "Blank Generation".
The term punk initially referred to the scene in general, more than the sound itself—the early New York punk bands represented a broad variety of influences. Among them, the Ramones, The Heartbreakers, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, and the Dead Boys were establishing a distinct musical style; even where they diverged most clearly, in lyrical approach—the Ramones' apparent guilelessness at one extreme, Hell's conscious craft at the other—there was an abrasive attitude in common. Their shared attributes of minimalism and speed, however, had not yet come to define punk rock.
Other U.S. cities
In 1975, Suicide Commandos formed in Minneapolis—one of the first U.S. bands outside of New York to play in the Ramones-style harder-louder-faster mode that would define punk rock. As the punk movement expanded rapidly in the United Kingdom in 1976, a few bands with similar tastes and attitude appeared around the United States. The first West Coast punk scenes emerged in San Francisco, with the bands Crime and The Nuns, and Seattle, where the Telepaths, Meyce, and The Tupperwares played a groundbreaking show on May 1. Rock critic Richard Meltzer cofounded VOM (short for "vomit") in Los Angeles. In Washington, D.C., raucous roots-rockers The Razz helped along a nascent punk scene featuring Overkill, the Slickee Boys, and The Look. Around the turn of the year, White Boy began giving notoriously crazed performances. In Boston, the scene at the Rathskeller—affectionately known as the Rat—was also turning toward punk, though the defining sound retained a distinct garage rock orientation. Among the city's first new acts to be identified with punk rock was DMZ. In Bloomington, Indiana, The Gizmos played in a jokey, raunchy, Dictators-inspired style later referred to as "frat punk".
Like their garage rock predecessors, these local scenes were facilitated by enthusiastic impresarios who operated nightclubs or organized concerts in venues such as schools, garages, or warehouses, advertised via inexpensively printed flyers and fanzines. In some cases, punk's do it yourself ethic reflected an aversion to commercial success, as well as a desire to maintain creative and financial autonomy. As Joe Harvard, a participant in the Boston scene, describes, it was often a simple necessity—the absence of a local recording industry and well-distributed music magazines left little recourse but DIY.
At the same time, a similar music-based subculture was beginning to take shape in various parts of Australia. A scene was developing around Radio Birdman and its main performance venue, the Oxford Tavern (later the Oxford Funhouse), located in Sydney's Darlinghurst suburb. In December 1975, the group won the RAM (Rock Australia Magazine)/Levi's Punk Band Thriller competition. By 1976, The Saints were hiring Brisbane local halls to use as venues, or playing in "Club 76", their shared house in the inner suburb of Petrie Terrace. The band soon discovered that musicians were exploring similar paths in other parts of the world. Ed Kuepper, coleader of The Saints, later recalled:
One thing I remember having had a really depressing effect on me was the first Ramones album. When I heard it [in 1976], I mean it was a great record ... but I hated it because I knew we’d been doing this sort of stuff for years. There was even a chord progression on that album that we used ... and I thought, "Fuck. We’re going to be labeled as influenced by the Ramones", when nothing could have been further from the truth.
On the other side of Australia, in Perth, germinal punk rock act the Cheap Nasties, featuring singer-guitarist Kim Salmon, formed in August. In September, The Saints became the first punk rock band outside the U.S. to release a recording, the single "(I'm) Stranded". As with Patti Smith's debut, the band self-financed, packaged, and distributed the single. "(I'm) Stranded" had limited impact at home, but the British music press recognized it as a groundbreaking record. At the insistence of their superiors in the UK, EMI Australia signed The Saints. Meanwhile, Radio Birdman came out with a self-financed EP, Burn My Eye, in October. Trouser Press critic Ian McCaleb later described the record as the "archetype for the musical explosion that was about to occur".
After a brief period unofficially managing the New York Dolls, Englishman Malcolm McLaren returned to London in May 1975, inspired by the new scene he had witnessed at CBGB. The Kings Road clothing store he co-owned, recently renamed Sex, was building a reputation with its outrageous "anti-fashion". Among those who frequented the shop were members of a band called The Strand, which McLaren had also been managing. In August, the group was seeking a new lead singer. Another Sex habitué, Johnny Rotten, auditioned for and won the job. Adopting a new name, the group played its first gig as the Sex Pistols on November 5 or 6, 1975, at St. Martin's School of Art and soon attracted a small but ardent following. In February 1976, the band received its first significant press coverage; guitarist Steve Jones declared that the Pistols were not so much into music as they were "chaos". The band often provoked its crowds into near-riots. Rotten announced to one audience, "Bet you don't hate us as much as we hate you!" McLaren envisioned the Pistols as central players in a new youth movement, "hard and tough". As described by critic Jon Savage, the band members "embodied an attitude into which McLaren fed a new set of references: late-sixties radical politics, sexual fetish material, pop history, ... youth sociology".
Bernard Rhodes, a sometime associate of McLaren's and friend of the Pistols', was similarly aiming to make stars of the band London SS. Early in 1976, London SS broke up before ever performing publicly, spinning off two new bands: The Damned and The Clash, which was joined by Joe Strummer, The 101'ers former lead singer. On June 4, 1976, the Sex Pistols played Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in what came to be regarded as one of the most influential rock shows ever. Among the approximately forty audience members were the three locals who had organized the gig—they soon began performing as the Buzzcocks. Others in the small crowd went on to form Joy Division, The Fall, and—in the 1980s—The Smiths.
In July, the Ramones crossed the Atlantic for two London shows that helped spark the nascent UK punk scene, an impact that was later exaggerated by the band's members. On July 4, they played with the Flamin' Groovies and The Stranglers before a crowd of 2,000 at the Roundhouse. That same night, The Clash debuted, opening for the Sex Pistols in Sheffield. On July 5, members of both bands attended a Ramones club gig. The following night, The Damned played their first show, as a Pistols opening act in London. In critic Kurt Loder's description, the Pistols purveyed a "calculated, arty nihilism, [while] the Clash were unabashed idealists, proponents of a radical left-wing social critique of a sort that reached back at least to ... Woody Guthrie in the 1940s". The Damned built a reputation as "punk's party boys". This London scene's first fanzine appeared a week later. Its title, Sniffin' Glue, derived from a Ramones song. Its subtitle affirmed the connection with what was happening in New York: "+ Other Rock 'n' Roll Habits for Punks!"
Another Sex Pistols gig in Manchester on July 20, with the Buzzcocks debuting in support, gave further impetus to the scene there. In August, the self-described "First European Punk Rock Festival" was held in Mont de Marsan in the southwest of France. Eddie and the Hot Rods, a London pub rock group, headlined, while the Sex Pistols were excluded for "going too far" and The Clash backed out in solidarity. The only band from the new punk movement to appear was The Damned.
Over the next several months, many new punk rock bands formed, often directly inspired by the Pistols. In London, women were at the center of the scene—among the initial wave of bands were the female-fronted Siouxsie & the Banshees and X-Ray Spex and the all-female The Slits. The Adverts had a female bassist. Other groups included Subway Sect, Eater, The Subversives, the aptly named London, and Chelsea, which soon spun off Generation X. Farther afield, Sham 69 began practicing in the southeastern town of Hersham. In Durham, there was Penetration, with lead singer Pauline Murray. On September 20–21, the 100 Club Punk Festival in London featured the four primary British groups (London's big three and the Buzzcocks), as well as Paris's female-fronted Stinky Toys, arguably the first punk rock band from a non-Anglophone country. Siouxsie & the Banshees and Subway Sect debuted on the festival's first night; that same evening, Eater debuted in Manchester.
Some new bands, such as London's Alternative TV and Edinburgh's Rezillos, identified with the scene even as they pursued more experimental music. Others of a comparatively traditional rock 'n' roll bent were also swept up by the movement: The Vibrators, formed as a pub rock–style act in February 1976, soon adopted a punk look and sound. A few even longer-active bands including Surrey neo-mods The Jam and pub rockers The Stranglers and Cock Sparrer also became associated with the punk rock scene. Alongside the musical roots shared with their American counterparts and the calculated confrontationalism of the early Who, journalist Clinton Heylin describes how the British punks also reflected the influence of the "glam bands who gave noise back to teenagers in the early Seventies—T.Rex, Slade and Roxy Music". One of the groups openly acknowledging that influence were The Undertones, from Derry in Northern Ireland. Another punk band formed to the south, Dublin's The Radiators From Space.
In October, The Damned became the first UK punk rock band to release a single, the romance-themed "New Rose". The Sex Pistols followed the next month with "Anarchy in the U.K."—with its debut single the band succeeded in its goal of becoming a "national scandal". Jamie Reid's "anarchy flag" poster and his other design work for the Pistols helped establish a distinctive punk visual aesthetic. On December 1, an incident took place that sealed punk rock's notorious reputation: On Thames Today, an early evening London TV show, Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones was goaded into a verbal altercation by the host, Bill Grundy. Jones called Grundy a "dirty fucker" on live television, triggering a media controversy. Two days later, the Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, and The Heartbreakers set out on the Anarchy Tour, a series of gigs throughout the UK. Many of the shows were cancelled by venue owners in response to the media outrage following the Grundy confrontation.
By 1977, a second wave of the punk rock movement was breaking in the three countries where it had emerged, as well as in many other places. Bands from the same scenes often sounded very different from each other, reflecting the eclectic state of punk music during the era. While punk rock remained largely an underground phenomenon in North America, Australia, and the new spots where it was emerging, in the UK it briefly became a major sensation.
The California punk scene was in full swing by early 1977. In Los Angeles, there were The Zeros, The Germs, The Weirdos, X, The Dickies, The Bags, and the relocated Tupperwares, now dubbed The Screamers. San Francisco's second wave included The Avengers, Negative Trend, The Mutants, and The Sleepers. The Dils, from Carlsbad, moved between the two major cities. The Wipers formed in Portland, Oregon. In Seattle, there was The Lewd. Often sharing gigs with the Seattle punks were bands from across the Canadian border. A major scene developed in Vancouver, spearheaded by the Furies and Victoria's all-female Dee Dee and the Dishrags. The Skulls spun off into D.O.A. and The Subhumans. The K-Tels (later known as the Young Canadians) and Pointed Sticks were among the area's other leading punk acts.
In eastern Canada, the Toronto protopunk band Dishes had laid the groundwork for another sizable scene, and a September 1976 concert by the touring Ramones had catalyzed the movement. Early Ontario punk bands included The Diodes, The Viletones, The Battered Wives, The Demics, Forgotten Rebels, Teenage Head, The Poles, and The Ugly. Along with the Dishrags, Toronto's The Curse and B Girls were North America's first all-female punk acts. In July 1977, the Viletones, Diodes, and Teenage Head headed down to New York City to play a four-day showcase at CBGB. Punk rock was already beginning to give way there to the anarchic sound of what became known as No Wave, although several original punk bands continued to perform. Leave Home, the Ramones' second album, had come out in January. September saw Richard Hell and The Voidoids' first full-length, Blank Generation. The Heartbreakers' debut, L.A.M.F., and the Dead Boys', Young, Loud and Snotty, appeared in October; the Ramones' third, Rocket to Russia, in November. The Cramps, whose core members were from Sacramento by way of Akron, had debuted at CBGB in November 1976, opening for the Dead Boys. They were soon playing regularly at Max's Kansas City. The Misfits formed in nearby New Jersey; by 1978, they had developed a style known as horror punk.
The Ohio protopunk bands were joined by Cleveland's The Pagans, Akron's Bizarros and Rubber City Rebels, and Kent's Human Switchboard. Bloomington, Indiana, had MX-80 Sound and Detroit had The Sillies. The Feederz formed in Arizona. Atlanta had The Fans. In North Carolina, there was Chapel Hill's H-Bombs and Raleigh's Th' Cigaretz. The Chicago scene began not with a band but with a group of DJs transforming a gay bar, La Mere Vipere, into what became known as America's first punk dance club. Tutu and the Pirates and Silver Abuse were among the city's first punk bands. In Boston, the scene at the Rat was joined by the Nervous Eaters, Thrills, and Human Sexual Response. In Washington, D.C., the Controls played their first gig in spring 1977, but the city's second wave really broke the following year with acts such as Urban Verbs, Half Japanese, D'Chumps, Rudements, and Shirkers. By early 1978, the D.C. jazz-fusion group Mind Power had transformed into Bad Brains, one of the first bands to be identified with hardcore punk.
In February 1977, EMI released The Saints' debut album, (I'm) Stranded, which the band recorded in two days. The Saints had relocated to Sydney; in April, they and Radio Birdman united for a major gig at Paddington Town Hall. Last Words had also formed in the city. The following month, The Saints relocated again, to Great Britain. In June, Radio Birdman released the album Radios Appear on its own Trafalgar label.
The Victims became a short-lived leader of the Perth scene, self-releasing the classic "Television Addict". They were joined by The Scientists, Kim Salmon's successor band to the Cheap Nasties. Among the other bands constituting Australia's second wave were Johnny Dole & The Scabs, the Hellcats, and Psychosurgeons (later known as the Lipstick Killers) in Sydney; The Leftovers, The Survivors, and Razar in Brisbane; and La Femme, The Negatives, and The Babeez (later known as The News) in Melbourne. Melbourne's art rock–influenced Boys Next Door featured singer Nick Cave, who would become one of the world's most celebrated post-punk artists.
The Pistols' live TV skirmish with Bill Grundy was the signal moment in British punk's transformation into a major media phenomenon, even as some stores refused to stock the records and radio airplay was hard to come by. Press coverage of punk misbehavior grew intense: On January 4, 1977, the Evening News of London ran a front-page story on how the Sex Pistols "vomited and spat their way to an Amsterdam flight". In February 1977, the first album by a British punk band appeared: Damned Damned Damned reached number thirty-six on the UK chart. The EP Spiral Scratch, self-released by Manchester's Buzzcocks, was a benchmark for both the DIY ethic and regionalism in the country's punk movement. The Clash's self-titled debut album came out two months later and rose to number twelve; the single "White Riot" entered the top forty. In May, the Sex Pistols achieved new heights of controversy (and number two on the singles chart) with "God Save the Queen". The band had recently acquired a new bassist, Sid Vicious, who was seen as exemplifying the punk persona.
Scores of new punk groups formed around the United Kingdom. Though most survived only briefly, perhaps recording a small-label single or two, others set off new trends. Crass, from Essex, merged a vehement, straight-ahead punk rock style with a committed anarchist mission. Sham 69, London's Menace, and the Angelic Upstarts from South Shields in the Northeast combined a similarly stripped-down sound with populist lyrics, a style that became known as streetpunk. These expressly working-class bands contrasted with others in the second wave that presaged the post-punk phenomenon. Such groups expressed punk rock's energy and aggression, while expanding its musical range with a wider variety of tempos and often more complex instrumentation. London's Wire took minimalism and brevity to an extreme. London's Tubeway Army, Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers, and Dunfermline, Scotland's The Skids infused punk rock with elements of synth and noise music. Liverpool's first punk group, the theatrical Big in Japan, didn't last long, but it spun off several well-known post-punk acts.
Alongside thirteen original songs that would define classic punk rock, The Clash's debut had included a cover of the recent Jamaican reggae hit "Police and Thieves". Other first wave bands such as The Slits and new entrants to the scene like The Ruts and The Police interacted with the reggae and ska subcultures, incorporating their rhythms and production styles. The punk rock phenomenon helped spark a full-fledged ska revival movement known as 2 Tone, centered around bands such as The Specials, The Beat, Madness, and The Selecter.
June 1977 saw the release of two more charting punk records: The Vibrators' Pure Mania and the Sex Pistols' third single, "Pretty Vacant", which reached number six. In July, The Saints had a top-forty hit with "This Perfect Day". Recently arrived from Australia, the band was now considered insufficiently "cool" to qualify as punk by much of the British media, though they had been playing a similar brand of music for years. In August, The Adverts entered the top twenty with "Gary Gilmore's Eyes". The following month, the Pistols hit number eight with "Holidays in the Sun", while Generation X and The Clash reached the top forty with, respectively, "Your Generation" and "Complete Control". In October, the Sex Pistols released their first and only "official" album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Inspiring yet another round of controversy, it topped the British charts. In December, one of the first books about punk rock was published: The Boy Looked at Johnny, by Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons. Declaring the punk rock movement to be already over, it was subtitled The Obituary of Rock and Roll. In January 1978, the Sex Pistols broke up while on American tour.
Rest of the world
Meanwhile, punk rock scenes were emerging around the globe. In France, les punks, a Parisian subculture of Lou Reed fans, had already been around for years. Following the lead set by Stinky Toys, Métal Urbain played its first concert in December 1976. The new punk band's brief set included a cover of the Stooges' "No Fun", also a staple of the Sex Pistols' live show. Métal Urbain's debut single, "Panik", released in May 1977, was perhaps the first non-English-language punk rock record; with its "near motorik beat ... gruff guitar riffs, shouted lyrics, and the occasionally swooping synth line", it is also one of the earliest examples anywhere of a style that would become identified with post-punk. The single "Killerman", by Gasoline, and Stinky Toys' "Boozy Creed" also came out in 1977. Other French punk acts such as Oberkampf and Starshooter soon formed.
In West Germany, bands primarily inspired by British punk came together in the Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW) movement. Ätzttussis, the Nina Hagen Band, and S.Y.P.H. featured "raucous vocals and militant posturing", according to writer Rob Burns. Before turning in a mainstream direction in the 1980s, NDW attracted a politically conscious and diverse audience, including both participants of the left-wing alternative scene and neo-Nazi skinheads. These opposing factions were mutually attracted by a view of punk rock as "'against the system' politically as well as musically". Briard jump-started Finnish punk with its 1977 single "I Really Hate Ya"/"I Want Ya Back"; other early Finnish punk acts included Eppu Normaali and singer Pelle Miljoona. In Yugoslavia, punk rock acts emerged in Croatia (Paraf), Slovenia (Pankrti), and Serbia (Pekinška patka). In Japan, a punk movement developed around bands playing in an art/noise style such as Friction, and "psych punk" acts like Gaseneta and Kadotani Michio. In New Zealand, Auckland's Scavengers and Suburban Reptiles were followed by The Enemy of Dunedin. Punk rock scenes also grew in other countries such as Belgium (The Kids, Chainsaw), the Netherlands (The Suzannes, The Ex), Sweden (Ebba Grön, KSMB), and Switzerland (Nasal Boys, Kleenex).
By late 1978, the hardcore punk movement was emerging in southern California. A rivalry developed between adherents of the new sound and the older punk rock crowd. Hardcore, appealing to a younger, more suburban audience, was perceived by some as anti-intellectual, overly violent, and musically limited. In Los Angeles, the opposing factions were often described as "Hollywood punks" and "beach punks", referring to Hollywood's central position in the original L.A. punk rock scene and to hardcore's popularity in the shoreline communities of South Bay and Orange County.
As hardcore became the dominant punk rock style, many bands of the older California punk rock movement split up, although X went on to mainstream success and The Go-Go's, part of the Hollywood punk scene when they formed in 1978, adopted a pop sound and became major stars. Across North America, many other first and second wave punk bands also dissolved, while younger musicians inspired by the movement explored new variations on punk. Some early punk bands transformed into hardcore acts. A few, most notably the Ramones, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, continued to pursue the style they had helped create. Crossing the lines between "classic" punk, post-punk, and hardcore, San Francisco's Flipper was founded in 1979 by former members of Negative Trend and The Sleepers. They became "the reigning kings of American underground rock, for a few years".
Radio Birdman broke up in June 1978 while touring the UK, where the early unity between bohemian, middle-class punks (many with art school backgrounds) and working-class punks had disintegrated. In contrast to North America, more of the bands from the original British punk movement remained active, sustaining extended careers even as their styles evolved and diverged. Meanwhile, the Oi! and anarcho-punk movements were emerging. Musically in the same aggressive vein as American hardcore, they addressed different constituencies with overlapping but distinct anti-establishment messages. As described by Dave Laing, "The model for self-proclaimed punk after 1978 derived from the Ramones via the eight-to-the-bar rhythms most characteristic of The Vibrators and Clash ... It became essential to sound one particular way to be recognized as a 'punk band' now." In February 1979, former Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose in New York. If the Pistols' breakup the previous year had marked the end of the original UK punk scene and its promise of cultural transformation, for many the death of Vicious signified that it had been doomed from the start.
By the turn of the decade, the punk rock movement had split deeply along cultural and musical lines, leaving a variety of derivative scenes and forms. On one side were New Wave and post-punk artists; some adopted more accessible musical styles and gained broad popularity, while some turned in more experimental, less commercial directions. On the other side, hardcore punk, Oi!, and anarcho-punk bands became closely linked with underground cultures and spun off an array of subgenres. Somewhere in between, pop punk groups created blends like that of the ideal record, as defined by Mekons cofounder Kevin Lycett: "a cross between Abba and the Sex Pistols". A range of other styles emerged, many of them fusions with long-established genres. Exemplifying the breadth of classic punk's legacy was The Clash album London Calling, released in December 1979. Combining punk rock with reggae, ska, R&B, and rockabilly, it went on to be acclaimed as one of the best rock records ever. At the same time, as observed by Flipper singer Bruce Loose, the relatively restrictive hardcore scenes diminished the variety of music that could once be heard at many punk gigs. If early punk, like most rock scenes, was ultimately male-oriented, the hardcore and Oi! scenes were significantly more so, marked in part by the slam dancing and moshing with which they became identified.
- For more details on this topic, see New Wave (music).
In 1976—first in London, then in the United States—"New Wave" was introduced as a complementary label for the formative scenes and groups also known as "punk"; the two terms were essentially interchangeable. Over time, "New Wave" acquired a distinct meaning: Bands such as Blondie and Talking Heads from the CBGB scene; The Cars, who emerged from the Rat in Boston; The Go-Go's in Los Angeles; and The Police in London that were broadening their instrumental palette, incorporating dance-oriented rhythms, and working with more polished production were specifically designated "New Wave" and no longer called "punk". Dave Laing suggests that some punk-identified British acts pursued the New Wave label in order to avoid radio censorship and make themselves more palatable to concert bookers.
Bringing elements of punk rock music and fashion into more pop-oriented, less "dangerous" styles, New Wave artists became very popular on both sides of the Atlantic. New Wave became a catch-all term, encompassing disparate styles such as 2 Tone ska, the mod revival based around The Jam, the sophisticated pop-rock of Elvis Costello and XTC, the New Romantic phenomenon typified by Ultravox, synthpop groups like Human League and Depeche Mode, and the sui generis subversions of Devo, who had gone "beyond punk before punk even properly existed". New Wave became a pop culture sensation with the debut of the cable television network MTV in 1981, which put many New Wave videos into regular rotation. However, the music was often derided at the time as being silly and disposable.
- For more details on this topic, see Post-punk.
During 1976–77, in the midst of the original UK punk movement, bands emerged such as Manchester's Joy Division, The Fall, and Magazine, Leeds' Gang of Four, and London's The Raincoats that became central post-punk figures. Some bands classified as post-punk, such as Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, had been active well before the punk scene coalesced; others, such as The Slits and Siouxsie & The Banshees, transitioned from punk rock into post-punk. A few months after the Sex Pistols' breakup, John Lydon (no longer "Rotten") cofounded Public Image Ltd. Lora Logic, formerly of X-Ray Spex, founded Essential Logic. Killing Joke formed in 1979. These bands were often musically experimental, like certain New Wave acts; defining them as "post-punk" was a sound that tended to be less pop and more dark and abrasive—sometimes verging on the atonal, as with Subway Sect and Wire—and an anti-establishment posture directly related to punk's. Post-punk reflected a range of art rock influences from Captain Beefheart to David Bowie and Roxy Music to Krautrock and, once again, the Velvet Underground.
Post-punk brought together a new fraternity of musicians, journalists, managers, and entrepreneurs; the latter, notably Geoff Travis of Rough Trade and Tony Wilson of Factory, helped to develop the production and distribution infrastructure of the indie music scene that blossomed in the mid-1980s. Smoothing the edges of their style in the direction of New Wave, several post-punk bands such as New Order (descended from Joy Division), The Cure, and U2 crossed over to a mainstream U.S. audience. Bauhaus was one of the formative gothic rock bands. Others, like Gang of Four, The Raincoats and Throbbing Gristle, who had little more than cult followings at the time, are seen in retrospect as significant influences on modern popular culture.
A number of U.S. artists were retrospectively defined as post-punk; Television's debut album Marquee Moon, released in 1977, is frequently cited as a seminal album in the field. The No Wave movement that developed in New York in the late 1970s, with artists like Lydia Lunch, is often treated as the phenomenon's U.S. parallel. The later work of Ohio protopunk pioneers Pere Ubu is also commonly described as post-punk. One of the most influential American post-punk bands was Boston's Mission of Burma, who brought abrupt rhythmic shifts derived from hardcore into a highly experimental musical context. In 1980, Australia's Boys Next Door moved to London and changed their name to The Birthday Party, which evolved into Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. King Snake Roost and other Australian bands would further explore the possibilities of post-punk. Later art punk and alternative rock musicians found diverse inspiration among these predecessors, New Wave and post-punk alike.
A distinctive style of punk, characterized by superfast, aggressive beats, screaming vocals, and often politically aware lyrics, began to emerge in 1978 among bands scattered around the United States. The first major scene of what came to be known as hardcore punk developed in southern California in 1978–79; the movement soon spread around North America and internationally. According to author Steven Blush, "Hardcore comes from the bleak suburbs of America. Parents moved their kids out of the cities to these horrible suburbs to save them from the 'reality' of the cities and what they ended up with was this new breed of monster".
Among the earliest hardcore bands, regarded as having made the first recordings in the style, were southern California's Black Flag and Middle Class. Bad Brains—all of whom were black, a rarity in punk of any era—launched the D.C. scene. Austin, Texas's Big Boys, San Francisco's Dead Kennedys, and Vancouver's D.O.A. were among the other initial hardcore groups. They were soon joined by bands such as the Minutemen, The Descendents, Circle Jerks, The Adolescents, and TSOL in southern California; D.C.'s Teen Idles, Minor Threat, and State of Alert; and Austin's MDC and The Dicks. By 1981, hardcore was the dominant punk rock style not only in California, but much of the rest of North America as well. A New York hardcore scene grew, including the relocated Bad Brains, New Jersey's Misfits and Adrenalin O.D., and local acts such as the Nihilistics, The Mob, Reagan Youth, and Agnostic Front. Beastie Boys, who would become famous as a hip-hop group, debuted that year as a hardcore band. They were followed by The Cro-Mags, Murphy's Law, and Leeway. By 1983, Minneapolis's Hüsker Dü and Chicago's Naked Raygun were taking the hardcore sound in experimental and ultimately more melodic directions. Hardcore would constitute the American punk rock standard throughout the decade.
The lyrical content of hardcore songs, typified by Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia", is often critical of commercial culture and middle-class values. Straight edge bands like Minor Threat, Boston's SS Decontrol, and Reno, Nevada's 7 Seconds rejected the self-destructive lifestyles of many of their peers, and built a movement based on positivity and abstinence from cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. In the early 1980s, bands from the American southwest and California such as JFA, Agent Orange, and The Faction helped create a rhythmically distinctive style of hardcore known as skate punk. Skate punk innovators also pointed in other directions: Big Boys helped establish funkcore, while Venice, California's Suicidal Tendencies had a formative effect on the heavy metal–influenced crossover thrash style. Toward the end of the decade, crossover thrash spawned the metalcore fusion style and the superfast thrashcore subgenre developed in multiple locations.
Following the lead of first-wave British punk bands Cock Sparrer and Sham 69, in the late 1970s second-wave units like Cockney Rejects, Angelic Upstarts, The Exploited, and The 4-Skins sought to realign punk rock with a working class, street-level following. Their style was originally called real punk or streetpunk; Sounds journalist Garry Bushell is credited with labelling the genre Oi! in 1980. The name is partly derived from the Cockney Rejects' habit of shouting "Oi! Oi! Oi!" before each song, instead of the time-honored "1,2,3,4!" Oi! bands' lyrics sought to reflect the harsh realities of living in Margaret Thatcher's Britain in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A subgroup of Oi! bands dubbed "punk pathetique"—including Splodgenessabounds, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, and Toy Dolls—had a more humorous and absurdist bent.
The Oi! movement was fueled by a sense that many participants in the early punk rock scene were, in the words of The Business guitarist Steve Kent, "trendy university people using long words, trying to be artistic ... and losing touch". The Oi! credo held that the music needed to remain unpretentious and accessible. According to Bushell, "Punk was meant to be of the voice of the dole queue, and in reality most of them were not. But Oi was the reality of the punk mythology. In the places where [these bands] came from, it was harder and more aggressive and it produced just as much quality music."
Although most Oi! bands in the initial wave were apolitical or left wing, many of them began to attract a white power skinhead following. Racist skinheads sometimes disrupted Oi! concerts by shouting fascist slogans and starting fights, but some Oi! bands were reluctant to endorse criticism of their fans from what they perceived as the "middle-class establishment". In the popular imagination, the movement thus became linked to the far right. Strength Thru Oi!, an album compiled by Bushell and released in May 1981, stirred controversy, especially when it was revealed that the belligerent figure on the cover was a neo-Nazi jailed for racist violence (Bushell claimed ignorance). On July 3, a concert at Hamborough Tavern in Southall featuring The Business, The 4-Skins, and The Last Resort was firebombed by local Asian youths who believed that the event was a neo-Nazi gathering. Following the Southall riot, press coverage increasingly associated Oi! with the extreme right, and the movement soon began to lose momentum.
Anarcho-punk developed alongside the Oi! and American hardcore movements. With a primitive, stripped-down musical style and ranting, shouted vocals, British bands such as Crass, Subhumans, Flux of Pink Indians, Conflict, Poison Girls, and The Apostles attempted to transform the punk rock scene into a full-blown anarchist movement. As with straight edge, anarcho-punk is based around a set of principles, including prohibitions on wearing leather, and promoting a vegetarian or vegan diet.
The movement spun off several subgenres of a similar political bent. Discharge, founded back in 1977, established D-beat in the early 1980s. Other groups in the movement, led by Amebix and Antisect, developed the extreme style known as crust punk. Several of these bands rooted in anarcho-punk such as The Varukers, Discharge, and Amebix, along with former Oi! groups such as The Exploited and bands from father afield like Birmingham's Charged GBH, became the leading figures in the UK 82 hardcore movement. The anarcho-punk scene also spawned bands such as Napalm Death, Carcass, and Extreme Noise Terror that in the mid-1980s defined grindcore, incorporating extremely fast tempos and death metal–style guitarwork. Led by Dead Kennedys, a U.S. anarcho-punk scene developed around such bands as Austin's MDC and southern California's Another Destructive System.
With their love of the Beach Boys and late 1960s bubblegum pop, the Ramones paved the way to what became known as pop punk. In the late 1970s, UK bands such as Buzzcocks and The Undertones combined pop-style tunes and lyrical themes with punk's speed and chaotic edge. In the early 1980s, some of the leading bands in southern California's hardcore punk rock scene emphasized a more melodic approach than was typical of their peers. According to music journalist Ben Myers, Bad Religion "layered their pissed off, politicized sound with the smoothest of harmonies"; Descendents "wrote almost surfy, Beach Boys–inspired songs about girls and food and being young(ish)". Epitaph Records, founded by Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, was the base for many future pop punk bands, including NOFX, with their third wave ska–influenced skate punk rhythms. Bands that fused punk with light-hearted pop melodies, such as The Queers and Screeching Weasel, began appearing around the country, in turn influencing bands like Green Day and The Offspring, who brought pop punk wide popularity and major record sales. Bands such as The Vandals and Guttermouth developed a style blending pop melodies with humorous and offensive lyrics. The mainstream pop punk of latter-day bands such as Blink-182 is criticized by many punk rock devotees; in critic Christine Di Bella's words, "It's punk taken to its most accessible point, a point where it barely reflects its lineage at all, except in the three-chord song structures."
Other fusions and directions
From 1977 forward, punk rock crossed lines with many other popular music genres. Los Angeles punk rock bands laid the groundwork for a wide variety of styles: The Flesh Eaters with deathrock; The Plugz with Chicano punk; and Gun Club with punk blues. The Meteors, from South London, and The Cramps, who moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1980, were innovators in the psychobilly fusion style. Milwaukee's Violent Femmes jumpstarted the American folk punk scene, while The Pogues did the same on the other side of the Atlantic, influencing many Celtic punk bands. The Mekons, from Leeds, combined their punk rock ethos with country music, greatly influencing the later alt-country movement. In the United States, varieties of cowpunk played by bands such as Nashville's Jason & the Scorchers and Arizona's Meat Puppets had a similar effect.
Other bands pointed punk rock toward future rock styles or its own foundations. New York's Suicide, who had played with the New York Dolls at the Mercer Arts Center, L.A.'s The Screamers and Nervous Gender, and Germany's DAF were pioneers of synthpunk. Chicago's Big Black was a major influence on noise rock, math rock, and industrial rock. Garage punk bands from all over—such as Medway's Thee Mighty Caesars, Chicago's Dwarves, and Adelaide's Exploding White Mice—pursued a version of punk rock that was close to its roots in 1960s garage rock. Seattle's Mudhoney, one of the central bands in the development of grunge, has been described as "garage punk".
Legacy and later developments
The underground punk rock movement inspired countless bands that either evolved from a punk rock sound or brought its outsider spirit to very different kinds of music. The original punk explosion also had a long-term effect on the music industry, spurring the growth of the independent sector. During the early 1980s, British bands like New Order and The Cure that straddled the lines of post-punk and New Wave developed both new musical styles and a distinctive industrial niche. Though commercially successful over an extended period, they maintained an underground-style, subcultural identity. In the United States, bands such as Minneapolis's Hüsker Dü and their protégés The Replacements bridged the gap between punk rock genres like hardcore and the more expansive sound of what was called "college rock" at the time.
A 1985 Rolling Stone feature on the Minneapolis scene and innovative California hardcore acts such as Black Flag and Minutemen declared, "Primal punk is passé. The best of the American punk rockers have moved on. They have learned how to play their instruments. They have discovered melody, guitar solos and lyrics that are more than shouted political slogans. Some of them have even discovered the Grateful Dead." By the end of the 1980s, these bands, who had largely eclipsed their punk rock forebears in popularity, were classified broadly as alternative rock. Alternative rock encompasses a diverse set of styles—including gothic rock and grunge, among others—unified by their debt to punk rock and their origins outside of the musical mainstream.
As American alternative bands like Sonic Youth, who had grown out of the No Wave scene, and Boston's Pixies started to gain larger audiences, major labels sought to capitalize on the underground market that had been sustained by hardcore punk for years. In 1991, Nirvana emerged from Washington State's grunge scene, achieving huge commercial success with its second album, Nevermind. The band's members cited punk rock as a key influence on their style. "Punk is musical freedom", wrote singer Kurt Cobain. "It’s saying, doing, and playing what you want." The widespread popularity of Nirvana and other punk-influenced bands such as Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers fueled the alternative rock boom of the early and mid-1990s.
- For more details on this topic, see Emo.
In its original, mid-1980s incarnation, emo was a less musically restrictive style of punk developed by participants in the Washington, D.C. area hardcore scene. It was originally referred to as "emocore", an abbreviation of "emotive hardcore". Notable early emo bands included Rites of Spring, Embrace, The Hated, and One Last Wish. The term derived from the tendency of some of these bands' members to become strongly emotional during performances. Fugazi, formed out of the dissolution of Embrace, inspired a second, much broader based wave of emo bands beginning in the mid-1990s. Groups like San Diego's Antioch Arrow generated new, more intense subgenres like screamo, while others developed a more melodic style closer to indie rock. Bands such as Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate and Mesa, Arizona's Jimmy Eat World broke out of the underground, attracting national attention. By the turn of the century, emo had arguably surpassed hardcore, its parent genre, as the roots-level standard for U.S. punk, though some music fans claim that typical latter-day emo bands like Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy don't even qualify as punk at all.
Queercore and riot grrrl
In the 1990s, the queercore movement developed around a number of punk bands with gay, lesbian, or bisexual members such as Fifth Column, God Is My Co-Pilot, Pansy Division, Team Dresch, and Sister George. Inspired by openly gay punk musicians of an earlier generation, queercore embraces a variety of punk and other alternative music styles. Queercore lyrics often treat the themes of prejudice, sexual identity, gender identity, and individual rights. The movement has continued to expand in the twenty-first century, supported by festivals such as Queeruption.
In 1991, a concert of female-led bands at the International Pop Underground Convention in Olympia, Washington, heralded the emerging riot grrrl phenomenon. Billed as "Love Rock Revolution Girl Style Now", the concert's lineup included Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, L7, and Mecca Normal. Singer-guitarists Corin Tucker of Heavens to Betsy and Carrie Brownstein of Excuse 17, bands active in both the queercore and riot grrrl scenes, cofounded the celebrated indie/punk band Sleater-Kinney in 1994. Bikini Kill's lead singer, Kathleen Hanna, the iconic figure of riot grrrl, moved on to form the art punk group Le Tigre in 1998.
Along with Nirvana, many of the leading alternative rock artists of the early 1990s acknowledged the influence of earlier punk rock acts. With Nirvana's success, the major record companies once again saw punk bands as potentially profitable. In 1993, California's Green Day and Bad Religion were both signed to major labels. The next year, Green Day released Dookie, which became a huge hit, selling eight million albums in just over two years. Bad Religion's Stranger Than Fiction was certified gold. Other California punk bands on indie label Epitaph, run by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, also began garnering mainstream success. In 1994, Epitaph put out Let's Go by Rancid, Punk In Drublic by NOFX, and Smash by The Offspring, each eventually certified gold or better. Smash went on to sell over eleven million copies, becoming the best-selling independent-label album of all time. MTV and radio stations such as Los Angeles' KROQ-FM played a major role in these bands' crossover success, though NOFX refused to let MTV air its videos. Green Day and Dookie's enormous sales paved the way for a host of bankable North American pop punk bands in the following decade. The Vans Warped Tour and the mall chain store Hot Topic brought punk even further into the U.S. mainstream.
Following the lead of Boston's Mighty Mighty Bosstones and two California bands, Berkeley's Operation Ivy and Long Beach's Sublime, ska punk and ska-core became widely popular in the mid-1990s. The original 2 Tone bands had emerged amid punk rock's second wave, but their music was much closer to its Jamaican roots—"ska at 78 rpm". Ska punk bands in the third wave of ska created a true musical fusion with punk and hardcore. ...And Out Come the Wolves, the 1995 album by Rancid—which had evolved out of Operation Ivy—became the first record in this ska revival to be certified gold; Sublime's self-titled 1996 album was certified platinum early in 1997.
By 1998, the punk revival had commercially stalled, but not for long. Pop punk band Blink-182's 1999 release, Enema of the State, reached the Billboard top ten and sold four million copies in less than a year. New pop punk bands such as Sum 41, Simple Plan, Yellowcard, and Good Charlotte achieved major sales in the first decade of the 2000s. In 2004, Green Day's American Idiot went to number one on both the U.S. and UK charts. Jimmy Eat World, which had taken emo in a radio-ready pop punk direction, had top-ten albums in 2004 and 2007; in a similar style, Fall Out Boy hit number one with 2007's Infinity on High. The revival was broad-based: AFI, with roots in hardcore and skate punk, had great success with 2003's Sing the Sorrow and topped the U.S. chart with Decemberunderground in 2006. Alkaline Trio had three successive top-thirty albums, peaking at number 13 with 2008's Agony & Irony. Ska punk groups such as Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake continued to attract new fans. Celtic punk, with U.S. bands such as Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys merging the sound of Oi! and The Pogues, reached wide audiences. The Australian punk rock tradition was carried on by groups such as Frenzal Rhomb, The Living End, and Bodyjar.
With punk rock's renewed visibility came concerns among some in the punk community that the music was being co-opted by the mainstream. They argued that by signing to major labels and appearing on MTV, punk bands like Green Day were buying into a system that punk was created to challenge. Such controversies have been part of the punk culture since 1977, when The Clash was widely accused of "selling out" for signing with CBS Records. The effect of commercialization on the music itself was an even more contentious issue. As observed by scholar Ross Haenfler, many punk fans "'despise corporate punk rock', typified by bands such as Sum 41 and Blink 182". By the 1990s, punk rock was so sufficiently ingrained in Western culture that punk trappings were often used to market highly commercial bands as "rebels". Marketers capitalized on the style and hipness of punk rock to such an extent that a 1993 ad campaign for an automobile, the Subaru Impreza, claimed that the car was "like punk rock". Although the commercial mainstream has exploited many elements of punk, the DIY ethic is maintained by bands such as Alabama's Korova, which operates the Victimized Records label. Numerous underground punk scenes still exist around the world.
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