Barrel to the Head: How the Punk Scene is Killing Itself

todayMarch 9, 2023 61 1 5 4

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By Ryder White
Music Journalist

Punk has been around for a while now. Depending on who you ask, you may hear that it has been around since the mid-1950s when suburban parents were afraid that their children would become devil worshippers when rock ‘n’ roll first started receiving radio air play. Some say it started in the late 1960s when the likes of the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges start releasing gritty rock records with electrifying live shows. However, most agree that the genre really took shape during the middle of the 1970s when bands like the Ramones in New York City or Crime in San Francisco created a stripped-down sound to oppose the grandiose nature of popular rock music at the time that would be adopted by British bands like the Sex Pistols and would finally come to a head around 1977.

Punk rock quickly evolved into different offshoots. One offshoot that arose during the 1980s and that is still prevalent today is hardcore. When hardcore first appeared around the year 1980, it was faster, more athletic, and more aggressive than earlier punk rock. The sub-genre prided itself less on the artistic statement that was originally the focus, and more on being menacing. Since then, hardcore has become practically synonymous with the word “punk.” And it’s because of hardcore that the scene has been killing itself.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that the punk scene has always been a close-knit community. However, when it started, it was open to nearly anyone willing to associate with it. When hardcore became a fully realized genre, it started to close itself off. It made it an incredible hassle to join the scene if you differed even slightly on which bands you liked and how you dressed. Unfortunately, those ideals have carried over to modern times where it is all too common for the guy with the bright red, 7-inch mohawk and leather jacket to insult the teenager wearing a Green Day t-shirt. This is a major problem for bands in the scene, though, because it limits their reach and the amount of new, incoming fans. Why would the teenager want to support the people who just insulted them?

A similar problem has also been affecting bands. There are strict codes that they must follow or else they’ll lose their credibility. This makes it incredibly difficult for the bands as they navigate an already harsh music business world. They can’t even attempt to earn a livable wage for fear of being labeled a “sell-out.” Additionally, if the band favors a particular creative path that isn’t in line with the aggressive, rugged standard, they may be subject to ridicule which only hurts the diversity of the scene. This makes it hard to retain bands as they don’t want to be limited and fans as they don’t want to have to listen to a rehash of the same music that’s been played for just over 40 years.

Ultimately, the biggest problem that the scene is dying is that it is steeped in hypocrisy. Members of the community are supposed to support their bands, but not enough for them to be able to earn any real income. The scene is also supposed to stand for change of the system, but it doesn’t like change itself. Finally, the scene preaches about inclusion, but practices exclusion of outside ideas everyday. Maybe what’s killing the punk scene isn’t a barrel to the head, but a double-edged sword to the throat.

Written by: Hannah Walls

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  1. Bubba on March 15, 2023

    Punk rock peaked in popularity and commercial success about 45 years ago. The last two punk shows I went to, UK Subs and the Ruts DC, were in relatively large venues in London and were sold out shows, but the crowd was primarily made up of people in their 50s and 60s. The singer of the UK Subs is soon to be 79 years old.

    I think it’s cool that younger people, like you, are interested in punk, because I like the music. But it’s not a commercial art form. There’s no money in it anymore. It’s too old, everything’s been done. There are some good younger punk rock bands, I like the Chats and Amyl and the Sniffers, but they’re revivalists. They’re more or less equivalent to groups like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy who tried to resurrect swing in the 90s. They’re good entertaining fun, but they’re never going to be in the same league as the original bands like the Sex Pistols.

    Also, if older punks are complaining about your taste in bands, it’s not because they’re assholes. They’re just passionate about the music and have probably been into it for decades. Talking to serious punk rockers about Green Day is like talking about Kenny G in a jazz club. You’re not going to earn a lot of people’s respect that way. If you learn about their music, beyond what’s most accessible, you’ll gain their respect. But it doesn’t happen overnight. Becoming knowledgeable about anything takes time and commitment.

    PS: By the time hardcore emerged, punk had already splintered into various other subcultures and subgenres. Genres like hardcore, street punk, and oi were never inclusive. In fact, they’re often reactionary. I associate hardcore with overtly conservative macho subcultures like skinheads and straight edge. If you want music that isn’t all about anger and has more female representation you should get into post punk, goth, the new romantics, death rock, jangle pop, or new wave because that’s where most of the women, artsy people and gay men who were into punk in the 70s ended up.

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