By Zachary Gerkin, Correspondent
Image Credit: Institute of Contemporary Arts and Wales Online for Horizons
We must first attempt to define punk in the context of this editorial. Is punk a musical genre? Is punk an attitude? Is punk a culture? Most agree that punk “started out as a music-based subculture” that spread throughout the suburbs of the United Kingdom in the mid 1970s. (Meissner).
Any further attempt to define the term is in vain as the punk movement centers around nonconformity and a lack of rules or guidelines. Punk is difficult to define, because it was never intended to be defined, it does not want to be defined.
‘Punk’ started with bands made up of youth who played for youth. Evolved from the musical counterculture of the 1960s, inexperienced musicians picked up cheap instruments and attempted to convey a message to an audience – through music. Often this message was anti-authority in nature and protested the world the activists lived in. While musical ability, by traditional 18th-century music theory standards, was frequently mediocre at best, the punk sound conveyed raw emotion and often anger.
Punk moved underground when, in 1976, the Sex Pistols, arguably the first punk group to receive widespread attention was given a last-minute slot on the Today show, a regional British television program. The group displayed themselves on television, with no filter as they would at a show, and the public was simply appalled at the band’s behavior. This pushed the movement of anti-conformity and protest through music against the mainstream grain and underground.
Punk grew and an increasing number of youths became fascinated by the ability to convey their complex emotions and anger with the world through music. “Pick up a guitar, learn three chords, and play out your anger” – that’s how the genre was branded, and why the movement is home to so many amateur musicians. As the world and the punk movement grows, the punk culture continues to exist simultaneously in countless stages of progress. Basement shows still exist, local scenes still exist, distribution of music via tapes and CDs has migrated to SoundCloud and YouTube, but that’s to be expected, isn’t it? And yes, a small sliver of punk has gone mainstream.
No rule existed in punk that stated it couldn’t go mainstream, it just hadn’t. The fact that some examples and facets of punk music went mainstream should be celebrated, as this signifies receptiveness of protest music and the message being conveyed.
I suspect the gripe many have with this ‘going mainstream’ phenomenon is the large number of people who were now exposed to punk for the first time and chose to view punk as an aesthetic rather than a movement. But now we must look back to punks’ formation. Punk was open to all, when did that change?
While punk protested the institution and various issues in the world, punk was rarely the source for major societal change. Arguably, it was a coping method, an opportunity to rebel and state disdain with like-minded people. It was often accepted that the society we lived in could not be changed, and those involved in the punk scene were hypocritical, that was okay. Punk was open to all, and still should be. A small percentage of punk groups going mainstream did not kill the movement, or detract from the still underground sects, it amplified them.
Punk is still alive and well in whatever form you may like it. Punk is still made up of primarily inexperienced, amateur musicians and activists. Punk bands exist in basements and on stadium stages. Punk exists in countless mediums: music, fashion, art, etc. Punk has no rules, and no limitations on who can participate. Punk is open to all, and punk is not dead.
[Museum of Youth Culture] https://museumofyouthculture.com/punk/