Punk rock is arguably one of the most raw and impactful genres of music that exists. The birth of the Punk sound comes from a stripped down version of traditional rock, that is characterized by heavy, exposed chords and an underlying expression of angst and youthful frustration. The greatest thing about Punk is that it has almost no emphasis on virtuosity which showed its listeners that forms of mastery were not necessary if you wanted to make music. Punk rock is virtually the essence of music for the people, by the people. Punk rock made it possible to be a musician and engage in this revolutionary era even if you only knew the basics.
The angst, uncertainty and fear that was generated by horrendous world scale events were oxygenating the fire of the punk rock movement. To the youth growing up through the 80’s and coming of age through the 90’s, the world had seemed cold, dense and apathetic in attitude towards their generation. The parents of this generation were plagued by wars and cold wars, bringing forth their offspring directly into the instability of the aftermath; Vietnam war stories being swapped over dinner and the echo of news broadcasts covering live footage of Civil Rights riots coming from the living room. The “American Dream” mentality held by those who raised them became more and more obvious to be sham. And, parallel with what always seems to happen during pubescence, you start to question and begin to lose trust in the authority that allowed these certain things to happen.
It was during this strange moment in time, before the internet was the “world-wide-web” and AIDS was still uncured; before TVs were flat and media was corporatized and lost its soul - the Underground Punk Movement was born. The grit and seemingly unfiltered sounds quickly gained attention and following, grunge and emo culture followed the rise shortly thereafter. Punk rock became more of a lifestyle than a genre, gaining labels associated with nihilism, anti-establishment and sometimes full-blown anarchy. While the punk movement and punk-like subcultures ravaged through the UK during the 80’s, carried by artists such as Joy Division, The Clash, and Buzzcocks, it is often argued that Washington, DC was the site of hardcore punk’s first emergence in the U.S. - the heart of America.
The punk revolution evolved into genres like indie and alternative rock. Alternative bands such as the Pixies, Radiohead, Green Day, and Pearl Jam all have heavy influences that come from punk and other metal and garage sounds. Major labels saw this as an opportunity and began to capitalize on a market that had been growing underground for the past 10 years - hence Nirvana being one of the greatest commercial successes with their album Nevermind (1991).
Punk Rock was a part of the last exhale of authenticity in the media. By the late 1990s, punk had become marketed and labels took advantage of the immense influence it had on Western culture - using it to sell commercial bands as “rebels” for revenue. Many punk rockers protested against being signed to these major labels, feeling that it was a contradiction to the true purpose of the punk rock movement and that similar bands were buying into the system that punk was created to go against. With almost a single blow, corporate mass culture destroyed the principals that made punk rock what it truly was. In this current era, it seems to be inevitable that anti-capitalist movements will be capitalized and exploited eventually, the punk rock movement is simply another example of this exploitation.
Though, even in this ever-cycling rotation of trends, fads and everything in between - the only thing that can always remain authentic is the music that is created and the feelings that it can evoke from within. Genres will help mold and pioneer new genres, revolutions and radical movements will come and go, but the influence that music has on us will always stay - and that is where the true power lies.
“Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit and never dies”