Monday, November 30, 2009

Branching Out: Punk's Assorted Sub-Genres: 1

So punk music has been born and the genre is full of culture, meaning and fabulous fashion. Over the years, groups from all over have sectioned off and branched out -- taking the spirit of punk and diversifying.

Where to begin?


ORIGIN: England, 1970s

Punk music that promotes anarchy, the abandonment of rules/government. Anarcho punks are anti- something (or everything), whether it be government, war, religion, or various cultural beliefs. Many participate in direct action and protest, such as refusal to work, squatting, dumpster diving, social disobedience, hacktivism, and sometimes violent practices of vandalism, property damage, rioting and overall fucking shit up.

Fast, message-centric songs, structure-be-damned. Essential anthem is the Sex Pistol's "Anarchy in the UK," which basically summed up the early sound. (Ironically, the Sex Pistols were
formed in some what of a present-day boy band style, i.e. selected based on their looks for the purpose of selling sex toys and bondage gear. Not very anarchist).

More contemporary anarcho punk bands are the Dead Kennedys, Fear, Crass, D.O.A. and Flux of Pink Indians, among others. Later anarcho punks made their music harder and angrier than earlier acts, as they discovered more things to piss them off.

The anarcho punk look was extreme: they made bold fashion choices that corresponded to their extreme political beliefs. Mohawks, facial piercings and leather jackets (with spikes, studs, etc.) were
staples of look. Crazy colored hair, dramatic make up on females and a hard, mean mug on one's face were often used to accessorize their looks. Doc Martins or Grinders steel-toe boots were preferred footwear, because an anarcho punk must dress as though there were about to dismantle the world at any moment.

DIY was crucial in achieving the look, as many punks worked hard to create their original adornments. Clothes were deliberately deconstructed as a "fuck you" to the proper way of dressing. The look of an anarcho punk was meant to represent anarchy -- no rules!

The breakout stars of the scene are probably the least politically fueled and counter-intuitive of the genre, but they remain the Sex Pistols, because without them, anarchy might not have become the trend in punk music as it stands today.

Also, the film
SLC Punk! is a vibrant, funny and heartbreaking look into the lives of American anarcho punks that boasts a kick ASS soundtrack and tons of food for thought. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Below is a fantastic scene from the film where the punk protagonist, Stevo, rants about anarchy in the UK, POSERZ and the origins of punk music.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

NYC: The Trunk of Punk


Trash culture + underground rock + New York City x n(significant artists) + 1 epic club = the birth of American punk rock.

Let's start with the basics. First, there's CBGB, the famous club that housed anyone who's anyone in music, and was the home base for NYC punk rockers. Located in the artistic haven of Greenwich Village, this outfit drew all the weirdos, crazies and performers.

In walks Richard Hell, bassist of CBGB's favorite band, Television, and later of Richard Hell and the Voidoids. He is credited as the inventor of the look of punk rock: his hair is cut short and spiky, his shirts are torn and
written upon. He uses safety pins to attach his homemade garments. He is also quite easy on the eyes (I think so, anyway). His band, the Voidoids, is also responsible for the quintessential punk rock anthem, "Blank Generation," seen below.

Hell and his comrades, including the eminent Patti Smith, Rhode Island's Talking Heads, Blondie and about 30 other acts performed in CBGB and drew the scene together. Lou Reed and Iggy Pop rounded out what had become the early punk scene.

And then there's the band everyone remembers, The Ramones. They
took all of the angst, the politics, the meaning and condensed it
into fast, sucker punch songs. While Hell and others poeticized,
the Ramones said point-blank and dimly "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend"
and "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement." They are known as the
first punk band, depending on who you ask.

Their album cover is a punk fashion standard, of which a component is... standardization. As a band, the Ramones decided on assuming the same pseudonym, just for the fun of it. They adopted a shared look -- long, black, shaggy hair that fell in front of their faces (some say this worked well because they were ugly), ripped, straight legged jeans, beat-up Converse sneakers, t-shirts and leather jackets, and of course, the bad ass sunglasses.

Their songs were fast and loud, usually starting with a "1 2 3 4 !" shout before they unleashed their music upon their New York audiences. Legs McNeil, who co-founded Punk magazine (which came out of the Greenwich Village scene around the same time) described the impact of the Ramones' first performance at CBGB: "They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song...and it was just this wall of noise.... They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new."

Their iconic style and music is still significant today, if you
notice how many Ramones t-shirts and Chuck Taylor's
are still crisp and clean on the bodies of middle schoolers
everywhere. Check out one of their later performances at CBGB
of "Blitzkrieg Bop."

Proto-Punk: The Dirty Roots

1. The first wave : Protopunk

The early traces of the sound and look of punk rock came into play on the border of the 1960s and 1970s. The sound was bled from bits of early garage rock and experimental noise: The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, respectively, are notable influences/pioneers of punk rock. What set their sound apart from their guitar strumming contemporaries was an utter disregard for the rules of music -- many songs were disgruntled in their messages and in their delivery. Traditional melodies were
tossed in favor of noise. Instruments became weapons of sound-wave mutilation. Lyrics trashed politics and glorified getting fucked up.

The Velvets were an extension of the '60s psychedelia that came to bridge the gap into the madness of the punk explosion in the '70s. Style-wise, they were the epitome of New York Cool. Mods, as you could call them, The Velvet Underground's look was ultra-
hip and black, black, black (the official color of rock and roll). Not only was their crew decked in leather, dark shades and bed head, they had the most avant-garde artist of the times, Andy Warhol, managing their act. Lou Reed led the the band musically as they pushed artistic boundaries, especially their live performances which became explosive and unpredictable. Reed's monotone, sardonic singing voice left listeners chilled, and intrigued.

To quote,
"While the American west coast was undergoing the Summer of Love, andflower power, the typically east coast Velvets concerned themselves with darker subject matter: transvestites, heroin addiction, and sadomasochism. Also setting them apart from their contemporaries was their use of feedback and amplifier noise in a musical context, exemplified by the seventeen minute track “Sister Ray” from theirWhite Light/White Heat album." And so the tree grows from dirty roots.

Coming straight outta the nitty gritty Michigan exhaust pipe was Iggy Pop and the Stooges, a late '60s hard rock outfit that was the yin to the Velvet Underground's yang.

What I mean is, while Reed and Warhol were fucking
around with weird new sounds in New York, Iggy and his crew were thrashing around onstage screaming about being your dog, sent to search and destroy. The band is somehow known for playing to hostile audiences, prompting Iggy to perform outrageous acts of contortion and engaging violent banter and self-mutilation (above).

The Stooges are also known as pioneers of incorporating the vacuum cleaner, a household item, into their performances as an instrument. Iggy was known to smear hamburger meat upon his naked flesh and flash his genitals onstage. He also might have invented stage diving.

Their look evoked memories of glam rock, with the tight silver pants and impishly painted faces. However, their look lacked the fun
flamboyancy of the gender benders and instead packed a visceral punch to the gut -- as human blood and cow meat would.

With the Stooges, the clothes on their bodies meant little compared to the statements they made in their live performances and on their records. Iggy's sinewy, bare chest became their trademark.

The sound that inspired punk and still holds its own, here's the Velvet Underground with "Venus in Furs," a moody, groovy jam.

In this video of Iggy and The Stooges performing
"Sweet Sixteen," I see
Iggy as Mick Jagger if Mick
had been dropped on his head. This
performance is
definitely representative of the womb that birthed
modern punk rock.

P.S. Check out "Here Comes the Sun" by the Velvet Underground
and "The Passenger" by Iggy
Pop and the Stooges for additional

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Tree of Punk and Its Many (Rotten) Branches: An Introduction

Punk rock.
What these two words mean has been a debate in many circles-- from creaky 50 year olds in New York City to the skinny jeans-wearing 11 year old boys in basements of suburbia. Punk rock has mystified me, personally. It has inspired me, motivated me, and it has pissed me the fuck off. I've gotten into many arguments about punk rock, I've made some friends and enemies over punk rock, and have been made to feel pretty stupid at record stores -- because of punk rock.

"Punk" is a loaded word. In terms of rock music, it connotes aggression,
rough-ass-ness, and a disregard for composition and rules. It's tough and it's mean. I think it's safe to say that in its origins, punk rock was a way of saying "fuck you" to the then-contemporary rock scene. Punk = pissed off.

But punk was and is WAY more than music. Music is just a cog turning in the machine that is the punk movement, or the punk scene, or the punk manifesto. Fashion plays an epically huge role in these
aspects. I mean, sure, you can listen to Minor Threat or the Misfits or NOFX or the Ramones and feel like a bad-ass and hate your parents and want to light the world on fire, but how will people KNOW how you feel? How will the classmates/relatives/authoritative figures in your life realize that you are pissed off and a unique creature of rebellion (or rather, part of the movement? See? Got you there.)? Well, fuckface,

Simply, punk rock began with this:

This is a hefty genre to tackle, and despite punk's flair for defiance, punk fashion and music can be sub-catagorized. The posts that will precede this one will merely summarize what could likely fill dumpsters with knowledge, fact and opinion. So, forgive me for my brevity, but I shall attempt to analyze and report on one of the most expansive, stimulating and ever-evolving movements in rock and roll music.