How did punk rock get popular?
Like hip hop, punk is much more than just music. Punk is above all an attitude towards life, an attitude towards institutions and society, but punk is also fashion, even design. But above all, as Rod, the doctors' third bassist, once put it, punk is what happens in your head, not what you wear on your body.
Above all, punk expresses a rebellious attitude, is rarely constructive and certainly not in line with society. Even in its roots, punk is turning against hippyism, which was widespread in the USA at the end of the sixties.
The proto-punks oppose his utopian view of world improvement with a disaffected worldview. In terms of popular music, a development began in the late sixties and early seventies that led to increasingly pompous productions. Strongly conceptually received music dominates in the guitar area, a strong solo heaviness testifies to widespread pummeling.
The first punks counter this with conscious amateurism. Tommy Ramone, the Ramones drummer, once defined punk rock as follows: "Pure, stripped down, no bull-shit Rock'n'Roll." Do It Yourself (DIY) has become the creed of the punk movement over the years, and indeed many of the early punk musicians are self-taught. The story of the beginnings of the Toten Hosen, after which Campino and Co. chose the instruments among themselves, is legendary. It is not for nothing that punk rock is jokingly referred to as the three-chord sport.
Musically, there is a kind of protophase before punk. In the sixties, garage bands were active in the USA and they played a very minimalist rock sound. Many of these bands were influenced by the groups of the British Invasion, especially the Kinks, The Small Faces and The Who.
In 1969 the so-called protopunk phase began. The Detroit formation MC5 released "Kick Out The Jams", arguably the first popular song to contain the word motherfucker. In the same year another American band called The Stooges released their debut album. But The Velvet Underground and its protagonist Lou Reed are also said to have a strong influence on punk in later years.
In 1971 the New York Dolls appeared in the Big Apple. They play an updated version of early rock'n'roll and are considered the first representatives of the exotic sub-genre glam punk. Groups like Suicide, Television (whose "Marquee Moon" is considered a classic), Devo and Pere Ubu show a musical experimentation that one would not attribute to punk per se, but they are all considered pioneers of the genre.
Many bands of this time have an unusual aestheticization of the apparently ugly in common, in New York an entire art scene is forming around the protopunks. Around the globe there are already a few representatives of this new style of music, in Germany you can, so to speak, New! among them, Radio Birdman are founded in Australia.
In the first half of the seventies the use of the term punk increased. Ethymologically, the history of the word has not been properly clarified, it is only certain that it is a derogatory term. In their rejection of valid social conventions, the punks appropriate the term.
In 1975 the first issue of the self-made magazine "Punk" appears. The music fans Legs McNeil, John Holmstrom and Ged Dunn publish the booklet, which consists of copied collages and thus shape a very special publication genre, the fanzine. The DIY aesthetic of the ugly is also finding its way here and has countless imitators over the next few decades. "Punk" appeared in 17 editions until 1979, and in 2006 it was revived.
New York is, how could it be otherwise, the birthplace of punk itself. In 1974, one of the formations that is said to be one of the big three of punk, the Ramones, was founded here. They are soon performing at CBGBs, the Manhattan music club founded in 1973. Visitors to the venue can hardly believe the amateurism of the band, but they are just as fascinated as they are repulsed.
Other bands that perform in the CBGBs and can be assigned to early punk or protopunk in the broadest sense are Blondie, Television and the musician Patti Smith. Her 1975 album "Horses" is one of the early milestones in punk. Almost at the same time, the Ramones' first single, "Blitzkrieg Bop", was released. Punk is born.
An Englishman named Malcom McLaren was there almost at birth. He was to become one of the protagonists of British punk. In New York he had managed the Dolls for a short time, and in the future he will apply his knowledge to the second of the Big Three, the Sex Pistols.
First, however, he opened the SEX fashion store on London's King's Road, which he ran together with Vivian Westwood, one of the most important fashion designers of the twentieth century. Here they sell so-called anti-fashion, clothing that becomes an integral part of the punk scene. However, a clear distinction must be made here between fans and musicians. The followers soon dress, make up and pierce themselves according to the strict guidelines of the scene police in order to attract attention and shock.
As a distinguishing mark for a "real" punk there is colored, upright hair, sometimes a mohawk (a narrow, upright strip of hair on the top of the head, the rest shaved), pierced ears, nose and cheeks, possibly homemade with a safety pin, colorful, sometimes torn clothes, checked trousers or skirts, boots. Value is placed on individualism and being different. Over time, of course, an immense conformism grows out of it.
The first punk musicians themselves, on the other hand, are characterized by a loose to slightly ruffled clothing style, but do not place any value on stringent uniforms. Likewise, the activists do not initially refer to themselves as punks.
At the beginning of July 1976 the Ramones played a few gigs in London, many punks and musicians saw the New Yorkers and were inspired. The concert-goers also include members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, the third major band in the genre. July 1976 marks the start of the punk era in the old world.
While the Ramones played a very poppy punk, the Sex Pistols minimalize the sound and are considered the most typical of all the great punk bands. The Clash were characterized by a special joy in experimentation, they incorporated other styles of music, especially dub and reggae into their pieces.
The Pistols, founded in 1975, only released four singles and one studio album (the legendary "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols") in their short career until 1978, but with "Anarchy In The UK", "Pretty Vacant" and "God Save The Queen" produced three epoch-making punk hits. Later attempts by the band to revive them fail miserably.
The two band members John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious became known through their genre, the former because of his distinctive voice and his legendary big mouth, the latter because of his excessive lifestyle and suicide after he probably committed the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. And because of his interpretation of the Sinatra classic "My Way".
While the Ramones stay together until the members gradually die away (Joey dies 2001, Dee Dee 2002, Johnny 2004), The Clash also has only a limited career. In the ten years of the band's history up to 1986, they made six studio albums, but due to their willingness to experiment, they gradually moved away from the original punk rock over the years.
Singles like "London Calling", "Rock The Casbah" or "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" made them immortal. The pioneers were followed by many other bands in 1976 and 1977, the most important ones being The Damned, The Vibrators and The Buzzcocks.
The punk music scene, like other genres, suffers from a strong male dominance. Punkers from the very beginning are relatively few and far between: Siouxsie and her Banshees, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders, the Slits as an all-women band, Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex and Blondies Debbie Harry are the most important representatives.
A political-emancipatory element in punk rock only develops later. While the punk bands of the first hour still go on tour together and perform in traditional venues and universities, the bands of the second wave (which spills in 1977) are starting to organize themselves.
DIY is no longer limited to music alone. Concerts and venues are organized in-house, flyers, posters and fanzines are printed, the scene is more active than ever.
The first bands formed in California as early as 1976, including the Dickies. The scene in the capital Washington, D.C. for short, is also awakening. In the period that followed, the sound developed further. Harder, faster, deeper. More aggressiveness is the creed that creates a whole new sub-genre: Hardcore.
There are also three big representatives here: Black Flag with its charismatic singer Henry Rollins, the Afro-American Bad Brains and Minor Threat around Ian MacKaye. Meanwhile, another genre is developing in New York that is influenced by punk, among other things: No Wave.
In Great Britain, unlike in the USA, punk made its way into the charts. And another development is emerging: punk is becoming political. Even if The Clash address topics such as unemployment, police violence and discrimination on their debut album, Crass is probably the first really political band in the genre. Other bands like Sham 69 and Angelic Upstarts follow. Because of their populist lyrics, the music of these bands is classified in the sub-genre street punk.
More bands are now following the example of The Clash and drawing influences from reggae, but also from ska, into their music. 2Tone is born and punk is on the rise internationally. In Germany there are some bands that play a kind of protopunk, based on the Neue Deutsche Welle, such as Abwärts or the Fehlfarben.
While punk is establishing itself worldwide, it is already developing in the mother countries. The bands continue to develop musically and sometimes take more accessible directions. They usher in the post-punk phase, the New Wave genre was born.
Well-known post punk bands include The Fall, Joy Division, Gang Of Four and Public Image Limited by John Lydon, the former Sex Pistols singer. Hardcore is still popular in the US. Ian MacKaye and colleague Jeff Nelson found the Dischord label, Minor Threat became the musical spearhead of the straight edge movement. Straight edgers usually refrain from consuming alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs and are vegan. Stricter interpretations also require abstinence from caffeine and a certain degree of sexual abstinence.
In addition to the big three in hardcore, bands such as the Circle Jerks, the Germs, TSOL, Dead Kennedys, Hüsker Dü and Angry Samoans emerged. The Beastie Boys also started out as a hardcore formation. This orientation of punk is also characterized by the fact that it is political from the start. This intensified when Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States in 1981 and triggered a conservative backlash.
Over the years, hardcore diversified and spread across the planet too. No Means No, Neurosis and Slapshot are important eighties hardcore bands. While these formations (neurosis with some cutbacks) follow the rules of the hardcore game, bands like Snapcase are taking more innovative paths. In the nineties, Metalcore developed with the addition of Metal elements.
After the turn of the century, hardcore takes on a more melodic note with bands like Rise Against and Strike Anywhere. Incidentally, we owe the hardcore not only straight edge, but also the moshing and stage diving, or crowd surfing. Despite all the aggressive behavior, solidarity with one another is very important in the scene.
At the same time, hardcore as well as punk suffer from the narrow self-restraints of the scene, which for example cause straight-edgers intolerance towards non-straight-edgers, or sell-out commercially successful bands. Basically, however, openness and left-liberal to anarchist values dominate punk rock and hardcore.
Oi! Punk grew out of British street punk in 1980. Famous representatives are, for example, the Cockney Rejects, The Business and The 4-Skins. At the same time, Poppunk was created. The Ramones had shown how you can incorporate pop in punk, the Buzzcocks and the Undertones follow.
Bad Religion (1980) and NoFX (1983) are formed in the USA, and they too have a great deal of popism in their songwriting, even if you might not notice it when you first listen to it. The commercially most successful poppy punk band is supposed to be Green Day. In their wake, Blink 182 and Good Charlotte are also advancing into the upper chart regions. Punk arrives in the mainstream, which can also be seen in fashion from the nineties, for example. The highlight of the appropriation of punk insignia is probably Christian Ziege's black, red and gold mohawk at the 2002 World Cup.
From the second half of the eighties onwards there is also no stopping the music: Punk is dividing into more and more sub-genres. Psychobilly, punkabilly, horror punk, ska punk / ska core, fun punk, skate punk, punk'n'roll, beat punk, melodic punk are just a few examples.
In Germany, too, the scene has developed in different directions, bands like Slime or the terror group have a completely different approach than, for example, Die Ärzte or Die Toten Hosen. The Cashiers and The Golden Lemons are in a league of their own. There are scenes all over Europe, especially in Sweden, in which the renowned Burning Heart label is active. Millencolin is making a name for itself, Refused is a trend-setting Swedish hardcore band. Her album "The Shape Of Punk To Come" is considered to be one of the most innovative genre albums of the nineties.
Today bands like Bad Religion, NoFX, Rancid, The Offspring or Green Day hold the punk flag high in the public eye. Commercial and underground still exist side by side, the scene police still exist. In the years of the Bush administration, political punk / hardcore also experienced a revival in the USA.
If you want to dig deeper into the subject, the following publications are recommended: "Please kill me! The uncensored history of punk" by Legs McNeil and Gillian MacCain, "England's Dreaming" by Jon Savage, "Waste your youth" by Jürgen Teipel and "If the kids are united - From punk to hardcore and back" by Martin Büsser. They document punk in general, while John Lydon publishes a book about the Sex Pistols: "Rotten - No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs".
Half fiction, but still nice to read, are Rocko Schamoni's "Dorfpunks" and Tony Parson's "When We Were Immortal". There are certainly plenty of documentaries on punk, some of which are worth seeing: "American Hardcore" by Paul Rachman and "Punk Attitude" by Don Letts. About the Sex Pistols there is the documentary "The Filth And The Fury" by Julien Temple, who also made a film about The Clash frontman Joe Strummer, "The Future Is Unwritten", which is well worth seeing. There's also a film about The Clash itself, Don Lett's "Westway To The World".
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