The first time I got the essence of being punk into focus, it was an afternoon over twenty years ago. My friend Daniele looks me straight in the eye, in his own way, and tells me that what he most appreciates about my way of being is “this mental anarchy”. It was kind of like when you discover that one of the things about you isn’t all that obvious. It’s just that you’ve gotten used to it to the point where you naively thought it belonged to everyone.
It’s not that we were in a particular context, it wasn’t an ideological or musical issue, he simply had defined in different words something that until then was branded a pain in the ass by everyone else. People say with time you change, but in my heart I never really believed it. And that day, my friend knew it too. It wasn’t a question of crests, boots or nose rings. I wasn’t going to get rid of this so easily, it was inside of me, it still is. Today, my friend is dead, what he liked about me, not.
Exactly which region originated punk has long been a matter of controversy within the movement. It emerged in the United Kingdom and the United States in the mid-1970s. Early punk had an abundance of antecedents and influences, and Jon Savage describes the subculture as a “bricolage” of almost every previous youth culture in the Western world since World War II, “stuck together with safety pins”. Various musical, philosophical, political, literary and artistic movements influenced it.
The punk subculture is centered on punk rock, a loud, aggressive genre of rock music usually played by bands consisting of a vocalist, one or two electric guitarists, an electric bassist and a drummer. In some bands, the musicians contribute backup vocals, which typically consist of shouted slogans, choruses or football-style chants. While most punk rock uses the distorted guitars and noisy drumming sounds derived from 1960s garage rock and 1970s pub rock, some punk bands incorporate elements from other subgenres, such as surf rock, rockabilly or reggae.
In the late 1970s, the subculture began to diversify, which led to the proliferation of factions such as new wave, post-punk, 2 Tone, pop punk, hardcore punk, no wave, street punk and Oi!. Hardcore punk, street punk and Oi! sought to do away with the frivolities introduced in the later years of the original punk movement. Punk influenced other underground music scenes such as alternative rock, indie music, crossover thrash and the extreme subgenres of heavy metal — mainly thrash metal, death metal, speed metal, and the NWOBHM. A new movement in the United States became visible in the early and mid-1990s that sought to revive the punk movement, doing away with some of the trappings of hardcore.
Compared with the late 1970s, Sex Pistols and punk subculture might be a joke or just a fashion. But for millions of oppressed youth, from Cuba to post-revolution Iran and China, from South America to Russia and Eastern Europe, they still represent a signpost to freedom. The perceived controversial nature of punk bands merely highlights the conservative world we’re living in, where fundamentalist religious regimes or paranoid governments still perceive punk bands as threatening, even in UK — when Mike Devine, guitarist with a Clash tribute band, texted his friend some lyrics from The Clash’s Tommy Gun the father of two was paid a visit by the Avon & Somerset Special Branch.
Canadian punk band The Suicide Pilots have a government file on them for their name alone, while leading Chinese punk band Hang On The Box have previously been denied visas to travel abroad after their government deemed their music an “inappropriate” export. Punk scenes exist in China, but bands have to tread carefully and make sure not to criticise their government.
And taking a look at the latest world trend, maybe the Punk spirit should, now more than ever, have a reason to breathe, for a few more years.