Wading Through the Darkness: The State of Modern Punk Rock

By Neil Rodrigues

While I should have been overwhelmed by this article I found the whole ride to be more comical. I started out with one question to be answered from the editor, “What is the current state of Punk Rock?”.

You might as well have asked me to list off all of the capitols of every nation on earth. That is a huge question. I didn’t realize it when he asked but it didn’t take long for it to sink in. My first thought was to get a overall article on it so of course I went to Wikipedia. The first thing that had hit me was the sheer number of Punk sub-genres. I had gotten used to it in the Metal world ( well almost. I hate sub-genres with a fiery passion ) but I hadn’t really followed Punk much since the early 80s and I think I know the reason why now.

The first thing I had to do to deal with was the question itself. I changed the premise question to ,“Has punk lost it’s edge?”, because on the big picture, the questions end up in the same place. The thing is that the latter question is easier to deal with mentally. I knew how Punk was in the 70s and 80s. Everyone who listens to Punk knows this because it is basically the Great Era of Punk. So I decided to ignore that and head to the 90s.

During the early 90s the music industry realized that they could make money off of Punk. As the industry always does they watered the music down so heavily that it didn’t resemble anything that I had heard with the classics. No fire, no passion, no social commentary which Punk always had in spades. You can’t listen to a band like The Exploited or Black Flag without getting the “ The system sucks “ drilled into your head with an old Black and Decker drill press.

When I first looked up Punk online to get a sampling it returned bands like Green Day, Cry Me A River and Refused who really didn’t make me want to listen anymore. That was when I remembered that there was a genre labeled Pop-Punk. Wait a second! The whole idea behind Punk was not mainstream! It was to address social issues in a way that could not be ignored. While some of the music might have been catchy it really didn’t rank the name of Punk in my book. I was used to bands like Suicidal Tendencies, Big Black and Agnostic Front.

However, I did not bring you here this fine afternoon to bitch at you about the state of Punk. So with the data I had, I scoured the net and my own collection. I bought a few notebooks and wrote down the comparisons. I should have done it in blood instead of pen, it would have seemed more passionate. Hindsight and all.

I played song after song comparing each song’s edginess, its angst and its activism. I am not sure how many hours I did this for. I think I lost consciousness after about 20. After that was accomplished, I took a tally of what I thought of each. At this point though, Punk was definitely losing the battle. Most of what I heard sounded more like a piece of music from a kids show. Not the bombshell we knew from earlier years. Barney the Dinosaur with a Mohawk.     “Mainstream Crap!”, were the words I kept using as I beat my head against my MacBook Air. By the way, it is really hard to beat your head against this thing. Every time you do you have to retrieve it from the other side of the room.

After I had a nights sleep I came back at it. I came up with the conclusion that I needed professional help. No, not that kind. The kind of help you get from those who know. So I sought out some Punk musicians. What I found out is: It is better to request a decent amount of time to write an article and set up the interview well ahead of time. My first 10 attempts at talking to anyone about it failed. I then thought, “Well if you can’t talk to the big boys, try the local scene instead.”

Epic fail. What I found out was that Sacramento, CA doesn’t have jack for a Punk scene. Not surprising with what I know about this town. Relief finally came from a band outside of the U.S.. It came from a band that I originally thought was Eastern European. A band called Acidez.     I stumbled on a Facebook page that was littered with Eastern European country names in the main page image. What was I to think? I knew there would be a language barrier. Even more so when I found out that they were from Guadalajara, Mexico and I was using a Polish translator. I found out later that they spoke a decent amount English when they answered though. I will never let myself live that one down.

When they answered they told me that the Punk scene had not lost its edge and was going strong. I figured that must have been for Mexico. what I had seen here was not impressive. That was when I hit my first major breakthrough.

Every generation goes through a cycle of, “Its not as good as it used to be”. There is always an Underground and that is where you have to look if you want to find the “Scene”. I’ve witnessed a number of them. We as Metalheads should know that very well as Metal has always had one underground scene or another. In 1980 it was Heavy Metal. In 1987-91 it was Thrash and Death. Now we have the Cores, Dent, Dirge and Avant Garde’.  On the other side as time progressed we hit the weird phases of metal like Hair Metal which was the pop version of Metal. So that jibes. I also had a Metal on Loud interview with one of the original Punksters on my desktop that the editor had provided me. I decided to re-read it. The words reminded me of something. The human need to be an individual even if it isn’t required. People have a tendency to distort the reality of something occasionally to augment their image. Its not an evil thing, simply different perceptions of the same thing made evil by ego. You’ve heard of demon possession, haven't you? You can’t fix that. Even if you use machines and math to get the correct answer a human has to interpret it. Sick world huh?
Every generation has an underground. Every last generation will point fingers at the new one and declare “Not as good as it used to be.”. When the new generation grows up the same cycle repeats. The state of Punk might have been what it always was. The faces change but the song remains the same as Robert Plant would note. So I dug further.

With the new information I scoured YouTube and found a thriving scene. The difference was, the words used to describe it. Back when I first got into Punk, everything was just known as Punk Rock. Then it became Hardcore Punk so I tried that. Jackpot!
I was closer. With the help of Acidez ( Who had been the only band besides The Casualties that I found that fit all of the specifications I had come up with to define Punk ) I determined that not only were there bands that met these specifications but a great number of them. These however were only the hardcore bands.

I was really grateful about this because while Punk is not my mainstay music it was my secondary.  I did not want to see it die a Justin Bieber death. Well that led to another 20 or so hours of listening to band after band to test them with the Biafra brand Litmus Paper.

I scanned bands like Another Breath, Pro Team, Set It Straight and of course Acidez. Band after band after band discarding the crap as I went.
At the same time I scanned a fair amount of Metal as well. It was to answer a question that would determine another part of the same question. In essence, I was afraid that all of the social commentary that I mentioned earlier had moved over to Metal. Bands like Sepultura, Napalm Death or Rage Against the Machine. I will, however, leave that question’s answer at bay for now as it might spoil the ending.

Now I want it known that I did not discard the sub-genres of punk. No matter what I think of any of them. If I did it would corrupt the data. There were a fair amount of them but if you remember right, a band like Dead Kennedys was nothing like Butthole Surfers and that in turn was nothing like the Cro-Mags. Back then, though, they didn’t really differentiate the bands by sound. It was all Punk. There were a few out there but no one really paid much attention. That was part of the beauty of early Punk. No labels. So I discarded the labels ( as you all should ) and looked at everything called Punk in one lump. I took all of the modern stuff (1990 - Now) and listened to it without being exclusive to one type. Hardcore, Ska, Crossover, Skate, Anarcho, GBH, Pop, all of it. Mind altering experience.

Then I took the old punk and made a comparison keeping in mind the evolution of music and it’s technology. I even took into consideration the brainwashing of a country by corporate entities. Don’t ask me how I did that, ouch. Finally I had a basis. An idea.
That idea quickly became an answer and the answer a thesis.

Here is what I found in the short form.:

I asked myself some of the following questions from the good band sampling that I had taken which was a chore on its own.

How bands did I find per country?
What form of government does the country of the band have?
What genre does that country lean toward?

That was after the band qualified by edginess, social commentary and so on. It was a headache. As for the government question, the reason I took it into account is that a Fascist Dictatorship is bound to have less Punk Bands than say, one that is Socialist. A country that is an unrestrained Capitalist country ( like mine ) is bound to have less edginess than one that is a Constitutional Monarchy. Yeah I know this is boring but if someone asks you, “What is the current state of Punk Rock?”, you have to look at the details. Sometimes 8 layers deep. So with all of that in mind here is the answer I finally came up with.

The state of modern punk rock is basically the same as it was. The genres, instrument technology, methods and thought patterns have changed. For example, I thought Ska Punk was a fairly modern thing but after reading I find that bands like No Doubt and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones share a lineage with The Clash and Madhouse. While it is not my kind of punk it is labeled as Punk. My types of punk haven't actually changed much except that the sound is better because of the new technology. Types like Skate, Hardcore and GBH, I don’t think those will ever change. They also tend to stay underground because of the reactionary nature that they provoke. Although songs like Rancid’s Out Of Control break the mold.

The United States has dwindled a bit on the sheer amount of Punk bands, I attribute that to the nature of Psychological Warfare. The corporate media has been using the methods mentioned by Edward Bernays and adopted by the CIA.  The easiest way to reprogram a country is to make sure that the people only hear one message over and over. The message?

“Watch MTV, BET and VH1! They are your lord and savior as where music is concerned !”

Sad but true. Big Brother does sometimes effect attitude. Why the hell else would anyone listen to Millie Cyrus? The good news in that capacity is that the other countries make up for it. Bands like Pro Team from Australia and Just Went Black from Germany and again Acidez from Mexico. On the eastern shores you have bands like Maximum the Hormone and Anarchy from Japan. Its good to know that the message has reached across the expanse.

So what is the verdict? I cannot give you an absolute answer and say that I am 100% right. Sorry. There is no way I could do that without listening to every band that ever was named Punk on Earth.

What I did find out with my limited information was: Don’t worry, Punk Rock will never die. It will never die until we live in Utopia. In which case we would have nothing to bitch about. So unless Capt. Kirk violates the Prime Directive for us, we are bound to have Punk on the Earth until the end of time. Lucky us huh? Yeah, lucky us……

Neil Rodrigues