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Punk And Post-Punk Subcultures Essay, Research Paper

Punk And Post-Punk Subcultures Essay, Research Paper

It's 1990 and many people say punk is dead. Others say punk is still dying. Still
others say the story of rock and roll is nearly over. Such people have at least
learned one thing from punk: they have adopted the same blind pessimism that
caused so many bands to burn out so quickly.Many believers of this theory often
see only the superficial qualities of the subculture made visible through the mass
media. The fashion and the well-publicized scandals of Sid Vicious and friends were
as far as most people saw from outside the subculture. In Facing The Music edited
by Simon Frith, Mary Harron reduced the meaning of punk to "the spectacle of
middle-class children dressing up in a fantasy of proletarian aggression and lying
desperately about their backgrounds."Harron attributed her perceived failure of punk
firstly toward the bands' misdirected hatred ? toward stars of the previous
generation like the Who or Rolling Stones, toward their record companies, toward
even their fans with more venom than they directed toward the government.
Because they had no "real" political focus, no mass consciousness for social
change, nor a single issue like Vietnam, Harron believed punk accomplished little
besides reviving the British pop industry before it failed.Harron went on to generalize
that punk's "second generation" suddenly switched from "anarchy and mayhem to
orthodox left-wing politics," adopting the same ideas of grass-roots networks and
alternative distribution systems that the hippies had during the sixties
counterculture, adding only rock hype ? rebellion and conscious exploitation of the
media. She said it was only briefly that punk was able to "exploit hype while
challenging it on its own ground, both through its consistent attack on the values of
the music industry and by exposing to its audience how that industry worked." Then
their "puritanism" was so bad for the music that "post-punk austerity" began to
pall.Harron's most amusing generalizationwas yet to come ? after simplifying the
punk movement into a split into rock and pop, she implied that the two styles
transcended and left behind the "punk loyalists" (hardcore?), who clung to the
independent labels, the clothes, the sound and "what they saw as the ideals of
1976." In fact, Harron said, they retreated from the present, evolving to a brand of
flaccid and impotent neo-hippies with vegetarian, pacifist and mystic deals. Their
determinedly non-commercial musical course was described as "abrasive or
dirgelike," and while they "joined the ranks of other die-hard rock conservatives,"
Harron went on to espouse the virtues of disco.

It is clear that Harron merely took a glimpse of the smoke from the forest fires
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sparked by punk. Underneath the smoke was a whole new opportunity for kids to
become active in a culture they could call their own, instead of being force-fed with
highly consumeristic advertising of dry commercial culture.

When the superstars of punk dissolved into the corporate rock world, commercial
media like Rolling Stone hailed the Sex Pistols and The Clash as the only legitimate
icons of punk, and assumed the same thing happened to the whole subculture when
members of the respective bands went on to more commercial dance- club success
in the form of Public Image Ltd. and Big Audio Dynamite. This is not true. Nor is the
other view accurate; that the punk subculture stagnated into a musically
conservative, politically passe state of nostalgia.

Skinhead Suss.By declaring the death of a whole subculture just because the
founding icons disappeared, the media and its scholars assumed not only that punk
left behind a void, but it grew out of a void. Within this so-called void, there was a
thriving skinhead subculture, originated either in the late 50?s or the 60?s
depending on who's telling the story. While there is no convincingly authoritative
source on skinhead history, there has been enough discussion about it in fanzines
from Sniffin' Glue to Maximum RocknRoll that the disparities in details of the
accounts tend to even out.In the December, 1989 issue of Maximum RocknRoll,
John M. Stafford of Washington, D.C. wrote a letter that briefly summarized such
accounts of skinhead history. He said skinheads resulted in a fusion of cultures
between the white working class of England, immigrant Jamaicans and West Indian
Blacks who called themselves rude boys. The ration of whites to non-whites during
certain periods are unclear, although the resulting subculture was an undeniable
example of cultural pluralism. The rude boys were into ska, a precursor of reggae
that fused American R&B with Caribbean rhythms. The mods and other whites were
into R&B and Motown.When the cultures fused, popular skinhead music developed
a mixture of R&B, soul and Jamaican music. Throughout the mid 1960s the
Jamaican music became more important to the skinhead scene as the music came
into much greater circulation. In the late 1960s the music went through many
changes, evolving from ska into rocksteady, and finally into reggae. The skinheads
who listened to reggae were supposedly at their greatest numbers from 1968 to
1972. The music industry recognized this and the stores were filled with skinhead
anthems: "Skinhead Train" by Laurel Aitken, "Crazy Baldhead" by the Wailers,
"Skinhead Moondust" by the Hotrod Allstars and more. One of the better known
black skinhead bands was Symarip, who produced an album called Skinhead
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Moonstomp on Trojan records.Fashion was a relatively important part of the


skinhead culture. The fashion grew out of the "hard mod" subculture of the working-
class East End of London in the mid-1960s. the mods' tough, clean style was partly
a reaction to the androgynous finery of hippies and the sloppiness of the long-haired
bikers known as rockers.Their hair was generally kept at around a half inch in length
instead of being completely shaved. A "crop" had practical benefits as well; it
required neither shampoo nor comb and couldn't be grabbed in a fight. They wore
T-shirts, button-down Fred Perrys, Ben Sherman shirts, Levi's , black Swat slacks
with suspenders (always referred to as "braces"), black felt "donkey" jackets that
wouldn't tear in the factory or a brawl. While steel- toed Doc Marten boots and jeans
were worn to work by the majority of those with blue collar jobs, they would change
into tailored suits with silk handkerchiefs, scarves or ties and loafers or brouges
(wingtips in the U.S.) for a night out. At dance halls they mixed freely with the West
Indian rude boys. Their sussed style did not mean they were always polite.
Skinheads were often noted for antisocial behavior such as going hippie bashing
and for creating havoc in the soccer terraces. Their feud with hippies was rooted in
the fact that the "dirty long-hairs" with bellbottoms and sandals tended to be
dropouts from white middle-class society, while skinheads took pride in their
working-class, integrated origins and a more dignified style. Unfortunately, they had
not yet adopted the hippie-rooted ideals of non-violence."it was almost a kind of
anti-hippie movement," said Joe, a Minneapolis skinhead interviewed in the Jan. 31
City Pages. "They didn't like the style of the long hair. The short hair showed they
took pride in their appearance. The hippies didn't. I'm not saying they were wrong or
anything; they just didn't," he said. The punk fashion that was yet to develop for
another four years would be radically different in attitude and appearance.
Originated by the skinheads, Alison Lurie describes the derived punk style in The
Language of Clothes:It featured hair cropped to a fuzz and dyed startling, unnatural
colors: often very pale yellow, sometimes red, green, orange or lavender. Faces
were powdered pasty white, with sooty eyes and heavy lipstick. In clothing, red,
black and white were the favorite colors. Punks wore black leather jackets and jeans
decorated with metal studs and superfluous zippers; T-shirts printed with vulgar
words and violent and/or pornographic pictures ? often images of rape and murder.
Artificially torn and soiled clothing, held together with outsize safety pins, exposed
areas of pale, unhealthy flesh, which were often bruised and scratched. One favorite
accessory was the dog or bicycle chain, which might be pulled tight around the neck
or used to fasten one leg to the other. Punk chicks might also wear this costume, or
they might vary it with hot pants, side-slit skirts, tight angora sweaters and
spike-heeled sandals; their boyfriends favored heavy "shit-kicker" boots.
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While the fashion served as effective symbolism and identity for early punks, it was
soon taken up by many middle and upper-class youths who alienated many punks
away form the style. "In the language of clothes," Lurie said, "the punk style was a
demand for attention, together with a cry of rage against those who should have
paid attention to these kids in the past but had not done so": the parents who were
too immature or too exhausted; callous or helpless teachers and social workers; a
welfare state that seemed uninterested in their welfare and had no jobs for most of
them. early skinheads had little use for so much attention and to the superficial
qualities of the punk appearance.Sailin' On

By 1972, two new sounds hit the skinhead movement, dub reggae and rock'n'roll.
Dub made reggae less interesting to some skinheads, and a long affiliation started
to wane. With dub, the heavy influence of rastafarianism and the artists who did not
wish to conform to this new standard of the reggae scene soon were relegated to
near obscurity. Thus, artists like Laurel Aitken, Prince Buster and the Skatelites
were abandoned until the 2-Tone era, and Lee Perry was ostracized because of his
active campaign against rasta. Skinheads used to dancing to the straightforward
rhythms of ska, rocksteady and reggae had little use for the stoned, slowed-down,
spaced-out beats with the bottom frequently dropping out from under them. Perhaps
if marijuana caught on with the skinheads as much as it did with the rastafarians,
things would have been different.Reggae was soon replaced by a new form of rock
?n' roll when a band of white skinheads from Wolverhampton called Slade started
becoming popular in 1973 and introduced the skinhead world to Oi! or pub rock as it
was known then. After two hit singles, Slade signed with a major record company
and sold out to glam metal. But by then, of course, punk had arrived. While the
popular Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned attracted a huge following,
including many white middle-class teenagers, the skinheads chose to largely
distinguish themselves from the spectacle, continuing to embrace Oi! bands like
Sham 69, Cocksparrer, Oi Polloi and the 4- Skins. While Oi! music was often difficult
to distinguish from ordinary punk by unfamiliar ears, the music reflected a musical
style based on the old tradition of pub sing-a-longs, but often much, much faster.
The words challenged the bloated corporate complacency of rock just as punk
did.The Essex-based Crass was an extreme example of a band who incorporated
the ideals of their lyrics into their lifestyle. Formed in Essex, England in 1976, partly
in the Sham 69 image, they soon evolved into an anarchist commune. The band
established several independent record labels and an information service. Crass
espoused the ideals of anti-violence, feminism, and flushing out hypocrisy in
organized religion in the context of their ear- damaging vehemence on their records.
By their second album, Stations of the Crass, they dismissed the influential Sham
69 as full of hot air by doing a parody of them called "Hurry Up Garry," which is also
a wicked snipe at the music business. They also summarized their scorn of punk as
merely a fashion concept on "White Punks on Hope." Crass reached their peak in
Penis Envy by drawing an ugly parallel between rampant sexism and white man's
rape of nature and society.While eventually finding themselves embroiled in legal
battles with various government agencies, Crass stood as a successful model of
dead-serious political commitment in the punk/skinhead movement. Several bands
reflected Crass's influence both politically and "musically," including The Ex in
Amsterdam, The Gang of Four and The Mekons in Leeds, The Au Pairs in
Birmingham, The Pop Group in Bristol, The Fall in Manchester and Liliput in
Switzerland. Skinheads not into Oi! or Crass temporarily kept the suss alive inside
the Northern Soul movement, until it crashed on its face with the rise of disco.By
1977, the skinhead subculture began facing problems from the fascist National
Front, who began using kids who favored the more paramilitary aspects of skinhead
fashion, to create disruption. The far right preyed upon the division of the traditional
skinhead movement in Britain as the economic woes of the time began to erode the
group from within. "It got so there were a lot of working class kids out of work and
extremely frustrated with what was going on. That was when it became easy for
them to start blaming their problems on the immigrants, who were mostly
minorities," said Joe.A group of former skinheads tattooed their faces with swastikas
and taunted onlookers with "Sieg Heil" salutes, joining Britain's right-wing
resurgence, which Margaret Thatcher would exploit so successfully. Encouraged
attitudes were anti-immigrant (and therefore anti-Black), anti-communist,
anti-Semitic, and anti-IRA, in that order. In response, a dedicated population of
skinheads were inspired to strengthen their cultural pluralism through the 2- Tone
movement. To combat the influence of the White Power organizations and
spearhead a skinhead revival, most bands mixed both black and white members
and the movement was molded around integration. While some 2-Tone era bands
were all white (such as Madness, the Shadows and the Oppressed, an anarchist
band) or all black (such as the Equators), they shared cultural and musical ideas,
creating a hybrid of exciting new music. Writers like Mary Harron could hardly call
them conservative.The National Front recognized 2-Tone as a threat to their
foothold in the skinhead subculture, and they did their best to use violence to disrupt
shows by the 2-Tone bands. The Specials's last release, the Ghost Town EP, was a
telling commentary on the violence, and it spent eight weeks atop the British charts.
But it was basically futile because by the beginning of 1982 most of the 2-Tone
bands had broken up. Yet the seeds for their multicultural inventiveness and
integrity had been dispersed, and the effects can be seen from a multitude of
subcultures to mainstream commercial music.Baldies & Boneheads in America.The
skinhead subculture had already taken root in the U.S. by 1977, where it was
viewed as a dramatic but not particularly political variant of punk. There were Black
and Latin and Jewish skins, many of whom hung together in the bi-racial 2-Tone
bands. The style "stood for unity," said James DePasquale, 18, who became a
skinhead four years ago. "Everybody who had a shaved head, you considered them
a brother," he said in the May/June '89 issue of the Utne Reader.With the help of
fascists like Bob Heick, leader of a national Nazi youth group called The American
Front, fascism also took root in American by 1985, when Nazi skinhead violence
exploded at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco that summer. "There were always
idiots," says Tim Yohannan, editor of Maximum Rocknroll. "Now there's idiots with
ideology."Skinheads distinguished each other with the terms "baldies" for the leftist
non-racist skinheads, and "boneheads" for the white- power Nazi skinheads.
Boneheads had no music scene of their own to speak of, since Skrewdriver was
never allowed into the United States, and domestic white-power bands were
wooden amateurs who lacked broad appeal. So the bones crashed the punk clubs,
sometimes taking a razor blade to the locks of a longhair or ripping an anti-racist
button off a peace punk's shirt.As in Britain, American punks, skinheads, or "baldies"
have fought back in cities like Chicago and Minneapolis, where punks and "ska"
skins have joined forces for more direct action. In January, 1989, more than 150
anti-racist skins from at least ten cities came to Minneapolis to form an umbrella
organization for the anti-racist skins scattered throughout North America. By the end
of the weekend, "The Syndicate" had been organized, and future anti-racist
activities were planned.The Twin Cities emerged as a center of anti-racist skinhead
activity in 1987 when a group of baldies challenged the neo-Nazi White Knights. the
White Knights were effectively driven out of Minneapolis by a campaign of physical
confrontations that reduced the neo-Nazi group to a handful of die-hard white
supremacists and their leader, a member of the Ku Klux Klan.The January
Minneapolis skinhead gathering, while predominantly white, included
African-American, Native American, Latino and Asian skinheads. The average age
of participants was 19. Their passionate desire to clear the skinhead name is rooted
in the belief that skinhead culture has something to offer all nationalities.While the
question of racism has been pushed on the skinhead movement, the media seems
to ignore what many skins consider equally important: the question of class. The
skinhead movement quite explicitly places its hopes for the future of the united
action of the working class. It is as much by addressing and twisting the class
question as by appealing to racism that the neo- Nazis have been able to establish
a beachhead among white working- class youth. There is a deeply felt contempt for
the rich in some quarters of American society that can be tapped with either
revolutionary class politics or the half-baked Nazism of a Tom Metzger and his
racist, anti-Semitic organization, White Aryan Resistance. But while the boneheads
were puppets of Metzger, the Syndicate did it themselves.By the time the
mainstream had declared the death of punk in 1979, or 1980, or 1981, etc., the
influence of punk, the skinheads's Oi! and anti-racist 2-Tone and the do-it-yourself
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ethic had spread all over the world. Independent labels were created by the dozens
throughout Europe, North America, Australia, and a few countries in Africa.
Especially around urban areas, independent fanzines could be found with music
critique of all the newly formed bands and their demos, interviews, comics, Xerox
art, poetry, fiction, news, investigative reporting, political agendas and more. It was
a renaissance for those who were stranded form or chose to avoid the elitist
upperclass artists and intellectuals who communicated only with their peers in art
and academic journals, and the commercial culture targeted for everyone else who
presumably did not deserve to have a voice.Many people are ignorant of the many
post-punk subcultures because they are not as easily pegged and defined as the
simpledays of the Sex Pistols. The perpetual process of sharing cultural ideas and
developing new hybrids of music blur the distinctions between one style and the
next. Punk has evolved into or influenced popular styles like hardcore, hip-hop,
jazz/speedfunk, industrial, goth/glam, metal, thrash, speedmetal/speedcore, and
other styles that defy labels.Younger kids involved in musical subcultures are
looking back toward the roots of the past generation, reviving ska (for the second
time) with bands like the Red Skins, the Potato Five, the Deltones and International
Jet Set. They started an anti-racist organization founded in San Diego called
S.H.A.R.P. (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), in addition to the aforementioned
Syndicate. It has already spread to England, Europe and Australia. There has also
been a rise of anti-Nazi fanzines like Zoot and Spy Kids. In Washington D.C. there is
still a significant group of people who consider themselves sussed skinheads, who
are actively breaking down racial and cultural barriers by taking in African-American,
Asian-American, Mexican- American, Jewish, immigrant and homosexual/bisexual
skinheads into one integrated cultural-pluralistic community.Hardcore Coast to
Coast

Much of the punk and skinhead influence on America developed into hardcore,
growing from both the West and East coasts. In California, there were bands like
The Dils, Black Flag, The Weirdos, The Avengers, The Germs, The Descendents,
Adolescents, X, Minutemen, Dead Kennedys, The Circle Jerks, Bad Religion, Social
Distortion, T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty), The Vandals, Fear and others; in
Washington D.C. there was Minor Threat, Bad Brains and other bands on the
Dischord label.Black Flag has often been considered America's first hardcore band,
beginning in 1978. By creating the still-surviving SST label (although it had recently
declared bankruptcy), Black Flag single- handedly gave the West Coast hardcore
scene international prominence. by the time their first EP Jealous Again came out in
1980, Black Flag had begun touring enough to become a major attraction in nearly
every city and inspire others to get into the scene. While Black Flag and their peers
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wrote cutting songs like "T.V. Party," about commercial culture and middle class
suburban life, the sound they made was predominantly a joyful noise, and they
rarely preached to their fans.The Dead Kennedys became an exception to the West
Coast scene when they honed a self-righteously moral attack upon middle and
upper-class values. Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, their 1980 debut on I.R.S.,
contained "Holidays In Cambodia," their crowning achievement. The Dead
Kennedys's sarcastic diatribes bordered on the overbearing on In God We Trust,
Inc. until they redeemed themselves with an improved sense of humor on Plastic
Surgery Disasters in 1982. By 1981, they had formed the Alternative Tentacles label
which became a grassroots force as productive as SST.The East Coast had much
more in common with the Dead Kennedys than the more hedonistic California
bands. While SST was just starting, Minor Threat helped establish the Dischord
label. They issued the Bottled Violence EP in 1981, which revealed strong influence
from the ideology of Crass and the music of The Ruts. The power of their own
influence became apparent when, with one impassioned hardcore tune called
"Straight Edge" they called for abstinence from drugs and booze. From that song,
Minor Threat unwittingly would create a whole new American subculture which
would adopt the same song title. A song that acknowledged both the aspirations and
realties of political punk rock inspired a whole generation of skinheads and people
without any label to denounce the self-destructive, nihilistic lifestyle that cultural
icons like Sid Vicious romanticized. Ian MacKaye, lead singer for Minor Threat,
would later emphasize that he was not telling people that they should restrict their
own lifestyles. He was merely describing the choices he had made for himself at the
time.Meanwhile, Bad Brains carried on the tradition of the 2-Tone movement to the
states, pushing the hybrids even further. The black jazz-rock fusionists from
Washington D.C. proved their mastery of hardcore early in their career with the
1980 single, "Pay to Cum!". On the 1982 ROIR cassette album, Bad Brains featured
radically contrasting excursions into dub and rasta reggae amongst the hardcore
fury. As the band progressed, they shed some of the hardcore sound to create even
more exciting blends of funk, reggae and metal wile continuing to espouse
rastafarian principles.The Rise of Independent Rock

By the mid 1980s, it became nearly impossible to keep track of all the new bands
and styles that were helped out by the essential fanzines to get their messages and
names out. In addition to all the loyal hardcore fanzines inspired by Maximum
Rocknroll based in Berkeley, CA, other fanzines such as Flipside, Your Flesh, and
Chemical Imbalance have been able to attain an impressive level of slickness and
circulation to make a reasonable impact on the independent music scene and its
underground subcultures without compromise; resorting to getting paid by
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corporations and advertisements. They manage to include more variety than the
uncompromising hardcore ?zines than the unadventurous mainstream, with the
notable exceptions of New York's Trouser Press and Chicago's Matter
magazines.But mainstream culture has become increasingly aware of the multitudes
of music coming out of the post-punk subcultures, shown by coverage of the most
successful bands from SST, Dischord, Homestead, Twin/Tone, including The
Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Husker Du, The
Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., Squirrel Bait, The Effigies, Big Black, Naked Raygun,
Sonic Youth, The Swans, Fugazi, Bad Brains, to hip-hop artists like Boogie Down
Productions to several inventive industrial bands and the retro "sludge" movement
(The Melvins, Green River, Blood Circus, Mudhoney, Nirvana) initiated by the Sub
Pop label in Seattle, reaching back to the pre-punk music of The Stooges, The MC5,
Alice Cooper, Radio Birdman and even Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath.The Fall of
Independent Rock?Suddenly the industries see big possibilities for mass
consumption of the bands who once thrived (or starved) in the underground
subcultures. A corporation called Joseph-Fox Communications, Inc. even tried to
emulate the style of fanzines with a tiny, slick and laughably naive production called
New Route: The new route to new music. Douglas Joseph, the Editor- in-Chief and
presumably the former half of Joseph-Fox, wrote an editorial in the October 1989
issue where he brought up the Warner Bros.-Time Inc. merger, PolyGram buying
out Island and eventually A&M, EMI buying out Chrysalis Records and Virgin
Records taking in major equity partners. "CBS Records is owned by Sony, and RCA
Records by BMG," he said, brilliantly concluding that "the music industry is big
business."Joseph believes that the consequences of big business, the sales,
distribution and in-store product placement being leveraged with merchandising,
advertising and AOR radio play is a positive influence on the music scene. He
believes the Godzilla corporations will generously spread increased profits to
employees,

stockholders, and most importantly, toward developing new artists. "The future of
the record business is with the young artists," predicts Joseph.His theory is that
stronger companies will be more apt to experiment with new ideas as well as new
musicians, such as BMG funding a new "independent" label, First Warning, which is
distributed "independently" by Rough Trade. All A&R and marketing is done
independently of BMG, although if any band does or says something BMG does not
like, they would disappear from the industry as a label-less band. But Joseph says
"as the major labels get bigger, there is more opportunity for the independents."
Although independents fear the big squeeze of major labels, the money flowing into
the alternative markets from the large companies strengthens the marketplace and
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supposedly creates more awareness for everyone."So," wrote Joseph, "as long as
the music industry is healthy, properly managed and new artists continue to crete
interesting music, we will hear great music from both major and [puppet]
independent labels."It is powerful people like Douglas Joseph and his New Route to
brain-death who continue to remind underground fans of the reality of their worst
nightmares. Even more dangerous to the underground culture than Tom Metzger's
White Aryan Resistance, it is this continuing threat of the corporate powers to
control and exploit the independents for their own convenience and profit that
continues to inspire youth around the world to do it themselves.