By: Darby Kendall
It's Punk Month here at Smear Magazine, and to kick it all off, we're gonna do the most rebellious thing possible – explain the history of the sub-culture in a thorough article. Don't worry, this class of Punk 101 will still be very anti-establishment, thanks to this author's own anger with society and the world in general.
Punk as we know it – the music, the attitude, the fashion, the disgust – came to life with untamed vigor during the early '70s. But before the subculture fully existed, punk's musical precursors had to rise to popularity. That began in Detroit in the mid-1960s, with two vastly influential and innovative bands, MC5 and The Stooges. MC5's explosive live concerts sold out throughout the city, while The Stooges, which was fronted by the “godfather of punk,” Iggy Pop, gained popularity through their wild shows, using common household objects like blenders and vacuum cleaners to put a unique spin on their sets. The highly performative and energetic qualities of the band led to quick fame, and The Stooges are still widely recognized as a grandfather of the genre. And let’s not forget The Velvet Underground, which formed in New York in 1964. A complete antithesis to the Beatle-mania that was sweeping the nation, The Velvet Underground sung about heroin, oral sex and bondage – “heroin, be the death of me / heroin, it’s my wife and it’s my life.” These bands laid the musical groundwork for the next decade, where punk began to push boundaries previous generations didn't even know existed.
By the mid-1970s, the punk scene had grown in New York until the music was no longer underground. The scene was formed around CBGB, an intended multi-genre venue that became cemented in punk history as a focal point for the rising genre, where many punk musicians had their humble beginnings. Among them was Television which, along with pioneering punk music, also had a hand in developing the punk aesthetic, with singer Richard Hell’s jagged hair, ripped clothing and leather. The club also saw the beginning of The Ramones who came together in '74, the same year they made their debut at the club, which would become their regular haunt. Wearing all black leather and putting on concerts described as “just this wall of noise,” the band was a new, exciting, and an extremely popular influence on a rising youth sub-culture.
Across the Atlantic, the Sex Pistols were formed, and helped completely establish the punk scene in the UK. Their vulgar antics were regularly reported in tabloids, thanks to their enjoyment of spitting and cussing at the press. Although they only released one album during their first run from '75 to '78, they've been burned into pop culture and the punk movement ever since. They were the embodiment of the punk lifestyle – sexual, angry, loud and messy. Guitarist Steve Jones admitted the band wasn’t so much into the music, but into the “chaos.” The UK in the mid seventies was ripe with dissatisfaction over the recession and poor quality of life, and punk became a way for young people to express their frustration – after the subcultures of hippies and disco, punk was fresh and shocking.
Punk was no longer underground, and young people adopted and flocked to it.
As punk became more mainstream, other outlets of the subculture began to branch off of the music. A music magazine simply named 'Punk' was founded in New York City in 1976, and it brought the music scene of CBGB to a heightened popularity. The fanzine was a mixture of cartoons and photos, resembling the style of MAD Magazine. Over the course of its three year run, its cover featured artists including Blondie, Iggy Pop, and Sex Pistols.
Following the growing popularity of punk on both sides of the Atlantic, bands like The Clash, Joy Division, and Buzzcocks rose to fame. The Clash became praised by punks in the UK, as working class kids were drawn to their lyrics about despair and disgust with the modern world. Punk was no longer underground, and young people adopted and flocked to it.
At its height in the late ‘70s, the punk scene took over both the US and the UK, as The Clash and Sex Pistols toured together and separately in both countries, receiving mixed reviews from fans who loved the scene and venue owners who didn’t. Hundreds of other bands inspired by the those bands would go on to both rise and crumble throughout the late '70s and well into the '80s. “God Save the Queen” reached number two on UK charts, and was swiftly banned by BBC Radio One. Blondie reaches worldwide fame, and Debbie Harry became the musical icon she still is today. The Ramones starred in “Rock 'n' Roll High School,” which has gone on to become a cult classic. Honestly, there's a whole Wikipedia page outlining a punk timeline which gives a pretty good idea of how influential punk has been on mainstream culture.Obviously, the punk movement, its supporters and art are nearly impossible to sum up in one article.
The members of the original punk bands eventually grew up or grew apart, but others are still active and producing music today. But punk isn’t close to dead yet, it is still kicking and screaming – stay tuned for the rest of punk month to see what's going on in punk-world circa 2k16.