1. Welcome to SportsJournalists.com, a friendly forum for discussing all things sports and journalism.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register for a free account to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Access to private conversations with other members.
    • Fewer ads.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

Is Punk Dead? (Music Feature)

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by JuicedSportsBlog.com, Jun 24, 2008.

  1. I write as a music critic as well, and this is a piece I did after seeing the AP Tour featuring a lot of punk-pop bands, wondering whether punk-pop is actually punk. It's pretty long, just to prepare you.


    As I was taking a look around the crowd at the Alternative Press Tour in Cleveland May 2, comprised almost entirely of teenagers, girls running to hug each musician as they come out from backstage and guys wearing fitted caps, I was struck by the question, Is this punk?

    When Zack Merrick, bassist of the AP Tour’s headliner, All Time Low, has appeared on MTV’s Exposed and introduced himself by saying, “I’m a rock n roll god who’s gonna make this girl my groupie!” such questions have merit.

    Alternative Press Magazine sells itself by trying to appeal to suburban punk fans and focusing on underground punk rock that Rolling Stone ignores. But when the lineup for their second annual Alt Press Tour consists of Sonny, The Rocket Summer, Forever the Sickest Kids, The Matches, and All Time Low, you have to wonder about the health of punk. Almost every band leading the punk scene right now has the word “pop” attached to them. Is it time for an autopsy?

    Punk has been reported dead so many times that it is hard to take any more obituaries seriously. As early as 1976, many were mourning when the Clash signed with CBS Records, effectively rendering them a “sellout.” Punk stayed strong, however, with Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Black Flag turning up the feedback and turning up the tempo in America in the late 70’s to start what would become hardcore. It was the Dead Kennedies who, in front of music industry bigwigs at the 1980 Bay Area Music Awards, wore shirts emblazoned with dollar sign insignias and debuted their song “Pull My Strings,” which asked "Is my cock big enough, is my brain small enough, for you to make me a star?"

    The boys of All Time Low certainly think their cocks are big enough for them to become stars. Standing before a sign bearing the band’s name, over a background of kidee cuss words like “dick,” “fart,” “pussy,” they got into their usual routine of trying to be edgy and funny while also remaining family friendly. When something was thrown at singer Alex Gaskarth, Alex knocked it right out of the air and remarked about his own cat-like reflexes, before guitarist Jack Barakat said, “Yeah, you’re like Cat Women… And I’m like Batman cause I’ve got a bigger dick.”

    This schtick is what has powered All Time Low toward the top of the list of rising stars on the punk-pop scene. When every band sounds the same, you’ve got to do something to differentiate yourselves. If that means copying Blink 182’s sound and style, so be it.

    After all, Blink 182’s break up in 2005 has left punk-pop clamoring for another band to take their place. No other band has been able to conjure up the passion and energy Blink 182 did with their 1999 release Enema of State, which went six times platinum.

    All Time Low formed in a Baltimore-area high school in 2003 and started out by playing Blink 182 covers. Alex told me at the Warped Tour last year that the band had a “group cry session” the day Blink 182 broke up. If they could forsee the future, they might have been a little happier. Blink 182 is the band that All Time Low is most often compared to, and, with the void they left in the genre, A.T.L. seems intent on replacing them, right down to their toilet humor. Blink 182 wrote “Fuck a Dog”; All Time Low did “The Boner Song.”

    Despite the comparisons, All Time Low’s music wouldn’t easily be mistaken for Blink 182’s. Blink 182 plays faster, more energetic music with a distinct sound. All Time Low’s music sounds more like the songs off a Fall Out Boy record that don’t make the radio.

    No self-respecting punk would say that Fall Out Boy is punk, so where does that leave All Time Low? They still play relatively fast songs with simple chord structures. That, taken to its furthest possible extention, is punk.

    But it’s lost all of its meaning. Christine DiBella, writing for Pop Matters Magazine, said about punk-pop, "It's punk taken to its most accessible point, a point where it barely reflects its lineage at all, except in the three-chord song structures."

    The Ramones and the Buzzcocks are often looked at as the original influences of punk-pop. Both bands brought more melody to punk than what there was at the time. Its modern lineage came straight out of the So Cal hardcore scene. Bands like NOFX, Bad Religion, and The Offspring arose from the Los Angeles area in the early 80’s, taking the faster, heavier sounds of hardcore but using more melody. In Berkeley in 1987, fourteen-year-old friends Billy Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt started playing together for what would eventually become Green Day.

    While the underground sages of the time shunned the mainstream music industry—NOFX, for example, has never allowed MTV to air their music videos and rarely grants interviews to magazines—Green Day embraced it. When they signed with Reprise Records in 1994, many punks felt they sold out. For Green Day, they had cashed in. They released Dookie that year, which has now sold over fifteen million copies, caused a stir at Woodstock ’94, released videos that would be nominated for nine MTV Music Video Awards, and inspired a generation of kids to become interested in punk.

    Naturally, all of this success through mainstream avenues pissed off the establishment punks. And who can blame them? Joel Madden of Good Charlotte credits Dookie for making him want to start a band. Other punk-pop bands, like Sum 41 and New Found Glory, also were inspired by Dookie.

    The bands that dominated punk, as defined by the media, in the late 90’s were not formed out of social and political alienation like those of the 80’s, but because of the establishment success of punk. Dr. Ross Haenfler, who teaches classes on youth subcultures at the University of Colorado, describes these bands as “corporate punk rock.”

    While most of them are still playing music that sounds very much like punk rock, they are often dismissed as not truly punk. Whether or not they are punk comes down to what the definition of “punk” is. By now that definition is so watered down, it carries different meanings for everyone, so it is kind of useless to define. However, it still carries a few general ideas. For most people, punk is anti-establishment, against the excesses of consumption, production, and a superficial society. It is an ideology, not just a sound, and you have to stick to that ideology.

    Blink 182 had an interesting way of sticking to their ideology. Being interviewed by Chart Magazine in 1999, they were asked about their credibility as punks, to which Tom Delonge responded that they really don’t have to worry about whether their records are in all the stores or where their singles rank on Billboard because they have no boundaries when it comes to promotion: “Other bands say, ‘Oh, we'll never do this, we'll never do that,’ and then they find themselves doing it two years later, so everyone attacks them for it. We've never once done that. Since day one, we've said that we'll try and make our band as big as we can, and do it as long as we can.”

    So getting as big as you can is now a punk ideology?

    Fat Mike of NOFX takes offense at that idea. During an online chat with fans in 2000, promoting the release of Pump Up The Valuum, Fat Mike took a shot at Enema of State, saying, “Our new album will not be sold at Wal Mart or K Mart or any huge chain store. They didn't like the cover or the lyrics. Then they asked us if we were going to do a G-rated version like BLINK 182.”

    As the ideologies were thrown out the window, the sound continued to change but at a much slower pace. There was more production and more focus on hooks and beats, as the songs became milder. The pop-punk sensation hit a fever pitch in 2002 with Sum 41’s Does This Look Infected?, New Found Glory’s Sticks and Stones, Good Charlotte’s The Young and Hopeless, and even Avril Lavigne being christened “punk” for Let Go.

    If you listen to some of these bands and compare their music to The Offspring, you can’t tell it’s in the same genre. All Time Low, for example, is not melodic hardcore, but fast-and-easy guitar-based pop. The band recorded a cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” for this year’s Punk Goes Crunk CD, and it was striking how similar their version sounded to Rihanna’s while also sounding just like any other All Time Low song.

    All of the members, especially Alex, share a love for pop music. Alex hadn’t even discovered punk at all until he met Jack in middle school. Still, he is chided by his band mates for listening to too much of the top 40. He likes to incorporate the chorus from Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious” into his song “Running From Lions,” during some of the concerts. Most of the time the fans are receptive to this, but at one concert he tried to get the crowd to sing along to a Fify Cent song, to which the crowd responded with boos.

    It is easy to see why the crowd responded so well to All Time Low at the AP Tour. These aren’t the disenfranchised punks of the 80’s, but a need breed of teens who want to fit in and feel an identity without sacrificing anything. About sixty percent of the crowd at the Cleveland show were girls there to dance to the catchy beats.

    While the original punks were rebelling against an overproduced “bubble gum pop” sound, today’s punks have created an overproduced bubble gum pop sound. Outside of the many bands that record multiple tracks and play up the effects on their guitars, there is the excessive production that goes right down to concerts, exemplified by All Time Low’s finale in Cleveland. Right from the public service announcement before hand that warned, “This All Time Low performance is rated M. It will contain lots of dick jokes,” the entire set was calculated to present the band, themselves only nineteen or twenty, as anti-establishment jokesters, while not going to far as to make them controversial.

    Bad Religion puts up canvases of an ex-ed out cross to express dismay at the wrongs they believe are caused by blind faith and religion used for power. All Time Low tapes the outline of a penis to some of their amps (and even goes as far as to label it “dick”) for what?

    Green Day accepted their award at the 2005 Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards for best band (alongside competitors Black Eyed Peas, Destiny’s Child, and The Backstreet Boys) by telling the kids “Don’t believe everything you see on television, and stick it to the man!” (Yes, that was the extent of their victory speech.) for what? To influence a bunch of twelve-year-olds to vote against President Bush?

    Brandon Flowers of The Killers criticized Green Day for using “calculated Anti-Americanism” in their 2004 release American Idiot. American Idiot outdid Dookie, debuting #1 on the Billboard and producing four top ten singles. Following disappointing sales from Nimrod and Warning, they changed up their style for a “rock opera” and sprinkled in a few anti-Bush songs as well, their first political pieces. Then in 2005, they released a DVD of live performance from Europe titled Bullet in a Bible that charted at #8. "I just thought it was really cheap,” Flowers remarked, “To go to a place like England or Germany and sing [American Idiot] - those kids aren't taking it the same way that he meant it.”

    Johnny Rotten, who, as a member of the Sex Pistols snubbed the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductions in 2006, said, "Don't try and tell me Green Day are punk. They're not, they're plonk and they're bandwagoning on something they didn't come up with themselves. I think they are phony."

    The punk-pop scene has been somewhat quiet for the past few years. Genre-leaders haven’t been having as much success as they have had in the past. Sum 41’s 2007 Underclass Hero topped at #7 on the Billboard, and it’s top single reached #86 on the pop 100. Yellowcard’s Paper Walls peaked at #13 last year. Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco may be the two most popular punk-pop bands of the day, but they are pushing the definition of punk a little bit too far even for punk-pop. The genre is looking for younger bands like Paramore, whose second release Riot! hit #15 on the Billboard and Motion City Soundtrack who charted their second album at #72 in 2005 and hit #16 with Even If It Kills Me in 2007.

    All Time Low is also on the horizon as a potential future star, but they are far behind the others, having had last year’s release So Wrong, It’s Right only get to #62. As much as the industry wants any of these bland bands to succeed, none of them seem to have the magic of Blink 182, and everyone still wants to be Blink 182. The song that drew the most cheers at the Alt Press tour was not any of the bands’ own songs, but when All Time Low called all the members of the other four bands out to play Blink 182’s “Dammit” together as the finale.

    But everybody's gone
    And I've been here for too long
    To face this on my own
    Well I guess this is growing up

    This scene has been here for too long. It has lost all of its authenticity. Time to grow up.
  2. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    Anytime you write an "Is...?" story, they often lose thejkr rhetorical power already becasue you're forced into a "on the one hand this, one the other hand that" posture. I think you have already reached a conclusion. Rather than chase after a question you already feel you know the answer to, write confidently in the affirmative, in this instance either "Punk is dead" or "Punk is not," raqther than meandering around the question.

    BTW, punk's been dead for at least thirty years, and was only a live and vital for an extraordinarily short period of time. Like all rock and roll, it's all been fashion and trend and a mode for seduction ever since.
  3. Stone Cane

    Stone Cane Member

    just mentioning fucking pieces of useless shit like all time low and blink 182 in the same story as buzzcocks and the clash is blasphemy
  4. NoOneLikesUs

    NoOneLikesUs Active Member

    People have been trying to define "punk" for years. It's better to just let it be. Use your energy to find a better story.

    Think like Lester Bangs.
  5. JimmyOlson

    JimmyOlson Member

    I agree with the previous posters. The "Is Punk Dead?" lede doesn't really work. For one thing, as InExile astutely put it, you have a definitive opinion on this. So just go with that. Say Punk is Dead ... this time, for real. Or words to that effect.

    This piece, for me, could be mSW stronger by taking a stronger stance. You do a good job presenting the history of punk. But what is punk rock to you? Forget the arbitrary definitions of the past 30 years. When you say/hear the phrase "punk rock," what's that mean to your gut? This is something that, I think, means a lot to you. Let us feel that, hear that. We don't right now. Were you disgusted watching these new bands? Conflicted? Secretly digging their tunes? Get to the guts of the matter.

    (Aside, Johnny Rotten's a bitter wanker, and "American Idiot" is one of the best rock albums of the past decade. That is not opinion. That is fact.)
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page