I was approached by my guest blogger today with several different topic ideas and let him run with his choice of a few of them. The following is what he submitted. I hope y’all will enjoy. I liked the post because I thought it brought up some great points. One of the things I love most about music is you can express emotions and raise awareness at the same time. Or you can just put something fun out to dance to. There’s such a variety out there for whatever your mood/situation calls for. In this case, the music he’s talking about helped to raise awareness and express dissatisfaction with how things were going at the time those songs were written. If you enjoy this post and have anything you’d like to say in response, please feel free to comment. Thanks again, Rob! — Jamie B.

Given the current political and economic climate, and the recent low voting turn out that we’ve seen in the UK for the police commissioner elections, is there a cure for political apathy? While people are still voting, confidence in actually being able to change things and getting a better political party elected is low. In this context, is it time to revive a punk movement that can stand up to social problems, or is that movement already in place? How has punk been successful at fighting political apathy in the past, and is it even possible to generate change through punk?

The early forms of punk in the mid to late 1970s responded to some similar trends that we’re experiencing today, from record unemployment to dissatisfaction with popular music and fashion as a way of expressing dissatisfaction. Punk subcultures in the United States and the UK were based around outrage against conformity, and particularly came to a head around events like the 1977 Jubilee, as well as the dire economic climate of New York in the 1970s. However, the subculture that emerged around punk quickly came under threat from criticisms of selling out.

In this way, mainstream punk music, while beginning from a radical political viewpoint, struggled to maintain that image when punk became reduced to a fashion statement. Smaller punk movements like hardcore and no wave in the United States provided a grassroots mentality and political activism, while the idea of punk itself and musical performance was adapted for everything from anti-fascist to feminist and animal rights movements. However, and while many popular artists with origins in punk like Joe Strummer and Billie Joe Armstrong used their success to promote left wing political views, punk in general remained something difficult to pin down as a collective movement.

Dorian Lynskey has recently suggested that while the idea of punk may have fragmented, the original spirit, and the idea of making an oppositional statement that punk represents is still important. A punk sensibility of using music, fashion, and controversy to draw attention to issues has been seen in anti-republican marches during the Jubilee, within the Occupy London movement, and through the preservation of punk as a subculture prioritising individualism at events like the Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool.

The use of punk to make political protests has also been demonstrated by the Pussy Riot case in London, with the all female punk band having been arrested for their criticism of the Putin regime. The use of guerilla performances and protests by Pussy Riot, and their subsequent arrest, has drawn worldwide attention, and debates over whether an artistic protest can cross over into hooliganism and criminal behaviour in the eyes of the law. Indeed, Pussy Riot’s case reflects the dangers of taking punk beyond a general statement to activism.

Whether punk can be revived or not also depends on whether the idea of punk as a general term for radical culture is still worthwhile, or whether punk has become too accessible in the mainstream, or as something that is co-opted for its style, rather than its politics. Discussing how punk is now used in pop singles by Taylor Swift, Adam Caress notes that, for the most part, any fixed meaning has been drained away, leaving options for authentic punks to take other approaches. For Caress, it’s ‘possible our collective understanding of what the term “punk music” means has become so compromised that the only way to effectively embody the punk ethos these days is to avoid music altogether’.

About the Author

Rob James recommends guitar lessons for beginners from LickLibrary to help you improve your playing skills. Rob is a massive NOFX fan, and plays in a british punk band. He also teaches guitar lessons, which he has been doing for the past 10 years.

References

Caress, Adam. ‘Does Punk Music Still Matter?’ Mule Variations. 3 Oct 2012. http://mulevariations.com/features/does-punk-music-still-matter. Last Accessed: 18 Nov 2012.

Lynskey, Dorian. ‘No future? Punk is still the sound of youth rebellion the world over.’ The Guardian. 1 Jun 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/jun/01/no-future-punk-youth-rebellion. Last Accessed: 18 Nov 2012.

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