Punk subculture

Punk subculture

The punk subculture includes a diverse array of ideologies, and forms of expression, including fashion, visual art, dance, literature, and film, which grew out of punk rock.



The punk subculture emerged in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia in the mid-1970s. Exactly which region originated punk has long been a major controversy within the movement.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Two UK punks in a train carriage in 1986; note the hand-stencilled Crass symbol painted on the coat of on the man on the right

Early punk had an abundance of antecedents and influences, and Jon Savage has described the subculture as a "bricolage" of almost every previous youth culture that existed in the West since the Second World War "stuck together with safety pins".[7] Various philosophical, political, and artistic movements influenced the subculture. In particular, punk drew inspiration from several strains of modern art. Various writers, books, and literary movements were important to the formation of the punk aesthetic. Punk rock has a variety of musical origins, both within the rock and roll genre and beyond.

The earliest form of punk rock, named protopunk in retrospect, started as a garage rock revival in the northeastern United States in the late 1960s.[8] The first ongoing music scene that was assigned the punk label appeared in New York City between 1974 and 1976.[9] At about the same time or shortly afterward, a punk scene developed in London.[10] Soon after, Los Angeles became home to the third major punk scene.[11] These three cities formed the backbone of the burgeoning movement, but there were also other scenes in a number of cities such as Brisbane and Boston.

Around 1977, the subculture began to diversify with the proliferation of factions such as 2 Tone, Oi!, pop punk, New Wave, and No Wave. In the United States during the early 1980s, punk underwent a renaissance in the form of hardcore punk, which sought to do away with the frivolities introduced in the later years of the original movement, while at the same time Britain saw a parallel movement called streetpunk.[12] Hardcore and streetpunk then spread to other regions just as the original subculture had. In the mid-1980s to the early 1990s in America, various underground scenes either directly evolved from punk or at least applied its attitudes to new styles, in the process producing the alternative rock and indie music scenes.[12] A new movement in the United States became visible in the early and mid-1990s that sought to revive the punk movement, doing away with some of the trappings of hardcore.


The punk subculture is centered around listening to recordings or live concerts of a loud, aggressive genre of rock music called punk rock, usually shortened to punk. While most punk rock uses the distorted guitars and noisy drumming that is derived from 1960s garage rock and 1970s pub rock, some punk bands incorporate elements from other subgenres, such as metal (e.g., mid-1980s-era Discharge) or folk rock (Billy Bragg). Different punk subcultures often distinguish themselves by having a unique style of punk rock, although not every style of punk rock has its own associated subculture. Most punk rock songs are short, have simple and somewhat basic arrangements using relatively few chords, and they use lyrics that express punk values and ideologies ranging from the nihilism of the Sex Pistols' "No Future" to the anti-drug message of Minor Threat's "Straight Edge". Punk rock is usually played in small bands rather than by solo artists. Punk bands usually consist of a vocalist, one or two overdriven electric guitars, an electric bass player, and a drummer (the vocalist may be one of the musicians). In some bands, the band members may do backup vocals, but these typically consist of shouted slogans, choruses, or football/soccer-style chants, rather than the arranged harmony vocals of pop bands.


A German punk faces a line of riot police at a 1984 protest.

Although punks are frequently categorized as having left-wing or progressive views, punk politics cover the entire political spectrum. Punk-related ideologies are mostly concerned with individual freedom and anti-establishment views. Common punk viewpoints include anti-authoritarianism, a DIY ethic, non-conformity, direct action and not selling out. Other notable trends in punk politics include nihilism, anarchism, socialism, anti-militarism, anti-capitalism, anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-nationalism, anti-homophobia, environmentalism, vegetarianism, veganism and animal rights. However, some individuals within the punk subculture hold right-wing views (such as those associated with the Conservative Punk website), neo-Nazi views (Nazi punk), or are apolitical (e.g.horror punk).

Early British punks expressed nihilistic views with the slogan No Future, which came from the Sex Pistols song "God Save the Queen". In the United States, punks had a different approach to nihilism based on their "unconcern for the present" and their "disaffection from both middle and working class standards".[citation needed] Punk nihilism was expressed in the use of "harder, more self-destructive, consciousness-obliterating substances like heroin, or ... methamphetamine"[13]


Punks seek to outrage others with the highly theatrical use of clothing, hairstyles, cosmetics, tattoos, jewelry and body modification. Early punk fashion adapted everyday objects for aesthetic effect: ripped clothing was held together by safety pins or wrapped with tape; ordinary clothing was customized by embellishing it with marker or adorning it with paint; a black bin liner became a dress, shirt or skirt; safety pins and razor blades were used as jewelry. Also popular have been leather, rubber, and vinyl clothing that the general public associates with transgressive sexual practices like bondage and S&M.

Punk fashion in the early 1980s

Some punks wear tight "drainpipe" jeans, plaid/tartan trousers, kilts or skirts, T-shirts, leather jackets (which are often decorated with painted band logos, pins and buttons, and metal studs or spikes), and footwear such as Converse sneakers, skate shoes, brothel creepers, or Dr. Martens boots. Some early punks occasionally wore clothes displaying a Nazi swastika for shock-value, but most contemporary punks are staunchly anti-racist and are more likely to wear a crossed-out swastika symbol. Some punks cut their hair into Mohawks or other dramatic shapes, style it to stand in spikes, and color it with vibrant, unnatural hues.

Some punks are anti-fashion, arguing that punk should be defined by music or ideology. This is most common in the post-1980s US hardcore punk scene, where members of the subculture often dressed in plain T-shirts and jeans, rather than the more elaborate outfits and spiked, dyed hair of their British counterparts.

Visual art

Punk aesthetics determine the type of art punks enjoy, usually with underground, minimalistic, iconoclastic and satirical sensibilities. Punk artwork graces album covers, flyers for concerts, and punk zines. Usually straightforward with clear messages, punk art is often concerned with political issues such as social injustice and economic disparity. The use of images of suffering to shock and create feelings of empathy in the viewer is common. Alternatively, punk artwork may contain images of selfishness, stupidity, or apathy to provoke contempt in the viewer. Much of the earlier artwork was in black and white, because it was distributed in zines reproduced at copy shops. Punk art also uses the mass production aesthetic of Andy Warhol's Factory studio. Punk played a hand in the revival of stencil art, spearheaded by Crass. The Situationists also influenced the look of punk art, particularity that of the Sex Pistols. Punk art often utilizes collage, exemplified by the art of Dead Kennedys, Crass, Jamie Reid, and Winston Smith. John Holmstrom was a punk cartoonist who created work for the Ramones and Punk Magazine. The Stuckism art movement had its origin in punk, and titled its first major show The Stuckists Punk Victorian at the Walker Art Gallery during the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. Charles Thomson, co-founder of the group, described punk as "a major breakthrough" in his art.[14] In terms of photography, the punk subculture has often been associated with an intense, colorful style which has even crossed over into the non-mainstream modeling industry.


Two dance styles associated with punk are pogo dancing and moshing.[15] Stage diving and crowd surfing were originally associated with protopunk bands such as The Stooges, and have appeared at punk, metal and rock concerts. Ska punk promoted an updated version of skanking. Hardcore dancing is a later development influenced by all of the above mentioned styles. Psychobillies prefer to "wreck", a form of slam dancing that involves people punching each other in the chest and arms as they move around the circle pit.


A selection of British and American punk zines, 1994–2004

Punk has generated a considerable amount of poetry and prose. Punk has its own underground press in the form of punk zines, which feature news, gossip, cultural criticism, and interviews. Some zines take the form of perzines. Important punk zines include Maximum RocknRoll, Punk Planet, Cometbus, Flipside,and Search & Destroy . Several novels, biographies, autobiographies, and comic books have been written about punk. Love and Rockets is a notable comic with a plot involving the Los Angeles punk scene.

Examples of punk poets include: Richard Hell, Jim Carroll, Patti Smith, John Cooper Clarke, Seething Wells, Raegan Butcher, and Attila the Stockbroker. The Medway Poets performance group included punk musician Billy Childish and had an influence on Tracey Emin. Jim Carroll's autobiographical works are among the first known examples of punk literature. The punk subculture has inspired the cyberpunk and steampunk literature genres.


Many punk-themed films have been made, and punk rock music videos and punk skate videos are common. Punk films often intercut stock footage with news clips and home videos of band concerts. Several famous groups have participated in movies, such as the Ramones in Rock 'n' Roll High School, the Sex Pistols in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, and Social Distortion in Another State of Mind. Some well-known punks have had biographical films made about them, such as Sid and Nancy, which tells the story of the Sex Pistols' bassist Sid Vicious (portrayed by Gary Oldman) and Nancy Spungen (portrayed by Chloe Webb).[citation needed]

Original footage of punk bands is also often used in music documentaries. The seminal punk documentary is The Filth and the Fury, detailing the rise of the Sex Pistols. In addition to the members of that band and its affiliates (Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, Nancy Spungen, etc.) it also features archival footage of Billy Idol, Sting, Shane McGowan, and a young teenaged girl who would grow up to be Siouxsie Sioux, among others. One of the highlights of the movie is footage of the Sex Pistols playing "God Save the Queen" on a barge in the middle of the Thames during the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II, and their subsequent arrest.[citation needed]

The No Wave Cinema and Remodernist film movements owe much to punk aesthetics. Derek Jarman and Don Letts are notable punk filmmakers. Many other films are associated with punk, such as 24 Hour Party People, which presents the evolution of punk rock into New Wave and Madchester, and Threat, which focuses on militant Straight edge punks in the New York hardcore scene.

Lifestyle and community

Punks can come from any and all walks of life and economic classes. Compared to some alternative cultures, punk is much closer to being gender equalist in terms of its ideology.[16] Although the punk subculture is mostly anti-racist, it is vastly white (at least in predominantly-white countries). However, members of other groups (such as Blacks, Latinos, and Asians) have also contributed to the development of the subculture.[citation needed] Substance abuse has sometimes been a part of the punk scene, with the notable exception of the straight edge movement. Violence has also sometimes appeared in the punk subculture, but has been opposed by some subsets of the subculture, such as the pacifist strain of anarcho-punk.[citation needed]

Punks often form a local scene, which can have as few as half a dozen members in a small town, or as many as thousands of members in a major city.[17] A local scene usually has a small group of dedicated punks surrounded by a more casual periphery. A typical punk scene is made up of punk and hardcore bands; fans who attend concerts, protests, and other events; zine publishers, band reviewers, and writers; visual artists who create illustrations for zines, posters, and album covers; people who organize concerts, and people who work at music venues or independent record labels.[17] Squatting plays a role in some punk communities, providing shelter and other forms of support. Illegal squats in abandoned or condemned housing and communal "punk houses" sometimes provide bands a place to stay while they are touring. There are some punk communes, such as the Dial House. The Internet has been playing an increasingly larger role in punk, specifically in the form of virtual communities and file sharing programs for trading music files.[citation needed]

A band plays on the tiny stage at the Berkeley, California punk venue at 924 Gilman Street.
The graffiti-covered backstage area at the Gilman Street venue.


In the punk and hardcore subcultures, members of the scene are often evaluated in terms of the authenticity of their commitment to the values or philosophies of the scene, which may range from political beliefs (e.g., in an anarcho-punk squat) to lifestyle practices (e.g., not using drugs or alcohol in a "straight edge" scene"). In the punk subculture, the epithet poseur (or "poser") is used to describe "a person who habitually pretends to be something he is not." The term is used to refer to a person who adopts the dress, speech, and/or mannerisms of a punk or hardcore subculture, generally for attaining acceptability within the group, yet who is deemed to not share or understand the values or philosophy of the subculture.[18]

While this perceived inauthenticity is viewed with scorn and contempt by members of the subculture, the definition of the term and to whom it should be applied is subjective and the subject of much debate. For example, the Television Personalities' 1978 song “Part-Time Punks,” "declared that either everyone who wanted to be a punk was one or that everyone was a poseur (or both)" and it argues that "the concept of … punk rock authenticity … was a fiction."[19] Music journalist Dave Rimmer’s book Like Punk Never Happened argues that the "first punk kids in London envisioned waging a revolution against the corruption that had undeniably crept into a becalmed and boring rock scene." Rimmer notes that the "terms in which they expressed their disdain for hangers-on and those whose post-hip credentials didn’t quite make it came straight out of the authenticity movements: "Poseurs" was the favorite epithet."[20] Ross Buncle's history of late-1970s punk rock in Perth, Australia claims that eventually the scene "opened the door to a host of poseurs, who were less interested in the music than in UK-punk fancy dress and being seen to be hip"; he praises the gigs where there "were no punk-identikit poseurs" in the audience.[21]

The term was used in several punk songs, in addition to the song “Part-Time Punks,” including the X-Ray Spex song "I am a Poseur", the early 1980s hardcore punk band MDC's song "Poseur Punk", and California punk band NOFX's song "Decom-poseur", which "lashes out" at "an entire population of bands … guilty of bastardizing a once socially feared and critically infallible genre" of punk.[22] An article in Drowned in Sound argues that 1980s-era "hardcore is the true spirit of punk", because "after all the poseurs and fashionistas fucked off to the next trend of skinny pink ties with New Romantic haircuts, singing wimpy lyrics", the punk scene consisted only of people "completely dedicated to the DIY ethics"; punk "[l]ifers without the ambition to one day settle into the study-work-family-house-retirement-death scenario."[23]

Interactions with other subcultures

Glam rockers such as New York Dolls and David Bowie had big influences on protopunk, early punk rock and glam punk. Punk and hip hop emerged around the same time in the late 1970s New York City, and there has been some interaction between the two subcultures. Some of the first hip hop MCs called themselves punk rockers, and some punk fashions have found their way into hip hop dress. Malcolm McLaren played roles in introducing both punk and hip hop to the United Kingdom. Hip hop later influenced some punk and hardcore bands, such as Hed PE, Blaggers I.T.A., Biohazard, E.Town Concrete, The Transplants and Refused.[citation needed]

The skinhead subculture of the late 1960s — which had almost disappeared in the early 1970s — was revived in the late 1970s, partly because of the influence of punk rock, especially the Oi! punk subgenre. Conversely, ska and reggae, popular among traditionalist skinheads, has influenced several punk musicians. Punks and skinheads have had both antagonistic and friendly relationships, depending on the social circumstances, time period and geographic location.[citation needed]

The punk and heavy metal subcultures have shared some similarities since punk's inception. The early 1970s heavy metal scene had an influence on the development of protopunk. Alice Cooper was a forerunner of the fashion and music of both the punk and metal subcultures. Motörhead, since their first album release in 1977, have had continued popularity in the punk scene, and singer Lemmy is a fan of punk rock. Genres such as metalcore, grindcore and crossover thrash were greatly influenced by punk and heavy metal. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal influenced the UK 82 style of bands like Discharge, and hardcore punk was a primary influence on thrash metal bands such as Metallica and Slayer. The early 1990s grunge subculture was a fusion of punk anti-fashion ideals and metal-influenced guitar sounds. However, hardcore punk and grunge developed in part as reactions against the heavy metal music that was popular during the 1980s.[citation needed]

In punk's heyday, punks faced harassment and attacks from the general public and from members of other subcultures. In the 1980s in the UK, punks were sometimes involved in brawls with Teddy Boys, greasers, bikers, mods and members of other subcultures. There was also considerable enmity between positive punks (known today as goths) and the glamorously dressed New Romantics.

In the late 1970s, punks were known to have had confrontations with hippies due to the contrasting ideologies and backlash of the hippie culture. Nevertheless Penny Rimbaud of the English anarcho-punk band Crass said in interviews, and in an essay called The Last Of The Hippies, that Crass was formed in memory of his friend, Wally Hope.[24] Rimbaud also said that Crass were heavily involved with the hippie movement throughout the 1960s and Seventies, with Dial House being established in 1967. Many punks were often critical of Crass for their involvement in the hippie movement. Like Crass, Jello Biafra was influenced by the hippie movement and cited the yippies as a key influence on his political activism and thinking, though he did write songs critical of hippies.[citation needed]

The industrial and rivethead subcultures have had several ties to punk, in terms of music, fashion and attitude.

See also


  1. ^ Marsh, Dave (May 1971). "Will Success Spoil The Fruit?". Creem magazine. http://creemmagazine.com/ArchivePages/1971_05.html. Retrieved 19 November 2006. 
  2. ^ Moore, Thurston (1996). "Grabbing Ankles". Bomb Magazine. http://www.oceanstar.com/patti/intervus/9601bomb.htm. Retrieved 19 November 2006. 
  3. ^ Robb, John (2005-11-05). "The birth of punk". London: The Independent (UK). http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/features/article324977.ece. Retrieved 2006-12-17. 
  4. ^ Savage, Jon. England's Dreaming: The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock. Faber and Faber, 1991. ISBN 0-312-28822-0[page needed]
  5. ^ Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2 October 2003). "Misfits and Malcontents". abc.net.au. http://www.abc.net.au/arts/music/stories/s780315.htm. Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
  6. ^ Dougan, John. "The Saints: Biography". billboard.com. http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/bio/index.jsp?pid=5594. Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
  7. ^ Savage, Jon. Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture. P. xvi. 2007. Viking. England.
  8. ^ "Protopunk" from Allmusic.com
  9. ^ Harrington, Joe S. Sonic Cool: The Life & Death of Rock 'N' Roll. pp. 324-30. 2002. Hal-Leonard. USA.
  10. ^ Harrington, Joe S. Sonic Cool: The Life & Death of Rock 'N' Roll. pp. 344-50. 2002. Hal-Leonard. USA.
  11. ^ Allmusic, Punk. Retrieved 18 April 2009.
  12. ^ a b Allmusic, [1]. Retrieved 18 April 2009.
  13. ^ "The Situationist International Text Library/Consumer Society and Authenticity". Library.nothingness.org. 1995-10-03. http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/86. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  14. ^ "Modern Art Blog » Blog Archive » Interview with Charles Thomson of the Stuckists". Artistica. 2006-01-29. http://www.artistica.co.uk/2006/01/29/interview-with-charles-thomson-of-the-stuckists. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  15. ^ "A Metaphysics of the Mosh Pit". PopMatters. http://www.popmatters.com/columns/desrosiers/020522.shtml. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  16. ^ Lee, Michelle (Nov/Dec 2002). [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200211/ai_n9126077[dead link] "Oh bondage up yours! The early punk movement--and the women who made it rock"]. Off Our Backs. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200211/ai_n9126077[dead link]. Retrieved 27 December 2006. 
  17. ^ a b Grossman, Perry (2002). "Punk". St. James Encyclopaedia of Popular Culture. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g1epc/is_tov/ai_2419101001/pg_1. Retrieved 27 December 2006. 
  18. ^ O'Hara, Craig (1999). The Philosophy of Punk. San Francisco: AK Press. ISBN 9781873176160. [page needed]
  19. ^ http://www.indiecult.com/2006-04/television-personalities-my-dark-places[dead link] "Homeward Bound. Towards a Post-Gendered Pop Music: Television Personalities’ My Dark Places" 10 April 2006 by Godfre Leung Television Personalities My Dark Places (Domino, 2006)
  20. ^ Marsh, Dave (June 1995). "LIVE THROUGH THIS....". Rock & Rap Archives. http://www.rockrap.com/archive/arch124b.html. 
  21. ^ "The Orphans Story". Perthpunk.com. 1978-08-15. http://www.perthpunk.com/orphans_story.htm. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  22. ^ Punk rock veterans come out swinging, flatten pop-punk. Matt Dunning. Issue date: 9/11/03 http://google.com/search?q=cache:-DTYQmkqHYAJ:www.maristcircle.com/news/2003/09/11/Entertainment/Punk-Rock.Veterans.Come.Out.Swinging.Flatten.PopPunk-463066.shtml+poseur+punk+history&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=123&gl=ca&lr=lang_en|lang_fr[dead link]
  23. ^ Symonds, Rene (2007-08-16). "Features - Soul Brothers: DiS meets Bad Brains". Drowned in Sound. http://www.drownedinsound.com/articles/2307017. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  24. ^ Rimbaud, Penny (1982). The Last Of The Hippies - An Hysterical Romance. Crass. http://www.spunk.org/texts/places/britain/sp001297.txt. 


  • Willoughby Sharp Joseph Nechvatal, (1984) Machine Language Books, NY NY
  • Alan Moore and Marc Miller, eds., ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery (1985) (Colab, i.e. Collaborative Projects, NY, NY)
  • Hans Versluys, London's Burning: An exploration in punk subculture (Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium, 1980) Translated 2011, published by CreateSpace

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