The Fall of American Punk-Rock Music

Ramones | © Joshnshine/Pixabay
Ramones | © Joshnshine/Pixabay
Photo of Rodney Schmidt
10 May 2017

It has been more than forty years since American punk-rock music graced the streets with its exciting energy and slight madness, a madness which was medication for America’s youth, hostile towards society’s rules and in need of a fix. American punk-rock music developed a culture known as punk; this is the story of how punk culture destroyed the music it came from.

Punk culture established unwritten laws to classify what was and wasn’t punk – these rules permeated throughout the music genre’s culture and can be seen in punk’s dress code during the 80s, how it influenced other genres in the 90s and the way it was marketed in the early 2000s.

Punk | © Pixabay

Fashion forward

Punk-rock music was about dismantling governmental authority, questioning everything, and living one’s life exactly as pleased. American punks, or, fans of punk rock, decided to build their own authoritarian system to govern clothing. The attire was a conscious step towards looking tough; this meant wearing dark colors, Dr. Martins or Converse Classics, and having crazy hair.

The funny thing about fashion, and American punk-rock music, is the divide between how a punk looks and the appearance of punk band members. It was rare for the bands to abide to a certain style; fashion can be seen to be purely a concern of punk culture, not punk music.

Fashion made it difficult for people to attend punk shows in America. In the 80s and 90s, it was common for people to see others receive physical abuse for wearing the ‘wrong’ thing. Wrong shoes, wrong jacket, or even having the wrong ‘look’ could get your teeth kicked in.

American punks wanted American punk to fail

Pop music is one of the most successful business models within the music world. Pop bands will gladly try to persuade anyone to buy their music and see them play live. Punk-rock culture does not operate with the same model.

Within the realm of business, punks set American-punk music up to fail. American-punk culture didn’t like giving newcomers a chance to experience the thrill of a punk-rock show. This unwelcoming atmosphere contributed to the demise of punk in the early 2000s. It was the time when punk record labels stopped looking to only sign punk bands.

The reality is punk was not profitable. Punk culture didn’t help either. With too many rules governing those who listen to punk music, people avoided having contact with the genre.

Jay Roc

Fear of pop

Many sub genres came from punk, for example rap-punk music, street-punk music, and ska-punk music; the list goes on and on. People forget that punk has contributed to the development of many great sub genres. However, in the 1990s, punks declared they weren’t willing to welcome pop-punk musicians such as Green Day and Blink 182.

The success that came from pop-punk was bittersweet. Sweet, because some bands made a ton of money; bitter, because a lot pop-punk fans were looked down upon for liking the sub genre. For the first time, punk was on radio airwaves, nominated for Grammys, and was promoted with events such as the Vans Warped Tour music festival. Success became associated with pop-punk bands, and yet, for some reason, it was too much for the original punk culture they had grown from.

Punk culture chastised those who liked pop-punk music and labelled them as posers. Easily put, they thought pop-punk could never be punk and that punk should never be popular.

American punk music is not dead

Punk music still exists. A lot of purists continue to insist that punk music has disappeared underground due to the fact it’s where it belongs, but this isn’t the case. Punk music is underground because punk culture keeps it that way. Punk culture destroys musical diversity and punk music’s popularity.

During the early 2000s, people were able to see their favorite record labels shift in sound. Infamous punk-music labels like Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords all diversified their music output to include pop-punk music. The record labels knew that they could sell more records if they didn’t just distribute pure punk.

Don’t lose hope. Within the next few years, punk music will reemerge. Why? American politics is at a strange place right now, and history shows that punks feed off bad politics; ergo, as long as the country’s current political climate stays tumultuous, American punk-rock music will rise again.

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