Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Death of Genre


A little while back, a number of publications prematurely jumped on a bandwagon I couldn’t for the life of me get behind – the so-called ‘death of the guitar in popular music’. It felt short-sighted and false; a piss-poor attempt by unimaginative writers to predict a future based solely on what was hot in the charts that week.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before these ‘guitar eulogies’ clogging up the blog-o-sphere were rightfully dismantled by smarter writers willing to tell it like it really was. Not only were their arguments spot on, they also unintentionally revealed something exciting about our current musical landscape I hadn’t really given much thought to. In truth, no music genre, whether guitar-based or otherwise, is in the slightest bit of danger. On the contrary, audiences are now more willing than ever to step outside of their genre-based comfort zones to embrace wider selections of music. This is a welcome relief for music nerds like myself, who have for far too long now been negatively judged by our wider-spanning, somewhat schizophrenic musical interests.

A couple of years back, a metal-loving buddy of mine made a rather disparaging comment about the state of my record collection, failing to understand how anyone could possibly have Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Martha Wainwright and Mastodon positioned side-by-side on the same shelf. Flashing forward to the present, things are now very different. This same friend (who shall remain nameless in such a public forum) is no longer averse to mixing things up himself, sometimes taking in a little Joanna Newson between Cannibal Corpse records. Oh, how time distorts things.

So what exactly has changed in the past few years that has led to the evolving attitudes of the music-loving masses? It’s hard not to consider social media playing at least some role in all this. Think about it – we are now subjected to so much content while scrolling through our news feeds that coming across links to tour announcements, reviews, album streams and interviews is damn near unavoidable. With a simple click of a mouse, new music can be discovered in seconds, and soon enough artists that at one time may not have even been on our radars have found their way into our ever-expanding music collections.

This encouraging shift in our listening habits has also been reflected in the line ups offered up by some of our biggest annual music events. While it’s no secret that forward-thinking festivals like St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival have always delivered healthy doses of diversity, this year’s instalment- which included the likes of Caribou, St. Vincent, Perfect Pussy, Dune Rats, FKA Twigs, and Royal Blood, to name but a few – may have been their most compelling yet.

National radio station Triple J is another fine example of how far we’ve come as an audience. Compare, if you will, the annual Hottest 100 Countdown of today to the very same list a decade ago. Back then, it was primarily rock acts such as Wolfmother, Foo Fighters, The White Stripes and End of Fashion filling out the highest positions. While there is nothing innately wrong with these bands (Dave Grohl and Jack White are practically Gods in my eyes), they obviously fall within similar musical genres. Today, however, we are seeing a multitude of styles infiltrating the very same countdown, with artists as diverse as Lorde, Arctic Monkeys, Daft Punk and Vance Joy all making appearances in the top spots.

Based on the albums that have connected with listeners so far this year, it doesn’t seem as though this trend is likely to change anytime soon. The first four months alone has seen artists and bands as varied as Kendrick Lamar, Gang of Youths, Viet Cong, Courtney Barnett, Alabama Shakes, Blur and Father John Misty all releasing albums to huge acclaim. While each is quite different stylistically, they all share one important thing in common: quality tunes that have instantly found their audiences; and in many cases shared audiences.

Once again, what all of this illustrates rather clearly is just how off the mark anyone proclaiming the death of any genre in 2015 actually is. Perhaps those harbouring such negative, backward-thinking viewpoints may find it beneficial to remove their ears from commercial radio stations blasting the same five songs ad nauseam, and instead pay some attention to what is going on beyond that generic-sounding world.

Music-wise, we are more spoilt for choice than we have ever been. As a result, people are listening to music for the right reasons, and not just because – as was the case during my gloomy high school years – a band or artist is ‘cool’ or ‘in’. What matters now is how a certain piece of music connects with you personally, regardless of whether or not it happens to be classed as EDM, hip hop, folk, blues, punk, post punk, new wave, no wave or metal.

Most importantly, my record collection has never looked better. Hell, I think it’s safe to say even my metal-loving buddy would now agree with me there.


Thursday, 5 January 2017

Don't Stop Listening: The Necessary Separation of Art and Artist

Around the time of the release of Kanye West’s magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I attended a Christmas party populated by a few like-minded music nerds. During the evening, a friend cornered me for a discussion revolving mostly around the music she had been recently getting into. Lowering her voice considerably, she moved in closer to drop what she thought to be a shocking revelation - she actually liked Kanye West’s new album.

‘You mean My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?’ I asked.

‘Uh huh,’ she confirmed nervously.

‘Uh, yeah… so do I. I think it’s great!’ I stated rather matter-of-factly.

For a moment she looked offended, as if I was somehow mocking her. Upon realising I was actually being genuine, her expression then morphed into something resembling outright confusion.

‘Really?’ she asked, baffled.

Our exchange at the time struck me as a little odd. I wondered why exactly she had been so apprehensive when it came to admitting to her enjoyment of the album. In the weeks following our drunken chat, I found myself in similar discussions with friends who were either a) into Kanye but not exactly willing to advertise it, or b) dismissive of the music without giving it a chance. Then it hit me. The reactions had nothing to do with the music at all, but rather with the man behind the music. The ego-fuelled rants, the endless showboating and the badly-timed stage invasions had seemingly taken their toll, even on those who at one time considered themselves to be massive fans. 

In a way, it was understandable. Hell, even Istruggled to work up the energy to give any kind of shit about the man or his music for a short while. But then I heard ‘Runaway’ and quickly backtracked, deciding that I was not going to let any amount of Kanye-related douchiness take away from what really mattered – the music. Had I not learnt the importance of separating the music from the artist at the time, I may well have deprived myself of one of the best albums of that year.

This is not the only instance of me having to play the ‘separation game’. My enjoyment of The Flaming Lips has also recently come under threat, thanks to a drastic change in main man Wayne Coyne’s attitude in the press. Once known for his overly-friendly, down to earth persona, Coyne seems to have somehow transformed into a bit of a shit-talking egomaniac of late. Whether this can be attributed to a newfound appreciation of bad drugs, some deranged version of a mid-life crisis, or the horrible influence of his new bestie Miley Cyrus, his behaviour can’t help but leave a bad taste.

Despite this, I have in no way been willing to let any of it dictate my enjoyment of the music. The Soft Bulletin is far too good an album to not listen to on a semi-regular basis. And I’ll be damned if I am going to let anything as minute as some diva-like rock star bullshit ruin the feelings of euphoria that go along with listening to ‘Do You Realize?’ for the millionth time. 

All of this is hardly anything new to music fans. There are countless examples of musicians acting like spoilt children and coming damn close to ruining their legacies in the process. History is full of them. I’m sure to this day Morrissey fans still give their Smiths records the evil eye upon hearing another one of his famously long-winded, misguided rants. And how about those long-suffering members of the Kiss army that still happen to be out there? You can only imagine how the poor bastards must feel anytime Gene Simmons opens up his tired old yap. And let’s not forget U2’s overly-loyal fan base, who are regularly forced to deal with the trauma that goes along with seeing Bono’s smug face popping up all over the place to remind us all just how much better he is than the rest of us.  

For the most part, it’s something we simply have to learn to ignore if we want to continue to enjoy the music. That said, it would be wrong of me to not also mention the rare occasions where an artist’s personal life cannot help but destroy any potential joy their music may have, at one time, brought. It’s extremely hard to imagine anyone with even the slightest conscience being able to hear a Gary Glitter track again without feeling at least a little bit queasy. And can you honestly tell me that the mere mention of the name Chris Brown does not make you want to immediately rush out to locate Rihanna and give her a big ‘ole hug, while simultaneously cursing the fact that such a monster can still be allowed to sell records and receive awards? I didn’t think so.

At the end of the day, if the actions and/or words of the artist is not hurting anyone, and the only real crime happens to be that their head is perhaps wedged a little too far up their own behind, then there’s really no reason to not sit back and continue to enjoy the music in the same way you always have, especially if said artist is giving us albums as strong as Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy every couple of years.  In these cases, does it honestly even matter what they happen to do or say once the music stops?




Wednesday, 13 January 2016

My Favourite Albums of 2015 (Part III): The Best of the Rest

For the third and final installment of my favourite albums of 2015 list, I’ll focus on the ones I always expected to be great... and thankfully did not disappoint. 
While there’s always a chance the artists you love will one day create a massive dud that will forever leave a bad taste, this luckily hasn't been the case for those listed below.
I won’t go into too much detail regarding each selection, either because a) I have already done so elsewhere, or b) they have already been the subject of endless articles/reviews in music publications/blogs across the globe (what the hell more could I possibly say about Kendrick Lamar that hasn’t already been said). 
Anyhoo, without further ado, here they are (in no particular order whatsoever). Enjoy!

Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

Titus Andronicus is a band with what I consider to be a bulletproof discography, thanks to the fearlessness and intelligence of their mad punk-rock genius leader Patrick Stickles. His band’s latest – a 93 minute punk rock opera revolving around manic depression – is one of their best yet (second only to their sophmore masterwork The Monitor, imho). The record, as a whole, might be a whole helluva lot to take in initially, but multiple listens will reward you in all kinds of amazeballs ways. Brilliant stuff from an always brilliant band.

Father John Misty -  I Love You, Honeybear

Former Fleet Foxes member come witty wordsmith J.Tillman aka Father John Misty had aleardy established himself an important name in the modern musical landscape with 2012’s Fear FunI Love You, Honeybear, however, saw him reach previously uncharted levels of excellence. While for most people it may seem too early to refer to his followup as a bona-fide classic, I’m going to go and say it anyway. Because it absolutely is. In fact, if this record was a person, I would marry it and have twenty of its babies. There’s no other way to express my love for it – it is such a funny, inventive, beautiful, sad piece of work. Absolutely everything I hoped it would be and more. 

Kurt Vile – b’lieve I’m goin’ down

Kurth Vile seems to receive increasing amounts of critical respect with each new release, and it’s easy to see why – his albums, while never really that much different from one another, each possess their own unique kind of magic. There’s a  hypnotic quality to the records that draw you in while somehow releasing you from whatever kind of foul mood you happen to find yourself in at the time. b’lieve I’m going’down is no different – a completely absorbing work of musical genius that feels taylor-made for lazy Summer afternoons. Keep ‘em coming Kurt!

Best Coast – California Nights
My thoughts on this sunny pop-rock gem can be found here.

Alabama Shakes – Sound and Colour

This great band somehow got even better on their follow up to Boys & Girls. Brittany Howard truly possesses one of the most face-meltingly awesome voices in rock. If you have yet to jump on the Alabama Shakes bandwagon, it’s time to do so.

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Yeah, I can’t really add anything here that hasn’t already been said 1000+ times before. A great album that rewards multiple listens, and one of 2015’s undisputed masterpieces. All hail Kendrick!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My Favourite Albums of 2015 (Part II): The Ones That (Almost) Got Away

In the second part of the year-end list nobody asked for, I’ll be focusing on the bands and/or artists I have either just started listening to or didn’t even know existed prior to 2015. I’m going to be honest here – most of these were discovered thanks to Spotify playlist recommendations. Yes, I know, I know – streaming services are the devil. Blah, blah, blah. I get it, I really do. Yet, I have little doubt that, if not for these recommendations, I would never have given these albums a shot in the first place. And that would be a massive bummer.

I also should note that the albums listed below are only a select few of the many I liked this year. The ones chosen are simply those that have stuck with me the longest. 
Anyhoo, enough rambling. Let’s just move onto what matters  - the music itself. If you like the sound of any of these, I recommend you give ‘em a listen. I doubt you’ll be sorry.
Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People
I’ll start with Ezra Furman’s Perpetual Motion People because it is the only album on this particular section of the list I didn’t discover via Spotify. Rather, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to review the album for Aphra Magazine a month before it’s official release. And boy, was it a revelation. I won’t go into why, as I’d just be repeating myself (for my specific thoughts, you can check out the review here). All I’ll add is this - Mr. Furman is an infuriatingly underrated artist – one I am shocked isn’t making more appearances on the endless parade of ‘year-end’ album lists.
If you haven’t given this record (or any of his previous records, for that matter) a spin, I implore you to do so. If your taste buds are not located squarely within the depths of you anus, you should get a kick out of it.
Royal Headache – High
Um… how exactly the fuck did I miss Royal Headache the first time ‘round? Have I been sleepwalking through the last few years? Maybe. Whatever the case may be, I have now made damn sure to catch up on everything they’ve put out into the world up to this point.
While I had heard the name ’Royal Headache’ bandied about since their formation, I often thought I was hearing about another band entirely ( ‘Royal Blood’ – who are themselves not too shabby). I certainly wasn’t aware that the name I was hearing belonged to one of the best punk bands to emerge from this country since the heyday of The Saints.
Since my first exposure to the group back in August, their two near-perfect albums have been a consistent presence in my life… and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. 
Sadly, I don’t think I’m alone in being embarrassingly late to the Royal Headache party. If you do happen to be in the same boatthen it’s something you may need to rectify, ASAP. 
U.S. Girls – Half Free
U.S. Girls (aka Meg Remy) is another project that is already a few albums in, yet somehow only became known to me recently. Better late than never, I suppose. 
To me, U.S. Girls is the way pop music should (but rarely does) sound in the year 2015. It’s weird, melodic and catchy in a way that nothing else out there is at the moment. Pitchfork probably said it better than I ever could in their review of the record back in September: ‘The album sounds like your favourite golden-oldies station beamed through a pirate-radio frequency, seamlessly fusing ‘60s-vintage girl group serenades and smooth ‘70s disco into dubby panoramas and horror-movie atmospherics.’

Low Cut Connie – Hi Honey


Philadelphia band Low Cut Connie first grabbed my attention with the…uh… rather interesting cover artwork of their third album Hi Honey. Based on that alone, I just had to know what the band sounded like. I’m so damn glad my curiosity got the better of me. Here is a group that is living proof that the often argued point of Rock n’ Roll being a dead genre is complete and utter bullshit.
I have no idea if Low Cut Connie have ever made their way over to this side of the pond, but if and when they do, I will be the first in line. This is music for boozy nights in smoky bars. In other words, music that is well and truly up my alley.

Radioactivity – Silent Kill


Silent Kill is the second record by the previously unheard of (by me) Texas group Radioactivity, which the internet tells me consists of members of other bands that have been hanging around the garage punk scene for the better part of a decade. Like Rock N’ Roll, Punk is another genre some have stupidly proclaimed to be dead. What crap. I have lost count of the current bands doing interesting things within the consistently expanding genre of punk. Many, like Radioactivity, are offering up vital reminders of just how great and fresh the genre can be in the right hands.
If you are a music fan who misses the glory days of bands such as The Ramones and The Jam, then stop whinging already. Radioactivity are here to fill that horrible void in your punk-loving hearts.
To be concluded…

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

My Favourite Albums of 2015 (Part I): Old is New Again

It has been another year overflowing with the kind of musical swill many of us have now sadly become accustomed to. As I write this, an unstoppable scourge of generic, over-produced trash is poisoning our airwaves. Worse still, there’s very little indication that any of the ghouls responsible will be fading into obscurity anytime soon. In fact, the horror show that is corporate mainstream music culture is now being embraced not only by the unadventurous pop-music loving masses, but also growing numbers of confused writers within the ‘alternative’ music press who have, for whatever reason, decided to give in to it all and start bowing at the altar of these ‘artists’.

But anyway, I’m getting slightly off course here. Believe it or not, it is not actually my intention to spend the length of this post bitching about the sorry state of the music industry. On the contrary, my aim is a far more positive one - to shine some much-needed light on the bands and artists who have made it possible for me to say without even the slightest amount of sarcasm that 2015 has also been a great year for music. Yes, that’s right –there is actually, at present, a metric fuck-tonne of awesome music out there – almost too much for an unmotivated sod like me to write about at any great length here.

Still, I feel it’s only fair that I dedicate at least a little bit of time to these artists and say a few words about the albums they unleashed onto those who cared to listen. And due to the number of releases I really, really dug, I feel it may be best to separate them into three very specific categories:
1) those successfully returning to the spotlight after insanely long hiatus’s

2) those I had no idea even existed 12 months ago

3) those on unstoppable winning streaks

For this particular post (the first of a planned three), I will focus on the older artists returning with new albums after far too long in the wilderness. What is particularly special about this group is the fact that the bands/musicians created records that demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is actually possible to successfully return after an extended break, remain relevant and grow old gracefully. Who woulda thunk it?

Anyhoo, without further ado, here they are, in no particular order…


Desaparecidos - Payola


Okay, so Conor Oberst and co. can hardly be considered old, per se. But screw it, they’ve definitely been off the radar long enough to justify their inclusion within this particular section of the list.

Payola (the group’s second LP) had the wonderful distinction of being the record released this year that took me most by surpris,. It’s not because I didn’t expect greatness from Mr. Oberst - hell, over the course of his career he has rarely, if ever, put his name to anything that was’t worthwhile. Still, releasing an album with an old punk band that, to put things in perspective, haven’t had a record out since NSYNC were infecting the charts – didn’t exactly fill me with excitement… for whatever reason.

My slight curiosity about the whole deal, however, quickly became something much more the second I hit play that first magical time. Payola immediately announced itself as Conor’s strongest work in over a decade - a fun, timely, catchy, angry, exciting, filler-free masterpiece that, six months on, still hasn’t lost any of the charm I knew it had upon that first listen.

I have no idea what Desaparecidos are planning beyond this release.... I can only hope there are future plans, and that the space between this album and the next one is nowhere near as drawn out.


Faith No More – Sol Invictus


As surprising as the Desaparecidos release was, it was nowhere near as miraculous as the fact that, in 2015, we were given the gift of a new Faith No More record.

For close to twenty years fans like me didn’t for a second consider the idea of a new record from this legendary group even a remote possibility.  Even after a string of highly successful reunion shows in which the band seemed as though they were happy and invested, it still seemed like a far off dream. Yet, somehow, we finally got our follow up to 1997’s Album of the Year. And holy shit, was it good.

Sol Invictus achieved the impossible by not only retaining the bands ultra-unique personality, but also by bringing this personality into the present while somehow avoiding that overly nostalgic, bordering-on-stale feeling that has plagued so many bands before them.

So how did they do it? What the hell's their secret? Was it the luxury of having no record company interference? Maturity? Experience? Whatever the case may be, I hope this winning creative streak continues for these middle-aged rapscallions. After all, the world is undeniably a far better place with FNM around. 


Blur – The Magic Whip


Another band that dared to take the plunge and add another record to their so far bullet proof discography was Blur who, thankfully, were both smart and talented enough to only make a follow u that was worthy of their name.

The albums quality should’ve come as zero surprise to those who have followed Albarn’s career though out his years outside of Blur – the dude is prolific as hell and rarely releases anything that isn’t at the very least interesting.  

What was especially great about The Magic Whip was that it presented a band that was in no way interested in repeating themselves. Instead, they revealed another side of themselves to us,  one that was only interested in evolving and bettering themselves in the process. Somehow, they did it without losing that indefinable quality that made them one of the 90’s most-loved bands.


Dr Dre - Compton


Despite having an album on the boil for close to two decades, Dre’s eventual return still came as a total shock– mostly because we’d all given up on hearing anything new from him ever again.  And while the album we were all promised (Detox) never materialised, we perhaps got something better.

Compton - released just as F. Gary Grey’s Straight Outta Compton was hitting multiplexes - immediately silenced the doubters and rewarded patient fans. It was, from first song to last, a beast of a record that made it feel as though no time has passed at all since the now legendary 2001.

Like every other release on this list, Compton wasn’t the sad story of some strapped-for-cash old-timer trying to relive former glories, but rather a thrilling return to form that served as a crystal clear reminder (if one was even needed) the Dre is still in a league of his own.
It’s rare for a record to sound good enough to warrant a sixteen year gap, but Compton was just that - absolute proof that occasionally, good things come to those who wait…and wait…and wait...


 Refused - Freedom

Refused returned in 2015 to a somewhat mixed response. Such divisiveness wasn’t exactly a surprise - after all, if your last album was The Shape of Punk to Come, you'd probably have a difficult time pleasing absolutely everyone as well. Hell, even I wasn’t exactly an instant convert. The first single did next to nothing for me (at least upon first listen), and the bleak early reviews kept me well away for the first couple of weeks following its official release. I needn’t have worried. Freedom is the sound of a revitalised band that is still angry about… well, a lot of things. For my money, there isn’t a weak spot across its entire runtime.

Refused did the smart thing with Freedom by completely avoiding any attempts to rebottle their old sound. Instead, they made the record they wanted to make (even bringing a revered pop producer on board for a couple of tracks).

Again, not everyone agreed with my opinion on this surprisingly modern-sounding punk rock record, but at the end of the day, who cares - this post is all about me, after all.  And for me, Freedom is a total success.


Sleater Kinney - No Cities to Love



Last but not least, we come to Sleater Kinney.

What could I possibly add to the zillion glowing reviews and articles that have already been committed to print regarding the glorious return of this powerful trio? Not much, really. Cities to Love was as great as we all hoped it would be, while the live shows have, by all accounts, been going off (I’ll find out for myself in March). Best of all, Carrie Brownstein - kickass front woman, exceptional writer, comedic actor - has been everywhere in 2015. She can seemingly do it all.

Even though the album was released almost 12 months ago now, it has been making appearances on year end lists all over the place, which should be as good an indication as any of this records impressive quality.

To be continued …

Saturday, 17 October 2015

I Still Listen To Punk (And So Should You)


It would be a shameless lie for me to say that punk-rock doesn’t hold a particularly special place in my heart. Sure, I have a genuine love for all genres (and probably always will), but nothing has ever truly compared to the loud visceral charge of punk. Everything about it remains oh-so-thrilling, forty-plus years after a young Iggy Popwrapped his sweaty hands around a microphone for the first time to promise our parents and grandparents that they ‘will have a real cool time, tonight.’

Whether or not you’re onboard with the message and/or the music of punk, the fact of the matter remains that even today, the genre is far from dead. In fact, the mere suggestion that it has lost any of its vitriolic spark is downright ludicrous. There is proof of this all over the place - all you really need to do is open your eyes and ears a little.

New Jersey band Titus Andronicus’snew album, The Most Lamentable Tragedy– an exhilarating, twenty-nine song, ninety-three minute punk-rock opera revolving around the subject of manic depression – stands as a perfect example of just how far the genre has come. And while the record itself might sound like a whole hell of a lot to take in initially (and don’t kid yourself, it most definitely is), it is absolutely worth the time and effort.

Interestingly, The Most Lamentable Tragedyisn’t the first left-field punk-rock opera to be released by a reputable band this decade. Just four years ago, Canadian act Fucked Up proved similarly adventurous by unleashing the mind-meltingly great David Comes to Life onto the unsuspecting masses. For those who hadn’t been paying much attention to the world of punk at the time, the albums arrival came as a bit of a shock. However, to the rest of us who were still very much under punk’s powerful spell, it was simply another in an impressively long line of great modern releases to see the light of day. These albums, like all the very best music, are overflowing with individuality and diversity – two qualities that have always been an essential part of punk’s DNA, even going back to its earliest days.

The often turbulent history of punk-rock is an important thing to consider when discussing today’s artists, as it provides some valuable insight into why, all these years later, the real-deal bands still have the ability to kick even the most overly-cynical music fan’s ass. And while there continues to be passionate debate as to when exactly punk first took shape, what is generally agreed upon is the moment in which it all came together and rose up from the underground: right smack bang in the middle of the crazy seventies.


By all accounts, the mid-seventies was a fascinating period, one in which an increasing number of artists chose to defiantly stand away from the generic mainstream’s reach in order to let their freak flags fly. The ultra-unique personalities of these reckless trailblazers were on full, uncensored display - both in their music, and in the ways in which they chose to present themselves: The Ramones had the matching leather jackets, skinny jeans, fake last names and two-minute punk anthems; Richard Hell had the torn shirts, the safety pins (a style later adopted by The Sex Pistols), and dark, poetic lyrics that spoke directly to an entire ‘blank generation’. Divisive two-piece Suicide, meanwhile, had their own unique brand of electronic nihilism going on, one that both baffled and compelled the lost souls who stumbled through the doors of now-legendary New York venues CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.

As the artists on the scene continued to evolve and change in interesting and unpredictable ways, so too did the scene itself, and not always for the better. While shows were initially only attended by genuine, like-minded individuals who were there to celebrate punk’s original vision, things altered rather dramatically the second punk gained the unwanted attention of the previously dismissive mainstream, who – let’s be honest - still didn’t really know or care about the true meaning of it all. This inevitably led to gigs becoming over-crowded affairs full of clueless trend-followers who saw punk as little more than a radical fashion statement to piss off their Elvis-loving parents.

Still, the arrival of posers on the scene, while initially problematic, was an issue that was relatively short-lived. As many at the time probably guessed would happen, it didn’t take long for the fake fans to grow tired of drinking beer from plastic cups in dark clubs while attempting to sing along to lyrics they didn’t quite understand. Before long, most had ditched their pre-torn jackets and perfectly-groomed Mohawks in favour of white Armani suits and horrible mullets. By the time the eighties finally rolled around, every last one of them had vacated to the next ‘happening scene’, which, given the musical trajectory at the time, no doubt entailed snorting ungodly amounts of cocaine and sweating profusely to the sounds of early Duran Duran.


Following the mass-poser-exodus, punk suddenly found itself in a very different place. When the dust had settled, it became immediately apparent to those who stuck around that the music had morphed into something altogether different; something far more serious and intense. Within the burgeoning scenes in major American cities like Washington DC and Los Angeles, the bands populating the stages inside ratty venues were suddenly a whole hell of a lot louder, faster, and angrier. Punk had entered a new phase, one that was soon bestowed with its own appropriate title: hardcore.

Hardcore quickly gained all kinds of notoriety thanks in part to the no-bullshit, D.I.Y attitudes of bands like Dead KennedysBlack FlagBad Brains andCircle Jerks, whose chaotic, blood-splattered live shows became the thing of legend. Sadly, like the scene proceeding it, hardcore was sadly not built to last – at least not in such a large-scale way.

Many of the complications that led to the demise of the original punk movement soon overlapped into hardcore. Like before, crowds of trendy outsiders were slithering their way into shows. Now, however, they were joined by an even worse element - violently-minded thugs who were using the music emanating from the stage as their own personal soundtrack to beat in the skulls of nearby audience members.

Complicating matters further was the fact that the police were starting to pay a great deal of attention to the comings and goings of hardcore bands (and their fans), which inevitably led to numerous tension-fueled run-ins. All of this, it goes without saying, didn’t exactly do the movement any favours. In a 2013 interview with LA Weekly, Black Flag front man Henry Rollins spoke with writer Ben Westhoff about the exact moment it all went south, stating, ‘We were picking a fight with the police and we got it. We got really vilified because of that, and the police ended up winning.’

Despite the forces working against hardcore, it wasn’t all bad. Along with the hordes of detractors came great numbers of passionate believers. One notable example was filmmaker Penelope ‘Wayne’s World’ Spheeris, who was not only completely on board with hardcore and everything it represented, but who also went out of her way to capture the action on film as it was taking place. This resulted in the exhilaratingly raw moment-in-time documentary The Decline of Western Civilisation, which is today considered a classic.

As hardcore gradually screeched to a depressing halt, the future looked pretty grim for punk. The rising tide of glam/hair metal- and all of the hedonism, misogyny, and ego-fuelled excess that went along with it – came close to being the final nail in punk’s coffin. Thankfully, smarter listeners were able to block out the awful sounds coming out of L.A’s Sunset Strip and sit and wait patiently for music to once again return to a more exciting and dangerous place.

Soon enough it did, in the form of genres such as grunge and riot grrrl (a movement that deserves its own dedicated article). Yet, while these new musical movements were undoubtedly a breath of fresh air, many fans continued to pine for the specific thrill that only old-school punk could provide and remained hopeful that it would someday return in a big, bad way.

Little did they realise just how big and bad it was about to get…


While grunge shared some obvious commonalties with the punk scenes of yore – with young upstarts like Dave Grohl toEddie Vedder heaping endless amounts of praise onto the genre any chance they got - it still wasn’t punk, exactly. That said, it came a damn sight closer than the next movement to eventually carry the punk moniker - a type of radio-friendly aural excrement that, all these years later, still has the ability to send a cold shiver down the spine of the even the most resilient punk rocker. I speak, of course, of the much-maligned sub-genre known as pop-punk.

Pop-punk –at least in its overtly commercial form - wasn’t exactly what the purists had in mind while waiting for the next era of punk to reveal itself. In fact, the shiny, over-produced puppy dog version of a once beloved genre was so bad that many old school fans couldn’t help but involuntarily vomit in their own mouths. As far as they were concerned, punk had just died the worst death imaginable.

It was easy to understand why so many were so horrified. While the genre had up until that point been on a commendable winning streak (despite lapses in its cultural prominence), this brand new, heavily neutered version of the genre was threatening to undo all of punk’s hard work by turning it all into a pathetic joke. What was especially disturbing was that a great majority of the pop-punkers burning up the charts were - at best - skinny, helpless puppets attached to strings being yanked at by drooling record executives with dollar signs in their eyes. Inevitably, words such as ‘integrity’ and ‘individuality’ were replaced with ‘relatability’ and ‘popularity.’ It was a worrying change of pace - one that came frighteningly close to killing off the genre entirely.

Luckily, it would take more than a few money-hungry musicians with nothing of worth to say to destroy punk completely; and while the faux-punks had stolen most of the spotlight, the real artists were still around, soldiering on in the shadows and waiting ever-so-patently for audiences to grow tired of the musical crimes perpetrated by the likes of Good Charlotte and Simple Plan. When the moment finally arrived for pop-punk to draw its last, wimpy breath, theactual musicians returned with a vengeance to bring the genre back to its rightful place – which wasn’t, as some mistakenly seemed to think, plastered across the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.
Following the genre’s mid-late nineties low-point, punk returned to a more solid and steady path. The tragic events of 9-11, along with the horror show of the Bush administration, understandably gave the music a much-needed shot in the arm. There was, after all, a lot to speak out against during those dark years. And while all the negativity at the time wasn’t quite enough to bring about an earth-shattering movement on par with those of the late seventies and early eighties, one really has to question whether another highly-publicised scene is what the genre really needed anyway. After all, over-exposure didn’t exactly do punk any favours the first time around, did it?


Today, punk no longer dominates the headlines of online music blogs, and it is certainly not a part of any national conversation – it is a niche genre that is adored by some, and ignored by others. But let’s be absolutely clear – this is a good thing. The genre – and the many, many sub-genres that have subsequently popped up since its inception - is as vital now as it has ever been. Better yet, it can now exist without the imminent threat of pre-mature flame-out.

The sorry state of the music industry has also, in a strange way, helped transport punk to a better place. At one time, there may have been thousands of talentless wonders looking to form bands with only the shallowest of intentions (fame, money, sex). However, the grim realities of being a musician in 2015 has rightfully scared most of these goons away. This has, in turn, left the real punk-rockers to pick up the slack, with the best of them – artists like Titus Andronicus and Fucked Up - embracing the punk ethos of old, while simultaneously putting their own unique spin on a genre that now encapsulates the very best qualities of old school punk movements.

Listening to any of this year’s best punk records – including releases from the likes ofDesaparecidosRefusedRadioactivityand Ghetto Ghouls – is really all the proof you need that the music still has the ability to shake us from our dazed human state and remind us all what being alive is really supposed to be all about.

I am entirely confident this will remain as such for the foreseeable future. Unless, of course, there is a pop-punk resurgence on the cards. For the sake of all that is good and right with the world, let us pray that neverhappens…

For further punk-related reading, check out:

American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush.
Get In the Van by Henry Rollins
Rip It Up And Start Again by Simon Reynolds.
Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad.
Please Kill Me by Leg McNeill and Gillian McCain
England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage

Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell
For further punk-related goodness on film, check out:

American Hardcore, dir. Paul Rachman
The Decline of Western Civilization, dir. Penelope Spheeris
Suburbia, dir. Penelope Spheeris
Punk: Attitude, dir. Don Letts
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, dir. Julien Temple
The Filth and the Fury, dir. Julien Temple
The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle, dir. Julien Temple
Repo Man, dir. Alex Cox
Sid and Nancy, dir. Alex Cox
SLC Punk, dir. James Merendino
The Punk Singer, dir. Sini Anderson
For further punk-related listening, here’s ahastily thrown-together modern punk playlist to wrap your eyes and ears around:

OFF! - ‘Borrow and Bomb/I’ve Got News For You’ (OFF!, 2012)
Pissed Jeans – ‘False Jesii Part 2’ (King of Jeans, 2009)
Brand New – ‘Mene’ (Single, 2015)
Desaparecidos – ‘Backsell’ (Payola, 2015)
Fucked Up – ‘Queen of Hearts’ (David Comes to Life, 2011)
Refused – ‘Dawkins Christ’ (Freedom, 2015)
METZ – ‘The Swimmer’ (METZ II, 2015)
Perfect Pussy – ‘I’ (I Have Lost the Desire for All Feeling, 2013)
Ghetto Ghouls – ‘Peepshow’ (Ghetto Ghouls, 2014)
Radioactivity – ‘Silent’ (Silent Kill, 2015)
White Lung – ‘Bag’ (Sorry, 2012)
Titus Andronicus – ‘The Magic Morning’, ‘Lookalike’, ‘I Lost My Mind (DJ)’, ‘Mr. E. Mann’, ‘Fired Up’, ‘Dimed Out’ (The Most Lamentable Tragedy, 2015)