There are no new waves, there is only the ocean.
— Jean-Luc Godard
There are no new waves, there is only the ocean.
— Jean-Luc Godard
Rock n’ roll has changed the world and its culture forever. From its inception, rock n’ roll influenced musicians across the world, each adding his or her own twist to it, giving birth to sub-genres, or the musical children of rock n’ roll. Included in this litter of more or less mangy puppies is punk rock. Punk rock itself would also prove to be very powerful, rising from runt of the litter to become an Alpha male, mostly by pushing the boundaries or theoretical envelope of society’s cultural norms. The protagonists of the punk rock movement grabbed our attention by ripping their jeans, dying their hair pink, putting on make-up and piercing their cheek with a safety pins.
These characters of the punk rock movement hypnotized us, not allowing us to look away from the strange new carnivalesque atmosphere they had created. We were thrown into a state of self-awareness, by looking at their liberated art form and sense of self, forcing us to look more closely at the world around us. Often very political and self-aware, punk rock became the voice of the youth in a disgruntled generation. Similar to its seemingly more geriatric predecessor, punk rock became one of the most highly influential genres of all time, eventually signing lucrative record deals and selling out stadiums, thereby rendering themselves as moot to the movement’s spawn- the bondage sporting children it had once nurtured. What needs to be understood is that there was an underground to the punk movement as well. While the Sex Pistols spawned a million bands with their raw, live energy, a more subtle group of musicians and artists were more or less quietly playing throughout the US & the UK. And though they weren’t (and often still aren’t) as well known, they often produced a greater effect on bands, film, and art that later went on to greater renown. Sub-genres of the punk rock movement include: No Wave, Hardcore, Horror Punk, Neo-Rockabilly and later Ska-Punk, Heavy Metal and Electronic music. Here comes the ocean.
Punk – New Wave to No Wave
Suicide is the American electronic proto-punk musical duo of Alan Vega and Martin Rev. They are the progenitors of Air, Daft Punk, Boards of Canada, Phantogram, The Postal Service and all other synthesizer/vocal musical duos you love today. Never widely popular among the general public, they take after Velvet Underground, as they are still highly influential. Supposedly the first to use the phrase “punk music” to advertise a concert, a phrase adopted from Lester Bangs, Suicide were among the first to adopt simple keyboard riffs, accompanied by primitive drum machines, creating a minimal metronomic electronic soundscape for Vega to mumble his edgy lyrics over. Emerging along glam punk in New York, they soon had a reputation for their esoteric and interactive live shows, often playing with the New York Dolls. After 1973, Suicide played at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, sharing the bill with emerging punk bands, to the crowd’s hateful delight. Their first album, Suicide (1977), is a classic.
On the other side of the spectrum The Cramps was husband-wife Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, guitarist Bryan Gregory and drummer Pam Ballam. Despite their transient way of life, they flip-flopped back and forth across the US and were heavily involved in the early CBGB punk movement, with influences in garage punk, psychobilly, punk blues, gothabilly, rockabilly and horror punk. With their music was mostly rockabilly, The Cramps often stylistically, if not conceptually, mimic Suicide with minimal and repetitive drums, while employing dual guitars without a bass to varying tempos.
In a way, The Fleshtones literally founded garage rock, by finding some abandoned instruments in the basement of the house they were renting. The Fleshtones were Keith Streng, Marek Pakulski, Peter Zaremba and Lenny Calderon and debuted at CBGB in 1976, playing often at Max’s Kansas City, Club 57 on St. Mark’s Place, Irving Plaza, Danceteria in Manhattan, and the original 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. The Fleshtones shared a rehearsal space with The Cramps in the Bowery in 1977. The following year, The Fleshtones signed with Red Star Records, and released their first album Blast Off!, to huge cult and underground following, but which never gained critical success.
Social Distortion was one of the first west coast punk bands, ushering in the inception of the DIY ethos, from a west co9ast perspective, making artist run record labels more and more of a reality. While on tour in 1982, the band recorded their debut album Mommy’s Little Monster, and released it on their own label 13th Floor Records. They also epitomized the typical problems associated with being catapulted into the public eye, with lead singer Mike Ness battling addiction for years.
The Misfits, specifically Glen Danzig, started Horror Punk, taking punk rock and mixing them with horror film themes and imagery. Perfect for a band from New Jersey. Playing their first two performances at CBGB, they took advantage of the punk crowd’s thirst for more. They released several EPs and singles and, the albums Walk Among Us (1982) and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (1983), both classics of the early-1980s hardcore punk movement. Like all great punk acts, The Misfits couldn’t keep from destroying themselves. Disbanding in 1983, Danzig went on to form Samhain and then Danzig, becoming as influential in suing his former bandmates as he was to future punk, heavy metal, and alternative artists.
Last week when we played The Misfits “Hybrid Moments” from Static Age, I asked the question: Are the Misfits really Punk Rock? Because the term “punk” has come to mean such a specific musical style that took place in a very specific time and place (New York & London), can the Misfits, fit in, so to speak?
What about Brian Eno and David Bowie‘s mid-70s work with Iggy Pop on The Idiot and Lust For Life? The All-African-American Bad Brains? The all-female Slits? Is the Modern Lovers (Jonathan Richman)? What about art-rockers Patti Smith, Pere Ubu, The Raincoats, Gang of Four? What about Garage, Glam & Hardcore Punk? Riot Grrrl & Skate? East coast vs. West Coast? Washington D.C.?
Post-Punk at first signified the British movement associated with sounds, lyrics and aesthetics that differed significantly from their first generation punk contemporaries. More complex and darker with more intricately-written songs Gang of Four, Joy Division, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs with Australian counterpart The Go-Betweens symbolize the post-punk ethic. Its connection is stronger with Art Punk but post-punk bands like Television, Talking Heads, Devo, The Cars produced the New Wave, mixing it up with Krautrock synthpop influences and the association with Design & Style (The Knack’s skinny ties, Devo’s bucket hats) while producing it for the MTV generation. The lines soon blurred between not just musical genre, but nationality as well. The most successful, for good or ill, post-punk band of all-time is U2 who may have began as a continuation of the idea of punk as protest music, but paired it with poppy guitar riffs and flashy marketing to become iTunes darling.
What was everyone else doing?
If Punk came on the music scene like a pitbull in a dog fight, the emergence of New Wave was like a French poodle piddling on Punk’s anti-commercial stance. The masters of New Wave and avant-garde, Talking Heads, who formed in 1975 in New York, are definitely the biggest name on the list. Combining elements of punk, pop, funk, and Americana with David Byrne’s somnambulistic lyrics, the band’s songs straddled the line of being overly avant-garde and jukebox staples.
In New York the No Wave movement stood defiantly in direct opposition to New Wave commercialism. Captured by electronic music pioneer Brian Eno in a 4-band compilation entitled No New York is considered the quintessential testament to the history of no wave: Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA, Mars, James Chance and the Contortions. No Wave focused more on performance art than actual coherent musical structure. College radio and alternative music have their roots here. As well as various visual artists and film directors, like Jim Jarmusch. Other prominent US post-punk No Wave artists included: The Replacements, Lounge Lizards, and the essential Sonic Youth.
In Los Angeles Hardcore Punk was born with Black Flag and soon followed with San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys. The Southern California region also saw the rise of X, Minutemen, Bad Religion, and Suicidal Tendencies. In Washington D.C. Bad Brains inspired Ian MacKaye to start the Teen Idles and Minor Threat and eventually Fugazi. The midwest gave rise to the influential Husker Du, The Replacements, Meat Puppets, and Butthole Surfers.
The shift begins. From Proto to Punk to Post. From Art to New Wave to Hardcore. From College to Emo to Thrash. From Ska to Grunge to Indie. The 80s were a time of musical upheaval, when guitar bands like REM and U2 got big and pop stars Madonna and Michael Jackson ruled. So what happened to the punk movement? The small garage band, yet to be realized as a niche economic market by the record companies, languished largely unsigned on the outskirts of the music industry, keeping the peoples’ music alive by concentrating it on college campuses and coastal music dives.
The Misifts “Static Age” Static Age, 1977
Social Distortion “Mommy’s Little Monster” Mommy’s Little Monster, 1983
This is The Cramps “I was a Teenage Werewolf” Off the Bone, 1983
This is The Fleshtones “I’ve Gotta Change my Life” Roman Gods, 1981
This is Suicide “Ghost Rider” Suicide, 1977
This is the Gang of Four “Guns Before Butter” Entertainment, 1979
This is Brian Eno’s “The True Wheel” on Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy, 1974
Here’s Iggy Pop with “The Passenger” Lust For Life, 1977
The Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” Talking Heads: 77, 1977
DEVO “Freedom of Choice” Freedom of Choice, 1980
The Talking Heads “Life During Wartime” Talking Heads: 77 1977
This is Joy Division “Transmission” Transmission, 1979
Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers with “One Track Mind”
Television with “See No Evil”
The Minutemen “Double Nickels on the Dime”
The Misfits “Die, Die My Darling”
The Cure “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”, followed by Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Psychedelic Furs
The Jam “Wasteland”
Echo & the Bunnymen
The Psychedelic Furs