Punk subculture | Modern US Culture Wiki | Fandom


The punk subculture is based around punk rock. It emerged from the larger rock music scene in the mid-to-late-1970s in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan. The punk movement has spread around the globe and developed into a number of different forms. Punk culture encompasses distinct styles of music, ideologies, fashion, visual art, dance, literature, and film. Punk also lays claim to a lifestyle and community.[1] The punk scene is composed of an assortment of smaller subcultures, such as Oi! and pop punk. These subcultures distinguish themselves through unique expressions of punk culture. Several subcultures have developed out of punk to become distinct in their own right, including hardcore, goth and psychobilly. The punk movement has had a tumultuous relationship with popular culture, and struggles to resist commercialization and appropriation.

PunkLondon01 ST 02

British punks sitting on Camden Lock Bridge in North London, 2002



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

Main article: History of the punk subculture

The punk subculture emerged in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa in the mid-to-late-1970s, and has since undergone several developments.[2][3][4][5][6][7][1] The punk subculture originated from a number of antecedents and influences. Various philosophical and artistic movements preceded and influenced the punk movement. In particular, several strains of modern art anticipated and affected punk. Various writers, books, and literary movements were important to the formation of the punk aesthetic. Punk rock has a variety of musical origins in the rock and roll genre. Previous youth subcultures also had major influences on punk.

The earliest form of punk, retroactively named protopunk, arose from garage rock in the northeastern United States in the early-to-mid-1970s. The first ongoing music scene that was assigned the punk label appeared in New York City between 1974 and 1976. Around that same time, a punk scene developed in London. Soon after, Los Angeles became home to the third major punk scene. These three cities formed the backbone of the burgeoning movement, but there were also other scenes in cities such as Brisbane, and Boston.

Starting around 1977, the subculture diversified, with the development of factions such as 2 Tone, Oi!, pop punk, New Wave, and No Wave. Sometime around the early 1980s, punk underwent a renaissance in the form of the hardcore punk subculture. Hardcore proved fertile in much the same way as the original punk subculture, producing several new bands. The underground punk movement in the United States in the 1980s produced scenes that either evolved from punk or claimed to apply its spirit and DIY ethics to a completely different music, securing punk's legacy in the alternative rock and indie scenes. A new movement in America became visible in the early and mid-1990s, claiming to be a revival of the punk era.



Crass performs in concert

Main article: Punk rock

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 positive, 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 singer, one or two overdriven electric guitars, an electric bass player, and a drummer (the singer 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 sweet, arranged harmony vocals of pop bands.


Punkertreffen 1984-auschnitt

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

Main article: Punk ideologies

Although Punk-related ideologies are mostly concerned with individual freedom, one needs to understand punk as the working class manifestation of informal anti-establishment sensibility. Common punk views include the DIY ethic, non-conformity, direct action, not selling out, Nihilism or Anarchism. British punks expressed their nihilistic views with the slogan drawn from the title of the Sex Pistols' song "No Future". In the US, punks had a different approach to nihilism based on their "unconcern for the present" and their "disaffection from both middle and working class standards". Punk nihilism was expressed in the use of "harder, more self-destructive, consciousness-obliterating substances like heroin, or...methamphetamine" and by the "mutilation of the body" with razor blades.[8]

Punk politics cover the entire political spectrum, although most punks could be categorized as having left-wing or progressive views. Some punks participate in protests for local, national or global change. Some trends in punk politics include anarchism, socialism, anti-authoritarianism, 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 the Conservative Punk website), libertarian values, neo-Nazi views (Nazi punk), or are apolitical. Some offshoots of punk are apolitical, such as psychobilly, deathrock, horror punk, and the goth subculture to name a few.


Main article: Punk fashion

Punks seek to outrage propriety with the highly theatrical use of clothing, hairstyles, cosmetics, tattoos, jewelry and body modification. Early punk fashion adapted existing objects for aesthetic effect: ripped clothing is held together by safety pins or wrapped with tape; ordinary clothing is customized by embellishing it with marker or adorning it with paint; a black bin liner becomes a dress, shirt or skirt; safety pins and razor blades are used as jewelry. Leather, rubber, and vinyl clothing are also popular, possibly due in part to the fact that the general public associates it with transgressive sexual practices like bondage and S&M. Punks also sometimes wear tight "drainpipe" jeans, Plaid or Tartan pants,T-shirts with risqué images, rocker jackets (which are often decorated by painting on band logos, adorning the lapels and pocket flaps with pins and buttons, and covering sections of the jacket, especially the back and sleeves of the jacket, in large numbers of carefully placed studs or spikes), and footwear such as Converse sneakers, skate shoes, brothel creepers, or Dr. Martens boots.

Some punks style their hair to stand in spikes, cut it into Mohawks or other dramatic shapes, often coloring it with vibrant, unnatural hues. Punks tend to adorn their favorite jacket or vest with pin-back buttons and patches of bands they love and ideas they believe in, telling the world around them a little bit about who they are. They sometimes flaunt taboo symbols such as the Iron Cross. Some early punks occasionally wore clothes displaying a Nazi swastika for shock-value, but most modern punks are staunchly anti-racist and are more likely to wear a crossed-out swastika symbol. In contrast to punks who believe the fashion is a central part of the punk subculture, there are some punks who are decidedly "anti-fashion," arguing that music and/or ideology should define punk, not fashion. This is most common in the post-1980s US hardcore punk scene, where members of the subculture often dressed in t-shirts and jeans, rather than the more elaborate outfits and spiked, dyed hair of their late 1970s UK punk predecessors.

Visual art

Main article: Punk 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.[9]


Main article: Punk dance

The punk subculture has developed a variety of dancing styles, some which appear chaotic and violent. This has led some punk concerts to look like small-scale riots. The dance styles most associated with punk rock are pogo dancing (allegedly invented by Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols as he attempted to see above the heads of fellow punks at a show) and moshing (a term credited to the early hardcore band Bad Brains, known earlier as slam dancing). 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 and Hardcore dancing is a later development influenced by all of these styles. Pyschobillies prefer to "wreck", which is a form of slam dancing that involves people punching each other in the chest and arms as they move circularly in the pit.


UK and US zines

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

Main article: Punk literature

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, 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.


Main article: Punk film

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 and the Sex Pistols in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. Some well-known punks have had biopics 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).

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.

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. The subculture is predominantly male, with the exception of the riot grrrl movement. Compared to some alternative cultures, punk is much closer to being gender equalist in terms of its ideology.[10] 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, Asians and Cambodians) 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.[1]

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.[1] 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.[1] 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.

924 Gilman Street (3)

A band plays on the tiny stage at the Berkeley, California punk venue at 924 Gilman Street.

924 Gilman Street (4)

The graffiti-covered backstage area at the Gilman Street venue.


In the punk and hardcore subcultures, members or 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."[11] 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.

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."[12] 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."[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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."[16]

Interactions with other subcultures

The late-1960s skinhead subculture had largely died out by 1972, but was revived in the late 1970s, partly because of the influence of punk rock. This led to the development of the working class Oi! movement. Conversely, soul, ska and reggae, popular among traditionalist skinheads, has had an influence on punk music. Punks and skinheads have had both antagonistic and friendly relationships, depending on the social circumstances, time period and geographic location. 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[citation needed]. Malcolm McLaren played roles in introducing both punk and hip hop to the United Kingdom[citation needed]. Hip hop has influenced some punk and hardcore bands, such as Blaggers I.T.A., Biohazard, The Transplants and Refused.

The punk and heavy metal subcultures have shared similarities since punk's inception. The early 1970s metal scene was instrumental in the development of protopunk. Glam rockers New York Dolls were massively influential on early punk fashion, and also influenced glam punk and glam metal. 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. Punk-related genres such as metalcore, grindcore and crossover thrash were greatly influenced by 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. By proxy, the NWOBHM was an influence on the development of the "darker" metal subgenres such as death metal and black metal. The early 1990s grunge subculture was a fusion of punk anti-fashion ideals and metal-influenced guitar sound. However, metal's mainstream incarnations have proven anathema to punk. Hardcore and grunge developed in part as reactions against the metal music popular during the 1980s. The industrial and rivethead subculture also has several ties to punk, in terms of music, fashion and attitude. 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 involved in brawls with Teddy Boys, greasers and bikers. There was also considerable enmity between positive punks and the glamorously dressed New Romantic fans of bands such as Spandau Ballet.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Grossman, Perry. "Punk". St. James Encyclopaedia of Popular Culture. Retrieved on [[December 27]], 2006.
  2. Marsh, Dave (May 1971). "Will Success Spoil The Fruit?". Creem magazine. Retrieved on November 19, 2006.
  3. Moore, Thurston (1996). "Grabbing Ankles". Bomb Magazine. Retrieved on November 19, 2006.
  4. Robb, John. "The birth of punk", The Independent (UK), 2005-11-05. Retrieved on 2006-12-17. 
  5. Savage, Jon. England's Dreaming: The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock. Faber and Faber, 1991. ISBN 0-312-28822-0
  6. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (October 2, 2003). "Misfits and Malcontents". abc.net.au. Retrieved on November 1, 2006.
  7. Dougan, John. "The Saints: Biography". billboard.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-24. Retrieved on November 1, 2006.
  8. library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/86.
  9. Artistica - Modern Art Blog » Blog Archive » Interview with Charles Thomson of the Stuckists.
  10. Lee, Michelle (Nov/Dec 2002). "Oh bondage up yours! The early punk movement--and the women who made it rock". Off Our Backs. Retrieved on [[December 27]], 2006.
  11. Definition of scotch,forgo,temporize,simulate,renege,poseur,precipitate,carp,blackjack,scrimp.
  12. http://www.indiecult.com/2006-04/television-personalities-my-dark-places "Homeward Bound. Towards a Post-Gendered Pop Music: Television Personalities’ My Dark Places" April 10, 2006 by Godfre Leung Television Personalities My Dark Places (Domino, 2006)
  13. Part Two - Number 124 / June 1995: LIVE THROUGH THIS....
  14. The Orphans Story.
  15. Punk rock veterans come out swinging, flatten pop-punk. Matt Dunning. Issue date: 9/11/03
  16. Drowned in Sound - Features - Soul Brothers: DiS meets Bad Brains.


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