Now vs. Then – Someone had to ask the question, “How did we get here?”

I have a huge problem with the scene I grew up supporting.

This is going to be one of those highly contested articles that makes me look like a total asshole (because it’s about to get sexist up in here!).  I’m just going to let you know that I’m okay with that.  It won’t be the first time I’ve been called a jerk.

Here’s my general theory on how bands generally build a following:

1.  Guy scopes out a new band with his other guy friends.
2.  Guy shows his girlfriend said band
3.  Throngs of teenage girls flock to see said band.

I know that probably sounds like a huge generalization (it is!).  But I really think there’s some truth to it.  I also think the “punk” scene has evolved in recent years as an attempt to skip the middle man.  “Punk” bands these days tend to pander more towards their female fans as an attempt to quickly establish a rabid fanbase (and get laid!).

First lets take a look at your average punk band 15 years ago.

No Use For a Name.

No Use For a Name

I feel like this is a pretty representative sample for the ’90s punk rock scene.  This is also a band that never really broke it big.  They signed to an indie label (Fat Wreck Chords) and put out a stream of consistent records while never really flirting with mainstream radio.  Their sound stayed roughly close to home base (just last year they put out their 9th studio album, Feel Good Record of the Year, which they very well could’ve released much earlier in their career), but its fair to say that their earliest albums were harder.  If you were a fan of NUFAN, you were most likely a fan of similar popular punk bands like Millencolin, the Vandals, Pennywise, etc.  These bands all sounded vaguely similar and formed the foundation of the punk rock scene from the mid-1990s until about the year 1999, when emo and screamo really started to take off.  In 1995, the punk rock scene was a conglomerate of bands that played fast (sometimes goofy) and catchy songs.  Most of the bands looked like they spent all day skateboarding before they hit the stage.  Style was as much an afterthought as using any sort of chord that didn’t include the word “power” or “octave” in front of it.

You’d get in the mosh pit for a No Use For a Name show.  This was music you’d furiously steering-wheel-drum to in your car.  The lyrics may have been about girls – but they were tough songs.  You’d listen to these songs with your guy friends, but they were catchy enough that you could probably intersperse some with the Gin Blossoms songs on the mix tape you were making for your girlfriend.  Hell, when my old roommate was dating this girl in college, their “song” was NUFAN’s cover of “A Fairy Tale of New York”.

The crowd majority was mostly guys for a band like No Use For a Name.  It was those guy fans that would spread the word about the band to their friends.  It was those guy fans who became devoted and spent cash on their merch and records (remember mailorder?!).  One thing’s for sure: a girl at a NUFAN show in 1995 either had a boyfriend in attendance or she must’ve been pretty cool (obviously not both!).

So the “punk rock” scene has evolved quite a bit since 1995.  If you looked at the Warped Tour lineup of the past few years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a band that embodies hints of the same sound.  The kids making tunes these days have been drip-filtered through that whole “emo/screamo” phase and a whole new breed of band has become the norm.

The Maine.

The Maine

The Maine is a resounding example of what a scene churns out after 15 years of inbreeding.  Take a look around.  Your old punk rock venues are full of bands like the Maine, All Time Low, We the Kings, Boys Like Girls – pick one.

All of these bands are cookie-cutter copies of each other.  Swooping bangs, neon t-shirts, silly white-boy, club-banger slang.  Look at these kids!  I didn’t even pick the douchiest picture.

Every generation has its own style though, I get that.

The problem?  These bands have lost their teeth.  They’ve lost that bite and grit that made punk rock so appealing!  There’s no rebelling!  There’s no anger!  These are sappy love songs with glossy production – a perfect companion to the latest American Idol debut.

So how did we get here?  The popularity of Blink 182, Sum 41 and (ugh, it pains me to give this band any credit as an influential force, but) Simple Plan started to draw more female fans to punk shows.  Somewhere along the lines, horny teenage guys in bands decided that it was better to stuff a venue full to the gills with barely legal (and not-so-legal) girls.  They’ve bailed on trying to build a strong male following.  So the Maine uses lines like “with eyes like sunsets and legs that go on for days” to speak to the ladies out there.  The worst and most misleading part is that the music is presented under the guise of being punk, and that’s what makes it suck.  I mean, they spend time name-dropping Prada.  Seriously, where’s the angst in expensive designer clothing!?  Indeed, the underground has gotten a serious makeover.

You go to (a staple website for the punk rock scene) and these are the bands getting represented.  Why?  My guess is because the well has run dry.  There just aren’t many bands garnering popularity in the scene anymore that have that punk rock sound.  It’s full of this garbage.  And it doesn’t look like it’s losing steam right now.

Not all is lost.  NUFAN and Propagandhi, despite getting older, are still making great records.  Younger bands like The Swellers or Bayside are churning out tunes that still harken back to those glory days.    Still, I hold out hope that someday the youth of America will grow a pair.

Update: a continued observation of “the scene”


11 Responses to “Now vs. Then – Someone had to ask the question, “How did we get here?””

  1. i would generally agree, however, i would roll back the cause to blink 182 as truly throwing punk (though, i would soley consider this pop punk) to the masses.

    funny how you didn’t see the same sort of thing as much when they’d be playing rancid and social distortion on the MTV – these bands of the pop punk variety were a bit more friendly marketable to the ladies due to dreamyness and moral composition of playdough

  2. I have a freind who’s nutsack was so saggy that he touched his asshole with his extended scrotum. True story.

    “and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.’ But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, and said, ‘Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly.'”
    Gen 19:5-8

  3. dude… preach on.

  4. Pretentious.

  5. While I agree that the main sucks ass. I also have to admit that the other bands you were droppin (The 90’s Punk bands) sucked major ass as well. Although not as much ass the Maine sucks.

    I do have to admit that I am so glad that you wrote this article though! I just wish you would have pushed the good punk band refrences back to the 80’s punk music. But I guess you were writing on the scene you experienced which is understandable.

    • Y’know – as much as i try not to, i inevitably come off as the old punk whose scene has passed him by. That feels strange at 26. But you’re right – bands like Minor Threat or Black Flag in the 80s were faster and meaner than their 90s counterparts. I’d probably have similar sentiments about all the bands on Epitaph records if I grew up punk in the 80s.

      Thanks for reading! I appreciate your kind words.

    • Ridiculous artwork, by the way. Totally sick.

  6. […] I had an exchange with my friend in response to reading my previous post: […]

  7. […] What’s wrong with kids these days… (Get off my lawn!) I had an exchange with my friend in response to reading my previous post: […]

  8. Not saying this in anger, by the way. I really liked the article and the ideas you put forth. Just wanted to ask…

    Are you sure the problem lies with the bands themselves?
    I don’t think they consider themselves punk or harbor any delusions about exactly who it is out there paying to see them or buy their CD’s. I think (hope) they know the people (girls) who go to see them know that the songs were written with them in mind, even if it isn’t quite how they imagine. I mean, you can see so many of their songs were written so a girl would put herself in that song’s story and envision herself the heroine and want to hear that song a hundred times in a row just to keep imagining that the song is about her.

    Is there something wrong with that? Using music to fulfill some kind of fantasy? It’s like in that Heavy Metal Parking Lot movie, you see all the Judas Priest fans hanging out in the parking lot hearing the songs and embodying that heavy metal persona that they see on stage. For that concert, they live the fantasy of drinking and partying and they just get together and share their love of the heavy metal culture and scene. Are the girls who go to these shows not just sharing in their love of fluff? Is their fan-culture somehow less valuable?

    And there is the whole conversation about when music truly does just suck, but if these bands can create the feelings in their fans that punk music created in you — maybe not the same feelings, but at least the same intensity — isn’t that the point? To feel something and try to make someone else feel something too?

    I think they know they appeal to girls and they do use that and there is a kind of formula for how these bands look and what kinds of things they sing about, but what kind of music doesn’t come equipped with a kind of “uniform” or system that gets them labeled “punk” or otherwise?

    The fact that bands like The Maine are appearing on Absolute Punk says more about the idea of taking “punk” and “rebellion” and packaging them in order to sell them to the point that they don’t even really represent the true sensibility of punk. It seems to me like it’s more about the industry and the people who pick the venues that look like seedy punk clubs to bring a little credibility to the glossy, neon, power-pop bands. They use the mythology of “punk” to add a sense of rebellion to these not-so-rebellious bands and make them seem less fluffy and more substantial.

    I think the music industry does a great job of making fools out of bands. I like The Maine, I saw them in concert and I would be lying if I said the fact that they’re kind of cute didn’t help make me a fan. However, I also like that they have a very bouncy, youthful, enjoy-life-and-dance vibe—like soda that’s almost too-sweet and is nice at certain intervals, but in large quantities makes you kind of queasy. I feel like punk music was (is?) more about taking what you feel in the moment and just going with it–throwing it all over the people in front of you no matter how ugly or harsh it was as long as it was part of you.

    Regardless of where it’s performed or what kind of outlet advertises it or what kind of clothes they performers wear: it’s different music. It has a different audience and a different goal.

    I know what they are and I honestly don’t see what’s wrong with liking them as long as I’m aware of exactly what they are. On some days I need that soda music that makes me feel all bubbly inside, while other days I need high-proof liquor in my ears. If I came across someone who struck me as a real out-and-out punk, there is no way I’d suggest he check out The Maine or All Time Low or any of the other bands I admittedly enjoy listening to. And if I were ever having a bad day or needed to be angry, I wouldn’t fire up “Girls Do What They Want” as the score of my rage-fest.

    Isn’t that the great thing about music, though? That there’s something for everybody, whoever they may be on any given day?

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