Monday, 22 July 2013

Some Problems In The Punk Scene

Before I dive in, I would like to say that this is no dig at punk in general. In fact punk was my first love, long before I delved full in to the realms of metal. However, I'll be quick to point out any problems in the metal scene and a genre that prides itself on staying true to yourself and proporting brutal honesty as much as punk screams to be called on it's bullshit whenever said BS rears it's unwashed, scabies-laden head.

More than anything, punk prides itself on it's stark anti-conformist attitudes. Eschewing mainstream ethos, they have created something truly of their own, a strong subculture with its own structure, ideas and mores. While carving out their own niche meant to abandon notions of conformity within the mainstream, something very ironic has happened - the scene has become undeniably conformist in itself. How much punk music sounds the same? How many punks dress the same? Have nearly identical political views? It's something very common to subcultures - it starts off as a vibrant, diverse smorgasbord of ideas and sounds, and eventually succumbs to sameness and finding comfort  in familiarity. Pioneers such as The Stooges and Black Flag never looked back and were such good bands not just because of their songwriting, riffs or any other quantifiable aspect of their music - what made them so great was innovation and the reach towards something more, something different.
I remember reading an interview with some crust punk band, who's name I can't recall (probably because they were unremarkable) where the interviewer asked something along the lines of "what do you guys feel you add to the crust scene?". The band replied that they weren't really doing anything new musically but were just happy to be part of the scene and carry on the crust tradition. This is the problem - one which I've especially noticed in the crust scene. So many bands sound exactly the same and are happy to sound identical to the next band as long as they have a place in the scene. While there are certainly innovators in the crust scene such as Behind Enemy Lines, Amebix, Dystopia, Cursed and the like, as well as a decent handful of bands creating quality songs using the same old formulas, a lot of bands just don't try to be anything more than crust punk band number 5591. This also applies to other punk genres, as well. While innovation is not always necessary to create quality music, a scene where bands by and large are happy to sound like the next band will quickly sink into stagnation. You're against conformity right? Fucking act like it.

Politics is something intrinsic to the punk scene. With ideology so deeply entrenched in the sub-culture, this question is bound to pop up - what is the best way to go about espousing your political views? I've increasingly become averse to the preachy I'm going to shove my views down your throat and if you disagree you're a horrible person approach that sadly many bands have no qualms with using. It's fine to have political essays as part of your packaging, but lyrics coming off as intro to poli-sci essays is rarely a good thing. Sure, Behind Enemy Lines has used essay style lyrics to great effect, but in the vast majority of cases they come off as stale and emotionless. I've always felt in art it's better to show why your ideology is right rather than to tell. American History X is surely a better anti-racist tool than a dry lecture listing bullet points about why racism is harmful to society. This is why the lyrics of political bands that use evocative metaphors and potent imagery have always had a greater effect on me than bands like Iskra that basically have essay style lyrics about where they forcefully hammer their ideologies down your esophagus and more or less make you out to be a human parasite if you disagree.

Perhaps this forceful preaching and demonizing of people who don't agree is most prominent with vegetarianism and veganism. I recently came across an article Profane Existence, a label (and former magazine) I generally like, on dumpster diving. While I personally find the act rather gross, if that's how you want to live you're life that's fine with me. The article derides dumpster divers who eat meat, not because spoiled meat is gross, but because meat in general is disgusting and you're basically an immoral person if you enjoy a nice steak every now and again. While I certainly have problems with factory farms, and think it's better to buy local from more ethically inclined farmers, accusing the majority of the population of essentially being nazis for following the dietary choice of eating meat, which is completely natural as humans are omnivores, is quite simply absurd. It is fine to promote your beliefs and explain why you think it's right, but to outright call everyone who opposes is the type of extremism that might make newcomers more weary about diving into the punk scene.

Immortal Technique has a song called Beef and Broccoli, starting off with "look, let me make something abundantly clear to people who are so bereft of activities that they feel like they gotta comment on every one of mine", that lambasts the type of left-winger that feels like he can't be one of them because he enjoys eating meat. Surely ethics are a factor, but aggressively asserting an agenda down everyone's throats that is so blatantly subjective, will never be the most effective way to convince people of your logic. In the end all they'll hear is your anger. Tech makes this clear with the line "I like beef & broccoli motherfucker, mind your goddamn business".
Punk's unapologetically DIY attitude is to be commended, but the amount of sameness found within its walls is betraying its anti-conformist ethos. Discarding the conformity of mainstream culture is all well and good, but when you're all starting to dress the same, have similar bands and almost consistently congruent world views, are you not falling into the same pitfalls of the mainstream? Wouldn't a vibrant scene full of different ideas, music challenging the notions of what punk can be - one that strives for originality, be preferable? Also, the whole either you wholeheartedly believe exactly what we believe or you're a bad person attitude is not one that is doing the scene a great service. Isn't an open dialogue preferable to a one sided conversation with a crusty screaming at you for not being as unflinching in your opposition to the establishment as him? It's not as if morality and politics are always black and white issues.

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