Much handwringing has been done about the current state of punk, and everyone loves to moan about how badly it sucks now. The majority of punk fans admit that their favourite albums were released decades ago. They claim that the music today just isn’t the same, and that new bands simply don’t measure up. But were the founding punk bands really that great?
Most people seem to forget that for every Sex Pistols or Ramones, there were scores of wretched bands, long since forgotten, and rightfully so. Even the surviving old bands don’t sound as good as they once did, and how could they? The members are thirty years older, and need help to reach the stage. Even fans of the indefatigable and much-beloved Iggy Pop are starting to wish he would leave his damn shirt on these days. Is punk merely about nostalgia now, of interest only to those who wish to pogo drunkenly down memory lane? For many, the good ol’ days are over.
Luckily, fans born after the original wave of punk faded out were not willing to let its safety-pin studded corpse rest in peace. They listened to the old records and felt the passion build up inside. Why shouldn’t they be able to play punk music as well? And play they did. The number of punk bands exploded in the 90s, and the general quality of the musicianship improved as well.
Nowadays, although the genres vary wildly, newspapers are crowded with advertisements for punk shows every night of the week. In the late 70s, punk fans were lucky to see half dozen shows per year. If anything, and despite endless commercialization, punk is bigger and livelier than ever. So, why then, are the punk bands of today less popular than the grand old groups of yore? Were the old groups really so much better? Are punk songs so one-dimensional that the three chords that form them can only be played in certain patterns that have already been used? The answer, sadly, is not so far removed from that.
The main reason that new bands can’t find the same success as their predecessors, regardless of talent or style, boils down to the lyrics. Let’s face it: punk simply doesn’t shock people any more, and the new bands can’t top what has already been written. Take Victoria’s Alcoholic White Trash for example.
Although they are skilled musicians and performers, AWT will never be held in the same esteem as the DayGlo Abortions for the simple reason that people can only be offended so many times before the novelty wears off. How can Alcoholic White Trash hope to outrage people when the DayGlo Abortions have already recorded songs such as “Fuck My Shit Stinks” or “Hide the Hamster”?
No matter what they do, AWT will always be overshadowed by the DayGlo Abortions, and it isn’t because they don’t write raunchy, dynamic songs. And the same can be said about any punk band that formed after, say, 1985. People simply don’t shock as easily as they once did, and because of that, they tend to overlook newer bands in the mistaken assumption that what they do is no longer valid. Punk music fans these day are simply jaded and won’t give new bands a chance.
On the flipside, advances in studio technology give modern groups a decided advantage over their forefathers, who had problems recording shitty demo tapes on four-track mixers. -While this is a boon to worthy bands, the punk gene pool has been depleted somewhat now that any group can make a quality recording. There are more good albums, but many of the new bands should simply be forgotten.
The Internet has made touring and promotion a million times easier for punk musicians today, but the number of slippery promoters has also increased, and many bands touring for the first time soon learn that they should have spent more time investigating everyone from the club owners to the promoters and agents. The information is out there, and musicians must do their homework if they want to avoid being ripped off.
The sheer number of bands fighting for space on every bill makes is easier for club owners to lowball those groups or renege on guarantees. The competition is so fierce that bands nowadays often have to pay the soundman from money collected at the door, which just isn’t right. The only thing constant is change. Bearing in mind that nothing is the same as it once was, perhaps punk music fans should try harder to find new bands they like. They’re out there, waiting to be discovered, and many of them are surprisingly good. Punk is an attitude, and, as such, can never die. Just don’t expect anyone to re-invent “Fuck My Shit Stinks.”
Chris Walter is an unrepentant degenerate who no longer fuels his writing with prodigious amounts of liquor and drugs. Check out his many obnoxious and offensive books at www.punkbooks.com