It all started in London and New York in the late 1970s, and quickly spread around the world. By the end of the decade, punk had become a global tour de force that surpassed mere musical boundaries and became a subculture: an ethic of life.
By LOUIS HUMBERSTONE.
Australia’s own journey in punk began surprisingly early. Brisbane rockers The Saints ripped onto the scene with the chaotic “I’m Stranded” long before either The Sex Pistols or The Clash had released a single. It sounded like a buzz-saw recorded in a wind tunnel, and it kickstarted the ferocious reputation of punk in captivating an audience and challenging the status quo.
Over the years the punk ethic grew, mutating and shape shifting to encompass all kinds of genre. From Sia to The Smiths, NWA to Nick Cave, and yes, even Kanye is Punk. Punk has always been about challenging norms and pushing beyond the boundaries society has imposed, creating a statement that says, “We are here, and our voices WILL be heard.”
With some recent world events, it’s no surprise that punk is very much alive, as relevant as ever as creative protestors provoke the next generation. In no particular order, here are five voices in Australian music that embrace punk. Perhaps these picks will be surprising, but that is exactly what the heart of punk is all about. There is more to the ethic than lightning fast power chords and boozy shouting!
Coming out of Melbourne, LAZERTITS are a Garage sounding straight up punk band with some of the best tunes coming out of the scene. They are bold, intelligent, and know how to craft a good song, and just so happen to be one of the most exciting punk acts going around. To get a good feel for them, give the triple j-played “Boss B*tch” a listen.
The scuzzy and surprisingly catchy power chord riff that starts the track gives way to a force of smart lyrics that challenge work place stereotypes and gender roles. Great lines include “He said, ‘What’s your favourite position?’/ She said, ‘CEO!’” and ‘It’s 2016 take back that double-take’. LAZERTITS get the punk ethic, and they are using it productively whilst also serving up some absolute classics.
Northern Territory based rapper Birdz is one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Australian Hip Hop, and has become known for potent lyrics which challenge the wrongs of society and aim to confront those who do not take action. Punk has always been about expressing where you have come from, and using your experiences to comment on issues that are important to you. Birdz channels this, using his music as a vehicle to his story, yet manages to understand that his words stand for something bigger than himself.
You can hear Birdz on “Black Lives Matter” which has been receiving a heap of airplay and listens. On this track, Birdz conveys emotional lyrical insight, but stays for a strong and bold delivery, which makes his words even more powerful. As in punk, he pushes boundaries, calling out social injustice and allowing his message to cut through his music with ease. Lines like “The Royal Commission ain’t sh*t” and audio clips of quotes like “Still no justice” are raw and provocative, and just what we need from contemporary performers.
Definitely one of WA’s most exciting bands, Tired Lion are a powerful Indie outfit that take a different road to most with their lyrics, whilst maintaining a gritty DIY sound that is perfect for their content. Fronted by electrifying singer Sophie Hopes, Tired Lion are best described as “raw” and “honest”. The mark of a true punk band, Tired Lion are managed to achieve some major success without compromising their original ethos and message.
Recent single “Agoraphobia” is a must-listen for those wanting to check out Tired Lion. The lyrics and title of the track take inspiration from a panic disorder derived from an extreme fear of public places, and the song is just the kind of alternative message essential in 2016. Bands that confront mental issues head on, let alone craft a beautiful head-banging tune at the same time, should be applauded for their aptitude and songwriting skills.
One of the things that make Punk great is its “anyone can do this” mentality. The idea that a gritty, DIY song can become an anthem for social commentary is exhilarating. And that is exactly how Teen Angst, a Perth lo-fi band, sounds. Living up to their name, Teen Angst has sadness in their lyrics, and the delivery of vocals by singer Michelle is perfect for their vibe. The thing that makes Teen Angst stand out is that listening to their songs, there is a real feeling that they are not making these songs to please anyone, they are just putting out some fuzzy lo-fi tunes that happen to be low-key bangers. And that is incredibly punk. This is what separates a good artist from an innovative one. Artists who make songs to please risk losing a soul and edge to their music, and Teen Angst have both.
“Late Night” is a dreamy and dark track, where the vocals are fuzzed out on the cusp of being unrecognisable, yet retain enough of a dry tone to hear the emotion. Teen Angst aren’t afraid to borrow a little touch of Pop melody, but rather than tarnish the song’s edge, it just makes it all the more enjoyable.
Although punk isn’t all about loud music and boozy vocals, when utilised properly, this combination can produce outstanding results. Perth band The Floors understand very well how to use dynamics to ensure that every loud vicious sound and screeching vocal means something. A lot of bands make music similar to The Floors in Perth, but what makes them unique is that they are completely locked into their music. You get an overwhelming sense that they really believe in everything they do. That is a rare thing, but it is also incredibly punk: it’s either the top of the world or the bottom of the gutter, an “all in” mentality that makes music passionate and extremely listenable.
Last year’s “Join the Fight” is a stomping and brief affair, hinting at a Stonesy blues, yet remaining fiercely modern. Lyrics such as “work your skin all down to the bone” give the song an incredibly earthy and authentic quality, and the cry of “Come Join the Fight” is a ready-made anthem.
Well there you have it. This list is by no means definitive or complete, yet it does represent just how diverse the punk ethic has become in music. Music that challenges and provokes has an incredibly important role to play in society, as life imitates art and art explores life. If there’s anything to take away from these five artists, it is that good, thought provoking music is just a step away, and there will always be an audience for those with something valuable to say.