Punk. It’s an attitude that is as old as the hills, but as dangerous as a car bomb. But, in the modern-day era, does punk still hold the same values? Are we so used to the modern vision of punk, that we’ve forgotten what it is really about? In our new monthly column, we sat down with Karl Backman, guitarist for Swedish punk band AC4 – to lend his knowledge, experience and opinion to the following question:
“Do you think the punk scene today has the same level of impact as it has in the past?”
Words by Karl Backman
Anything can only be really new and different once. As far as influencing fashion, hair styling and popular music, the impact has already been made. It doesn’t need to be made again, nor can it. It’s out there. Today almost anyone can have spiky hair and ripped clothes without being a punk or getting hassled by the local rednecks or police. The pop charts are now full of non-punk bands with screaming vocals and fast drum beats. We won. Hooray for Punk. If punk bands have any political impact on society, it’s not because they are Punk but because they also take part in other unrelated protests, like the anti-war movement, human rights groups or Occupy Wall Street.
When Punk first hit in the 70’s, the British Parliament debated whether or not to charge the Sex Pistols with treason. Finland changed their terrorist laws to stop them from entering the country. The mainstream media seriously asked if Punk was a bigger threat to the western world than the Soviet Union or hyper inflation. The police started a riot at every punk show in California. Swedish schools banned studded belts and punk clothes. It was both the latest youth craze and hard, political news.
It attracted a certain type of people. It was dangerous and angry so it appealed to dangerous and angry kids. The same type of people who later got into Black Metal I’d imagine. It was also new and promising and attracted very young, poor but creative people who suddenly had a platform in Punk. In Umeå we were only 11-12 when we started squatting and forming bands. Everything our local punk scene did was a combination of illegal activities and some sort of creative thing. Half the people who didn’t continue playing music ended up in prison or with life long drug addictions. A lot of the others went on to work in design, media or entertainment instead.
In the 90’s the local vegan sXe hardcore movement were in the news, not for the music but for a series of attacks against the local meat industry. Again, the media coverage made the scene appealing to angry young men who were looking for ways to channel their hatred. Some of the main players in the sXe terror force went on to become heroin dealers and are now involved in the White Power movement.
As stupid as that sounds, it was always the threat of violence, the danger, the criminal damage and the total clash with society that made the impact, the rest was just entertainment. Great records, fun gigs and all – but it’s still only entertainment.
The controversies are what made it Punk.
When something is accepted by the powers that be, when it’s safe and reduced to being part of the entertainment industry, it starts to attract well-adjusted, nice and wholesome kids from rich and happy families. It becomes about being loved and looking cute as a career. Something that is sold as a mainstream commodity, or presented as a government-funded workshop as it often is in Sweden, will never attract people who think for themselves or live their lives outside society. So called punk bands are now even playing gigs for Good Templars and co-organising shows with evangelistic organisations. You get other people talking about corporate business models and the importance of name branding instead of creativity, revolution and change. It may have an even bigger impact on people’s lives than the original Punk had, but politically it’s getting in bed with the enemy and maintaining the status quo.
I see a lot of ok hardcore bands today too, but their lyrics seem mainly to be about how they will stay true to hardcore. It’s like it has become a goal in itself. Is that the impact we want Punk to have? To eventually have everybody in the world playing in their own punk band, singing about how much they like Punk? I’m not sure it is.
I absolutely think a good punk band can still have the same impact on a young kid on the individual level. Someone who finds themselves at their first punk gig can be just as blown away by the energy and the honesty of a good performance on stage, regardless of what year it is. There will never be a shortage of angry youth. The music and the clothes will live on for a long time, because it sounds and looks great. That impact is already made.
Many thanks to Karl for taking the time to chat to us. For more information about AC4, head to: http://www.facebook.com/AC4official