Consequence’s Punk Week continues with an essay on the “outsider” artists who have succeeded in and revolutionized the genre, despite the odds being stacked against them. Keep checking back throughout the week for interviews, lists, editorials and videos — it’s all things punk, all the time.
Flip through the annals of punk history, and consider the bands often cited as icons: The Clash, Sex Pistols, X, Black Flag, Fugazi, Ramones, Green Day, Rancid, blink-182. These artists certainly deserve their lofty status and every plaudit thrown their way, although you might notice that these acts (largely) feature lineups dominated by straight, white, cisgender men.
On the surface, this seems counterintuitive. Punk is often positioned as a reaction against the mainstream, a way to include marginalized voices that don’t fit in other places. Not to mention, Black musicians created rock ‘n’ roll and reggae — two genres from which punk evolved, especially in the UK.
However, much like the history of rock ‘n’ roll, punk history has been both whitewashed and viewed as male-centric. That’s partly due to association; for a multitude of reasons, rock ‘n’ roll itself became quite segregated as the genre evolved. For far too long, women who played rock music were seen as a novelty; openly queer musicians were also rare in any genre, much less rock music.
Genres that start out with revolutionary intentions often become reactionary — and the acts within the movement either start to resemble (or even become) the centrist mainstream. In fact, it’s not surprising that the systemic racism, homophobia, and misogyny linked with rock ‘n’ roll can also apply to certain facets of punk rock or cropped up in lyrics.
Yet despite punk history being homogenous (and, at times, problematic), punk musicians have always been diverse — certain gatekeepers just weren’t necessarily willing to listen until now. It’s taken decades of social and cultural progress to get punk to a more diverse and inclusive place.
Credit a new generation of historians and critics who are willing to interrogate — and correct — prevailing historical narratives, while admitting where past movements fell short. And credit younger, more open-minded generations of music fans, who don’t have the same biases (or black-and-white worldview) as previous generations.