An introduction to Punk


Stephanie Ho delves into the world of safety pins and anarchy.

Punk, an aggressive style of rock music that sprung up in the 70s, encapsulates a particular movement and attitude of the time period and audience demographic.

Listening to an impromptu ‘punk primer’ playlist provided by a friend and fan of the genre, my impression of punk was that it was musically very straightforward. Punk lyrics are described as being political and confrontational, as well as thematically anti-government and anti-establishment.

Lyrics are typically shouted rather than sung over complex guitar solos. Punk’s reputation of being a DIY form of music and its history of rejecting anything mainstream gives this musical style an additional dimension that explains its popularity with the youth of the 70s and why it then inspired a number of other subgenres within the punk movement.


Punk’s origin story takes place in both New York City and London. One of the key instigators of punk music was Malcolm McClaren, who had visited NYC and is said to have brought punk back over from the US. McClaren went on to manage the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols mark the high point of the punk music movement; their performances were famed for provoking riots and promoting a “hard and tough” image.

The word ‘punk’ itself deserves some attention as its origins refer to a particular social class in the States and in fact had a derisive quality to it. ‘Punk’ once was a slang term that, according to David Laing, was directed towards “hoboes and black homosexual convicts” (1978, “Interpreting Punk Rock”). Further back into the lexical history of the word, in Shakespearean times “punk” almost meant prostitute. Google Dictionary now defines ‘punk’ as a ‘worthless person.’ Punk music first began as the lower class’ form of expression as well as a response and a forum for disinterest in the mainstream and anger against authority. Throughout time, punk music seemed to soften its previously negatively charged label and now carries a certain level of coolness that was undoubtedly planned and reshaped by these first musicians. A quick look at the timeline of punk music shows that by 1976 the punk movement had reached its peak, as that year saw the appearances of the Buzzcocks, the Clash, the Slits, among other groups.

In the family tree of music, punk stems from other genres – notably rock & roll, garage rock, and protorock.

Key Artists

Though today faint traces of punk music can be found in the work (and basic chords) of Green Day, Frank Turner, Blink 182 and Avril Lavigne, real ‘authentic’ ambassadors of punk include The Clash, Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Buzzcocks and MC5.

What came next?

Punk’s legacy includes New Wave, post-punk, gothic rock, grunge, and emo. Additionally, the subgenres of punk further highlight the DIY mentality and how various musicians sought to experiment with different styles of sound. These subgenres include Anarcho-Punk, Celtic Punk, Cowpunk, Gypsy Punk, and Hardcore.

PHOTO//Laura Borse

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