by Dillon Price
As a youth growing up in the mid-to-late 90s, music scenes were often exclusive and tight-knit. In a way, the mentality of flocking together for a common interest had it’s advantages. Being a punk rock kid in the 90s may have been a long-shot from previous generations, but it still wasn’t easy. We got shit from the jocks in our high school. The local redneck and college kids would shout obscenities and occasionally try to pick fights with us. And if that’s not enough, the police kept a watchful eye and looked for any opportunity to marginalize us. For this reason, we banded together. We rented out venues and booked our own shows. And we were vehemently protective against outsiders who sought to spoil our fun. However, our shows weren’t completely closed off to those who didn’t fit the mold. But in a sense, our scene was very uniform.
For as long as music has been in existance, there have always been – to some degree – music scenes. For example, the blues scene was an expressive outlet for African Americans living under the burden of slavery or growing up on Southern plantations. By the 1920s and 30s, blues evolved from acoustic renditions to electric instrumentation and bustling nightclubs. It became a staple in black culture, especially in localities such as Chicago and around the Mississippi Delta. By the 1950s and 60s, the genre played its part in spawning the Civil Rights movement – a catalyst for dissent against racial discrimination and the draconian Jim Crow laws.
But in Western culture, in the years following World War II, music become heavily encompassed by the emerging subcultures. Most notably, the ‘Beat Generation,’ a term devised by the great poet/novelist Jack Kerouac, would later foster a movement of poetry, psychedelic drug use and modern intellectualism. In the 1940s, beatniks were heavily influenced by bebop music, a subgenre of jazz – defined by such artists as Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Django Reinhardt, as well as many others from that era. Eventually, the beat generation transcended a new era of long hair, anti-materialism and political activism. Unlike the beatniks of the 50s, the hippies were vehemently involved in the anti-war protests that encompassed the Vietnam War, and genres such as folk and rock and roll were their vehicle for political angst.
The 1960s also brought us the nemesis to the hippie movement. The skinhead movement, which was conceived in the UK, comprised of poor and working class youth. At the time, the movement’s reputation hadn’t yet been tarnished by extreme politics or the fanatic media. But when they weren’t working on the docs, skinheads would congregated at reggae clubs and dance halls. Their musical tastes gradually gave way to punk, which spawned Oi! – subgenre embracing working class values and hooligan anthems. Unfortunately, skinheads are the most misunderstood subculture, largely due to the rise of neo-nazi’s claiming the culture and receiving excess media attention. Additionally, Hollywood films such as American History X and Higher Learning have depicted skinheads as white power thugs, further stirring up hysteria within the general public.
As rock and roll began to branch out, its most notable offspring was born. Punk rock is a genre and subculture that evolved from 60s garage rock and New York’s underground rock and roll scene. In the United States, punk was largely defined by The Ramones, The Dead Boys, The Stooges and The New York Dolls. In the UK, The Clash, Sex Pistols and Sham 69 put the genre on the map. As punk progressed through the 70s and 80s, the music become more aggressive – embracing politically-charged lyrics, bluntly intertwined with shock value. It was initially propelled by bands such as Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Black Flag, Minor Threat and many others. Today, punk is an umbrella term for a slew of subgenres; such as hardcore, Oi!/streetpunk, crust, pop-punk, emo, indie and noise/art-punk. The context differs from one group to another and often creates conflict among those seeking to define its meaning.
As music started to become more complex, scenes began to clash. The 1980s saw an escalating conflict between punk and metal, particularly in Los Angeles. Punks were often outed, beat up and ambushed, and for safety in numbers, they were forced to band together. I can recall scene clashes from 90s, with my own ilk often squabbling with the “new school” hardcore kids, or the metal, emo, pop-punk and art-punk scenes. But the quarreling among music scenes wasn’t just an 80s or 90s ordeal, the problem is still prevalent today. In retrospect, the music that was an extension of our youth becomes an extension of our identity. But its no surprise that some scenesters begin to acquire new tastes of music as they grow older, even while remaining attached to the scene they grew up on.
In no way am I’m not knocking scenes, as they offer an outlet for like-minded people to congregate. And in my opinion, scenes should be able to coexist without absent of polarization. So what does this mean for individuals who enjoy a broad range of music? I don’t see why showgoers who grew up listening to punk can’t attend a show where they may be out of their element – or vice versa. Personally, I can recall the sense of freedom I had when giving other types of music – outside the uniformity of my scene – a chance. I found that I liked, or at least appreciated, music I otherwise wouldn’t have given the time of day. And in today’s independent music climate, we’re starting to see an influx of bands from different genres sharing the stage.
Who knew that in October 2017, Ministry and Death Grips would tour together? Or New York hardcore legends, Burn, would play alongside Sinkane, Soul II Soul and Thundercat at AFROPUNK 2017? Or Charles Bradley (RIP) would headline Punk Rock Bowling? Many of today’s multi-faceted festivals such as Riot Fest and Sound on Sound are ushering in a slew of diverse lineups – featuring a slew of punk, metal, indie, alt-rock, hip hop and other bands on the same roster. Whether or not this is an emerging trend remains to be seen. But it at least puts things in a new perspective for those who love music universally.
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