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Punk is a contemporary subculture closely associated with punk rock. The punk subculture has a shared history, culture, lifestyle, and community. Since emerging in the United Kingdom and the United States in the mid-1970s, punk has spread around the globe and undergone a series of tumultuous developments.

Punk culture is based around a shared set of styles distinct from those of popular culture and other subcultures. Punk has its own styles of music, ideology, fashion, visual art, dance, literature and film. An otherwise disparate assortment of mostly young people, members of the subculture, or punks, express these cultural elements in the context of punk communities, or punk scenes.

Punk is made up of an assortment of smaller subcultures, each distinguished by its own articulation of these cultural elements. Several subcultures developed out of punk to become distinct in their own right, such as goth, and emo. Punk has unique relationships with other subcultures and popular culture as a whole.



Punk has a long and complex history. Since emerging in the United Kingdom and the United States in the mid-1970s, punk has spread across the globe and undergone a series of tumultuous developments.


The production, transmission, and consumption of punk culture is something most punks have in common. It is these processes which generate punk scenes. Since punk is made up of a diverse collection of smaller subcultures, punk culture is expressed in a wide variety of ways. As they are described here, not all of the cultural elements of punk are part of all punk subcultures, but they are common to most.


Main article: Punk rock

Music is the most important aspect of punk, so much so that it forms the basis of the entire subculture. Punk music is called punk rock, sometimes shortened to punk. Most punk rock is a specific style of the rock music genre, though punk musicians sometimes incorporate elements from other rock styles, and even other genres. Punk subcultures often distinguish themselves from one another by having a distinct style of punk rock, though not every style of punk rock has its own associated subculture. Punk rock is mostly the domain of the punk subculture, though some styles of it have found wider popularity. Most punk rock has simple arrangements and short songs, and lyrics typically espouse punk ideology. Punk rock emerged in the mid-1970s from its roots in various rock styles, expanded into a number of different styles, and influenced a number of newer styles. Punk rock is usually played in bands, as opposed to solo artists. Some important punk rock bands include the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys, the Damned, Black Flag, and the Clash.


A punk faces a line of riot police. A punk faces a line of riot police.

Punk ideology is concerned most with a belief in an individual's intrinsic right to freedom and how best to encourage, maximize and live a less restricted lifestyle. The devotion to the abstract ideal of freedom leads to a personal combination of ethics, politics and aesthetics that express an individualized pursuit of said freedom. Accordingly punk ethics espouse the role of personal choice in the development of and pursuit of greater freedom. Common punk ethics include a radical rejection of mainstream conformity, living according to the DIY (Do It Yourself) ethic, taking direct action for political change, and not selling out to mainstream interests for personal gain. Subsequently punk politics cover the entire political spectrum, many punks find themselves categorized into left-wing or progressive views, and punks often participate in political protests for local, national or global change. Some common trends in punk politics include anarchism, anti-authoritarianism, anti-militarism, anti-capitalism, anti-racism, anti-nationalism, environmentalism, vegetarianism, veganism, and animal rights. Punk aesthetics determine the type of art punks enjoy, which is usually underground in origin with minimalistic, iconoclastic and satirical sensibilities. Punks tend to enjoy art which makes strong political statements, preferably using humor, irony or sarcasm. Punks are fans of decadence in art because of its strong critique of what would be considered mainstream culture.


An example of an extreme punk hairstyle, as worn by Colin Jerwood of Conflict An example of an extreme punk hairstyle, as worn by Colin Jerwood of Conflict

Punks seek to outrage propriety with the highly theatrical use of clothing, hairstyles, cosmetics, jewelry and body modification. Punk clothing adapts existing objects for aesthetic effect: previously ripped clothes are held together by safety pins or wrapped with tape, written on with marker or defaced with paint; a black bin liner bag (garbage bag) might become a dress, shirt or skirt. Leather, rubber and vinyl clothing are also common, possibly due to its implied connection with transgressive sexual practices, such as bondage and S&M. Some punks wear tight "drain pipe" jeans, "brothel creepers" shoes, t-shirts with risqué images, or possibly a leather motorcycle jacket and Converse sneakers (á la The Ramones). Punks style their hair to stand in spikes, cut it into "Mohawks" or other dramatic shapes, and color it with vibrant, unnatural hues. Punks will use safety pins and razor blades as jewelry, including using safety pins for piercings. Punks tend to show their love for a certain band or idea by pin-back buttons or patches which they adorn on their jackets. They sometimes flaunt taboo symbols such as the Nazi swastika or Iron Cross, although most punks are staunchly anti-racist and may instead wear a crossed-out swastika patch. With the current trend of many traditionally punk aesthetics being incorporated into mainstream fashion, many punks have taken a more minimalistic approach to fashion. For example, as studded belts and dyed hair became more common, their popularity among punks declined.


An example of hardcore dancing An example of hardcore dancing

A variety of dances are popular within the punk subculture. Commonly performed at punk shows, these dances often appear chaotic, or even violent. The punk subculture and its immediate predecessors originated many of these dance styles from the 1970s onward. Moshing and the pogo are the types of dance most closely associated with punk. Hardcore dancing is a later development based on these styles. Stage diving and crowd surfing were originally associated with protopunk bands such as the Stooges, but went on to find a place at punk shows, and later metal shows and rock concerts. Ska punk originated the dance style of skanking. Punk shows often appear to the uninitiated to be more like small-scale riots than rock concerts. In some punk circles, fans spit and throw beer bottles at the band and each other. Fights both inside and outside the venue are more common than in many other subcultures, as is damage to sound equipment and the venue itself. The contemporary dances of metalheads borrow much from punk dance. Unlike hip hop danceing and breakdancing, punk dances are intended to be performed in dense crowds.

Subcultures within punk

Punk is made up of a diverse assortment of smaller subcultures, each with its own take on punk styles. These groups may deliberately distinguish themselves from one another through differences in culture, such as having a unique style of music or dress. Some of these groups are antagonistic towards one another, and there is widespread disagreement within punk whether or not some are even part of the larger subculture. Several of these factions may be active in any given punk scene, though some are tied to particular regional or local scenes. Others, such as hardcore, are prevalent throughout the entire subculture. A single punk may identify with any number of these factions, or none in particular.

The circled 'A' symbol often associated with anarcho-punk. The circled 'A' symbol often associated with anarcho-punk.

One of the oldest factions within punk, anarcho-punk is as old as the punk movement itself, and has supplied the punk subculture with many elements of its dominant ideology. Anarcho-punk is the part of the punk movement consisting of groups, bands and individuals promoting specifically anarchist ideas, such as animal rights, feminism, anti-authoritarianism, anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-racism, and many other social agendas. Exemplary bands of the anarcho-punk musical style include Crass, Conflict and the Subhumans. Anarcho-punk fashion ranges across the entire spectrum of punk fashion, with the exception of Nazi punk dress.

Having its origins in the original punk subculture of the UK, Oi! seeks to align punk with a working-class "street level" following, and often associates itself with football hooliganism. The Oi! subculture promotes unity between punks, skinheads and other working class youths. Major bands include Cock Sparrer, the Cockney Rejects, Angelic Upstarts, and Sham 69.

The UK saw the rise of ska punk shortly after the genesis of punk. This faction has since spread to North America, where it gained considerable mainstream attention during the early 1990s. Ska punk is a combination of punk and Jamaican culture. The ska punk musical style features wind instruments, making it distinct from most other punk music. Ska punk originated a unique dance step, called skanking. Rude boy and 2 tone are closely related subcultures.

Nazi punk is a punk subculture which espouses Nazism or white supremacy. It grew out of the original punk subculture in the UK during the late 1970s, and later spread to the US. The style of music played by Nazi punk bands is either called Rock Against Communism, hatecore, or simply Nazi punk. Skrewdriver is the archetypical Nazi punk band. The now-defunct Punk Front was a notorious Nazi punk organization in the UK during the late 1970s. Nazi punks often wear Swastikas, or other symbols of hate in combination with more typical punk dress.

Deathrock is a punk subculture which originated in California in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It focuses on "dark" culture such as horror, occultism, death and depression. Recently, deathrock has largely taken on a more apolitical stance, distinguishing it from the rest of the punk subculture. Deathrock is closely related to horror punk, goth and positive punk. It was originated by musicians such as Rozz Williams, Eva O and Dinah Cancer.

The now-extinct positive punk subculture, so called because of the lack of violence that characterizes the rest of the subculture, started in late-1970s in the London punk scene around the Batcave nightclub, and quickly developed into the goth subculture. In its brief existence, positive punk had many similarities to the deathrock subculture.

The hardcore punk subculture originated in North America, and was most popular during the 1980s. Hardcore music is a faster and heavier version of punk rock, usually characterized by short, loud, and often passionate songs with exceptionally fast tempos and chord changes. Major bands include Bad Brains, Black Flag, Minor Threat, the Dead Kennedys and The Misfits. Hardcore fashion differs in several ways from that of the original punk subculture. The UK equivalent of American hardcore is UK82.

The skate punk subculture is a fusion of punk and the skateboarding subculture. It was largely created by a skateboarding team called the Z-boys during the late 1970s in Venice Beach, California. In the 1980s, skate punk music emerged from Californian hardcore punk as a distinct genre. Over the last decade, the skateboarding subculture has moved away from its punk influences.

Crust punk is a more extreme version of the hardcore punk subculture. Members of this punk faction are sometimes called crusties. Crust punk music fuses elements of anarcho-punk and grindcore with the harshest aspects of hardcore. Crust punk fashion is generally exaggerated hardcore attire, and crust punk ideology follows the same vein as anarcho-punk.

Christian punk is affiliated with Christianity, as opposed to the secularism of the punk subculture as a whole. Christian punk grew out of the 1980s American hardcore scene. Christian punk fashion is similar to that of typical punk fashion, though often incorporating Christian-themed symbolism such as the cross, the crown of thorns, the Ichthys, the Labarum, and the newly-created "Alpha is Omega" symbol.

Celtic punk, which began in the early 1980s, fuses punk with the traditional cultures of Scotland, Manx, Ireland, and the Irish diaspora. Celtic punk music combines the rock beats and electric guitars of punk rock with traditional celtic melodies and instruments, such as the bagpipes. A variation of this subculture is Scottish Gaelic punk.

An outgrowth of hardcore punk, straight edge is based around a lifestyle of abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drug use. The movement was kickstarted by Washington, D.C.'s Minor Threat in the 1980s.

Riot Grrrl zine Riot Grrrl zine

Riot grrrl is an offshoot of hardcore punk that places strong emphasis on feminism. This segment seeks to create a girl-friendly space within the subculture, accomplishing this task with feminist zines and all-woman bands. Riot grrrl arose from the Seattle, Olympia, and Washington, D.C. hardcore scenes in 1991, and shared significant cultural cross-pollination with the developing grunge subculture. Bratmobile and Bikini Kill are two prime examples of riot grrrl bands.

Queercore is a branch of hardcore punk that developed alongside riot grrrl based instead on the experiences of lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals. Queercore music, exemplified by the band Pansy Division, is similar to hardcore, except its lyrics more often than not deal with the issues surrounding marginalized sexuality. Likewise, queercore fashion is similar to hardcore dress, though it incorporates elements from sexuality and gender identity-based subcultures.

Streetpunk is a working class, inner-city punk subculture with close ties to the Oi! punk subculture, though without placing the same importance on football rivalries. Streetpunk dress places an emphasis on the impoverished look of punk fashion.

Conservative punk is a group within punk which holds conservative political values, as opposed to the much larger progressive element within punk.

Other groups with some relation to punk include cartoon punk, gutter punk, scum punk, cider punk, punk pathetique, and Afro-punk.

Cultural relations

Punk has unique relationships with other subcultures and popular culture as a whole.

Subcultures which developed out of punk

The Goth subculture began in the gothic rock scene, a music genre that developed from punk rock and post-punk in the late 1970s. The subculture is noted for its macabre outlook and fascination with dark subjects and fashion.

Psychobilly incorporates the music and fashions of the rockabilly subculture with horror themes. Psychobilly music is generally played with an upright bass instead of an electric bass. Cowpunk and punkabilly are related subcultures.

Emo developed from the Washington, D.C. punk scene in the late 1980s. Punk and emo have a sometimes antagonistic relationship, since emo as a movement has become increasingly mainstream, and punks generally reject any form of music or subculture that has "sold out".

Hardline is a social movement which originated in the straight edge punk subculture. Hardline is based around extreme politics, mostly derived from the doctrines of deep ecology.

Strait Edge is an offshoot of the original Punk Atitude. Someone who is "Strait Edge" follows the punk lifestyle, but doesn't drink, smoke, or do drugs. Strait Edge was started by several people who saw the Punk Lifestyle, while agreeing with its points on freedom, saw the self-destructive nature of the scene and agreed to stop drinking and doing drugs. One sign that a person is "Strait Edge" is a black X tatoo on the person's hand. This comes from when the only place for bands to play was in bars. Younger fans weren't allowed in even though a large contingency of the bands was under 21. The bar owners, feeling sorry for these kids, let them in but put a big X on their hand so the bar tender would know not to serve them alcohol.

The indie scene is an offshoot of punk that carries on punk's DIY ethic, though indie music is sonically more diverse. Characterized by independent labels, regional diversity, and grassroots fanbases, the indie scene encompasses a wide variety of underground music genres, most notably alternative rock and particularly its subgenres such as indie rock, indie pop, and indietronica. A prime example is the Seattle grunge scene that developed in the late 1980s. Grunge had considerable mainstream success in the early 1990s, during which the media placed an emphasis on the bands' working class clothing and indie ethics along with other alternative rock-related tropes such as Lollapalooza in an attempt to define it as a supposed "alternative culture" for Generation X.

Subcultures with origins separate from punk

Punk has ties to the skinhead subculture, a working class youth subculture which originated in the UK in the 1960s. The original skinhead movement had largely died out by 1972, but in the late 1970s it underwent a revival, partly as a reaction against the commercialization of punk. Punks and skinheads have had both antagonistic and friendly relationships, depending on the situation. There is a hybrid of skinhead and punk called punk-skinhead.

Punk and hip hop emerged around the same time in New York City, and there has been a surprising amount of interaction between the two subcultures. Some of the first hip hop MCs called themselves punk rockers, and some punk fashions have found their way into hip hop dress. Malcolm McLaren played roles in introducing both punk and hip hop to the United Kingdom. Recently, hip hop has influenced several punk bands, mostly in the pop punk style, including The Transplants, and Refused, and punk themes, such as disillusionment with the urban-industrial landscape, have been expressed in the lyrics of many hip hop artists.

The industrial subculture has several ties to punk.

Additionally, punk and the heavy metal subculture have shared similarities since punk's inception, and the early 1970s metal scene was instrumental in the development of protopunk. Glam rockers The New York Dolls, massively influential on early punk fashion, also influenced the look of glam metal. Alice Cooper was a forerunner of the fashion and music of both the punk and metal subcultures. Motörhead, since their first album release in 1977, have had continued popularity in the punk scene, and Lemmy is an anarchist, friend of several punks, and a fan of punk rock in general. Hardcore was a primary influence on thrash metal bands such as Metallica and Slayer and, by proxy, an influence on death metal and black metal. Conversely, punk subgenres like metalcore, grindcore and crossover thrash were greatly influenced by heavy metal. As a result, many punks are fans of heavy metal, and many metalheads find punk rock an acceptable musical style. The grunge subculture resulted in large part from the fusion of punk and metal styles in the late 1980s. However, there have long been tensions between the two groups. In particular, metal's mainstream incarnations have proven anathema to punk. Hardcore and grunge developed in part as reactions against metal music popular during the 1980s.

Other subcultures which have had relationships to punk include:

Mainstream and popular culture

Punk has influenced and has been influenced by popular culture in a number of ways.

In punk's original heyday, punks faced harassment and even violent attacks, particularly in the U.K., where brawls with Teddy Boys or fans of rockabilly were often reported. In the U.S. punks sometimes faced abuse from Rednecks and other right-wing groups such as the Nazi-Skinheads. Nowadays it is relatively socially acceptable to present oneself as a fan of punk and to play punk rock music, and it is often merely a fashion statement among youth. Thus some maintain that the punk scene has lost the very heart of its former nature as one of explosive creativity, rebellion, anger and individualism, and that it has become a mere caricature of what once was. Others suggest that little has changed except the popularity of the genre. Disillusioned ex-punks see punk as outdated and obsolescent, especially as mass acceptance means that punk is now even influencing boy bands (albeit in a sanitised form).

Since the beginning of the subculture, major label record labels and fashion houses have attempted to use punk for profit. For the most part, punk has met this cultural appropriation with resistance, because of the punk ethic of musical integrity which punks often feel is threatened by record label profit motivation. Many members of the original punk subculture find the commercialization of punk disillusioning. They argue that punk is by definition unpopular (seeing "pop punk" as a contradiction in terms) and should remain that way because it provides a needed challenge to mainstream culture.


Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad
Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs, ISBN 0679720456
American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush
The Boy Looked At Johnny: The Obituary of Rock and Roll by Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, 1978, Pluto Press, UK, ISBN 0861040309X
Punk: The Definitive Record of a Revolution by Stephen Colegrave
Burning Britain - A History Of UK Punk 1980 to 1984 by Ian Glasper, Cherry Red Books, ISBN 1901447243
A Punk Manifesto by Greg Graffin, Bad Times, 12/98
Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain Stuart Hall, ISBN 0415099161
Subculture: The Meaning of Style D. Hebdige, ISBN 0415039495
From the Velvets to the Voidoids: A Pre-Punk History for a Post-Punk World by Clinton Heylin, Penguin Books, ISBN 0140179704
From the Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock by Clinton Heylin
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, 1997, Penguin Books, ISBN 0140266909
The Philosophy of Punk by Craig O'Hara
Punk Rock: So What?: The Cultural Legacy of Punk by Roger Sabin
England's Dreaming : Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond by Jon Savage, 1991, Faber and Faber, UK, ISBN 0312069634
We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet, the Collected Interviews by Daniel Sinker.
Make The Music Go Bang!: The Early L.A. Punk Scene by Don Snowden
We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk by Marc Spitz

External links

Punk rock
Anarcho-punk - Anti-folk - Crust punk - Garage punk - Hardcore - Post-hardcore - Horror punk - New Wave - No Wave - Noise rock - Oi! - Pop punk - Post-punk - Psychobilly - Deathcountry - Riot grrrl - Ska punk - Streetpunk - Two Tone
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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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