Remember where you were the first time that you heard that first punk rock song? The first official punk song that I heard was We’re Only Gonna Die by Bad Religion, I had however heard many metal covers of punk classics like Last Caress/Green Hell by Metallica. The first song by a punk band though belongs to Bad Religion, and I will always remember where I was and the feeling that came over me. I was at my friend Brandon’s house and he had taken a dub tape from his brother’s room, the sense of urgency just wanted to make me go out there and fuck some shit up! That summer afternoon forever changed me and began the journey that I have been following ever since for truth and change. It got me to thinking, what is the true essence and purpose to this social movement? As we all know, here in North America at least, it has pretty much been co-opted and become just another flavour/option in your closet. We are now caught up in debates over what is “real” punk and whatever commercial radio is telling us what punk is, I’m looking at you the Sum 41’s and Simple Plan’s of the world, so what is this real punk that was so dangerous 35 years ago? This weekend is the 35th anniversary of the Sex Pistols’ arrest because of their attempt of playing their version of God Save The Queen down the Thames river on a boat, it was at this moment that punk rock’s political snarl had never been louder. You will not hear of these types of actions in the US and the UK these days, the birthplace of the punk rock movement, the snarl has become nothing more than a whimper.
Look to Moscow, where three women have been detained and face up to seven years in prison because their band, Pussy Riot, staged an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in a cathedral. Amnesty International now classifies them as prisoners of conscience. Next is Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where six months ago officers hauled more than 60 punk off to re-education camps, sheared off their Mohawks, removed their piercings and forced them to bathe, change clothes and pray. Or Iraq, where human rights groups report that dozens of emo kids, the followers of punk’s tender-hearted offshoot, have been slain by extremists since February, when the government’s interior ministry released a statement equating emo style with devil worship. Burmese punk bands have to practice in secrecy to avoid arrest. Rebel Riot told a German magazine Der Spiegel, “In Burma, punk is not a game.” At the top of Cuba’s dissident music scene, Porno para Ricardo play nose-thumbing punk anthems despite years of police harassment, including lead singer Gorki Aguila’s latest arrest in February. Members of the Iranian punk rock band The Yellow Dogs have recently won asylum after fleeing from Tehran two years again, where playing rock music is punishable by flogging, fines, and jail time.
I am then remembered of the last time that I was down on the Bowery in Lower Manhattan, when I was shocked to see a high-end menswear boutique with 1 000$ jackets hanging against brick walls covered in seditious scrawls and yellowing concert posters. The bored-looking clerk sitting on a small stage that looks like a replica from a club, but this use to be a club: the former home of CBGB, the club where American punk was born, now a temple for commerce and nostalgic kitsch! A visit at the ancient site will leave most a little depressed. While punk’s heirs around the world continue to defy autocrats, risking their freedom to stand against social injustice and economic polarization, it has been years since British and American punk has had this raw influence. There are still bands out there that sing for change and standing up against the system, but these voices are getting more and more silent in the former scenes. It seems that even the Occupy movement has been co-opted by major label artists trying to make a buck, Miley Cyrus with her Occupy Wall Street flavoured video for “Liberty Walk”, Jay-Z’s Rocawear profited by selling 22$ “Occupy All Streets” T-shirts; which he never donated any profits to the Occupy movement and they called fouled, he did not even blink. What this means is that, if you don’t print your political message on a T-shirt, your message won’t sell. It should be said that the Sex Pistols don’t sell either, not that Universal is not trying when they reissued “God Save the Queen” as a 7-inch to celebrate the anniversary mentioned above and to cash in on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Fans even tried to push it up the charts, which flopped, but the refrain – “No future, no future, no future for you!” – seems relevant as ever thanks to the global economic crisis and widespread unemployment happening in North America and Europe.
Punk today belongs more to Russia and Iraq, Myanmar and Indonesia, than it does to its birthplaces. Like any movement steeped in dissent and nonconformity, punk’s moral force grows with government suppression. As authoritarian regimes crack down on rebel rockers, their efforts to censor subversive voices often backfire by attracting attention from international media and human rights activists. I am sure that you are maybe wondering how can we inject punk with that moral force that we all felt during the first summer of musical discovery?
Living in Montreal, I am feeling some social unrest in my city and feeling like it is reaching a boiling point; and I have no idea how it is going to end honestly. People protesting the F1 Grand Prix for their blatten disregard for human rights, their glorification of the objectification of women, and this being a party for the rich by the rich. People are getting fed up with the further widening of the gap between the rich and poor, and they are starting to stand up to tell us that it will no longer stand. The whole student protest mouvement is much too complicated to briefly mention here, go check it out for yourself on the internet (just don’t trust solely the major media outlets and look around), see what this all about. Briefly, it’s about people entering the work force already drowning in debt and never being able to get out of it. But since the implementation of Law 78, it has become everyone’s fight for human rights and their rights to protest their government, I mean even the UN is saying that it’s not cool and they are keep an eye on the situation. It was even responded by the Education Minister who told the UN to fuck off and that they have other things to worry about like Syria instead, I am curious to see how this is all going to end. This weekend there has been about 30 arrests by day at the Grand Prix celebrations and scenes of blatten police brutality. So what is the state of punk in Montreal?
The Pussy Riot detainees have inspired protests and fundraisers in Berlin, Krakow, London, Melbourne, Prague, San Francisco and beyond. They’ve made headlines around the world. Expected to face a judge on charges of “hooliganism” in the coming weeks, the bandmates will soon be performing on a larger stage than they ever could have imagined. A global audience will be watching their trial. Some of us wish our own countries still made music that could rattle the windows in, say, the White House or on the streets of Montreal. Real punk — cheeky, risk-taking, rude, sloppy punk — belongs to fighters. Let’s hope they remind the rest of us how it’s done. I have always lived my life by asking “What would Joe Strummer do?”, and I think that he would tell me to take to the streets and inject punk with the fight that made it so great!