The Roar of The West and The Attitude of the East: The Return of Punk Rock and its Evolving Sound.
By Eli Duncan-High
The foundations of punk rock are rooted in anti-conformity and independence, a “Do it Yourself” mindset. Punk opines on freedom, politics and societal norms through its simple, yet chaotic, form of music. The Sex Pistols, Black Flag, Minor Threat, and The Clash are some of the many bands of the 1970s and 1980s that have not only promoted a message to an audience trying to understand the world around them, but they showed that the limits of music can be pushed farther than anyone could have imagined.
It wasn’t until 1991 when Nirvana released the universally acclaimed and highly influential album Nevermind, which sent the band to superstardom, that punk rock was sent to the mainstream. Nirvana has its foundation in punk rock and fused the ferocity of punk with other genres, such as alternative rock and pop, to push the boundaries of music. With punk being in the mainstream and with bands like Green Day, blink-182, and The Offspring combining punk with pop to make a sound that was a lot more tolerable and accessible to people. Punk rock was able to create sounds that nobody could have predicted.
When punk started to fall from the mainstream, it began to once again operate in its original underground genre where it has stayed for most of the early to mid 2010s. In the last few years, with bands from the USA and Australia leading the way, punk’s chaos and innovation are drawing attention again and inspiring more mainstream bands. One of the more popular bands from this movement is The Chats. The Chats are a three-piece band made up of bassist and vocalist Eamon Sandwith, guitarist Josh Hardy, and drummer Matt Boggis who hail from Sunshine Coast, Australia.
The Chats came onto the scene with their 2017 hit single “Smoko” which combines a Joy Division like sound with a combination of Sandwith’s heavy Australian accent and ferocious vocals to create a relaxing yet at times aggressive sound. With 480.9K monthly listeners on Spotify, The Chats have opened for legendary hard rock band Guns N’ Roses and alternative-rock band Foo Fighters, performed at a variety of festivals, and have released four studio albums with their most recent 2022 album “Get Fucked” having sprinkles of the iconic Black Flag sound while also combining a new Austrailan sound that relies on heavily distorted guitars with a simple yet very catchy guitar riff. If you’re looking for a punk band to crack a cold one to and bounce around your room, then The Chats are the best at kindling that rebellious and energetic energy that we all have inside of us.
Another Australian punk band that has solidified itself as a pioneer in the Australian punk scene is CIVIC, which is composed of Jim McCullogh (vocals), Lewis Hodgson (guitar), Roland Hvlaka (bass), Jackson Harry (guitar), and Matt Blach (drums). Out of all of the current punk bands, CIVIC is the most diverse being able to create a sound similar to the proto-punk band The Stooges in songs like “Nuclear Son” and “New Vietnam” to songs that can fit a variety of genres of music like the pop-leaning “Blood Rushes” and indie-punk song “Time Girl”. CIVIC’s 2023 album Taken By Force is an album that the band describes on their website as “1984 meets Endless Summer” with a mix of noise rock, punk, and some pop influences. Not only has CIVIC achieved a large underground following but they have also achieved enough notoriety to get their own page on the legendary rock n’ roll magazine CREEM further promoting their unique sound. If you’re looking for a punk band that fits the profile of a variety of genres but maintains aggressiveness and distorted guitars, then CIVIC should be in your playlist.
The United States have also been making a statement in both building off the punk sound and creating a surprising fusion of heavy metal in the hardcore scene. I recently went to my second hardcore show to see the Santa Cruz hardcore band DRAIN. DRAIN, which is composed of charismatic frontman Sammy Ciaramitaro, guitarist Cody Chavez, and drummer Tim Flegal, have been leaders in the current hardcore scene which has built off the hardcore sound by adding a thrash metal sound to the genre. The band takes the heavy and distorted guitars of Slayer while also combining the aggressiveness and the screeching vocals of the hardcore scene of the 1980s.
Going to my second hardcore show, I was expecting the pit to be physical and I was prepared for the stage diving frenzy from the fans. However, I was clearly not prepared enough. I was first introduced to this new style of hardcore by witnessing pool toys in the pit being tossed around during the show—a staple of DRAIN’s live shows. Then the stage diving and crowd surfing was only further encouraged by the band. It was chaotic, physical, wild, unpredictable, and it was beautiful. Despite being hit in the head by stage diving fans and being tossed around like a rag doll in the pit by men who could play linebacker for any NFL team, I couldn’t help throwing myself back into the madness that took place in the pit. The band isn’t this scary and dark band, in fact they are the complete opposite. They are fun, energetic, and clearly love what they do. Not only is the band amazing live but they have a brand that stands out from the rest. Their mascot, a kid in a shark costume, is featured on their merch, social media and music platforms; their cover art for their albums are beautiful pieces that represent the band’s California roots. DRAIN is a band that continues to create and produce music that both fans of hardcore and heavy metal can appreciate.
While Australia has been producing some of the most exciting punk bands in the world, and hardcore is dominating the punk scene in the United States’ Western Coast, Teen Mortgage and THE BOBBY LEES have been running the punk scene for the East Coast. Teen Mortgage is a two-piece band composed of vocalist and guitarist Jimi G and drummer Edward Barakauskas that combines punk, noise rock, proto-punk, and indie rock to create a sound that showcases the band’s intense energy in songs like “Life/Death” and political stances in songs like “Oligarchy”. THE BOBBY LEES are a punk and garage rock band from Woodstock, New York who have received praise from punk icons such as Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins. The band consists of female vocalist and guitarist Sam Quartin, female bassists Kendall Wind, guitarist Nick Casa, and drummer Macky Bowman.
I was fortunate enough to see both of these bands perform at a small bar in Washington D.C. called DC9 and, let me tell you, it was a show I will never forget. I originally went to see Teen Mortgage, who I discovered through Spotify, and it wasn’t until I bought my ticket that I saw they were the openers for THE BOBBY LEES which made me even more interested in attending the event. I arrived at the show which was taking place upstairs and went straight to the merch bar where I was met by Jimi G who was selling Teen Mortgage merch. The Teen Mortgage set was something I had never seen before at live shows. Jimi G would create a wall of noise and distortion while Barakauskas would hit the snare drum with a ferocity that I wasn’t prepared for. After Teen Mortgage finished their set I was eagerly waiting for THE BOBBY LEES to compete with the loud and destructive set that Teen Mortgage gave to the crowd. As I waited there for their set, THE BOBBY LEES walked on stage with Bowman wearing nothing but his underwear, socks, and shoes and when I witnessed this tall man in his tighty-whities I knew this show was going to be something special. THE BOBBY LEES performed an equally loud and energetic show as Teen Mortgage with Quartin channeling her inner Iggy Pop and giving the crowd a wild show full of jumping around and a vocal performance that made you want to jump around with her. The small upstairs room in the bar felt like the pit at Capital One Arena, an energy the DC9 stage was almost too small to contain. Moshing and some crowd surfing occurred throughout the show and the band were as tight as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. As I walked home I couldn’t help but think that punk rock was in good hands.
Punk Rock is very much alive, and the scene is making a name for itself in modern music again. There are many more bands that deserve the same recognition, so I want to give you, the reader, some honorable mentions: Private Function, Aborted Tortoise, STIFF RICHARDS, Pist Idiots, Split System, C.O.F.F.I.N, Mini Skirt, Sunami.
Thanks for reading and remember to KEEP ON HEADBANGING.
If you’re interested in seeing any of the bands mentioned, some are going on tour in the DMV area. You can purchase tickets from their respective websites or Ticketmaster:
CIVIC with Teen Mortgage opening at Metro Baltimore 10/6/23
The Chats at the The Fillmore Silver Spring Maryland, 10/21/23