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Punk’s Not Dead – But It’s Definitely On Life-Support

Featuring Sweetwater County’s own Shocktroopers, Zombiance from SLC and Detroit’s Break Anchor

By R.G.B Robb

(Author’s Note- This article is about punk music, and some of its history and current state. Now, let me preface all of this by telling you that if you don’t enjoy punk music, don’t worry. I didn’t like it either, upon first listen. I thought that the simple-minded three-chord loud, (mostly) out of tune guitars, ridiculous vocal intonation, and poor recording quality as “not my thing.” However, over a period of time I learned its history, roots, and cultural significance and eventually grew to enjoy it fondly. Now, this doesn’t mean I expect you to go out, dye your hair blue and turn it into a Mohawk…overnight. But I figure that, at the very least, someone, somewhere, may actually learn something new today, and that’s enough for me. Hope you enjoy.)

Punk is a style of music that has seen many ebbs and flows in its over four-decade history. It’s a genre of music that has been, for the most part, self-sustaining when a new crop of teenagers, full of piss and vinegar, come through with their vision of what the music means to them, and the fastest, or most aggressive, way of showing it. Punk has been able to weather music trends ranging from disco, to hair-metal, to boy bands and pop artists ranging from Donna Summer to Britney Spears. There has, however, been a lapse now in the Punk scene of any kind of mainstream recognition for almost a decade, and for this type of music, this is somewhat unusual, and disconcerting. So where has it gone? Has teenage angst and the need to rebel been swept under the rug? Or is being destroyed by the very things that helped make it a force to be reckoned with in the first place?

Let’s start by seeing why this trend is alarming. Don’t worry, it won’t take long.

The beginnings of Punk are somewhat dubious, at best. Some feel it started in Detroit, in the mid 1960s, with acts like the MC5, or Iggy and the Stooges. Other’s subscribe to the notion that it began in the early 1970s in New York, with acts like the New York Dolls and The Velvet Underground. But to the large majority, Punk really came into its own in the mid 1970s with the beginning of The Ramones in New York, and The Sex Pistols in England. Once those bands took off, there was no way to stop the machine.

Punk was the “flavor du jour” and bands from all across the world were putting out albums. In the United States we had acts like The Misfits, and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers; while overseas there was The Damned and The Clash, both from the U.K. It was an exciting time filled with new bands unafraid to test the boundaries of what “rock” could be. But as quickly as one of its two-and-a-half minute songs lasts, so did Punk and it was gone by the late 1970s. Seen as too dumb by mainstream rock critics to ever have any hope of lengthy aspirations, it appeared that, indeed, Punk was dead.

By the early 1980s Punk had morphed into New Wave, which branched off into Gothic music, neither of which had hardly any of the same defining characteristics as their forefather. So where did the next group of kids with loud guitars and minimal talent or concern for tradition come from? Well, mostly California. Bands like Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and T.S.O.L. came onto the scene and took it over with their faster, harder-edged brand of Punk called Hardcore. But, at the close of that same decade, most of those bands had vanished.

And this is how it has been. In the 90s we saw bands like Rancid and Unwritten Law, and although they are still around, by the end of the decade any sense of traditional Punk had been eradicated by the oversaturation of “pop-Punk”; acts like Green Day, Blink 182, and Good Charlotte. They too, by and large, gone. Some would argue that Punk’s final “hurrah” was the off-shoot, Emo. However, if there were a math equation that could be written out as a musical formula, many would say that “Emo is to Punk, as Neon Trees is to GWAR.” But no matter the feelings on the subject of Emo, it kept some concept of Punk in the media. However, for almost the last decade, there has been no resurrection. No band out there to be seen as the new “torch bearer” for the future of Punk. So what happened to it?

Three bands stepped forward to help in answering this question. With Tyler Samz (vocals/guitar) from the band Shocktroopers (Rock Springs, Wyoming); Lilly Gray (vocals) from Zombiance (Salt Lake City, Utah); and Jason Navarro (vocals/guitar) of Break Anchor (Detroit, Michigan); I was able to find out what exactly has taken place in the Punk scene, over the last few years, and also find out where the future of Punk may be headed.

In the late 70’s, early 80’s, a Punk band had two ways of gaining notoriety and getting their name into the world; touring and the tape trade. How it would typically work is one, or more of the members of a band, would get a low-paying summer job to fund a demo. Most bands would crank one out in a day, or two, and then they would make copies of that tape and send it to all their friends. They, in turn, would make copies of the copies and send it to their friends under the agreement that once new music was acquired, it be introduced to all. When the bands that were heavily traded came through town, and they had a good network, then those who would attend their shows, would already be familiar with their music and it would help to ensure a large crowd. It was through this method that bands like The Misfits, Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag would build a lot of their fan base.

Jump ahead 30 years and the internet, along with cost-effective recording capabilities, have now made it so literally ANYONE with a laptop and the right software can make an album. But is it this DIY ethic a good thing, or a bad one? When Tyler from Shocktroopers was asked about the subject of the ease upon which the digital age has helped many artists to get their music into the world easier he said- “You can get everything out to everyone instantly. You don’t have to wait for your record to be pressed now, which could take up to 8 weeks, with websites like band camp any band can put their music up and start selling it.” Lilly Gray of Zombiance agrees- “At the same time it’s the easiest. It’s real simple to just throw your music up on iTunes and BOOM! (It’s there).” This is also where the downfall of the Punk scene has its roots. There are many, many musicians in the world who, let’s face it, aren’t very good. There are many, many bands out there that have gotten access to the ease and affordability of technology and run amok. So there have become levels of saturation that have inundated the internet with mediocrity. “It became too easy for anyone to put together a band and do things. It has really led to a watering down of quality.” – Jason from Break Anchor. But does this mean that the DIY ethic that once made this scene self-sustaining, will ultimately be its undoing? Maybe not.

The one thing that still helps to separate the bands who wish to make music a career, and not just something fun to do on the weekends, is the live show. In the past bands had to cut their teeth playing dives in front of less-than-friendly, and less than full, crowds to truly see if they had what it took. Venues like the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.; CBGB’s in New York; Slovinski Dom in Rock Springs, WY; to Club DV8in Salt Lake City, UT; were great places to weed out the wannabe’s. In today’s world there are still these places that help separate the men from the boys. Clubs that are good for this are “Red Feather (211 E. Flaming Gorge Way) in Green River, or Buddha Bob’s (1549 9th St.) in Rock Springs; for all ages the American Legion (543 Broadway St., RS) is a good place for a show.” According to Tyler. In Salt Lake City the best venues, according to Lily– “Burt’s Tiki Lounge (726 S. State St.) is a great tooth cutter. If you can set up a show opening for a well known band at Bar Deluxe (666 S. State St.) I HIGHLY Recommend that. And of course the heaven that is Liquid Joe’s (1249 E. 3300 S.).”

But although the internet has not only given rise to a large populace of mediocre acts, it also has helped these smaller acts in very large ways when it comes to advertising. When asked if networking sites like Facebook, have assisted in filling more venues both the Zombiance and Shocktroopers members had nothing but positive things to say. “Social media definitely gets the word out, everyone is on it and if they want to go to a show, especially in a small town like mine, they are sure to hear of it from Facebook or other media outlets.” said Tyler. Agrees Lily– “Facebook has helped us a ton! We played out in Pocatello last year and had a HUGE crowd. All thanks to Facebook and our buddy Jesse James.”

So there’s the current state of Punk. But what of the future? Is it really going to be nothing more then one new networking site after another bogging us with a billion and one options, where no more than maybe 20 of them are any good? Are we going to have to sit through link after link after link, hoping, and praying that the next one will show us something that will really take our breath away? Possibly, but after delving deeper into the topic with Jason from Break Anchor, I learned that the most important thing that will help the scene not only survive, but thrive, are the fans, and people associated with the bands.

“The people that are involved in the music scene, are more important than the music.” he says. “Punk houses will pop-up in these neighborhoods, like Woodbridge, in Detroit. And they’ll help out the whole neighborhood. There will be kids coming over, and they’ll be doing puppet shows and stuff like punk rock shows, you know what I mean? For the kids, and that’s kinda how it is in Detroit. I think people are really passionate about trying to help each other and take care of each other.”

Although Detroit has a large, close-knit, Punk scene and community, Jason said that in Salt Lake City he witnessed an equally impressive, family type atmosphere- “I will say this, that Shred Shed (60 Exchange Place) place is pretty cool. I felt like everyone knew each other, and we all went out after, with a bunch of people and they all knew each other and everyone was hanging out. It was a pretty good time. I imagine that there’s gotta be something like that (vibe) going on in SLC.”

Finally, the last thing that is most important to the continuation of Punk; talent. The one constant in the ever-evolving world of the normal ebb and flow of the Punk scene is that the cream, for the most part, rises; and true Punk fans will be able to sniff out the real thing very, very quickly. But with bands like these; Zombiance, Shocktroopers, and Break Anchor, I think the future of Punk is definitely in good hands.

Shocktroopers is the type of band I would introduce someone if they asked me what 2-minute, fast punk with melody and punch should be. More specifically their song “Hogleg.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2boMGvLLYk4

With its fast tempo, guitars in-your-face, and snotty hardcore vocal delivery, it’s what hardcore would be if it had never went astray from its roots, yet still allowing the melody of “old-school” Punk to come through. The band has been touring the West and for anyone that wants an up-beat, loudly-aggressive good time, don’t miss Shocktroopers (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shocktroopers/159935804055074)

Zombiance (https://www.facebook.com/Zombiance) is horror-punk at its finest. With influences ranging from “Alice Cooper and The Ramones” to “Cher”; this band has a definite tongue-in-cheek humor that is filled with the sick and twisted. Although a lot of their songs go over the traditional two-and-a-half-minutes formula that worked for some of their favorite acts, the talent of the songwriting, bordering on hard-rock performance, and vocal abilities of Lily Gray (combining one part Wednesday 13 with a touch of the melodic sensibilities of Del Shannon), one cannot help but stay glued firmly to their seat. With its slower tempo, focus on chord structures that remind one of a 1950’s sock-hop- with Satan in the DJ booth, their song “Human Sacrifice” is a twisted love-affair gone into mayhem. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ukhnhHg_eU

And finally Break Anchor (https://www.facebook.com/breakanchor). A Punk band that has been filling Punk houses with a brand of music that has some elements of traditional hardcore, melodies that hearken to an earlier form of pop-punk, and all the attitude held by the legendary greats. One thing can be said; Break Anchor is a band that, being from Detroit, coupled with as much pride as they carry for their hometown, one would have high expectations. After listening to their song “August” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oF9p8hZ-wfM; one realizes that the expectations have been met.

“A lot of the more talented bands are the ones that tend to stay within the parameters of the DIY scene. A lot of those bands, to me, end up being the quality bands; because their going to do it regardless of if anyone likes them or not.” According to Jason. He’s right. Punk was based off of not caring how good you were as a musician, how many notes you could play, or how quickly. It was about getting out that emotion, whether anybody cared or not. I’m sure there’s some 16 year-old kid out there listening to “Static Age” by The Misfits for the first time today, and hopefully he’ll have enough of the “not giving a crap” attitude that the torch for this style of music will continue. I’d like to hope so, and given the things I learned from talking to all the bands, I think the future is in good hands.