Punk is alive, diverse, global and a little more mainstream

15 December 2020

The anti-establishment vein still runs through punk movements today and that's why it has proliferated across the globe

When you hear the word punk, you're more likely to think London, multi-coloured mohawks, safety-pin piercings and bad behaviour.

But veganism, social justice and even clean living are just as likely to be hallmarks of the musical genre and culture surrounding it.

These are just some of the topics to be canvassed by a global network of scholars examining punk today as well as Indonesian, European and Colombian versions, among others.  

Professor Samantha Bennett, from The Australian National University (ANU), says the classic punk image immortalised by the Sex Pistols is now considered nostalgic - but still resonates today.

"That iconic image - famously manufactured by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren - has come to represent a very particular historical moment in punk," she said.

"Punk music was seen as subversive-swearing in public, taking pride in not really being able to play your instrument, the shouting, and the anti-monarchy stance-it represented a real challenge to the conservative establishment at the time."

Professor Bennett, herself a former London punk band musician, a working class academic and punk scholar, said the anti-establishment vein still runs through punk movements today and is the reason it has proliferated across the globe.

"So that's why now at a global punk academic conference you have Indonesian punk scholars presenting papers on punk as a vehicle to oppose human trafficking or incarceration or the power of empire.

"In Colombia, punk scholars and bands narrate oppression in Bogota, and also examine punk and masculinity. There's an emergent punk movement standing up against climate change.

"In that way, we're seeing a continuation of punk from the later 1970s, first seen in anarchist punk bands like Crass, who drove this agenda of staunch environmentalism, vegetarianism and veganism.

"There was a strand of punk at that time and still today that was involved in the animal liberation front and other, quite extreme organisations."

Professor Bennett acknowledges that punk, as well as diversifying, has always had to exist alongside the mainstream.

Her own research into the origins of punk banks like the Ramones, the Stooges, the Sex Pistols and Blondie found that far from the raw, unproduced, live performance albums they aspired to, these bands were recorded in elite studios by classical music recordists.

"These albums were highly constructed with plenty of overdubs and a huge amount of production," Professor Bennett said. 

"So there's always been that tension with the very thing punk was opposed to, punk has needed some of the mainstream vehicles to get its message out there. But you can look at it in the reverse; the mainstream has recognised the importance of punk culture and wants to study it."

The Punk Scholar's Network Seventh Annual Conference is virtual, global and runs over seven days from Sunday 6 December. The full program is here: