American Punk vs British Punk

Reading through Please Kill Me, there’s a lot of talk in the book about American Punk Rock vs British Punk Rock, both in terms on sound and attitude, and it got me thinking. Now I’ll preface this by saying I think it’s stupid to pick sides when talking about anything related to music or art in general, but I thought it would be fun to talk about American Punk vs British Punk in a if-you-could-only-pick-one-for-the-rest-of-your-life kind of way.

I’m specifically talking about punk from the late 70’s to early 80’s here, not proto punk like The Stooges (which definitely trumps over any other band I mention just because of innovation itself).

In the book they mention how the best thing about American punk is that it’s based on blues and old rock and roll, while British punk is more industrial sounding. But to me that’s precisely what made British punk stick out for me. Now don’t get me wrong, I like blues and old rock and roll (I in fact went through a rockabilly phase when I was younger). I think bands like Senders are amazing, and I, of course, appreciate some songs by The Heartbreakers and The Cramps, but I’ll never forget the first time I heard that sound from London Calling or Anarchy in the UK (even if The Clash is a 50/50 for me and I think the Pistols are a bit overrated). Also, that first The Damned album and G.B.H. On one side you had old rock from the 50’s disguised with a new attitude, poetry based rock, and New Wave; and on the other hand, you had this amazing new sound. Now I think there’s a key player for America here, and that’s the Ramones, who still blow my mind after multiple hearings of that first album. Another thing that makes reconsider my stance is hardcore, which, while it can be annoying and repetitive at times, it also brought us some of the best punk bands of all time in my opinion, such as Germs, Testors, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Bad Brains, etc.

So, I really don’t know, but I’m curious to know what you guys think.
 

desertlizard

southpaw
cant say really i enjoy english and american punk both, while english punk is more political oriented and kinda industrial as you mention, on the other hand American punk is raw, dirty, and this attitude of fuck it all, both emerge at a time when music was into an abyss...and well i guess that makes punk really really special
 

mjp

Your Host
Moderator
Founding member
In the book they mention how the best thing about American punk is that it’s based on blues and old rock and roll, while British punk is more industrial sounding.
There's nothing more industrial sounding than The Ramones.

I'm in the camp that believes that "punk rock" isn't a type of music. It's an attitude toward everything. All of the original New York punk bands sounded different from each other. So what was "punk rock" in New York? The only thing tying it all together was a DIY, independent spirit, and dissatisfaction with the status quo (not the band...but yeah, the band too).

All punk rock is based on rock and roll, and all rock and roll is based on the blues. British punk rock bands weren't any different. They didn't invent anything. The Ramones didn't invent anything. No one did. They took the established rock and roll formats and reworked them. Stripped away the gloss and artifice and unicorns and dragged the whole twitching mess back toward the foundation of the music.

But to separate any of it from rock and roll, or say that it's "based on" rock and roll doesn't make any sense. It is rock and roll. I mean Give 'Em Enough Rope and Never Mind the Bollocks are hard rock albums. You could play them on the PA system before Rolling Stones concerts.

I think the difference between New York and British punk, in a general, doesn't-apply-to-everyone way, is there was a lot going on musically in New York "pre-punk." A lot of weird bands that didn't fit into any mold. Suicide, Patti Smith, Wayne County - they were all playing at least a couple of years before the CBGB scene blew up. There was a groundwork there for something more to happen.

In England, or in London, from what I understand, they had pub rock. Pub rock and Hawkwind. But nothing like Suicide. Or the Patti Smith group. But I wasn't there, so maybe there was something happening. But that's only a difference in germination. Maybe in New York people were encouraged by the few weird bands to do something themselves, and in London they just wanted to wipe pub rock off the face of the earth, and that was their motivation.

It's worth remembering that New York and London were both also on the verge of bankruptcy and awash in shit and garbage and there were no jobs to be had. Conditions like that can fuel new kinds of art and social chaos.
 
Any radical arts movement, for the most part, lives and dies by rent costs. No punk in a robust economy, few places to drink yourself to death in peace, at least in Los Angeles and NYC. Probably an oversimplification, but when you live in a city where CBGB becomes a Varvatos store, the jig is up. Like everything else, you sacrifice for “safety.” I don’t know. Jimmy died of Covid a few weeks ago, but this is a pretty good read.
 
I've been thinking about it lately and, like MJP said, the main think about punk is the DIY thing. Although, I would also add simplicity and environment (as skiroomalum said in his post) as trademarks of punk. I guess it all falls into the rock n' roll umbrella, but by now rock is one big, diverse genre with an extensive history. I sometimes hate all the classification between genres, which can easily lead to snobbery between one group of fans and another, but sometimes it's necessary. I dislike most of what falls into the category of metal. Does that mean I hate rock n' roll? No. Pop-punk makes my ears bleed. Do I dislike punk rock because of that? Absolutely not.

But as I said, individuality is key to punk (and most good art, I guess). Being so different, staying simple and of course that down-and-out aesthetic is what made those first, pioneering punk bands stand out for me (well, obviously the music played a part, too hahaha)
 
I'm not an expert in the field, but to me, the main point of all Punk was the attitude of:
Fuck you all, you have failed us, society has failed us, the gouvernment has failed us, our parents with their middle-class-values have failed us, the hippie-utopia-love-and-peace has failed us, the whole 68-movement has failed, there's no future to look forward to; look, you parent-generation, what world you've created and shove against us, you damn fuckin' liars, you have no right to tell me what to do or how to live, I hate you I hate you I hate you.

Well, more or less like that. In a nutshell.
 

Johannes

Founding member
Pretty much nails it, imo.

I also always liked that it took music from bloated monster stadium rock gods and put it back in the hands of every teenager that could hold a guitar.
 
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