You may have seen the quote “punk is dead” in all kinds of places. However, if you believe it, you just aren’t punk rock—it’s not dead, you just can’t find it!
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In 1978, the punk band Crass declared that punk was dead and that was that. But the dawn of the dead is here, because punk has been undeniably unearthed all over the place! If the punk rock zombie bites you, then there’s no stopping your transformation!
In the past decade or so, punk bands have started to emerge into the music spotlight once again. Bands like Toronto’s PUP or Pittsburgh’s Code Orange aren’t just playing basement shows down the street anymore, they’re getting to tour the world!
It seems that punk rock actually survived its own death. Crass was wrong, punk never died, it just left for a while; it was sick of all the sellouts. Punk rockers decided to leave the popular scene to create their own new, improved, and more underground one.
In fact, you can find bustling punk communities in places you’d never imagine. Sure, big cities like New York and L.A. are riddled with punkers, but most of them are transplants from other places. Surprisingly, you can find kids with Mohawks and chains originating in the suburbs, or in the country you can find cowboy boots and Operation Ivy t-shirts–even in Florida, where all the retirees head, you can find leather studded jackets on their way to a dingy bar down the street!
BTRtoday talks to punk rockers from back in the day who sparked these waves of new punkers in lesser-known locations.
Steve Sciulli, a pioneer of the underground Pittsburgh punk rock scene, grew up in a small Italian neighborhood near Pittsburgh, PA. Though, recently you may have been hearing more about this city in the news, because of celebrities like Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa, back then it was just a splotch on the map of America. Sciulli was able to find punk in this tiny steel-centric city.
He played in several bands, the most notable being Carsickness, who shared bills with, now extremely well-known bands such as, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Echo and The Bunnymen, and The Psychedelic Furs. Currently, Sciulli still plays with his old punk rock buddies in Pittsburgh in a band called Standing Wave, and has his own side project called Life In Balance. He also aids in coordinating a yearly event called RePunk where all the old punk bands from Pittsburgh reunite and new comes perform for one weekend.
Punk rock wasn’t just a new genre of music to blossom, but rather a community. Sciulli shares how the genre found its home in Pittsburgh. Sure, he lived in the outskirts of a not very well-known city, but punk, at least back then, was intended to be all-inclusive.
“The small towns were always more rewarding,” Sciulli tells BTRtoday. “This is where bonds solidified and everything was meaningful.”
He tells us a story that could send chills down any punk rocker’s back. Before he became a pioneer of Pittsburgh punk rock, he remembers taking a bus to Cleveland, Ohio to see The Clash. Alone, he didn’t know how to act around this big crowd of strangers, so he assumed the “punk rock cliché” and sat at a table by himself concentrating on looking mean and tough.
A man with jagged hair and a leather jacket pulled up a chair next to him and asked him if he was alright.
“I said, ‘yeah why?’ and he said I looked as if I was in a bad mood and then suggested that I should be happy, that, ‘we’re going to have a great time tonight,’” Sciulli remembers. “Later that night, that same guy took the stage, I found out that he was Joe Strummer [from The Clash].”
After that night, there was no more Mr. Tough Guy act for Sciulli. He returned to Pittsburgh and met some like-minded artists and musicians and the Pittsburgh punk rock scene blossomed. This punk scene does not get enough credit for the paths it paved for future punk rockers—popular pop-punk band Anti-Flag, who now attracts crowds by the thousands and tours all over the world, used to go see Sciulli’s band Carsickness play; they even gave the singer and guitarist of the band, Justin Sane, his first drum set.
Fellow band-mate, Pittsburgh punk rock pioneer, and RePunk coordinator, Dennis Childers, agrees with Sciulli. He explains that bigger cities try to take all the credit for the punk movement, like London and New York City. Sure there was a lot of stuff happening there, Childers expresses, but it seems that the smaller cities and towns seemed to appreciate it for what it was, and not just because it was a movement to join.
“The larger cities really kind of pissed us off most of the time,” Childers says. “Here we were in Pittsburgh with that amazing music scene and with some really amazing musicians, and we’re just overlooked all the time—that was difficult.”
Childers is also a teacher at Pittsburgh CAPA high school, where he says he sees a still-thriving punk scene being carried on by the kids. He tells BTRtoday that his students still come in with Mohawks and patches, still listening to classics like The Clash and The Ramones—most are even in their own punk bands that play in many DIY spaces around the city.
These punk rock kids keep Pittsburgh, though still a small city, a large hub for the new punk rock movement.
“It’s probably the same audiences that come out now,” Childers admits about the current punk scene in Pittsburgh. “It’s more of trying to get away from the major record mafia guys and trying to become more independent—all those bands that have that indie feel, I think it’s more of a satisfying artsy and creative feeling, than the feel of societal-successful musicianship.”
As Childers said, the punk scene is and has always been striving to stay away from the major labels and mainstream media. This may explain why it’s blossoming more in smaller areas. So, whether you’re in L.A., or New Brunswick, NJ, keep your eyes peeled, because there are punk rockers hiding in every crevice!
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