What Punk Means to Me

Emma Barry '22, Features Editor

“This is definitely music to suit a certain mood,” Faith Chen ‘22 told me after I forced her to listen to Destructo Disks’ I Wish I Was a Riot Grrrl. “It’s very… interesting.” I also find the song interesting, mostly due to its wonderfully clever lyrics and its portrait of 90s riot grrrl culture (and the sick bassline!). Though when Faith told me it was “interesting,” I think that was a euphemism for “loud,” or perhaps, “confusing.” 

I’m used to that when recommending songs to my friends and the general public at large. Why doesn’t everyone else find the sawing electric guitar of Crawlers or the screaming vocals of Bikini Kill as compelling as I do? No matter, I think to myself as another text rolls in from a friend I sent a song to. “It was cool, I guess,” “nice, I’ll listen later.” 

Punk is a music genre, and more broadly, a movement, that originated in London in the early 70s. Early punks were defined by their countercultural ideas, and penchant for loud and disruptive music and fashion tastes. The Riot Grrrl scene began in the 90s as an underground feminist punk movement that orginated in Olymipia, Washington, then spread throughout the country and the world. Punk has evolved throughout time of course, but the modern punk scene is still largely defined by similar ideas: punk music, feminism and other left-leaning political ideas, and alternative fashion. 

I am a sucker for all things punk.  From the 70s’ Ramones classics to the 90s Riot Grrrls’ Bikini Kill and Bratmobile to the modern punk bands like VIAL, Crawlers, and Destructo Disk, if I am ever spotted in the hallways at school with my headphones on, you can bet one of these is blasting. The music of punk often contains social or political commentary, which I find refreshing and invigorating to hear. The heavy use of drums, electric guitars, and bass are also elements of punk music I really enjoy. I feel like I can feel the music in my whole body. What’s more, I believe the stereotypical “screamy” punk vocals can convey a lot of rawness and emotion. Some of my favorite bands I haven’t already mentioned, if anyone would like to check them out, include Bacchae, Destroy Boys, Doll Skin, Queen Chimera, and Red Flags. 

Punk fashion is also something that inspires me. I started dressing alternatively around sophomore year, which devolved into my wardrobe now being almost entirely baggy, thrifted, and other punk-esque attire. Punk fashion is about subversion, both of expectations and traditional beauty standards. Baggy clothing, leather jackets, and old or worn out pieces are all common in the punk scene, as they demonstrate an opposition to traditionally “presentable” or common clothing and a rejection of consumerism and the need to constantly buy new clothes. I recently bought a tattered but fancy leather winter coat, that with a little bit of dye and a new back panel I intend to transform into the punk winter jacket of my dreams. 

Punk makeup is as loud as the clothing, with giant winged black eyeliner and piercings being common. I had always wanted to dress in a more alternative style, but until sophomore year I never had the courage to. I was worried that people would look at me strangely, or that I would feel awkward in public places because I didn’t look like everyone else. The first one is definitely true, especially with kids, but it’s more positive looks and comments than anything (I had a group of tweens come up to me at the mall and tell me I looked “really cool — I love your boots!”). As for feeling awkward in public, I have found that dressing the way I want doesn’t make me feel awkward in public: in fact, I feel the complete opposite. Looking how I want to look and being myself through my clothing helps me be more confident and at ease. I like looking different because it makes me feel unique. 

Not everyone likes punk music or punk fashion, and that’s ok. Not everyone has to like it. I would argue that the most punk thing ever is to dress, act, and listen to what makes you happy. Punk is all about going against the norms of society, and in a society that seems determined to put people in boxes like “basic” or “pick-me,” isn’t it a bit punk of all of us to enjoy things without shame? 

Emma Barry ‘22, Features Editor