Roundtable: Punk as WTF

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Welcome back to the roundtable, in which Treble’s writers engage in a casual discussion on music, pop culture and our relation to both. Got a question for us? Feel free to send it over to [email protected] with the subject “Roundtable topic.”

This week’s topic: This week, we ran a list of our Top 100 Punk Albums. The end result heavily featured a lot of classics from the late ’70s and early ’80s, but a few unconventional choices made their way in, like Public Enemy for instance. So it got us thinking about how we define punk. Is it a sound, or is it something else? Is it about the spirit, the attitude, the intention? Today we ask about how far that definition stretches: What artist for you embodies the spirit of punk without sounding like a more traditional punk band?

Paul Pearson: When I put my list together John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme popped into my head, and I wrote it down without hesitation. I then wondered, if I was going to put a jazz album on the list, whether it should be by Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman or Cecil Taylor instead. Miles Davis’ On the Corner also came up. I stuck with A Love Supreme because of its primal nature. It’s a sustained challenge to the listener that’s pretty focused on a long-form message, and melodically it’s stripped to the bone. It was also a cry of sadness and anger from Coltrane, who recorded it in blind zeal to help him recover from his heroin addiction. I think he’s shouting at God as much as he’s begging him. It’s pure, unfiltered emotion and internal chaos. In terms of message and intent I think it’s close to the punk ethic that emerged ten years later.

Jeff Terich: Punk rock to me has always seemed to be more about an attitude than a particular sound, which means that when some right wing conspiracy theorist tries to sell you the idea that “conservatism is the new punk rock,” he’s full of it. Punk rock is about upsetting the status quo. And no band in recent memory has done that more than Death Grips. Their album The Money Store sounded more like a hybrid of hip-hop, noise and industrial, but it definitely felt more like punk rock. Live, the group is essentially just a barrage of aggression, and their crowds tend to swirl into an insane blur of elbows and teeth. It feels more dangerous than most contemporary music, but it doesn’t sound like Minor Threat. To be punk rock, I don’t think you have to.

Brian Roesler:  At heart, I’m a staunch classicist when it comes to punk. I know, shocking right? But at the heart of punk is an essence of rebellion, of denial. The Stryder could best be described as pop/punk on their best days and alternative rock on their worst. But there was an energy, a fervor and snarl on their album Masquerade in the Key of Crime that felt damn near elative. From the introduction of the album with “Sucker” to the  single “11:11”, this is an anthemic collection of pop-centered punk. A forgotten masterpiece.

Chris Willis: To me, Vince Staples embodies the punk personality more than most other active mainstream artists. He combines a visceral energy in his tracks with an awareness of issues he and others have lived through or are still dealing with on a daily basis. This lyrical sentiment is contained within the rapper’s public persona of just not giving a fuck about what anyone else thinks he should be doing or saying. Punk has always been about attitude, screaming about issues and systematic problems that society would rather stay oblivious too. It’s raw, uncomfortable, and genuine. Vince Staples possesses all those values in abundance.

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