Friday, 1 September 2017

Column: Why Sarah of Shout Louder Loves Punk Rock


Last week Sarah from the fantastic Shout Louder blog announced that we would be doing some blog shares. I went first, with a wonderfully written column for her blog about why I love punk rock which you can read here. This week Sarah gives her views on the subject on Colin's Punk Rock World.

Top 5 Reasons To Love DIY Punk

When I was a kid I read Kerrang and the NME religiously. They’d often refer to ‘the music scene’ – something I desperately wanted to be a part of. I used to imagine this mythical ‘scene’ meant big bands, big venues and big record sales.

Nowadays, I realise that it isn’t about the bands or the sales: it’s about the fans. It’s about the people who buy the records, attend the shows and scream along to the lyrics. I also now know that you’d struggle to find a group with more passionate solidarity that the UK punk scene.

When I first started writing my blog/zine, Shout Louder, my family and colleagues said that they’d learned a lot about DIY punk from reading it. I was really surprised. I’d forgotten that for many people, ‘going to a gig’ conjures up images of Ed Sheeran, Oasis or Radiohead selling out Wembley.

So, when Colin and I talked about doing a guest-blog swap the first thing I wanted to talk about what how much I love the vibrant ‘scene’ that we’re a part of.

Here are my Top 5 Reasons For Loving DIY Punk:

#5: The Music Itself

This is the obvious one, right? Maybe not.

When I tell my colleagues I’m into punk, I’m fairly sure they imagine me spiking up my hair and pogo-ing to The Sex Pistols. Guess what? I can’t stand The Sex Pistols.

Although it’s important to know your roots, there’s an astounding diversity of sub-genres that I would still term ‘punk’. I like hardcore that borders on tech-metal; I like singer-songwriters that would work well at a folk festival; I love shouty ska, loaded with brass.

I’d argue that musically punk is always fast, often angry and usually loud, but beyond that it defies definition. I consider indie groups like The Smith Street Band to be punk, but someone outside the scene could easily disagree.

I love all the variations out there, and I love the openness of most punk fans to different genres. From my perspective, the fast, angry nature of the music reflects and acts as an outlet for my internal worries. It’s hard to drift into a nihilistic reverie when you’re moshing to deathly-fast, grinding hardcore! Listening to this music live is a huge release and endlessly enjoyable.

#4: It’s Not About The Money

The DIY scene has a strong grasp of what music is for. It’s about how it makes you feel; it’s not a vehicle for profit.

Naturally there are exceptions to that, and I’ll never hold it against a band for making it big. You occasionally find yourself forking out £30 for shows at Brixton Academy, but at a grassroots level there are a lot of musicians playing just for the hell of it.

My perception of this has changed. When I was younger, I assumed that the £3 gigs at my local pub would be crap compared to the £20 gigs I attended in the big city. My Mum always told me that you get what you pay for.

Instead, I’ve come to realise it’s the intimate shows that are the most memorable. The calibre of the music is usually excellent and you experience a lot more of the performance when there are only 30 people in the room.

Touring bands survive on petrol money and free beers, trying to flog enough t-shirts to afford a fry up in the morning. As they’re working so hard to bring us what we love, I’m also inclined to pay them more for it. When I first attended a gig where they were asking for donations rather than charging and entry fee I baulked - why would anyone pay more than they needed to? I’ve since realised that, many people will pay over-the-odds for a show if you give them the opportunity.

#3: Compassion and Ethics

“This one’s about the government!” yet another singer angrily shouts.

Virtually all the punk bands and fans out there are anti-establishment, anti-fascist, anti-sexist, anti-racist... Anti-everything, right? Wrong.

While punks are united by a love of liberal politics and loud noises, the thing that sets us apart is that we really see the best in people. We’re optimists at heart. We believe it’s possible to change the world into a better place.

The anger that gives punk music its edge also fuels a constant quest for social change. Bands speak up for what they believe in on stage. Fans organise marches and protests, make the banners and cook the food.

Our level of compassion goes far beyond occasionally helping up someone who’s fallen over in the pit. Many of us avoid eating animal products, wear ethically sourced clothes and buy direct from bands or local record stores. One of the topics most often topics at gigs is making spaces safer, so women and marginalised groups can attend without fear of harassment or injury. Many bands openly discuss depression and mental health in an effort to normalise what for many of us is a common problem.

Sarah at Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia

#2: No Borders

I’ve referenced ‘band’ and ‘fans’ as separate entities. Unlike more popular genres, that division doesn’t exist in the punk scene.

As a punter, there’s no reason you can’t go chat to someone who’s in your favourite band. Or put on a show. Or start your own band. It’s a level playing field where everyone’s encouraged to get involved.

If you really want to ignore the band-to-fan borders there’s also every opportunity to get on stage, as long as you hurl yourself straight off again: stagediving is a hallmark of many shows. And who says the band need to stay up there? They’re diving off like the rest of us, or jumping past the monitors to cause chaos in the pit. You can’t do that at Wembley, can you?

Half the crowd at a punk gig are also in their own bands, which encourages a great culture of exchange. You put on touring bands in your town, and they return the favour next time your band’s on the road. Everyone promotes and supports one another – there’s so much shared love and excitement that many shows turn into a big bundle of hugs.

#1: Camaraderie

It’s a rainy Tuesday night in Camden. I’ve bumbled along to a £4 show at Our Black Heart on my own, on the off chance that the band will be half-decent. Oh no, wait, I know the guy on the door. I recognise the girl in the band. And that’s the guy I met at Wonkfest standing out the front smoking. As it turns out, I know at least 15 people here.

Want to make some instant friends? Turn up to a punk gig, the smaller the better. Be sure to smile at the guy wearing the Bear Trade t-shirt, and compliment the girl with the Descendents patch. A band t-shirt can be enough to spark a life-long friendship, a festival romance, or at the very least an interesting chat while queuing for the bar.

It’s such a close-knit scene that it’s not unusual to see friends from Manchester at a gig in London, or friends from Brighton at a festival in Slovenia. Everyone’s willingness to travel for the music they love means it’s possible to gain a lot of friends, simply from bumping into them at gigs.

The best thing about being a part of this DIY world is that you’ll never be short of a floor to sleep on, a vegan breakfast or someone to share a warm can of lager with, as long as you return the favour.

I don’t have any pretensions about being an authority on punk: I’m just someone who really loves going to gigs. That’s why I started writing Shout Louder – it’s a platform to share my excitement about up-and-coming bands, and to preserve the memories of all the mind-blowing gigs I’m lucky enough to see.

If gig guides, reviews, recommendations and articles interest you, check out the blog and follow us on Facebook.

In the meantime, I’ll see you down the front!