I recently had the chance to attend Fed Up Fest, an all-ages, DIY music festival showcasing and celebrating queer and transgender voices in punk. It was a blur of zines, shaved heads, green lipstick, vegan cupcakes, sweaty jean vests, mosh pits and kitten pits.
For me, the most powerful moment wasn't seeing legendary queercore group Limp Wrist dedicate "I Love Hardcore Boys, I Love Boys Hardcore" to the many strong women running punk scenes throughout the years. And it wasn't when I danced on a chair to “consensual bondage punx” Disipline or got shoved around in the pit to Curmudgeon.
It was the many moments when I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by other queer, brown, trans punks. Laughing, chatting, smoking, dancing, slinging back patches and sex toys -- we were everywhere.
And for once I wasn't alone.
I had a discussion about punk's role in combating isolation for those with oft-marginalized identities with Jes Skolnik, a chairperson of Pure Joy, an all-ages venue and community center that’s working to create a physically accessible space where all voices are valued, and experiences and lives that are often left out are accounted for and amplified.
They told me, "Punk rock legitimately saved my life -- I got really involved in the DC scene in the early '90s, in middle school, and it was my pathway out of drugs and violent environments. Without it I really would have died before the age of 18, I have no doubt. It helped me come out as queer, to find my voice, to start down the long, long road toward self-acceptance, to find community."
Jes continued, “For people who are marginalized in other ways by society, punk/hardcore/the DIY underground provides a really necessary vent and outlet -- it is a place where our anger and frustration and sadness and differing perspectives should be valued, but, just like society at large, the microcosm of punk society can get dominated by a particular type of aggressive straight cis able-bodied white dude voice. The people who have the most power feel the most empowered to use their voices all the time, right? That's why punk community specifically designed to take into account multiple perspectives, multiple voices, to challenge a history in which said white dudes are over represented, is so important.”
This list, then, is not intended as a guide to female-dominated bands, or bands with queer members or members who are people of color. It’s intended as a list for listeners who are sick of the homogeneity of their local music scene.
It’s intended for anyone who thinks, “Well, why WOULD my music collection be 100% white dudes?” It's for people who want to look around -- at concerts, at punk fests, in the midst of their record collection -- and see themselves reflected.
Here are some awesome bands that are great at what they do, as well as suggestions for other bands you may like within the same vague genre. Have fun discovering new music, and remember to support your independent record store.
Is “punk” even really a genre anymore? It’s more like a 31-Flavors shop, with a sullen teenager in a paper hat and black leather jacket offering tiny samples of hardcore, pop punk, garage, art punk and noise rock.
Technically, most of the bands I’m discussing in this article could be used as a layer in a Punk Rock Ice Cream Cake, but I’m reserving this section to discuss bands that have the sort of abrasive qualities that are going to make your mom angrily pound on your bedroom door.
Queercore band Aye Nako will make you want to turn the volume up to drown her out. They write heartfelt songs about serious issues like anti-blackness and transgender identity. Who said you can’t mosh and have a major case of the feels at the same time?
SURF AND DREAM POP
Tacocat makes dreamy, sundrenched pop with excellent lyrics hidden underneath the candy-coating. Watch the video for anti-street-harassment anthem "Hey Girl" above, and next time a stranger sucks their teeth at your bare legs you can hum "I was trying to get to work, you’re just a sweaty jerk!" to yourself triumphantly.
Can all the queers, feminists, people of color, babes, and/or weirdos please move to Chicago and start garage punk bands? Because I will probably become your biggest fan, and memorize all the words to your songs about partying.
I dare you to read this long and brilliant interview with Grass Widow for The Believer and not be completely inspired. They’re honest and open about their struggle to be taken seriously as musicians and to make playing in a band full-time an economically viable business. They’re smart, DIY, they release their own albums and make their own music videos, and their music is the best.
Dumb garage punk is pretty much my favorite thing. But sometimes I want to settle in for a long makeout sesh without my intimate moment being interrupted by Wax Mannequins screaming “I EAT VOMIT, EVERY DAY, I EAT VOMIT, IT TASTES OK.” Sometimes I want to listen to complex songs with more than three chords in them and dual female vocals. These bands aren’t any worse at being punk, they’re just better at writing pretty songs.