What is ‘Punk’?

My friend called me a punk the other day and I brushed it off. The inner child in me felt validated but the lack of spikey accessories in my wardrobe pointed towards an alternate narrative. I don’t really listen to the Misfits or the Ramones as often as I did when I was child, either. That’s a pretty facetious way to illustrate a point but the interaction brought us both right back onto this planet pretty quickly. The conversation shifted to “what is punk” in a matter of minutes and all of a sudden we were back at square one.

A lot of people who have had this discussion will be quick to illustrate the fact that it’s not one that offers any sort of resolve. We can look at the dictionary, which will tell us that punk is either “a loud, fast-moving and aggressive form of rock music, popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s” or “a worthless person”.

Thanks for the tip, Oxford Languages.

It feels weirdly good to say that Google and Wikipedia haven’t been very helpful, and that kind of illustrates the point a little bit more effectively. As much as some people might tell you otherwise, punk is far from dogmatic. There is a core thread that weaves through any sort ofintellectual answer to the question ‘what is punk?’ and the first descriptor that comes to mind is “community”. The second is DIY. But those are arguably interchangable, or at least, interdependent.

With this in mind, there is no viable way for one to easily quantify what punk is to the individual or what it can achieve for the collective. The best way to rectify this dilemma is to cast a wider net.

So I did that.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Candace “Candie” Miner, a friend to many in the KW music community and a person that truly embodied the greatest aspects of what it means to be punk.

J: “Punk is all about freedom and being yourself, it’s a place where you can do whatever you want, wear whatever you want, say whatever you want etc. It’s almost like it’s a space away from the conformist society where we can be in the underground doing our own thing and make god awful music that will entertain the masses and create hell.

Punk is also very DIY you don’t need a certain shirt or certain pants to be punk, you can literally write on shirts with paint or nail polish and add little things to it like safety pins or something.

Expression is everything in punk rock in which people can say F you to big governments, big pharma and F you to authority, but punk is also family.”

LEAF GRIZZLY: “Punk is living your life in balance of enjoyment and your own moral compass regardless of what the societal stance is on that, and most importantly, not being concerned what others may think. Oh and spikes are sick.”

KYLE (HAVE HOPE): “Punk is an idea. It goes well beyond a genre of music or a style. Punk is everything and nothing. It is to go against the status quo, whatever that might mean to you, and to be authentic to yourself and others about who you are as person regardless of who that is.”

DRAMAMINE: “punching Nazis”

HOLDEN: “Following a set of morals and having goals that push you to be the best person you can be. Also being a role model and leader in your community.”

N/A: “Genuine, unpretentious, and forever changing. Having strong personal values that focus on authentic expression & sticking to that.
punk is not a sound
punk is not a style
punk does not have gatekeepers
punk is not about being into obscure shit
punk is not about rebelling without purpose
punk is not about appealing to other punks
punk is not about respecting the heritage of punk
punk is singular in vision & global in impact
punk is real shit
punk may never be fully attainable,
but it is the highest virtue I can think of”

EZEKIEL NIGMA: “Punk is [A genre of music, a philosophy, a DIY ethos] and more. It’s a genre of music, a philosophy, a DIY ethos, and a way of life all rolled into one. It is something that empowers the marginalized, oppressed, and working class, so that they can have a voice; a voice that is loud, proud, and doesn’t give a damn about all who oppose.”

NASR: “‘Punk’ is cultural expression of an otherwise anti-oppressive worldview and ideology. While the punk aesthetic and musical output have overwhelmingly been commercialized and commodified, it doesn’t negate the fact that on a base level, it is still rooted in a righteous anger against injustice and suppression of regular people. Punk is for the people and today, punk should be specifically anti-capitalist.”

“FAST” EDDIE KNOWLTON (DEBT CEMETARY): “Punk isn’t anything specific, it’s more of a feeling. This feeling can come from a variety of different things including but not limited to: music, ideals, fashion, hobbies (ie: professional wrestling, collecting vinyl) and everything else that offers a different choice from the current social norms of the time. The “DIY” ethos that the counter-culture has adapted actually isn’t anything new but what’s special about the “punk DIY ethos” is that it’s rooted in community and not just a “do it yourself for yourself” but a “do it yourself for the collective good”… and that is punk as fuck.”

EDDIE STANNARD (THE GREEN ROOM BARBERSHOP): “To me punk isn’t a genre or an aesthetic but more of a community. Likeminded people creating art, subcultures and paying homage to traditions. It’s a bit of grit and an eagerness to create. As I get older and start to become more of a “back of the room guy” it excites me to see the next generation getting started and doing it better than we ever could.”

MEGHAN DONOVAN: “I think it can be easy to write punk off as a genre of music for the average person. The term evokes cliches of 80’s studded leather jackets, liberty spikes, stale beer and grimey venues. It’s certainly no secret that it attracts people from the edges of society, individuals that feel overlooked and largely unsatisfied by prospects of white picket fences and decades of 9-5 grind. At its heart, I believe it’s always been about the need for a real community. People coming together to support each other in struggles and passions, pushing to create radical change for future generations. The idea that we can Do-it-Together has become a powerful ethos that has pushed the punk counter-culture far beyond simply a genre of music, bleeding into art, fashion, politics and mainstream media.”

ANONYMOUS: “Fuck you. Punk is both an artistic expression and an ethos, anti-establishment, pro humanity.”


Kurtis Rideout, local musician, producer and ad manager for WLUSP