So, being covered in safety pins whilst swinging a guitar around in angst is the preserve of the unskilled rebel, is it?
A mohawk might look nice and threatening on the scalp of a lobotomised lout, but where’s the fun in getting loaded and swinging your fists around like a pissed chimp on the wrong side of a lawn mower engine? I’ve always preferred my punk bands with a bit of ability in the grey matter.
No one wants punk by the book, but punk with a book, or at least the ability to read, can be a powerful thing. Be it by an informed, aware and intelligent artist or the ideas in the music and/or lyrics, punk with its head screwed on is better than punk with its head screwed up.
But then again, I’m not suggesting we should all frown a lot, be dead serious and refuse to have some fun. Outlining governmental policy mistakes and crusading against war crimes is great, but sometimes you just want to get away from it all, not charge headlong into the sociopolitical melee.
At the Drive-In could be described as a punk band. Their lyrics are, for the most part, nonsense that just sounds cool when yelped over the top of the music. There’s a definite aura of well thought-out intelligence to ATDI along with a ton of other bands that don’t delve into the politics or “issues” in favor of just focusing on making brilliant music. But said music still contains the energy, spirit and verve of the stern, hard-faced activist bands that spit out their satire and ideologies like burps from a million-miles-an-hour hand cannon of fury. ATDI harness the same intensity spawned from the serious acts, reforming it into a musical outburst rather than thesis on the rights and wrongs of those in power.
I like both approaches. I’ll take Propagandhi or The Fall of Troy. Both work for me.
There is an attitude, alluded to by the press and individual fashionable reputations, of punk being a genre of little skill, full of sweaty adolescent idiots who just want to kick lumps out of each other and break stuff. Whilst that may be true for the narrow-minded and noisy—but not necessarily representative—percentage that is inherent in every musical genre and group entity going, it certainly isn’t for everyone associated with the music.
That old and well-worn quote that’s long been used to sum up the “punk” approach (“Learn this chord, then a second and then a third. Now go start a band!”) isn’t a statement of limitation. It’s a call to arms to grab a guitar and make something out of it. After you’ve got the three chords and formed the band, what’s the next step?
You could stick with the three chords as some did and still do, or you could go off and write a screaming symphony of bile and brilliance and figure out how to melt faces and switch on minds. Or you could snag what’s on offer and do something completely different with it, subvert the style and take us all on a journey to pastures new. Do a Joy Division, so to speak.
But then again, if punk taught us one thing it’s that you don’t need a PhD and virtuoso ability to make some wonderful. It just helps to have a few new ideas and some ambition.