To be punk or not to be punk – that seems to be the most important question

Pic by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

The world needs one more blog post about what is punk and what is not punk. So here it goes, one more blog post about what is and what is not punk or punk rock.

Is our music punk rock to you or how would you describe us? We honestly do not know and hence we tend to randomly throw in genre words that people then take very seriously. In some recent album reviews, the reviewers have spent more time discussing whether we are punk, than discussing the music itself. The background here is that most of our promo letters and other materials describe us as “the third best punk rock band in the world” or in other ways label us as “punk”. It appears that this genre definition becomes a sticky point that even experienced music critics (and/or fans) cannot get over. They hear us and compare us to what they expect punk to be in their heads, and when we do not sound like that, they cannot get past this conflict in their perception and never get to listen to the music as it is.

There are billions of words written about punk so I will not go there. Do The Ramones, MC5, Stooges, Sex Pistols and The Clash sound similar? No, of course they do not. If a critic was sent The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ today, with the label “punk”, would they dismiss the whole album because of the label? Is Offspring punk? Green Day? The Menzingers? Idles? Gaslight Anthem? Was Hüsker Dü punk or melodic hardcore? Is Fucked Up punk or hardcore? Dead Kennedys? Bad Brains?

What about genres that are defined by vocal style? Lately I have been listening to curated black metal playlists and have heard a wide range of music where sometimes the vocal delivery style seems to be the only common factor between the bands. The music itself can be very diverse. I also love how a band like Converge seems to be able to bend and stretch genre definitions, and just produce hard and tight rock music year after year. How would you label Mr Bungle? When adding words like “experimental” to a genre definition, does that not make the whole definition pointless? “Experimenting” would suggest that existing definitions and boundaries are made redundant, so why even bother using those boundary words.

Back to the word “punk”. The original meaning, and what punk should still stand for, is a revolt and rebellion against something. It actually has very little to do with any musical style, hence the word is pointless when it comes to describing what music sounds like. There were punk scenes in the mid-to-late 70s, early 80s, late 80s and early 90s, and the word works great to describe those scenes. Our favourite band, Bad Religion, came out of one of those scenes (well, two actually). They played fast and melodic songs, where lyrics meant something, and we try to do the same. We just mix those fast songs with mid-tempo songs that sometimes take over 3 or even 4 minutes. More importantly, we are not part of that scene or any other scene for that matter. We are just a rock band that plays honest rock songs combining elements from various scenes, including those earlier mentioned punk scenes. We then also add influences from 90s alternative rock, 90s slacker, 90s and 00s indie and noise rock, and “2010 rock music” (sorry, no name for this scene yet). And so on.

Some playlist curators have happily added us to their punk rock labelled playlists. We are there alongside classic and modern punk rock bands, ranging from the early punk scenes, to pop and skate punk, to current punk scenes. We as a band do not care about these genre labels but we are forced to use them in our marketing materials so that listeners know a little bit what to expect. But if someone takes an obvious tongue-in-cheek statement like “third best punk rock band” so literally and seriously that they cannot get over their perceived genre conflict, then what is the point of the label “punk” anymore? If the rules are so strict, even if it is one person’s perception only, that goes against what punk was supposed to be about, and it makes the whole term pointless and redundant. The obvious point here being that I could make a jazz techno fusion album and call it punk, just to make a point that punk is about rebellion and revolt.

We are happy with being labelled just “rock” or “hard rock”, but then looking at the examples of “Hard Rock” for one big playlist platform, it says Foo Fighters and Wolfmother are examples of “Hard Rock”. I don’t feel we belong in that category. The category “Alternative Rock” lists Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine and Smashing Pumpkins”. Ok, we are some of that, but still not quite. “Indie Rock” mentions Arcade Fire and The National. Love them, but that is not Flush. Then we have something called “Pop Punk”, which lists Green Day, Blink 182 and Sum 41. Sorry, I cannot relate. Then there is just “Punk” where you are inspired by Sex Pistols and The Clash. Go figure, right?

Here is an ask: When you listen to our music or any other band for that matter, try to ignore the instinctive categorization that your brain wants to do. Try to just listen to the music. Categories are helpful when searching through hundreds of options, but once you have made your choice, try to ignore how you found it and in which bucket it was placed.

Second thing, we truly welcome your feedback on what we sound like – and obviously also if you liked us and why. We appreciate hearing things like “you guys sound like Placebo” or “this is perfect music for Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding”. Our producer described as a combination of Eagles and something harder/faster/heavier that we cannot recall anymore. These kinds of sound bites and comparisons are great as they do not exclude us from also being something else. They are like tags that you can add on as many as you like, as opposed to compartments where you can only belong to one. These tags combined then make up our persona as a band. Something like: Take five ounces of Bad Religion, throw in half a verse of Eagles, mix with some Placebo angst, and flip in a Tony Hawk’s grab trick combo. Finish off with Biffy Clyro harmonies and Finnish melancholy, and serve with a stoner intro, and you have the Flush dish. This description might be impossible to place in one category as per traditional music boundaries, but is still helpful in informing what the music will sound like. It also lends itself to very creative descriptions.

Bottom line: We can all do better. Fuck all single genre compartments and embrace tag like references instead. Don’t worry about placing a band in a pre-defined category, and focus more on trying to describe the band in ways that do not exclude it from being something different and unique.

Hell yeah!

Lasse / Flush

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