Drum Rolls Not Gender Roles: UK Punk Bands Destroying Social Norms
Like pretty much everybody else in the world, I’ve always thrived off of finding new music that appeals to me in some way (I realise that doesn’t make me special). The one thing I’d always felt was missing for me was relatable lyrics. Plenty of songs are musically emotionally powerful enough that I could ignore messages that didn’t quite hit home, and plenty of lyrical topics are universally common enough (e.g heartbreak, loneliness, love) that I could ignore how heteronormative and non inclusive 99% of music is.
It wasn’t until I was studying at Durham University and came across local DIY band Martha, who describe themselves as “queer, straight edge, vegan and anarchist”, that I started to see pop punk as a more than just my teenage Paramore faze. For me, and I’m sure many other people who are part of a minority group (e.g those who identify as queer), I am drawn to bands who also identify as part of the same group. Martha introduced me to a world of punk bands writing about topics I CAN connect with, such as mental health issues, politics, gender, and sexuality.
For me, being a ‘tomboy’ growing up was a form of expressing the fact I didn’t feel as girly as everyone expected a little girl to be. The lyrics to Martha’s “Sleeping Beauty” beautifully express the isolating feeling of not being interested in inherently ‘feminine’ things:
“Oh brother I would swap my Wendy House for your spud gun any day/Your clothes for my clothes, I can’t get mine dirty anyway, you see/Your football boots/My football knees/I hate the shoes they bought for me/Inside gets boring but when I showed I had an interest in Rugby/They laughed at me.”
Unless you are straight, cis, white, and abled, there is a distinct lack of soundtracking for specific situations throughout your life. Sometimes I’ll find a punk song that I didn’t even know I needed until I founded it! For example, two members of Martha (Nathan Stephens Griffin and Daniel Ellis) also play under the band name Onsind, and their song “Heterosexuality is a construct” perfectly explains the pains of the world assuming everyone is ‘straight by default’ and the homophobia (both targeted and subtle, everyday incidents) that come with that:
“I'm not a heterosexual man, I'm not ticking your boxes, that's not who I am, I don't fit into your neat little plan, and I never will.”
There is an unfair stereotype of live punk music being scary and intimidating, but the events put on by live music promoters Dictionary Pudding (who hosted the last Martha gig I attended) are some of the most inclusive gigs I’ve ever been to. They are full of people from all walks of life, all respecting each other and the music. Whether you need your own space to reduce anxiety or you get a release out of moshing, everyone is welcome. Incredibly importantly also, Dictionary Pudding strive to create safe and accessible environments, with venues ideally having gender neutral toilets (and often flat access).
Another Dictionary Pudding gig I recently went to featured The Spook School, a band from Glasgow who have previously supported Martha. When the band announced their last song would be “Linda”, they ingeniously proceeded to cover Robbie Williams’ “Angels”, with the word angels replaced with Linda each chorus as an ode to Linda McCartney sausages. Yes, veganism is very much a part of the punk scene.
Their lyrics are fuelled with personal experiences of abusive relationships (“Still Alive”), body/ gender dysphoria (“Body”), and toxic masculinity (“Burn Masculinity”). I can’t help but wonder what society would look like if these were the topics spoken about in the Top 40 charts. Perhaps if more people started appreciating and listening to music focussing on topics of trauma and identity, those struggling would feel more supported and less isolated. Also, those who haven’t been through these struggles or who may not fully understand can gain an insight which may increase understanding and empathy.
During my research into other punk bands making waves I found the scene pretty whitewashed, so I was delighted to find Decolonise Fest, an “annual DIY festival of music, art & workshops by and for punx of colour”. Again, for those who see punk as aggressive, I’m not sure there can be an event more inclusive than one which has a strict rule that they “will not tolerate racism, ageism, sexism, transphobia, classism, ableism, homophobia or fatphobia.”
One band playing Decolonise Fest 2018 are The Fish Police, of which half the members have autism and write their music how they see the world. If there aren’t enough punk bands formed by people of colour, there certainly aren’t enough which are inclusive to those with autism or other disabilities.
Unlike Martha and The Spook School, The Fish Police’s lyrics aren’t explicitly about their struggles, but are simply an original and interesting view into their minds. Sometimes lyrics don’t have to be actively political, but just by existing bands like this show that there are people want to hear what POC, or those with learning disabilities, or those who identify as queer/ non binary/ trans etc have to say, which is powerful and encouraging in itself.
So, what can we do to make sure punk music like this grows instead of dying out? Primarily, don’t just stream punk bands including and supporting minorities online - buy their albums, buy their merch, go to gigs, share them on your social media and with your friends who you think might relate. Help create a world in which everybody has relatable music by relatable musicians that they can use to soundtrack their life.