how to be a punk
Punk is as relevant today as it was when it first rose up and people like Iggy and Siouxsie had no idea what they were doing, only that it felt right. It’s pro-intelligence and anti-apathy, and that’s why we like it. Here is the Mookychick guide to how to be a punk. Hey. Ho. Let’s go. Oi oi!
The Sex Pistols are dead. Long live the Sex Pistols
You don’t have to worry about wanting to be a punk now and worrying that people will laugh at you because you weren’t sniffing glue and weeing on a policeman in 1977. Being a punk today is still relevant. It’s not just nostalgia – you can’t have nostalgia for something you’ve never experienced. If you’re young today, having punk sensibilities might, at worst, be an oedipal thing: “I want to f*ck what Daddy did, and have the wife, the house, the swimming pool, the reputation.” But so what? Since when did being angry and anti-consumer stop being relevant? More so than ever. There’s more than one way to be anti-consumer, and if you choose to take the punk route? So be it.
Punk is about attitude more than look. If you wear cardigans with holes in and second hand shoes that’s great. It doesn’t matter.
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you you’re a poser just because you choose what you wear and, say, wear pink neon. F*ck them. Labels aren’t for people any more than they are for clothes. Re-engage with that person when they say something interesting. Or say something interesting yourself.
Apathy is a no-no
Apathy won’t cut it when you’re a punk. You’re bored when you’re boring – you’re boring when you’re bored. That means direct action – protest in the streets, perform acts of social non-conformity, have sparky conversations where you test the beliefs of people around you – and expect to be tested right back.
Get head over heels into veganism, feeding the homeless, whatever. Food Not Bombs is great because it’s considered a “terrorist organization” by the government. Or celebrate “Buy Nothing Day”. Just get a passion. A passion that you have chosen for yourself, and thought about. Don’t shut up about it either.
Make your own stuff. Grow food plants on your fire escape. Tomatos are good because you can fertilize them with used coffee grounds. Check out books like ‘Food Not Lawns’. Learn to knit and get free patterns from sites like Knitty. Quit buying so much. Do you really even need everything you bought this week? Won’t you probably forget you bought half of it a week later? You wouldn’t be a wage slave if you weren’t up to your eyeballs in credit card debt for stuff you only want because the TV said you should.
But you don’t have to be against every authority. That would be a bit colour-by-numbers. Think about it – how would anarchy work? Wouldn’t someone always decide to take on extra responsibility to support the vulnerable? Isn’t that how social structures start happening? How can they all be bad? Pick and choose. If you resist, make sure you’re educated about what you’re resisting. Question all beliefs including your own.
Why is individuality important? Because it hasn’t been branded, it hasn’t been sold, and it can’t be brought. You could be a punk that never washes their hair and wears hiking boots and men’s jockey shorts and loves the work of Walter de la Mare. It may not fit the stereotype – but if you’re that person, and you’re still a punk, you’ll know it. It’s about knowing who you are. And if you want to shove that in people’s face, or just show who you are by guiding example, that’s up to you.
Don’t be a follower. Be a pioneer.
Listen to some good punk music. Everyone has their own idea of what good punk music is. Some names to listen to, old and new school, might be: Gogol Bordello, X-Ray Spex: Germ Free Adolescents, Yellowcard, the Clash, Iggy and the Stooges, The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ramones, Bad Religion, NOFX, Crass, Uk Subs, The Ruts, The Macc Lads, Stiff Little Fingers, the Fugs, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, The Wuds, Philippine Violators, The Youth, Greenday, Yano, XS, V.M.R, etc… but don’t stop there. Music is not about liking the right bands, it’s about how you react to the music. Plenty of punks can get very passionate about Kate Bush and aren’t afraid to tell people about it. If you only listen to one genre of music, isn’t that limiting yourself? And if your peers sneer at you for liking other music, isn’t that their own insecurity peeping out? Aren’t they being a bit closed-minded?
Go to live gigs. Support musicians that haven’t got any money or record deals by seeing them play. Recorded music isn’t sterile by any means, but live music is definitely something to roll around in like a pig in muck. Immerse yourself in music and people. Don’t shut off – get in there. Pogo? Mosh? Claiming your space in the middle front of any gig will be uncomfortable and might get physically messy, but with that much sweat and beer flying around you’ll have some fairly strong thoughts on what it is to be a human and an animal – you won’t forget you’re one of many on this planet, that’s for sure.
Support your local record store. Try to buy music locally if you can, and if you do have a record store, it’s owned by people who know they’re going to go bust at any moment and really love music, so talk to them. Buy them a cup of tea. If you’re poorer than they are, get them to buy you a cup of tea. Reach out, smell, and touch music. Download – don’t download – it’s up to you. But you might want to consider getting an old tape recorder and seeing how much you can stock up in the way of tape cassettes, or getting into vinyl as well as CDs. Some of the most interesting, weird little bootlegs and B-sides haven’t yet been digitised.
Start your own band. Or join someone else’s. We can’t all bloody be the one that starts the band.
There’s no point being angry and stupid. That’s not punk, that’s being a robot. Punks like books more than TV. Educate yourself. You might like system-standard education and find it works for you, but if you don’t, and you resist it, make damn sure you’re adequately self-taught.
If you want to read some books, read old ones as well as new ones. Read about your punk heroes. The more you read about them, the more you’ll discover they were literate, and felt that they were not only running away from a system they didn’t rate, but running towards something that (in the early days) wasn’t labelled yet.
Books: 120 days of Sodom (it’s actually really boring, but you might as well), ‘Head On/Repossessed‘ by Julian Cope, ’45’ by Bill Drummond. Ska’d for Life: A Personal Journey with the “Specials”. Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon. Please Kill Me: Uncensored Oral History of Punk. Punk Rock: An Oral History. Tank Girl comics. In fact, all comics – support the comics industry, and not just D.C. and Marvel. Zines. What not to read: Heat Magazine, People magazine and tabloids. If you do read them, even though you know it’s just stupid entertainment and doesn’t affect you, try going on a celebrity diet for a month. You’ll notice the difference.
Movies: ‘Sid And Nancy‘, ‘SLC Punk‘, ‘American Hardcore‘ is a movie for fans of Black Flag, Bad Brains and Minor Threat… ‘Repo Man‘ is another classic. Don’t forget ‘A Clockwork Orange‘ and ‘If…’ In its own way, ‘24 Hour Party People‘ is a punk film – no punks in it, as it’s more about the Madchester scene, but punk sensibilities through and through.
Wear what you want, but the useful thing about having a bit of a uniform (even if it’s a punk uniform) is that at least people with like minds will recognise you and some of the things you stand for. Here are a couple of ideas:
Clothes: army surplus, red/black or yellow/black striped jumpers and socks, tartan, studs, black leather, things with holes in, stuff you’ve made yourself or customised or thrown together, the leather jacket you never ever ever take off. It’s not a feminine look on the whole although you can express your womanhood through the way you wear it.
Punk Hair: Spiky, buzz cuts, shaved bits in surprising areas, mohicans, mod girly cuts, braids or dreads in weird places, jaggy cuts, or just don’t wash it, or wash it but just don’t brush it… anything that says you’re not quite into the mainstream middle lane, you’re actually making your way in life in a revamped school bus / motorbike / horse and cart. You can dye it bright colours if you like.
Punk Makeup: Either not much, or weird and creative in bright colours and striking blacks – look at what Siouxsie Sioux got up to.
Body modification: Classic tats for punks used to be stuff that wasn’t meant to be beautiful. Barcodes, spider webs, anything that had a hint of warrior/activism to it – the idea was to put a statement on your body that showed you might not care about your body as much as the fashion stores wanted you to, or in quite the same way. A punk’s first piercing should probably be your friend promising you she’s done it this way for hundreds of people before, then icing up your earlobe, then sticking a needle through said earlobe, then admitting she’s a piercing virgin and just popped her cherry on your ear, then your ear going septic and then eventually when it’s healed you go to a piercer. Yep, we’ve done it – we probably aren’t recommending it.
Summary: Okay, that’s it. We’re tired now. No summary, sorry. If half the readers disagree and half the readers use this as their new bible, our work is done. (PS – don’t use this article as a bible. It’s really a very silly article!)
Punk sites we stole from:
Interestingly enough, when Mookychick was vaguely researching this piece, most of the punk stuff that came up on google was stores that sold punk accessories, which wasn’t really what we were looking for.
Ideals and personal ethos first, accessories second!
- Read this interesting post-punk article here
- Read this history of punk which we’re not entirely sure we agree with
- Read this WikiHow article