Music and more than music, Punk and more than Punk
Identity is not necessarily what we are, but what we say we are. Here, we will consider the words used by punk bands in two ways: their names and the words used in their lyrics.
Until the end of the first semester of 2013, we had registered 496 punk bands. They were selected according to their self-definition as punk bands. Of the 496 bands, 155 are still active (one third of the total), 218 are extinct or have suspended their activity, and the status of 123 (one quarter of the total) is unknown. Such figures point to two fundamental attributes of the movement: its extreme dynamism (and volatility), and a strong underground, informal dimension. Technically, we are working with a set of bands that do not represent all the Portuguese punk bands that have been formed since 1977; the research is still active and the sample was built as a snowball, non-representative sample. The same can be said of the lyrics: 264 lyrics from 64 bands have already been transcribed. They are not representative of the larger set of lyrics produced by the movement and 65% of them refer to the 2000s and 2010s. As such, this is a non-representative sample that prevents statistically reliable inferences.
The use of the English language is a feature that stands out immediately. A second observation concerns the inter-textual games present in the bands’ names. Sometimes, the name is an appropriation of another name, an acronym or an established term of current speech. For example, Boca Doce [Sweet Mouth] is the name of a well-known Portuguese brand of baby food; CDS is the acronym of a Portuguese political party; and DNA is a biomedical term. In other cases, the band’s name uses and deconstructs current acronyms, expressions or designations. For example, the band C.I.A.neto blends the acronym of the North-American espionage agency with the suffix of a lethal poison (‘cianeto’, the Portuguese word for cyanide). The bands’ names may also play on words (with no intention of deconstructing established names) and/or result from the invention of new lexical terms. The band Peste & Sida [Plague & Aids], formed in 1986, alerted to a most important issue while stating clearly their underground purpose (in Portuguese, “Peste & Sida” is phonetically equal to “pesticida” [pesticide], the chemical agent that deters pests). This means that a band’s name may suggest, by itself, a certain tone or inclination: misalignment (to be out, or having the blues); deconstruction (making use of irony, subversion); opposition (to be against something); alternative (to state a difference positively). But it is also possible to highlight some of the messages contained in band’s names: a criticism, an anti-system idea; an idea of contamination; derision; destruction; liberation; an idea of belonging to music.
Also the lyrics produce meanings: most punk songs tend to speak in the first person; most lyrics directly address their interlocutors. A hostile tone prevails when the singer addresses several interlocutors, whereas affection or solidarity prevails when the interlocutor is a single person. The rude language that is sometimes used appears as one of the most powerful tools to promote rupture and antagonism, and to show nonconformity and rebellion. In this analysis, it is also possible to identify feelings expressed in the lyrics: feelings of denunciation, protest, demarcation; fight, revolt; rage, hate; evasion (entertainment, pleasure, experimentation); personal accomplishment or creation; dismay, frustration, pessimism; friendship, companionship; love; despair; search (for a meaning in personal life); doubt, personal insecurity… Analysing the punk movement based on its lyrics undoubtedly has a limited scope. Punk music cannot be reduced to its lyrics and the punk movement cannot be reduced to its music. However, this is a beginning if sociology is to understand the multidimensional complexity of such an object. The analysis of the bands’ “messages”, their names and lyrics, highlights the pivotal properties of punk culture. Cosmopolitanism, connection to an international movement through a close relationship without jeopardizing local roots.
This first identity axis that refers to an international (Anglo-American) discourse and artistic practice combines with a second axis – the radical statement of difference towards the social “system”, particularly regarding its dominant values and norms. Identity is, at the same time, a process of identification with the group and a process of identization that separates us or our group from others. For punk culture, identization is paramount: one is clearly part of a musical, modern and international youth culture, but one is especially somebody who prefers misalignment over the comfort of conventions and convenience; somebody who prefers the underground, the untameable place of non-belonging and non-integration.
Note: These results are the product of an unfinished research, so the reading should not be taken as the results were derived from a representative sample of the bands and songs.
* The Crawling Roach (s/d) – The Parkinsons – CD 2005 [Access 21 janeiro 2014]. Available in: http://thecrawlingroach.blogspot.pt/2010/12/parkinsons-cd-2005.html
** Discogs (s/d) – Peste & Sida – Veneno. [Access 21 janeiro 2014]. Available in: http://www.discogs.com/Peste-Sida-Veneno/release/3368269
*** Under Review (2011) – X-Acto: discografia. [Access 21 janeiro 2014] Available in: http://underrrreview.blogspot.pt/2011/05/x-acto.html
**** Discogs (s/d) – Crise Total – E A Crise Continua. [Access 21 janeiro 2014] Available in: http://www.discogs.com/Crise-Total-E-A-Crise-continua/release/3364833
Augusto Santos Silva | Paula Guerra