Punk Gone Soft: How the Most Radical Message of The Modern Day Is Love

Think of punk and you think of mohicans, tartan and Johnny Rotten’s ridiculous performances. Punk is famous for its ability to shock the world with its outrageous and, at times, offensive lyrics. The ‘original’ British punk band, The Sex Pistols, deliberately shocked the public with their anarchic lyrics of no future, destruction and the anti-Christ. This theme continued with the punk bands that followed, who had a dismissal for the establishment and all other music that had come before the punk revolution. However, the old ‘up yours’ mentality of punk has changed slightly, and new bands are spreading a very different message. Lyrics about fascist regimes have been swapped for ones about loving yourself, and post-punk bands like Idles and Slaves are at the forefront of this new tender revolution.

Of course, the core punk ideology of politically charged lyrics still remains in modern day punk music. Topics that are relevant now were just as relevant in the music of the 1970s and 80s. Upcoming punk band The Coathangers’ song F the NRA about gun violence mirrors the theme of the Clash’s song The Guns of Brixton, while the Idles song Mother is a reminder of the hardships the working class suffer, which is also seen in Stiff Little Fingers song At the Edge. The theme of anger at the establishment is still a part of the punk sound, however the political topics of punk music have moved along with the change in the political landscape. Social media wasn’t around during the Sex Pistol era, but now is a part of our everyday lives and consequently a topic favoured amongst modern punk bands and its listeners. Causing havoc on the streets is out, and promoting self-love in a social media-crazed society is in.

"The new punk of today suggests that nowadays, the most radical thing to do is love ourselves."

Slaves and Idles are arguably the biggest bands of the modern British punk movement, and both spread a very un-punk message of peace and love - they’re where anger meets peace, where the anarchical 1970s punk meets the 1960s Woodstock hippie. Slaves’ most recent album, Acts of Fear and Love, included songs about love, selflessness and the toxicity of the modern day. Arguably, two of the best songs on the album include The Lives They Wish They Had, about an individual who shows an unrealistic portrayal of their life on social media in an attempt to be accepted by their peers, while the namesake song Acts of Fear and Love is about people who take part in selfless acts. You could say that the punk bands of today are criticising how we have become an inward-looking society, obsessed with likes on Instagram and getting the best golden hour selfie, but punk bands are also spreading a positive message of self-love and acceptance of others. This was clear from Idles’ set at Truck Festival in the summer - the band have an incredibly loving stage presence, which included stories of inclusivity, a promotion of self-acceptance and even a shout out to single mums. I can’t say that I had ever felt so much love projected onto an audience from a band, let alone a punk one. The band brought the audience closer together as if we were a community, something that often feels lost to the fast pace of modern-day life. Two songs from the set stuck out the most, Television and Danny Nedelko. Television is about loving yourself, and voices a disgust at the ridiculous expectations of beauty that are forced onto people in an era of social media. The message behind Danny Nedelko is even more powerful - named after the frontman of another punk band, Heavy Lungs, the song’s message is simply about equality, no matter of ethnicity or origin, a message very controversial in post-Brexit Britain.

Idles perform at The Bataclan; image courtesy of Lindsay Melbourne

While the music has a more typically ‘hippie’ topic in its lyrics, the angry punk sound remains. This means that often the lyrics and the sound contradict one another, but somehow the angry way the messages of love and acceptance are performed works. Frontwomen of Australian punk band Amyl and the Sniffers, Amy Taylor, describes their gigs as a safe space to let go; when talking to the Rolling Stone magazine, Taylor said “Where I grew up, it was like, ‘hippie, happy, love forever’, and I’m like, ‘that’s not the only thing I can feel’”. While the messages of punk songs have changed, it is still a place where people can freely explore their emotions. A comradery of anger at the establishment can be found in the pit of a punk audience, whether you found yourself in a crowd in the 1970s or whether you join one today. Punk is about being radical, about shocking the world, whether that be with a crazy hairstyle or anarchical lyrics. But the new punk of today suggests that nowadays, the most radical thing to do is love ourselves.