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Is American punk better than British punk?


How can a culture around “smashing divisions” and uniting the kids still have a silly age-old contest that divides people within themselves? The question will always stand; Is British punk better than American punk? 

Punk rock is a music genre that arose in the mid-1970s. Rooted in ’60s garage rock and 50s rock and roll. Punk rejected the corporate nature of music at the time. It was short and loud and hard to listen to for most. Many bands self-produced their music through independent labels. Since the birth of punk, it has always been anti-establishment and anti-authoritarian. Punk embraces the do-it-yourself ethic that most don’t. As a friend once said, “You can’t buy punk from a store you make it on your floor” Punk rock is the polar opposite of society in all of its forms. Whether it be combating the peace and love kumbaya hippies from the start of the movement to the aestheticized consumerism of the modern day, it evolves to counter whatever’s going on. 

There’s debate about whether the sex pistols created it in the United Kingdom or if the Ramones made it in the United States. But without a doubt, it was significantly more common way earlier on in the United Kingdom. Since ‘76 you could see punk as we know it, walking down the streets of Manchester. The Brits coined the original look. By the early 80s, punk had a second wave that invented many genres (anarcho-punk, Oi!, hardcore and street punk, etc.) which is considered more of American punk because of the rise of American bands of these specific subgenres. Even though the British coined the look and the classical music, the Americans swept the second wave right off of its feet and got more influence from the new sound. At this point in society, British punk and American punk are worlds apart, but the question will stand, which is better?

The UK punk scene outshines its American counterpart, as attested by my friend Dixie, the most hardcore dude I know, from Bristol who experienced both scenes. He often talked about the superior UK scene compared to the soulless chaos in the US. While his remarks may have carried a hint of superiority, they held the truth: American punk lacks the political backbone and unity found in British punk. British punk originated as a platform for working-class expression, while American punk leaned towards edgy, taboo themes. The UK fostered a sense of unity through music. Exemplified by movements like ska and anti-racist skinhead culture. In contrast, American punk failed to establish such a community, leaving it devoid of purpose.

British punk and American punk are very clearly different in their sounds. Take, for example, the song “Smoko” by The Chats and how the chorus repeats, “I’m on smoko so leave me alone” (smoko meaning taking a smoke break) in a thick Australian accent. Imagine if it was the same song, but with an American accent, the song wouldn’t make sense or even give off the same vibe. British (and Australian) people have built-in anger in their accents, especially while yelling about how much they hate the Queen. Punk was the first genre where people spoke with their accents rather than sang a melody. Accents are so compatible with punk because their accents go well with the fast-paced hard edge of the music’s nature. Another good example is UK Subs and their song “Warhead” released in their 1980 Brand New Age album where they cover topics like war and the elite class. They sing with a slow but loud and scratchy tone, perfectly conveying the disarray and helplessness of the Cold War. We Americans could never recreate that masterpiece, no matter how many IPAs and history lessons.

On the Flipside, American punk isn’t all that bad. I’m no patriot, but some good things have come out of this country. As much as I enjoy Oi! and early-to-new-wave British punk, American punk will always have nostalgia and a sacred place in my heart. The first ever bands I saw live were American punk bands. American punk truly boomed by the time the hippie movement had moved on, so it was mostly to counter-culturing things like hillbillies and Reagan. American punk dominated a lot of the subgenres like hardcore and skate punk. Most subgenres are super American dominant and wouldn’t be the same if it was a British man singing in a Sid Viscous uniform. 

In the end, it’s truly not fair to compare two completely different things, it’s like comparing peanut butter and jelly versus ham and cheese. Every scene has their ups and downs, but for the general census, British punk takes the cake. Its widespread appeal to audiences makes it superior to American punk. It’s more digestible for many audiences.

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About the Contributor
Molly Graham, Writer
Molly Graham is a sophomore whose interests include; ugly cars, welding, fireworks, punk shows, nature and boxing. I can play banjo and am in a band called civil disobedience.

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