Nobody knows the real origins of punk. Popular belief is that they all stemmed from a cross-dressing band called the New York Dolls during the early seventies, which paved the way for a Queens band called The Ramones to eventually take over the world. Others might argue that the genre actually originated in England and it was solely an insular movement of destruction that was badly copied throughout the rest of world. Hell, some might even say that it originated in Australia with The Saints. Evidence, however, points out that the emergence of punk was actually a global tendency that started sprouting across the world due to the rise of counterculture during the Cold War.
There are several bands that preceded what we’ve grown used to calling punk. They were all of global transcendence and became a youthful scream against the political and economic establishment. Disruptive, subversive, and nonchalant, these are three bands that paved the way for the volcanic upsurge of punk, which led the nastiest and most defiant counterculture movement of the last half of the twentieth century.
Albeit the punk attitude of nonconformism is something we could find throughout many musical expressions from the twentieth century, there was no band who merged the rock n’ roll genre with this subversiveness prior to the Peruvian band Los Saicos. Based in the district of Lince in the city of Lima by Erwin Flores, Arturo Castrillon, Rolando Carpio, and Pancho Guevara, the band’s sound was as insane as the pronunciation of their name implies. Preceding the English punk explosion by more than thirteen years, the band from Lima mixed surfy rock n’ roll amateur riffs to husky singing of surprisingly anarchistic tunes.
Focusing on themes such as violent deaths, mayhem, and brawling. One of their most famous songs, “Demolición”, is nothing more than a wacky call to “wreck down the train station. Los Saicos surprisingly enjoyed enormous mainstream popularity in Peru during the mid-sixties. Fame, however, became too much for the band. After suffering from lyric censorship from their label, they split after only two years of punk rambling. Nonetheless, despite the cultural and geographic boundaries that their music faced, it managed to spread through alternative means, sharing their defiant attitude from the Andes to the world.
Not to be confused with the all-white Death Metal band formed by Chuck Schuldiner in the early nineties, this group was born at a time when African Americans weren’t considered fit to play rock music in the industrial city of Detroit. The Hackney Brothers —Bobby, David, and Dannis— formed Death in 1971. More than half a decade before the rise of the Ramones, they started a sound that was somewhere between a sped-up Motown vibe with muddy funky bass lines and a bolting rock n’ roll rhythm simplified in garish power chords. Through their lyrics, they touched the most punk of subjects: the start of the postmodern individual crisis as well as utter repulsion towards politicians. Their song “Freaking Out” is a narrative of social alienation and disgust explaining the nervous and critical situation that precedes the lonely isolation of the punk persona, which, for instance, the Pistols explored in songs such as “No Feelings”. Furthermore, they also broke through on the subject of protest with pieces like “Politicians in My Eyes”, with a discourse that focused on showing their loathing towards the fake appearance that politicians build on the media, which is a subject they share with Ramones’ iconic “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitsburg)” from 1985.
Death’s punk legacy was not only musical. Due to their cult following, the band had the opportunity to land a deal with Columbia Records in 1975, but there was a catch. They would have to change their name, and in a certain sense, also lower the volume of their non-conformist style in order to coincide with a more lucrative portrayal of black music. The siblings, however, did the most punk thing to do, raise the middle finger against the establishment. Instead of recording an album with a major label, they kept their identity so they wouldn’t sell out to become part of the decaying society they criticized. Although they didn’t manage to record a whole album on their own, the fickle flame of their subversiveness paved a road of ashes to more gritty non-conformists who wanted to shout against the state of the world.
Although the pillars of the British wave of punk are considered to be The Clash, Sex Pistols, and the latter’s sponsor, Malcolm McLaren, it’s clear that they weren’t the pioneers of the punk movement in the British isles. Just a year before the Sex Pistols released Never Mind the Bollocks, a gritty band, dressed in defiance and self-determination called The Damned, burst in the British underground punk scene with a song called “New Rose”, which would be the first to exude the aggressive and trashy attitude that would later be referred as punk.
As other precedents of the genre, The Damned was less about the music and more about the act and the attitude through which they presented themselves. The song was utterly simple but deeply mesmerizing; a hypnotizing fiery belch of power chords, crashing cymbals, and a burst of violent attitude from Dave Vanian. As The Planets’ Binky Philips states in his chronicle of their CBGB concert, The Damned were all about dressing up only to tear their costumes apart at the middle of the show. They glossed their instruments before playing and picked fights with the crowd. Even though they followed the Ramones’ poetics of simplicity, they mixed it up with the trashy and violent disruptiveness on-stage that would eventually spread as a ripple effect throughout punk rock as a whole.
You might be interested in:
Pictures From The Soviet Punk Uprising You Never Knew Existed
The Perverse Poet Of Punk That Inspired The Arctic Monkeys