Punk rock was supposed to reinvent music with an unstoppable force of passion and rage. Ultimately, the sound and fury that characterizes punk music couldn’t capture an international audience for long enough to truly revolutionize the way we look at popular music. After the explosion of punk bands in the late ’70s and the thriving hardcore underground scene of the ’80s, it became a common refrain to proclaim that “punk is dead.”
In fact, the genre continues to remain relevant in its own way, influencing countless alternative bands and thriving in certain circles. Here are a few of our favorite bands still going that prove punk isn’t dead.
1. Bad Religion
Fronted by college professor Greg Graffin, Los Angeles-based punk act Bad Religion has been releasing furious blasts of politically-inclined punk rock since 1982 without any significant dip in quality. The band’s sound is simple and angry, but its extensive use of sing-alongable choruses and irresistible three-part harmonies makes its aggressive riffs and fearless lyricism surprisingly accessible for average listeners. It’s hard to go wrong with the group’s discography, but its most recent album, 2013’s True North, is a good starting point for newcomers.
Hailing from British Columbia, Nomeansno has never actively sought any sort of mainstream success, instead choosing to pursue its own distinct brand of creative punk rock. Equal parts aggressive and progressive, the songs morph from one melody to another without missing a beat, and the angular riffs keep things from ever becoming boring. Like Bad Religion, the group has been going a long while now — since 1979, in fact — but its music, which has been labeled noise rock, jazz punk, and post-hardcore, remains as fresh and dangerous ever.
The fact that punk rock was influential enough to inspire this Copenhagen, Denmark-based band after so many years speaks volumes for the genre’s enduring effects. The young band members of Iceage have only released three albums so far, but they’ve already mastered the art of the electrifying, lo-fi punk anthem, using a jagged guitar sound and a solid band dynamic to conjure up the atmosphere of a lean, mean underground punk show right in your own living room. Their most recent album Plowing Into the Field of Love brilliantly expands their sound, and is worth a listen, or two, or five.
Another long-running act that’s never quite lost its edge, and another hailing from Los Angeles, X gained prominence in the ’80s punk scene for its melodic-yet-edgy sound, anchored by the distinctive voice of female lead singer Exene Cervenka. In recent years, the band has continued touring and delighting audiences with its sound, which sounds as fresh today as it did some thirty years ago, keeping punk alive with the release of another album to add to its stellar discography. Do yourself a favor, and listen to the group’s 1980 debut Los Angeles.
Chicago-based band Dwarves exist somewhere between standard punk rock and the more purist form of hardcore, but its punk sensibilities are best reflected in its lyrics, which are simultaneously fun and tasteless, delighting in ignoring social mores for a laugh at the expense of them. One of the group’s albums is called Blood Guts & Pussy, which should give you some idea of the lyrical content. Without losing its edge, this band found a way to inject some nuance into its sound, incorporating surf rock, classic rock & roll, and even hip-hop tricks to keep things interesting, even after nearly 30 years of releasing music.
6. Fucked Up
Canadian punk rockers Fucked Up do what few artists in the history of punk have dared to do — elevate punk rock into something uplifting and even soaring. Their albums are like punk rock operas, featuring sprawling guitar-centric suites that are energizing as often as they are infuriating. The band’s sound involves a fascinating interplay between guitar tones complemented by singer Damian Abraham’s hard-edged vocals and dozens of interesting production touches. The album David Comes to Life is an amazing example of the group’s surprising artistry within the sometimes constrictive genre of punk.
7. The Vandals
Punk purists might resent The Vandals for helping to create the pop-punk sound that defined the genre in the ’90s, but the Vandals themselves have done nothing but create fun, funny, irreverent punk rock with remarkable consistency. Each of their albums, spanning from 1982 to the present (they’ve done more touring than releasing as of late), is filled with gems that blend creative catchy riffage with fast-and-simple songwriting, emphasizing lyrics that hilariously call out some hypocrisy of modern society. As strange as it sounds, the band’s Christmas album Oi! to the World may be its best.
FIDLAR is a good example of how punk has evolved with the times. The genre remains inseparable from the indie and alternative underground scenes, as the distinctive punk sound becomes meshed with other genres. FIDLAR, for example, makes its punk songs more interesting by adding self-deprecating lyrics, surf rock solos, and metal-style heaviness to create a synthesized sound that’s both fresh and comfortingly familiar. The band’s self-titled album from 2013 is a must for listeners looking for solid, creative new punk rock.