Punk rock is arguably one of the most fascinating genres of music. The first three definitions of “punk” in the Oxford English Dictionary list it as meaning a prostitute or some variation of a passive homosexual companion, particularly in prison or groups traditionally cast as likely to be criminal. It takes some more scrolling to get to a definition that mentions the subculture or the social movement.
Steinhardt sophomore Hayley Livingston and Hampshire College sophomore Marisa Pearl of Human People, an all-girl four-piece group whose music leans towards post-punk garage style, weighed in with their thoughts on the modern definition of punk.
“The definition of punk has broadened to the point of ambiguity,” Livingston said. “We think the universally true thing in all of punk having complete creative control over your art and independence from the people who want your art to be a certain way.”
Naturally, it is no coincidence that a term for gay men — who were and still are, in certain situations, one of the most maligned groups across nearly every social structure — is a word used as a blanket name for rebels with or without causes. The heteronormativity may have lessened, but the number of things to rebel against has grown. Punk has come to encompass not only the sound of Nirvana and Pink Floyd, but a multitude of styles and sub-genres from pop punk to glam punk. The unifying idea seems to be a rebellion against something or someone — a system, a feeling, a person, a lifestyle; what one’s rebelling against isn’t the point. It is merely the rebellion that creates punk.
Pearl believes that punk is something that cannot be singularly defined.
“There could never be a real definition of punk however, since it can be about a music style but is also about expressing ideology,” Pearl said.
That ideology — rebellion, a blank slate of protest on which artists can paint their own personal philosophy — boils down to this: punk is a protest, an entire aesthetic that says “defiantly belligerent.” Which, one must presume, is not what the established entity wants — if there was agreement, there would be no rebellion. This is not to say that all punk is only a demand for something, more that it is an act: an authority insisting on something, and the punks responding. In a theoretically free world, punks are entitled to a choice, and are expressing it, loudly.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 11 print edition. Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]