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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Musical Progression of a Successful Punk Band

Title Fight rockin' Sneaky Dee's

Punk rock is a wild ass genre of music. Like I said in a previous post, when you first get into punk, every band seems radically different, but once you hang around long enough, it becomes apparent most of the bands are carbon copies of each other. This goes not only for the sound and style of music, but for the trajectory of the band's musical evolution.

I've outlined this strange phenomenon below, using the trajectory of one of the most successful bands of the last decade or so, Title Fight, as an example. It is important to note, however, that this model only applies to successful bands, as the vast majority of punk bands (thankfully) never leave their parent's basements. Enjoy.

Stage 1: Highly Derivative Demo Material

Not bad for a bunch of 14 year olds

During the first stage of evolution, the median age for a punk band is estimated to be 17.4 years old. At this age, most musicians have a pretty limited breadth of musical reference and an even more limited grasp on how to play their instruments. As a result, the fledgling musicians pick two or three bands they want to sound like and try to mash the styles together.

Most grizzled scene vets (read: 21 year olds) don't really fuck with this material because of how derivative it is, but other 17 year olds don't know any better and eat this shit up like cake. Eventually, the band's buzz gets the attention of a small regional label, and things start to change.

Stage 2: Hype AF First LP 

At this stage, the band has grown out of their parent's basement and started doing support shows with larger regional acts. Their exposure to the world of "punk rock tastemakers" and improved playing ability (by virtue of touring 9 months out of the year) allows them to grow as a creative entity. The band's creative process is still quite derivative, but they now have a larger pool to draw from.

This limited but important growth usually results in a full length album that sounds like a more polished, fleshed out version of the band's demo. The band may also start to hint at a different creative direction with one or two "weird songs", but most of the material from this stage of evolution remains consistent with the band's previous output.

Stage 3: Fleeting Moment of Creative Brilliance

In a culmination of hard work, dedication, and perfection of craft, the band finally reaches a creative apex. By this time, most of the band's members have started listening to music outside the confines of punk rock, introducing them to complex musical concepts such as dynamics, rhythm and song structure. In addition, the band's members have played together long enough to form chemistry, but not long enough to hate each other's guts. This combination usually results in the band's finest material.

In addition to their musical accomplishments, the band has often created a large public profile via playing every inhabitable US city three times a year since their last album. During this time, the band is regarded as an "integral part of the scene", and their watershed album will be mentioned at least three times in the Punknews Editors' Best of 20XX Roundup for that calendar year.

Stage 4: Poorly Recieved Crossover Attempt

At this stage of evolution, most of the band's members are over 24, which is widely regarded as the age where it's no longer socially acceptable to listen to punk music. It's also the age where most people start making a little bit of money, and the prospect of living in a stinky van for 9 months of the year starts to become unappealing. While the band is still outwardly successful to punk kids, it's members begin to feel the ebb and flow of the outside world weighing them down. This pressure forces the band to make a drastic change.

The science is inexact, but most of the time, the direction of that change can be predicted based on the band's past output. See the figure below for more detail.

Punk rock's established transformation paths 
  • "EpiFat" skate-punk/PBRcore -> boring dad rock (eg. Bad Religion, Hot Water Music, Against Me!) 
  • Tr00 Post-Hardcore -> NPR indie w. bad singing (Mewithoutyou, La Dispute, Thursday)
  • Pop Punk -> terrible music for 14 year old girls and softs (eg, Blink-182, Piebald, Saves the Day)
  • Emotional Guy Hardcore/Skramz -> melodramatic breakup (eg. American Nightmare, Orchid, Refused)
  • Tough Guy Hardcore -> incarceration, death.
This new direction, while compelling, fails to resonate with the band's prior fans, or with the pub rock/SXSW/shoegaze/drone metal communities from which it draws. These releases are largely glossed over, but often heralded as "under-appreciated" by internet trolls ten years later.

Stage 5: Fade to Irrelevance/Demise

After a failed attempt to cross over, the band is in the twilight of it's career. They may release a few more albums, but by this point, nobody really cares anymore. Eventually all the members move on with their lives, occasionally reuniting to headline a fest or record something, but the band has by and large run it's course. 

All good things must come to an end. Even this article. So on that note, I leave you to discuss my findings amongst yourselves.