That’s So Punk Rock

Punk music and the subsequent punk movement is deeply rooted in fighting for the rebel cause and the fight against social injustices. I’m not talking the pop-angst of Blink 182 -type bands that are splayed across MTV, but the bands at the root of the brit-punk rock uprisings in the mid-70s as well as the emergence of the political hardcore punk rock scene in DC in the 80s. The lyrics are intertwined with anti-injustice words such as, “…and now I can’t sleep from years of apathy, all because I read a little Noam Chomsky” (NOFX), or with “…all the power’s in the hands, of people rich enough to buy it,” (The Clash).

I’ve been going to punk shows for the past 10 years, early on as a rebellious punk teen and more recently, clipboards in hand registering youth voters at the show, with non-profit groups like Music for America or SAAVY. Most often though at these punk shows, I was one of a handful of desi kids.

Unfortunately being a desi punk has its consequences…

Harraj Mann, 23, asked a taxi driver to play The Clash’s London Calling through the vehicle’s stereo. But the cabbie rang police after he heard the song which includes the line: “War is declared and battle come down.” A spokeswoman also said that it was not just the music Mr Mann requested, but the “overall impression” he gave that aroused the taxi driver’s suspicion. [link]

The irony is he was listening to The Clash, a brit-punk band of the 1970s known for their anti-racism sentiments as well as Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song.” Even more ironic is that it was the taxi-wallah that turned this guy in, though no mention of the ethnicity of said cab driver.

Police said Mr Mann, from Hartlepool, was released without charge after his arrest on board a Bmi plane at Durham Tees Valley Airport. Durham Police said a security check revealed he did not pose a threat.

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p>He told BBC Radio Five Live: “I said to staff you’ve taken me off my flight due to my taste in music, in a more colourful way…I mean where does it stop? What if I was wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, what if I was wearing odd socks, you know…I mean obviously the political climate these days is like walking on egg shells, but I mean there’s caution and then there’s taking it to the point where it’s absurd and ludicrous.”

Here, here, punk desi youth! “Look at those crazy kids, with their wild hair, and loud music,” is the most oft heard gripe from elder people but additionally, we have to deal with the profiling that comes with being desi as well. It’s a double whammy. Obviously, in light of the london bombings last year, I’m sure things must be harder for the day to day lives of desi youth across the pond. But would a terrorist really play The Clash in a taxi on the way to the airport? Common sense says no. Should I now start having to worry that today I wore a shirt that says, “Major Labels Lie” and was listening to Dead Prez in my stickered car? Well, maybe they have reason to worry just a little bit there… All I gotta say is, stay strong brother, and punk on.

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About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

87 thoughts on “That’s So Punk Rock

  1. That sounds great – will you be going to the northeast?

    My semester just wrapped up here, so it’s the perfect time to get sucked into something that might just get me to a show! I’m bummed that I won’t be in Chennai for the June Rock Out fest. Although from my limited experience with Chennai rock shows, it tends to be a lot of metal Jesus stuff…

  2. taz

    ummmm….thanks for the link and lecture, but I still think it’s all whiny and they look like they smell, sorry.

  3. … reading a lot of Johnny Belliars.

    You consider Bellairs goth? His books were awesome, read ‘em as a tadpole. In crushed black velvet, apparently.

  4. Actually, speaking about “today”, alot of rap and other beat music is alot more politically aware than some modern punk rock….. of course, not really the stuff you hear on the radio. It’s what punk rock used to be before it was bastardized by boy bands with tattoos and mohawks.

    so true. and a valuable point.

  5. . The makings of an oreo begins ;) Eh, I at least am not down with that kind of thinking anymore…
    I’m not going to disown punk rock or goth just b/c now it makes me belong less in the bhangra hip hop mainstream desi-american crowd.
    And Clash-like punk rock has always been about fighting racism and exclusionary ideaologies; it belongs to me as much as anyone else. The whole point is DIY culture, so who cares what the trends are?

    To add to Saheli’s thoughts and just a general comment on the oreo/brown binary:

    I understand the merits of the term oreo as a well meaning cutely self-depricating way of self labeling…BUT, I have problems with the ‘oreo’ label in most contexts because an overwhelming majority of desis use the persecution that they’ve received from other desi people for deviating from the status quo as an excuse to completely separate themselves from their desi communities. I think most mutineers are cool with their bangra loving sisters and brothers without looking down or up at them.

    I have problems with people glare at the other brown person in a 2-token situation, and through their eyes their thoughts can easily be read, “like, this is MY party dont fuck it up cause I like my foothold with these friends like isnt strong enough for two of us, find your own!”.

    Hey, thanks for the link re: kominas. really interesting. It sort of shatters this dumb oreo mythology. They’re brown on the outside and the inside. No confusion

    .

    Exactly.

  6. Yeah – what is so cool about punk and goth? Mostly a bunch of middle class white boys moaning and groaning because their daddy’s never bought them a TV for their bedroom when they were twelve years old so they dress down like a bunch of smelly guttersnipes and cry like they suffered the biggest pain and loss and turmoil since Hamlet on the ramparts of Elsinore – for fux sake – what is the matter with these people that they deliberately dress so cheap and try to look like garbage men?

    Wow Paolo, some punk must have broken your heart, very very badly. If you’re dismissing all punk as “whiney” then you’re clearly basing your opinion on music you haven’t heard. I’m not even going to qualify my answer by disclaiming the crappy “pop-punk” that makes lots of money on MTV. I wouldn’t insult your intelligence and assume that’s what’s you’re referring to.
    Punk, by its very nature is supposed to be “rebellious” and it is inherently therefore, political. And the middle class can feel injustice and angst too – in fact, there’s nothing better than the doldrums of the burbs to make people either go mad or get mad. I think it’s a positive thing that punk is traditionally written by youth for youth – what better time to get people to question their politics and the issues of classism, racism, sexism, poverty etc… around them? Would you rather entire generations of completely complacent apathetic young people who spoke very nicely, wore a lot of cologne and bought every last mass-produced brand name doodad that was advertized to them while looking forward to a career in investment banking or mergers and aquisitions?

    As for the point a couple of posts up about punk being coopted – yes, that’s what happens to any kind of “scene”. People realise they can make money off of them. Indie, for example, is the new rave. Every last kid with any degree of cool is doing it. It’s called indie and it’s mass produced and you can buy shirts at the Gap with the one inch buttons already pinned to them while you listen to some clear-voiced twee band your friends in tight jeans and plaid shirts were nodding along to the night before on a TV ad, selling you cars. I remember The Times They Are a Changin’ was used to advertise some bank a couple of years ago. Sigh…

    And on a purely subjective note – punks are hot and the music is fun. Okay so anyone into punk in the GTA/Mtl – we should seriously go to a show.

  7. It’s called indie and it’s mass produced and you can buy shirts at the Gap with the one inch buttons already pinned to them

    lol! What a brilliant illustration of your above point.

    in defence of twee: I feel I should point out a lot of the music classified as twee = good stuff, but I think you were just making a point, so I’ll spare you. :)

  8. Wow Paolo, some punk must have broken your heart, very very badly.

    Nope – they’re just really whiney and pathetic and posturing as rebellious it’s really pathetic and they dress like garbagemen and garabagewomen.

    Would you rather entire generations of completely complacent apathetic young people who spoke very nicely, wore a lot of cologne and bought every last mass-produced brand name doodad that was advertized to them while looking forward to a career in investment banking or mergers and aquisitions?

    Dressing like a bum and smelling whilst singing whiney screeds of middle class sulking just makes you smelly middle class sulkers with a persecution complex who dress like bums and think they are radical and hip when really they are as big a bunch opf follow-the-herd sheep as the rest of society who they think they rebel against – just whiney garbageman music. Superficial and stupid.

  9. Sorry, a hijack:

    Some time last year I got sick sick sick of mainstream/indie rock; I desperately wanted rock with a strong dose of radical politics [which also deals with race].

    I’m no punker, and I don’t know enough about punk to know what qualifies as punk to punkers, but once I started listening to Skunk Anansie I never turned back. They’re frequently my favorite band of all time, and I’m constantly on the lookout for bands like them, but I don’t exactly have the resources right now (being in India) to find anything. Does anyone have any suggestions?

    tankoo

  10. Pablo,

    Do you have anything to say which you haven’t already said and which hasn’t been refuted? And, by any chance, do you have a point?

  11. Haha Dinesha, I too love the twee :) And yes, I was just making a point about and perhaps poking gentle fun at a scene I’m already coopted into and the fact that it too can be exploited to sell I dunno, condo-livin’ and 4x4s. Okay off to school – there’s so much I want to throw into my discman right now!

  12. Madurai Vivekan, I won’t be in the north-east but I will be in Bengal for quite a while. And around Delhi and Bangalore so maybe at the very least I can make it to Chennai and scour Delhi… There are quite a few punk-aesthetes in Bangalore and the majority seem to be from the Mizoram, Assam, Nagaland etc. I don’t know how much music they make (or listen to) but there’s a definite appreciation for the look. The local kids seem to all be metal-heads.

  13. There are a couple of college kids here from Nagaland. After seeing your post I asked them about punk and they said sure, there’s a lot of punk there but it’s all covers, nothing original. I asked what they covered and they said new stuff like Linkin Park and the like. I asked if there was anything “political” and they said that’s mostly rap.

    From what I can tell Chennai (and therefore Madurai) are pretty much all about the classic rock. I was recently asked to play with a student band on a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” for some festivities at their college. This same band a few weeks ago played Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” and for this performance they were also going to play 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up.” Sigh.

    southie_dadi, if you’re reading this – sorry I freaked out on that other thread about personal info. Bad past experiences. I play tenor sax.

  14. Do you have anything to say which you haven’t already said and which hasn’t been refuted? And, by any chance, do you have a point?

    Rock and roll dude! Punk rulez! Sorry, but nothing has been refuted, and all my points are the truth.

  15. I won’t be in the north-east but I will be in Bengal for quite a while. And around Delhi and Bangalore so maybe at the very least I can make it to Chennai and scour Delhi… There are quite a few punk-aesthetes in Bangalore and the majority seem to be from the Mizoram, Assam, Nagaland etc. I don’t know how much music they make (or listen to) but there’s a definite appreciation for the look. The local kids seem to all be metal-heads.

    brownfrown and everyone: Have you heard Mohiner Ghoraguli? Perhaps not what we would categorize as punk in terms of music, but the sensibility was definitely punk. Starting off in post-naxal West Bengal and totally different from what had come before and from the endless droning of Ranbindrasangeet.

  16. Hey Saheli: I am afraid that I haven’t. I did the requisite googling and found interesting interview with Legs McNeil

    I will definitely pick up a copy…thanks for the recommendation.

    The partner at my law office (I am a music lawyer in NYC) always quotes that Lester Bangs selection when speaking to young law students and other industry types as a reminder of “why” we are in this line of work. Over the years, I definitely had a few of those “blasted outside of myself” moments…keeps me inspired when the financial rewards dont.

  17. PropMcGandhi – I shamefacedly admit I have never heard of Mohiner Ghoraguli. I’ll be very interested to pick up their albums once I’m in Calcutta. From what the people over at Wiki say I can definitely see the punk ‘tude. Some good old-fashioned marxist raging. whooo!

  18. Cool! Try “Khyapar Gaan” which is only available on cassette. For CDs I like “Maya”. You can get these almost anywhere in the city, but MusicWorld on Park Street has a whole section for rock.

    To expand, I’m very intrigued by what a punk counterculture in South Asia would potentially sound like. I’m not convinced that the music would sound anything like what we have come to think of as punk in the US or UK. In Kolkata I think Mohiner Ghoraguli was the start of something that could have been, but that wasn’t. Mohiner Ghoraguli started in the mid-70′s and then died out completely. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that they got any kind of attention and now EVERY band in Kolkata lists them as a major influence. Still, the music scene in Kolkata depresses me horribly. It’s one thing to list a band as an influence, but quite another to actually understand and imbibe what they were trying to do during the time that made them.

    On the other side of the shadow line, however, there seem to be more interesting things going on. Amadergaan is a site that has some info on the Bangladesh music scene. There was also a website called altermetal that seems to have gone offline, but that had info on all the heavy metal bands of Bangladesh. There are also bands doing interesting things mixing folk and rock music. Bangla (band name) does it really well and their lead singer has the most amazing voice.

  19. metric ang, the chorus is:

    aar chhobe na tomader bhalobasha byatha debe aar korbe na kon thasha diyechhi chhire, diyecchi chhire shob bandhan aaj!

    which translates to: your “love” won’t touch me anymore it won’t give me pain or reprimand me i’ve torn apart, i’ve torn apart all binds today

    Needless to say, they are not too happy with mummydaddy!

  20. To expand, I’m very intrigued by what a punk counterculture in South Asia would potentially sound like. I’m not convinced that the music would sound anything like what we have come to think of as punk in the US or UK. In Kolkata I think Mohiner Ghoraguli was the start of something that could have been, but that wasn’t. Mohiner Ghoraguli started in the mid-70′s and then died out completely. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that they got any kind of attention and now EVERY band in Kolkata lists them as a major influence. Still, the music scene in Kolkata depresses me horribly. It’s one thing to list a band as an influence, but quite another to actually understand and imbibe what they were trying to do during the time that made them.

    Oh you are so right. I first got interested in the desi punk scene because I was interested in what kind of youth “counterculture” was developing in the face of the rapid economic and social changes that taking place in India. Punk is often a marker of disenfranchised youth who may or may not be politically naive, but are definitely feeling a certain collective dissatisfaction with the status quo (often mummydaddy and often the state, capitalism, consumerism etc). Anyway – when I started looking into the punk culture in India and I could only, at that time, fine one band that seemed to not be defunct because of “Class XI exams” or that didn’t do endless Blink 182/Scorpian covers – it really surprised me. With the amount of global (read: Amrikan) culture the youth are exposed to, I expected a more predictable “Amrikan” angry-youth reaction amongst the middle-uppermiddle class kids. There are after all, quite developed punk/hardcore scenes in other Asian countries.

    Of course India does have a vibrant activism/counter culture scene amongst this demographic – mostly taking the form of theatre and documentaries and strong academic writing, but where are the PUNKS? Most of the metal-heads I met were just jocks under a different guise. And the the majority of the music scene in general is horribly depressing. (I didn’t even know Cal had much of one – I’ll have to go to some shows). There’s a defininte lack of piss and vinegar and much self-satisfied renditions of self-satisfied songs.

    As for what “punk” in India would sound like, I’m interested too. So far the bands sound like American/Brit punk bands, emulating accents and cadences perfectly. Sometimes I’ve detected some “desiness” to the songs; lyrics that involve the words “school and college” made me think “only in India” and Tripwire’ Britzkrieg Bop’s got tablas and some kind of jhunjhuni that’s really cute.

    If you want to give some of it a listen, go to the MP3 page of RJS online. It seems to be the best venue for desi bands.

  21. Wow, what a great thread – brownfrown & pmg, you are my heroes of the moment.

  22. Thanks for the props, MV. Now this hero has to get her ass away from the internet (and delicious distractions such as this) and head to some school & college :) Are any of you people going to be in India this summer? If you are, I say we take over and hit up as many shows as we can.

  23. As for what “punk” in India would sound like, I’m interested too. So far the bands sound like American/Brit punk bands, emulating accents and cadences perfectly. Sometimes I’ve detected some “desiness” to the songs; lyrics that involve the words “school and college” made me think “only in India” and Tripwire’ Britzkrieg Bop’s got tablas and some kind of jhunjhuni that’s really cute.

    brownfrown – Thanks for your excellent post. I’ll be in India at some point this summer and will definitely be in Cal, so I hope you’ll email me. Let’s get acquainted and figure something out.

    Your post touched on something that seems especially true in the South Asian context: punk comes from privilege. The fact of the matter is that anyone in South Asia who even thinks of picking up a musical instrument and starting a band will almost undoubtedly be from the privileged classes and as conflicted as any young person from this background may be about consumerism, capitalism, corporate globalization, mummydaddy, etc., when it comes time for the Class XI exams they’ve gotta shut everything else down and study their asses off. Exams = death of punk rock!

  24. Exams = death of punk rock!

    Yeah, but what do they really know in school anyway? At least some of them manage to pick up again in college.

    Hostels = rebirth of punk rock?

  25. Are any of you people going to be in India this summer? If you are, I say we take over and hit up as many shows as we can.

    hell yeah!

  26. PMG & MV – sweet! Let’s totally be in touch.

    So true, PropMcG – not only does being in a band mean that you probably have a bunch of money to begin with, India’s a very difficult place to just say no to your ISCE exams, your physics tutor, your mother, uncle, father, cousins and go off and be a rockstar or a mallrat. Dropping out and working at your local video store is somehow just not an option for most people and that class divide between the blue or um beige? collar workers and the upper classes is so stigmatized, very few are able to even be a tourist in the lives of the (thank you Pulp) Common People.
    Nobody I know (and when I say know I mean that I’m friends with) in India would be willing to live the life of someone in the service industry or drop out of school in protest or dissatisfaction. This isn’t a critique – just a sign of the massive overpopulation, the scarcity of well-paying jobs and the effect of living in an economy that is vunerable to globalism and where industry depends on being able to provide competitive, high-quality labour for low wages. This is so obvious that I’m not even sure if I want to post it… but it’s two am and I’m ruminating, so there you have it.

  27. brownfrown,

    can you e-mail us so we can figure out where we’ll all be datewise, and try and figure out venue, etc.?

  28. Dang it Basim!

    I spent all morning looking for the Kominas Myspace page- Music search on that sucks…Found it though, now, through your site.

    How about coming to los angeles to do a show with my buddies over at Slant? ;-)

  29. Maybe one day they will be a desi band like System of Down. If 4 aremenian’s can do it , why not 4 desi’s

  30. hey what’s with the hip-hop slandering!?

    hate on radio-played “rap” or pop, but don’t hate on hip-hop. hip-hop is a culture, hip-hop has it origins in social change. hip-hop for the most part is still a positive movement and the “hip-hop” portrayed by the media is every ounce as vapid as the britney spears and good charlotte put out by major labels. if we’re going to blame 50 cent for violence then we definitely need to blame britney spears and the pussycat dolls (a burlesque troupe! gasp) for the oversexualization of young girls. its an oversaturation in the media of negative imagery not confined to ONE group, and its this oversaturation thats forced young kids to be bombarded by these images. i’m only 21; i don’t remember feeling the urge to wear skimpy clothes and dance provacatively at the age of 10 or 11…shit i was still playing with jump ropes and sliding down my crocodile mile!

    and just like you punkers lament your loneliness at concerts, i as a female hip-hop fan lament my loneliness as a female and a brownie at the “underground” hip-hop shows i consistently attend!

  31. Note: Please don’t feed the trolls. Requests for celebrities’ contact info or homework assistance; racist, abusive, illiterate, content-free or commercial comments; personal, non-issue-focused flames; intolerant or anti-secular comments; and long, obscure rants may be deleted. Unless they’re funny. It’s all good then.