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.


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.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates and blogs at Follow her at

87 thoughts on “That’s So Punk Rock

  1. goes way beyond ridiculous—- war on terror targets – clash and led zep??.. what’s next – the who, beatles, in their zeal to get al-qaeda & co., have these ppl forgotten entirely forgotten the 60s and 70s. what is the world coming to??

  2. great post taz.

    In Canada (at least Van/Montreal) there are a fair number of brown scenesters and desi punks

  3. It’s refreshing to hear about a punker who’s able to articulate solid political views. Too many fakers out there… Go Harraj!

  4. I really liked this post, thanks Taz =) It worries me that personal taste in music can target individuals as security threats. Absurd beyond words. Desi punkers unite!

  5. Other songs not to play while in a cab:

    ‘You Dropped a Bomb On Me’ ‘Boom, Shake the Room’ ‘Disco Inferno’ U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust Anything by the B-52s or Atomic Kitten

    Because you can never be too safe: ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ Anything by the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Running With Scissors

    What happens when this taxiwallah figures out there are entire airlines run by Arabs (Kuwait Air, Emirates), where the direction of Mecca is shown on the in-flight screens every five minutes? His head explodes.

    ‘9-1-1, uh, they’re speaking Arabic on board, I think they’re planning something.’ ‘Sir, those are the pilots and they’re planning the landing.’ ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about…’

  6. Ah, that wonderful album cover.

    Um, feature suggestion–I posted this as a news item after carefully searching for “the clash” in the mutiny. Then it disappeared, presumably nuked as a repeat. Could we maybe check a box that would let us know that something got nuked? I was tempted to hit repost in case it was just a mistake and never posted, but there was no way to know. .

  7. We the people looks amazing- but I will be attending the Town Hall hosted by South Asian Network on the 9th. (it’s on the events tab).


    Bombs over Baghdad – Outkast and anything by rancid and NOFX….

  8. Or ‘Galang’:

    London calling speak the slang yeah…

    Or ‘Sunshowers’:

    You wanna win a war? Like P.L.O I don’t surrendo…

    It’s a bomb yo so run yo Put away your stupid gun yo Cos we see through like a protocol call That’s why we blow it up ‘fore we go

    Or all gangsta rap.

  9. Oh, Taz, check out radio one–I think they’re LA. based. Their website blows, but the clip that opens it up would almost certainly get one in trouble. It’s not my favorite song of theirs at all. . .but I really like Headlines (“Attention! Attention! Read the Headlines! Keep a watch for what they say!”) perhaps for obvious reasons. 😉

    They’re awesome live. I saw them at the 3rd Annual Joe Strummer/Clash Tribute at Bottom of the Hill in SF. . .which sadly was not followed by a fourth. 🙁 They did a wonderful, wonderful cover of Corazon.

  10. There are a lot of desi – punks, goths, gangstas, skaters and other assorted youth subcultures in Toronto.

    Wasn’t there some desi punk in Texas who had an incident with Ann Coulter a while back.

  11. Desi punks RULE. I once accosted a boy on a seven hour bus journey because I was so intrigued by his Black Flag t-shirt and the many holes in his jeans. Five years later, we’re best friends – true story 🙂

    Epoch – you’re so right about TO – you can actually find brown “counter culture” (for lack of a better word) kids in impressive numbers. Montreal’s not quite the same but then it’s a much smaller city with less second/third gen desis – not that you can’t be a FOB and raging. What I’m fascinated by is brown punks in India. So far I’ve managed to unearth a handful of bands (most claim to be punk but are still metal or ‘alternative’) and rumour has it that Bombay’s set for its first punk show in May. Man I wish I was there.

  12. 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.

  13. Nice story. Being a punk listener, desi, and growing up in Alabama, this brought back a lot of memories.

    Off topic and not really that important – I’m not sure NOFX is still punk. Propagandhi would agree with me. Further off topic – does Propagandhi count as a punk band with Desi linkage?

  14. To add to that, I don’t think I’d request these lyrics in a taxi either:

    Why don’t we all strap bombs to our chests and ride our bikes to the next G-7 picnic? It seems easier with every clock tick. But whose will would that represent? Mine? Yours? The rank-and-file’s? Or better yet: the Government’s?

    But I don’t want to catalyze or synthesize the second Final Solution. I don’t want to be the Steve Smith of the Revolution. Do you see the analogy? We’re the Oilers. The World Bank – the Flames! And just 2 minutes remain in the 7th game of the best of 7 series! Yeah, Jesus saves! Gretzky scores! The workers slave. The rich get more. One wrong move and we risk the cup. So play The Man, not the puck.

    Why don’t we plant a mechanic virus and erase the memory of the machines that maintain this capitalist dynasty? And yes, I recognize the irony that the very system I oppose affords me the luxury of biting the hand that feeds. But that’s exactly why priviledged fucks like me should feel obliged to whine and kick and scream – until everyone has everything they need.

    • RESISTING TYRANNICAL GOVERNMENT (It’s a dirty job- but somebody’s gotta do it) from Less Talk, More Rock

    Sorry, anyone mentioning Propagandhi is like my bat signal

  15. Awww punk debate!

    I’m a west coast gal and when i went out to DC and went to hardcore basement shows, and free Fugazi in the park shows, my definitions were turned upside down. I don’t consider Fugazi punk though DC punks would kill me for saying that- in the same lineage, I consider NOFx punk, but that’s cuz I’m west coast. And i think that anyone that does what they did for is awesome.

    Propagandhi is good though i haven’t heard a lot of their stuff. I feel like I should go to myspace and listen to them right now…

  16. PROPAGANDHI RULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And they’re Canadian — Peg City baby!

  17. Taz, you definitely gotta check out Propagandhi. I give them a lot of credit for getting me interested in radical politics. I’d recommend “Less Talk More Rock” as their best album.

  18. NOFX: We’re professional punkers We come from the suburbs After 15 years, we’re still having fun Now we’re over 30, not looking so purty At least we got a beat-up accordion

    Straight from the horse’s mouth, folks!

  19. brownfrown, what punk bands from the motherland have you found?

    do you have any info, websites, etc?

    i’d be very interested.

  20. To amna in post #3

    I live in Vancouver and I have never seen any other desi at rock or punk shows in Vancouver. Since 80% of the desi in vancouver area are punjabi that would have to be the other 20% desi who are into punk/rock

    As for skateboarder desi’s that would be cool to see too.

    Maybe it’s just me but it’s seems like 99% of punjabi in the west are into bhangra, hip hop or dance music. they only punjabi that like rock are me and one of my nieces in Caifornia.

    I guess non-punjabi desi’s are the one who are into skateboarding, punk or being goth or cool stuff like that


    India never really had a Punk scene. It’s always been in the background of the heavier Metal and Alternative sounds. The fact that we have a Rock scene itself is saving grace for several people. Punk is ‘underground’. Punk is ‘there’. One of India’s first Punk bands, Nipple The Pizza (yup, that’s exactly what it was called) had band members who scarcely knew how to play instruments. They were the perfect example of Punk. They had wild originals and covered bands hardly anyone in India had heard. They did it for themselves. The fact that they could get up on stage and play what they played, in front of an audience that was skeptical, to put it lightly, took guts. Or, a complete lack of shame. But Indian Punk is not as ‘blatant’ as it’s international (which basically implies the US and Central Europe) counterparts. You don’t normally spot people sporting spiky hairdos, or Bad Religion tattoos. The element of experimentation lies basically in the intrinsics. We keep things to ourselves and only let go in our music. A popular Punk band, Grossing Decency, was earlier called Asshole, and had to change it’s name because of peer and parental pressures. But their music didn’t change. They still played their OC, I Hammered My Father Till He Was Dead at their shows. And that was Punk! The current Indian scene is a lot different from the current International scene. While commercial Punk acts like Sum 41, Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, etc. rule the charts abroad, Indian Punk bands are more comfortable playing their own songs, or covers of not-so-popular bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat, The Ramones and the like. And as compared to other Rock sub-genres, Indian Punk is more about original music. Tripwire, one of the more popular Punk bands, plays almost the same number of originals as it does covers.
  22. Why is being Goth “cool”? I never understood the appeal. They seem very white, very pale, and very weak. Hardly an attactive mix for somebody brown. I mean, beyond some cute GothChicks, what else do they have going for them? And can non-whites really be Goth?

  23. I live in Vancouver and I have never seen any other desi at rock or punk shows in Vancouver. Since 80% of the desi in vancouver area are punjabi that would have to be the other 20% desi who are into punk/rock

    Yeah really, I was never at any punk shows but i used to go to a lot of rock/alt stuff in the mid 90’s to early 00’s and other brown kids were a rare sight, this is in toronto. I guess things have changed a bit though, that’s pretty cool.

    The lead singer of lucky boys confusion is brown… they’re more blink than clash and not very political but yeah.

  24. Ennis–in retrospect I think I was a sometime semi-goth. It wasn’t to be cool so much as group enthusiasm over a shared aesthetic, a shared refuge from more demanding aesthetics. The paleness (or lack thereof) didn’t matter. Melancholic poetry, moody or historical instrumental music with a lot of vibratto and ethereal voices, black and jewel-toned velvet, cloaks and daggers and candles and mirrors and black roses and skulls, vampirical tales, like that. Tales of consumption. Grew up reading a lot of Johnny Belliars. The dark side of fairy tales and all that. There’s a longstanding poetric tradition of the sickly but brilliant poet extinguishing themselves in an unsustainable flame of intensity of mind that cannot be matched by their sad, sickly bodies. For teenagers who are smart, broody, skinny and out of shape, it’s quite appeeling. There’s the whole Neil Gaiman aesthetic. The paleness is really tangential. I don’t think most Goths think about that. I think other people think about that in their conception of goths as being mostly white.

    This is totally incoherent, but I should be working anyway.

  25. Hey man,

    I’m punjabi background…. well half punjabi anyways, and I am definitely all about the rawk. I don’t know where you’re coming from about the punabis vs. rock thing….. but then again, I don’t live in Vancouver. It’s probably not a cultural issue isolated to punjabi’s, but probably more related to the fact that large numbers of punjabis live together in one city, and are thus influencing one another – thus, bhangra and other beat music may dominate – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Where I grew up, I was fairly isolated from browns in general, especially after age 12 when we moved, thus, there was not a whole lot of cultural influence other than what I heard through my “white” friends. The makings of an oreo begins 😉

  26. 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?

  27. . The makings of an oreo begins 😉

    Eh, I at least am not down with that kind of thinking anymore than I’m down with calling appropriation any time someone non-South Asian tries any of our art. My friends are my friends, and if accidents of geography and demographics and even class made them mostly white and east asian, when all is said and done I really gotta say, “oh f–ing well.” 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. It doesn’t make me an oreo if I like the stuff my friends share with me, just because they’re often white. 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?

  28. To Metric Ang about post #34

    Before I moved to Vancouver, I lived in a very white area also.

    As for the punjabi vs rock thing. I have spent alot of time in California which has the most punjabi’s of any state in the United States. And they are just like the punjabi’s in Vancouver, they think there black. They all like hip-hop and they all hate rock music.You have no idea how much crap I have taken from punjabi for my taste into music. Just go to any major rap show in Vancouver, half of the crowd is punjabi.

    But non-punjabi desi’s are into rock and for some like Kim Thayil[Soundgarden]Tony Kanal[No Doubt] and Dave Baksh[Sum 41] have made into the big time.

    I wonder if the reason that most punjabi’s males into the whole hip hop culture is the reason that all of the desi’s gangs in North America are punjabi’s

  29. And they are just like the punjabi’s in Vancouver, they think there black.

    So, Punjabis listening to black music means they think they are black, so it must follow that you think you’re white, right? So what about the Punjabis who listen to bhangra, they must be OK.

    Personally, I love klezmer music, I think I’m a Jew – oy vez!

    You have no idea how much crap I have taken from punjabi for my taste into music.

    Oh man, you poor suffering oppressed punk, being teased for your taste in music – is there no end to your persecution? Don’t do a Kurt Kobain on us dude – you can make it through this hell. The whole world is cruel, and nobody understands you.

  30. Hey yo PearlJamFan – the guy who got arrested in England for listening to The Clash has a Punjabi name!Harraj Mann! You are saved! One other Punjabi apart from you who is not a cruel hip-hop listening scumbag! Rejoice!

  31. Pablo,

    Relax. Sure, there is an amount of white-boy whiny angst to some pop-punk music, but this dialogue has been about the punk movement of resistance, the kind with messages and the the kind that leads to organized movement to create change in the government. There are a ton of books out there on this movement, and I would suggest reading them before making judgements.

    I think what drew me to the punk scene is the amount of “rebellion” that was associated with the music and ironically, it was the only way I was allowed out of the house by my folks. The more i learned of the music the more it coincided with my growing passion on fighting for injustice. It’s not about being an “oreo” and fitting into being a model minority, but about finding something worth fighting for in life. And for me, one aspect of that was through the music of punk.

    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?

    I second Saheli on that one…can we all go to a punk show together? A mutineer punk posse?

    As for skateboarder desi’s that would be cool to see too.

    I skateboard! Longboard, Sector Nines! 😉

    Ennis, this Josh music is goood….

  32. Who needs punk when you’ve got Josh?

    If Josh isn’t emo I don’t know what is.

    Mutineer punk posse – I love it!

  33. Perhaps the greatest rock-critic ever, and the one credited with coining the term “punk”, Lester Bangs said it best about the Clash and the power of music, after having seen the Clash live for the first time: (sorry could not find link to the selection)

    It was one of those performances for which all the serviceable critical-terms like ‘electrifying’ are so pathetically inadequate…The politics of rock n’roll in England or America or anywhere else is that a lot of kids want to be fried out of their skins by the most scalding propulsion they can find, for a night they can pretend is the rest of their lives, and whether the next day they go back to work in shops of boredom, on the dole, or American T.V. doldrums in Mom n’ Daddy’s living room, nothing can cancel the reality of that night in revivfying flames where for once if only then in your life you were blasted outside yourself and the monoteny which defines most life anywhere at any time, when you supped on lighting and nothing else in the realms of living or dead mattered at all” – Lester Bangs writing about The Clash in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung


  34. 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. Growing up, I found aspects I related to, or found inspiring in both punk and hip hop. Of course, not being much of a dancer, I gravitated towards making music in the former 😉

    As for punjabi’s vs. rock…. it’s not about wanting to be “black”, anymore than your reasons for listening to rock is about you wanting to be “white” – it’s just what they and you are/were influenced by at the time because of your cultural surroundings. I’m not sure why you are so perturbed about the musical preferences about people from your own background (not that I’m convinced it’s anything more than a generalization) – it doesn’t reflect on you, you know. Live and let live and don’t worry about it.

    Finally, regarding my “oreo” comment – if it isn’t already obvious from my above comments – I don’t believe in that term, hence the wink at the end of the comment. We are, to a degree, products of our environments, and when something in your environment inspires you, whether it be public enemy or the clash – go with it. A few exceptions of course – If it’s Sum 41 that inspires you, please don’t go with it! 😉

  35. “PROPAGANDHI RULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    Oh yeah – good ol’ Peg punk rawk at it’s finest!

  36. D’oh – I see that BrownWonder beat me to the Peg city comment! You canuck BrownWonder??? I’m recruiting mutineers for the TO meetup with neha, dhavaak, badmash….. (sorry for the hijack)

  37. can we all go to a punk show together? A mutineer punk posse?

    I am so down. Down with the punks that are brown.

  38. Desicore:

    brownfrown, what punk bands from the motherland have you found? do you have any info, websites, etc? i’d be very interested.

    There’s a forum that I’ve been lurking on for about a year (I’m still at ‘sperm’ status, eewee) called RSJ Online that’s all about the desi (and I mean homecountry) rock/punk/alternative music scene. Like I said before, the vast majority of it is metal but this (now very long) thread is all about punk bands. It was started by someone trying to do what I was wondering about too – compile a cohesive list of the punk bands in India.

    So far I’ve heard a few MP3s by Tripwire (regardless of the music I love the name – and they do a fun Blitzkrieg Bop cover) who along with some other “punk” bands like Messiah and A4apple (both kind of debatable) have a couple of tracks up on the RSJ website. They’ve all been promising to record, Read the posts – there seems to be a scene that’s growing and it’s very exciting to watch it happen. From what I can tell, the North-Eastern states have a pretty vibrant punk scene (and pretty chick-dominated too) going but nobody on the forum seem to have ever heard any of thier music… Maybe that show in May will change EVERYTHING!!! So far (I just checked again,) they’ve only got 2 bands booked.

    If my links don’t work – sorry… it’s the first time I’ve tried that feature and I might suck.

  39. We are totally on, Taz. When all is well, I am so down with a punk posse, mutineering or otherwise. One of the things I miss the most about New York is how I felt pretty confident abou going to a show and coming back home by myself–at no point was I not surrounded by people in a well-lit area with plenty of open establishments. Here in SF I get worried late at night, and that’s not very punk rock. 🙁 Much rather wander around with friends.

    Though I have to take a rain check, I have long wanted to spend a good weekend in LA rock club hopping.

    of course, not really the stuff you hear on the radio

    what Radio station do you listen to metric? I’m no indie queen, but even Live 105 around here is increasingly political just because the music is. Radio One, Anti-Flag, Metric, Pulp–even the latest Pearl Jam anthem is anti-war. The mash-ups tend to be even more political. But you’re right, the radio is often subpar. Remember that the radio has to stick mainly to singles. The rest of the album may have all kinds of good stuff on it. Everyone thinks Chumbawumba is that one oversoundtracked Danny Boy song (which I still love) but they are totally political.

    Ali, have you read Please Kill Me?

  40. You’re welcome 🙂 It was a pipe dream of mine to interview these punk pioneers last year – I may still do it when I’m in India next month. Now you too can be sucked in for hours on two simultaneous all-things-brown sites and never get another day’s work done ever again. Muahahaha.