Punk Rock

By: John H. Slate

Type: Overview Entry

Published: December 11, 2006

Updated: November 26, 2015

Punk rock, a music phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s that had its roots in the late 1960s and early 1970s, continues to influence musicians today. Generally considered a reaction to mainstream rock-and-roll, punk placed great emphasis on personal expression and anti-professional or amateur approaches to making and performing music.

Although most Texas punk music is represented by three-chord songs with a fast tempo and emphasis on the downbeat, the eclecticism of the genre permitted many different variations and styles. Influences ranged from garage rock and roots rock to electronic music, folk, soul, rhythm and blues, and even antithetical Top 40 pop music. Subject matter in punk songs is widely varied, though revisited themes are politics (usually leftist, though there were also right-wing sentiments), sex, and anti-establishment and anti-authoritarian sentiments.

Punk's more commercial, less angry face was new wave, though the terms were often interchangeable and vague. Several new wave acts from Texas caught brief national attention, such as Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns from Austin, and the Judy's from Houston. Punk includes numerous subgenres, including "skate punk" (referring to punk's embrace of skateboarding),"hardcore," "cowpunk"(incorporating country and western themes and fashions), the less definable, experimental "art" punk, and other styles. Though punk's dates of popularity in Texas are debatable, several frames of reference are useful. Most fans learned about the genre from its East Coast movement and from widespread media coverage of early British punk. Many people count the "christening" events of Texas punk as the two dates played in the state in January 1978 by the seminal British group the Sex Pistols. The shows that occurred at two country venues (the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas and Randy's Rodeo in San Antonio) featured opening acts from local bands and undoubtedly influenced the formation of many more.

A further nationally-noted incident in Texas punk occurred in Austin on September 19, 1978, when Huns lead singer Phil Tolstead verbally abused a police officer investigating a noise complaint at Raul's Club. A small riot occurred, and six arrests were made. The event was covered in Rolling Stone the following week and cemented the state's punk rock reputation.

Punk rock as an "underground" movement faded by the mid-1980s as the music became more acceptable to mainstream audiences and the genre itself branched into multiple subgenres. For most historical purposes, Texas punk rock's first wave flattened out around and after summer 1984, at the time of the Republican National Convention in Dallas and a nationally-mobilized musical protest movement called Rock Against Reagan that encamped there briefly. While the punk-specific venues dwindled and interest in the earlier punk style waned, several early groups continued to perform, and younger musicians formed punk-influenced bands.

The punk movement in Texas was often characterized by the "do it yourself" school of thought. Most musicians were self-taught and eschewed formal music training, though a handful received classical training. Part of the appeal of untrained musicians and nonconformity in this musical form was the inventiveness and spontaneity that often resulted. Bands varied in instrumentation from traditional three and four-piece rock combos to groups featuring electric violin, keyboards, synthesizers, unusual items such as blenders, and horn sections. Production values in recordings generally favored raw, live performances with little or no overdubbing, though there were exceptions.

Because of punk's publicly perceived notoriety as violent and antisocial, venues were few, and bands adapted quickly to playing in places as varied as house parties, Tejano bars (Raul's Club, Austin), gay bars (the Bonham Exchange, San Antonio), defunct fur vaults (the Vault, Austin), and warehouses. Besides these, the most famous venues of the 1978–1985 period around the state included Duke's Royal Coach Inn, Club Foot/Night Life, and Liberty Lunch (Austin); Taco Land (San Antonio); the Axiom and Rock Island (Houston); and Twilight Room, Studio D, and the Hot Klub (Dallas). Dozens of other establishments around the state opened and closed during this time, some of them open for only a few months. Perhaps Texas punk's most famous live recording was a split LP featuring the Big Boys and the Dicks of Austin, recorded over two nights at Raul's Club in September 1980.

Band names were chosen specifically to amuse, engage, and offend. Names such as Butthole Surfers, Toxic Shock, Sharon Tate's Baby, Millions of Dead Cops (MDC), and the Dicks offered shock value, while the Big Boys, the Reactors, the Marching Plague, the Hugh Beaumont Experience, the Offenders, the Hickoids, the Nervebreakers, the Next, Really Red, the Mistakes, the Rejects, and Stick Men With Rayguns took a more humorous approach. Punk groups hailed from throughout the state, including San Antonio (Butthole Surfers, Bang Gang, Marching Plague, Rejects), Dallas (Nervebreakers, Hugh Beaumont Experience, Stick Men With Rayguns), Houston (Really Red, the Judy's), and Austin (the Next, Offenders, Dicks, Reactors).

Until late in its life, the punk rock genre was largely ignored by the mainstream media in the state. Left to define and promote itself, the punk movement was primarily fueled by an underground print media, small independent record labels, record stores, and clubs. Writing about Texas punk mostly appeared in homemade, photocopied, and small-press magazines, known as "fanzines," in student newspapers at Texas colleges and universities, and later in local alternative arts and music guides in major cities. Several Texas punk bands were featured in nationally-distributed fanzines, most notably MDC, featured on the cover of Volume 1, Number 1 of Maximum Rock N Roll.

Very few locally-recorded punk rock 45s, LPs, and audio cassettes were produced on labels with more than one artist. In most cases bands produced and distributed their own music. Most groups pressed fewer than 1,000 copies, and today a number of them are highly collectible. A few bands, like the Big Boys and the Dicks, were lucky enough to have their music released or re-released on nationally known independent labels such as Touch and Go (Chicago) and SST Records (Los Angeles).

A punk rock circuit, however loosely defined, developed in the state, and nationally known punk acts, such as Black Flag, Minor Threat, X, the Dead Kennedys, the Dils, and Fear, toured Texas. As with other musical movements in Texas, there were ancillary currents in literature, fashion, and the arts, manifested in many different forms throughout the state. The arts in Texas were deeply influenced by punk rock. From the collage art appearing on concert posters and in fanzines to photography, film and video, painting, sculpture, and serigraphy, many artists embraced a punk aesthetic or helped to describe it visually to the outside world. Punk rock fashion was as much an anti-statement as a statement. While many punks wore the trademark black leather jackets and ripped shirts and jeans of their band idols on the East Coast or in Britain, just as many others flouted anti-fashion by wearing grossly unfashionable polyester, work uniforms, and—in the hot Texas weather—Bermuda shorts (sometimes with cowboy or motorcycle boots). Women's fashions included school uniforms with fishnet stockings or combat boots, among other styles. Hair fashions, a major hallmark of punk fashion, included multi-colored dyed hair, crew cuts, Mohawks, shaved heads, and rockabilly-inspired pompadours.

Since its heyday from the late 1970s to 1990, punk rock and its various subgenres still maintained a strong following in the early twenty-first century. The release of compilation CDs, live recordings, and unreleased material presented punk to both nostalgic fans and new listeners, while Internet sites enabled the promotion of new punk bands throughout Texas along with the preservation of the punk scene of the past.

Austin American–Statesman, May 16, 1996. Big Boys and the Dicks Recorded Live at Raul's Club (Rat Race Records, 1981). Paul Routenburg and Henry Weld, “Discography of Texas Punk 1977–1983” (http://www.collectorscum.com/volume3/texas/), accessed November 16, 2011. Live at Raul's (Raul's Records, 1979). George Gimarc, Post Punk Diary: 1980–1982 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997).


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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

John H. Slate, “Punk Rock,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/punk-rock.

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December 11, 2006
November 26, 2015

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