What happened to punk rock

Punk rock through the ages: A generation defends itself against self-dissolution

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Brightly colored hair, trousers with holes and as many patches as possible from bands on a worn leather jacket whose names mean nothing to the majority of the population. The origin of this appearance goes back to the punk movement of the late 1970s in Great Britain and the USA. After a downturn around 20 years later, another generation discovered music, optics and lifestyle for themselves. Horrified parents, who had to serve as a symbol for the conservative society, were ignored. They gave each other support.

What happened to the punk rockers of the 90s and 2000s? "Punk's not dead" - this famous line adorns walls in big cities all over the world. Punk rock is actually not dead (yet), but the generation that shaped it has grown up. Both on and off the stage. Proof of this is provided by the Sbäm Festival, which takes place twice a year in this country, a two-day punk rock festival in the old slaughterhouse in Wels. In spring and autumn, the Austrian scene gathers there and listens to distorted four-chord sequences, accompanied by a pounding drum sound. So it happens this weekend, All Saints' Day, a little differently.

No offspring

There are hardly any young faces at punk rock class reunions; they have turned to hip-hop and similar styles of music. The older ones have been the same for more than a decade. "Our visitors are on average 30 to 35 years old. Anyone who grew up with a skateboard as well as Nofx, Bad Religion and Pennywise comes to Sbäm", says organizer Stefan Beham.

Sounds like the Sbäm-Fest have not been heard in the charts for a long time. The skate punk of the late 90s dominates the field. Accordingly, many of the artists have already arrived in the autumn of their careers. But the success proves Beham right. Since the first edition in 2017, the festival has sold out every day with around 650 punk nostalgics. Around half of the tickets go abroad, according to Beham, while many travel in Germany from Vienna.

times are changing

The second day of the festival mostly underlines that 15 to 20 years have left their mark on the visitors. Back then, after a night in a tent on the crooked forest floor in meadows, in the car or anywhere else, breakfast was served in the form of an aluminum can. Hiss. Cheers. Nowadays the hotel bed has priority over the tent and the car in most cases. For breakfast there is water and Thomapyrin instead of beer. The appearance mentioned at the beginning has also changed. Meanwhile, gray strands and thinning hair form the antithesis of the Iroquois.

The former punk from the skate park has learned to come to terms with a system that he is still fundamentally against. Without the stuffy job, however, it would not be possible to create the framework conditions that are needed to meet other people who feel the same way at Sbäm.

Nostalgia and repetition

For around 25 years, the big names in the scene have been Bad Religion, Nofx, Pennywise, The Offspring, Anti-Flag, Dropkick Murphys and Millencolin. With no change in sight. The headliners of punk festivals of the past decade can probably be reduced to around 15 names worldwide. “The market is completely saturated with music, teenagers prefer to listen to cloud rap, and movie soundtracks have changed. With college movies like American Pie was punk rock ", is how Beham explains the lack of offspring within the scene.

Of course there are great young bands, but they haven't been able to catch up with the big ones for years. This is where the nostalgia factor comes into play. Many associate their youth with the doyen of the scene, go to their concerts, but have outgrown the lifestyle of the time and are no longer interested in newcomers.

Sbäm as a business model

Beham has built a life around the Sbäm brand, which onomatopoeically stands for his full name, Stefan Aegidius Beham. Sbäm combines concerts, designing tour posters, record covers and merchandise for bands and a record label. In 2014, the 37-year-old won an international design competition for Lagwagon frontman Joey Cape and has since made a name for himself all over the world and especially in the USA when it comes to artwork. Designs are the hobbyhorse of his work, the concerts and the record label were added by chance. He just tried it. Since this year it is "sure" that Beham lives from it, before he was employed in different agencies.

Nevertheless, the Upper Austrian is rather pessimistic about the future. He doesn't trust most of the musical figureheads for more than ten years on stage and until then "something has to change if someone else wants to go to a punk festival". A renaissance of punk rock is not imminent, but trends keep coming back in the music industry. The fact that young people rebel against their parents will continue to happen; that has nothing to do with belonging to the scene. And who knows, maybe future generations will find pleasure in fast, distorted guitar riffs, politically motivated lyrics and fucked up leather jackets. (Andreas Danzer, November 1, 2019)