Punctuating this stubborn resilience has been a chaotic succession of upheavals, turnovers and reboots.When the first generation of punk lost steam in the late ’70s, hardcore unleashed a new twist on the genre’s loud, fast and angry ethos. Nirvana followed several years later, adding big, fuzzy grunge riffs to the squall. Green Day, meanwhile, bolted in a different direction, accentuating punk’s love for sugary hooks. And then came the rise of Epitaph, the Vans Warped Tour and the platinum stardom of blink-182, Paramore and a slew of others.
In 2016, punk is in the midst of yet another disruption. With the Warped era’s assimilation into mainstream culture, an emergent generation of musicians far less obsessed with mass appeal are working to return the music to its scruffy, DIY roots. The result is some of punk’s most vital sounds since the ’90s, and these three killer bands — Mean Jeans, The Lippies and The Dirty Nil — embody this generation.
“The genesis back to punk’s scruffy roots makes total sense to me. Mean Jeans started out as a two-piece with no bass, which surely sounded like shit,” singer and guitarist Christian “Billy Jeans” Blunda says just prior to the release of their third full-length and first for Fat Wreck Chords, Tight New Dimension.
Blunda isn’t joking. Since 2008, the brilliantly disheveled outfit from Portland, Oregon, have puked up a stream of singles, albums and compilation nuggets that capture their “fast ripping pop.” It’s a shambolic collision of skinny tie hooks, feverish speed and knuckleheaded party humor that recalls L.A. punk icons the Angry Samoans in the best ways imaginable.
At the same time, a twisted sense of tragedy lurks inside even their silliest tunes. “I don’t like the idea of being a one-dimensional party band,” Blunda explains. “I do, however, like communicating honest feelings with cartoony lyrics. The final song on the new album, ‘Are There Beers in Heaven?,’ is a light-hearted tribute to a friend who killed himself. It’s about how you never get to know the answers to any of life’s hard questions, including whether there are beers in the afterlife.”
This endearing ability to balance the profound with the absurd certainly helps explain why they’ve developed such a devoted following in recent years. One of the most devout is punk impresario Fat Mike, who added them to the Fat Wreck stable last autumn, proof that the scene stalwart is very much keeping up with the new generation punk. Yet the move also precipitated some social media chatter about how the hijinks-loving Mean Jeans aren’t punk enough for the label.
“It’s fun for me to read Internet comments about our music not being ‘punk rock’,” Blunda says. “I don’t know what it is and don’t really need a category for it, but it’s definitely a product of us being rascals, partying in the face of failure, and playing whatever we want to play.”
For The Lippies reclaiming punk’s DIY spirit means reconnecting with the movement’s roots in sociopolitical critique and self-empowerment. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the self-described “feminist pop-punk” quartet are quintessentially Midwestern: prickly hooks, loads of attitude and an infectious energy that would’ve had Chicago’s iconic Fireside Bowl pogoing during its ’90s heyday.
The music’s focal point is singer, lyricist and occasional ukulele strummer Tonia Broucek, whose magnetic persona and commanding pipes were first revealed at a Paramore concert in Detroit in 2012. Searching for a fan to share lead vocals on “Misery Business,” Hayley Williams just so happened pull her from the crowd. Broucek proceeded to nail the tune like a seasoned veteran.
As the group’s recently released debut demonstrates, she dexterously blends playful melodicism and gritted-teeth defiance. With echoes of riot grrrl reverberating throughout her art and personal outlook, Broucek is all too aware of the fact that gender inequality and sexual objectification aren’t exclusive to mainstream culture. They also infest the punk subculture she inhabits.
“I grew up listening to a lot of punk, and it’s definitely a male dominated genre,” she told MLive. “And I feel like with pop punk, it’s a lot of dudes complaining about their girlfriends breaking up with them, they can easily drop sexist lines, and even racist and ableist stuff.”Broucek flips the script on the dudes, penning lyrics about society’s lack of respect for sex workers (“F*ck the Customer”), the lameness of catcalling (“Sidewalk Talk”) and creepy voyeurs (“Garbage Man”). Before the band’s formation in 2014, she poured her creative energies into acoustic-based confessionals shot through with anti-folk quirkiness. It’s a background that certainly helps explain the detail-rich narrative in the band’s tunes.
Though only two years old, The Lippies already have received plenty of attention from media outlets like Noisey and The A.V. Club. With a slew of upcoming shows, they’re quickly becoming one of the most talked about punk outfits to emerge from the Midwest in some time.
The Dirty Nil
“If you play rock ‘n’ roll guitar and don’t worship The Who’s Live at Leeds, then fuck you,” The Dirty Nil’s singer and guitarist Luke Bentham asserts. It’s this balls-to-the-wall attitude that powers the group’s hulking new record, Higher Power.
Those punks proudly sporting crusty patches surely would deny the group punk status: far too many classic rock moves are buried in their squall. Noisey even ran an article titled “The Dirty Nil Is Not a Punk Band.” Yet it’s a view that overlooks a long and rich tradition of groups (call it the “our band could be your life” lineage) that never viewed punk and classic rock as an either/or proposition: The Replacements worshipped The Faces; New Bomb Turks shredded The Stones’ “Jiving Sister Fanny”; and Kurt Cobain listed Aerosmith’s Rocks as one of his all-time favorite albums.
Like each of these artists, The Dirty Nil aren’t über hip kids from an urban mecca. They are three childhood pals who grew up in a sleepy community on the edges of Hamilton, Ontario (itself not terribly happening), where punk, rock and indie all bled into one another. “When we first convened in high school, classic rock was our bread and butter,” Benthan explains. “We had long hair and would nerd out over different bootleg recordings of The Who.”As they evolved, the band gravitated toward a marriage of hard rock muscularity and an “insatiable drive to keep things as lean and mean as possible” directly inspired by classic punk. Bentham mangles his guitar, which in turns spits out a deluge of squeals, belches and shrieks that would make both Pete Townshend and [Steve Jones](http://app.rhapsody.com/artist/the-sex-pistols) proud. Meanwhile, bassist David Nardi and drummer Kyle Fisher unload beastly grooves that nail the lost art of “tight but loose.”
The Dirty Nil may not sport mohawks or ostentatiously dyed hair, but along with Mean Jeans and The Lippies, they’re dedicated to cranking out high energy, no frills music that is passionate, direct and utterly down to earth. What could be more punk than that?
Upcoming Tour Dates
5/12: Portland, OR, Liquor Store
5/18: Chicago, East Room
5/19: Milwaukee, WI, Club Garibaldi
5/20: Minneapolis, Triple Rock Social Club
5/13: Chicago, Cobra Lounge
5/15: Indianapolis, Melody Inn
5/18: London, ON, Call The Office
5/20: Hamilton, ON, Club Absinthe
5/24: Pittsburgh, Smiling Moose
5/26: Cleveland, Mahall’s
5/29: Lombard, IL, Brauerhouse
6/10: Asbury Park, NJ, The Stone Pony
5/19: Buffalo, NY, Studio at Waiting Room
5/20: Detroit, Majestic Café
5/21: Chicago, Beat Kitchen
5/22: Madison, WI, High Noon Saloon
5/24: Denver, Hi-Dive
5/26: Boise, ID, The Olympic Venue
5/27: Portland, OR, Analog Theater (upstairs)
5/28: Seattle, The Funhouse
5/29: Vancouver, BC, The Cobalt
5/31: Reno, NV, The Holland Project
6/1: San Francisco, Rickshaw Stop
6/2: Los Angeles, The Smell
6/3: Santa Ana, CA, Constellation Room at the Observatory
6/6: St. Louis, MO, Fubar
6/8: Chicago, Double Door
6/9: Detroit, Smalls
6/10: Pittsburgh, PA, Altar Bar
6/22: Cleveland, Grog Shop
6/23: Toronto, ON, Lee’s Palace
6/25: Montebello, QC, Amnesia Rockfest
6/26: Cambridge, MA, The Sinclair
6/28: New York, Gramercy Theatre
6/29: Philadelphia, The Underground Arts
7/1: Washington, D.C., Black Cat
7/2: Virginia Beach, VA, Shaka’s Live
7/3: Asheville, NC, The Orange Peel
7/5: Nashville, Exit/In
7/7: Atlanta, The Masquerade
7/8: St. Augustine, FL, St. Augustine Amphitheatre (Backyard Stage)
7/9: Fort Lauderdale, FL, Culture Room
7/10: St. Petersburg, FL, State Theatre