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Mon Dec 3, 2012, 08:24 PM


Blurring the boundaries: punk rock and religion

By Francis Stewart
3 Dec 2012

Ever walked into a music shop? What do you find? Shelves or boxes – depending upon your predilection for large stores or small independents – which are labelled with the music ‘type’ found within. Metal, jazz, country, rock, pop, opera, classical and everything in-between. Why? On the simple premise that it makes it easier to find the type of music you want and so increase the likelihood of expenditure on your part. What is the danger of presenting music in this manner? It makes discovery much harder and exploration much less likely. You go straight to the genre you like, find what you want, have a quick look around for anything else in that genre and then head straight to the tills. Potentially missing out on undiscovered gems in other genres, classics that influenced the music you liked or even simply misfiled music.

Rock and roll has always inspired tribalism, the music genres being one manifestation of this. On a larger scale there were the mods versus the rockers, the bikers versus the hippies and the punks versus basically everything and anything! Despite its love and promotion of various notions of anarchy, punk itself is replete with labels. Terms such as crusty punk, surfer punk, skater punk, street punk, hardcore punk, 77 punk, and straight edge punk and so on are rife. Why? To delineate borders, to define identities, and to attempt to create order and control in a world which can all too easily be wrested from them by profit focused companies. What is the danger of presenting identity in this manner? It assumes that identity, behaviour and presentation is rigid and definable, it assumes a shared understanding and therefore tradition of these identity labels, it creates a necessary ‘other’ within a subculture and finally it actually results in co-option and control being easier to obtain for large companies.

Identities are not static, but fluid as cultural theorists John Storey and Dan Laughey and sociologist of religion Gordon Lynch have argued. The boundaries between cultural and/or subcultural affiliation have become significantly less rigid and defined. It is now quite common, almost expected, that individuals will merge one or more – sometimes disparate – identities within their overall sense of self. The multi-faceted sense of self and identity formation is partly a feature of the consumerist, choice based West, partly a feature of the rise in significance of the self/individual and partly as a result of globalisation.

This has forced a re-think on what do we mean, understand and intend in utilising terms such as ‘world religions’, ‘religion’, ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’. In conducting my own interviews amongst straight edge punks in the UK and the USA (2009 – 2011) the issue of what we mean by these terms was repeatedly raised, discussed in depth and featured prominently in graffiti, tattoos, flyers and band imagery.


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Reply Blurring the boundaries: punk rock and religion (Original post)
rug Dec 2012 OP
Jim__ Dec 2012 #1
rug Dec 2012 #2

Response to rug (Original post)

Mon Dec 3, 2012, 09:07 PM

1. People seem to seek membership in some form of tribe.

Punk clubs were spoken of as sacred spaces and attendees got agitated with those whose behaviour desecrated that, in their opinion, or disrespected it. Bands, specific musicians and other individuals important to the local scenes were spoken of with reverence and defended vehemently. Punk rock itself became a form of desacralised salvation for many interviewees. A form of salvation that is essentially a secular yet sacred good that has both personal and collective benefits and ramifications. A result of refusing a strong delineation between sacred and profane, religious (or spiritual) and secular; it relies on muddying the waters so to speak, blurring the boundaries.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #1)

Tue Dec 4, 2012, 02:11 AM

2. You're right. Gregariousness is very much a human trait.


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