I wasn’t exposed to much punk rock when I was young, but it came around the time when I needed it. Punk and alternative rock often populated the soundtrack to my early self-discovery in my teens and early twenties. However, many of the bands I came across at first were fronted by white performers. Combine this with ideas perpetuated around me that said music that wasn’t rap or R&B was white (everything not Black was considered ‘country’ music), and if you listened to them you were less Black. My appreciation for the music was conflicted.
As I got older, I realized that so much of punk rock was pioneered largely by Black and Brown artists. And what I was being told by people on all sides was wrong.
Just like so many other things in life, the culture of rock music was co-opted and whitewashed as it became more commercial. In continuing the series I’ve been writing since the beginning of June, I wanted to unpack that this week and take a look at BIPOC in punk and alt-rock, past and present. I’ve curated a handful of bands for you to check out and some a handful of documentaries for you to continue your discovery.
Summertime for me is defined by the punk rock albums that found their way on repeat—and now more than ever, the rebellious nature of the music is giving me life.
An energetic three-piece WOC pop-punk band. They draw experiences from bands like Paramore, The Story So Far, Belmont, and more. They’re relatively new to the scene, originating in 2015 and dropping the EP Bigger Than Me in 2019. One of the bandmates, Ada Juarez, is a New Jersey native. Find them on Bandcamp, YouTube, and Instagram. I’m really digging their track “Garden.
A Black feminist punk band that is “like The Ronettes filtered through 80s DIY and 90s riot grrrl, with a sprinkling of dashikis.” What more can you ask for? The London-based trio is proof that the DIY scene is still thriving, and their debut album Sistahs is a vibrant work about sisterhood and female friendships. Find them on Bandcamp and YouTube.
The Seattle-based rocker mashes goth-pop, queercore, and indie rock, and dubs their latest album a “10-song mood ring charting highs and lows, mania and depression, euphoria and dysphoria over a year of confounding self-discovery.”
Bassist, composer, and vocalist Floria Lucini brings this solo project along, inspired by the African diaspora. The Afro-Brazilian artist calls it “Afro-Progressive Hardcore”. The three-track demo dispels fetishism, privilege, and sexism. Give it a listen, the demo goes in!
The all-female, all-Black rock band is here to smash stereotypes, fight against sexism, and resist the industry keeping them in a box. With roots in a wide range of styles from jazz, classical, soca music, calypso, Caribbean tunes, and more, the Txlips (pronounced as Tulips) are a booming contemporary band for the future of Black girl magic. Check out their music video for “Another Tear” off their EP Queens of the New Age. Support their music where you can, if you can—al sales made from their online streams are donated to support organizations and law firms defending peaceful protestors and the Black LGBTQIA community.
We can’t have a curated list of punk rock if we’re a publication based in Philly and not include Pure Hell. The West Philly-born quartet is cited (by fellow band Bad Brains) as the first Black punk band, and arguably one of the first American punk bands, rising up in the early 1970s. As integral as they are to the history of punk rock, they didn’t leave much of a catalog. Their first and only album, Noise Addiction, wasn’t released until decades later in 2006. You might have had to have been there in order to really appreciate Pure Hell, but the hardcore punk album is as close as we can get to reliving their high-energy performances from decades ago.
The British artist and frontwoman for the punk rock band X-Ray Spex was an icon for modern-day feminist punk. She was a pioneer who didn’t receive the appreciation she deserved until after her passing in 2011.
A legendary band fusing funk, hip hop, alt-rock, and heavy metal. They weren’t afraid to get political, either, and are still making new music today.
Beyond the Music
A collection of documentaries and videos on Black punk rock music. All are available for viewing for free.
The documentary from Afropunk explores race identity within the punk scene. Reminiscent of the Behind the Music days, the doc is raw and unapologetic. It’s also a bit flawed—which I appreciated: you can see some of the internalized racism that these Black artists found themselves subscribing to as a result of the whitewashing of the industry. It’s simultaneously refreshing and heartbreaking and has 2003 written all over it.
Chardine Taylor-Stone, one part of Big Joanie, talks about what it means to be Black and alternative and how she carved herself a space in the punk scene. The title of the TEDTalk comes from the hit X-Ray Spex song of the same name.
A doc that explores the history of the band Death, one of the first punk bands, and its formation, the resistance the band encountered in the music industry, and its rise to overdue recognition decades later.
Okay, while this film doesn’t center Black punk artists, it was filmed and directed by Don Letts, the legendary Black filmmaker, DJ, and musician. This was his first of many films on rock music, including documentaries on The Clash, George Clinton, Sun Ra, Gil Scott-Heron, and many more. Start with this and dig deep into his rich catalog to keep your education going.