It’s gritty, loud, and foaming at the mouth. It’s short and direct—a chaotic whirlwind of sounds scraping against the surface. It screams what is usually withheld, echoing the resistance of people who are breaking their chains. It’s punk.
“I was introduced to this music by a friend of mine who had a mixtape cassette with no labels or titles on it. It was fast, different, and exciting,” Buddy Trinidad says, recalling how he got into the punk scene. This curiosity led him to the neon-lit Roxas Boulevard in the summer of 1979, where local venue On Disco features NU-Wave Friday Nights. Here, he would hear local bands perform original materials and covers of punk music from the West. Trininad would go on to play guitar and sing for Betrayed, one of the early punk bands formed in the country during the 80s.
“Up until that point, all the bands around Metro Manila were all playing rock. With the radio show and local venues, the youth found an avenue for expression and release. Punk culture is having the courage to question everything, not having to conform to any norm,” Trinidad details.
“I want to be an anarchist!” blares The Sex Pistols over and over again in their song Anarchy in the U.K. This was the first punk song ever played on a local radio station, and it made waves in Martial Law-era Philippines for its blatant aggression. In a time when everyone is held in fear, those words paired with ragged, noisy sounds inspired an underground subculture of people displeased with the political system they are tied to.
“It’s a kind of rebellion expressed through music caused by the dissatisfaction of people,” Alfred Guevarra describes. Wuds, which Guevarra is a bassist and vocalist of, is among the most influential punk bands in the Philippines. The group is heavily inspired by punk’s defiance of society’s stereotypical demands.
This refusal to conform has frequently resulted in many pearl-clutching in conservative circles, associating the trademark tattoos, dark clothing, piercings, and spiked mohawks of punk culture with negative stereotypes. Trinidad shares that some of the most dangerous stereotypes punks face are that they’re “violent people and believers of satanic values.”
It is not hard to imagine what consequences such stereotypes could bring. It could be anything from the public treating punks differently, their difficulties in landing a job, to red-tagging by authorities. Perhaps the most blatant manifestation of this in the Philippines is that punk has always been an underground scene. It can never dare to compete with pop and make it to mainstream radio. Despite being often misunderstood, punk musicians and listeners try to look at the bright side. “Punk bands here know that they can’t make a livelihood by playing gigs or selling records. What’s important is that we have a venue and medium to tell our story and be grateful if someone likes our songs,” says Trindiad.
While Guevarra admits that style has come to define much of the culture, he emphasizes that the principle of punk does not have a style. After all, to be punk is to not submit to any norm or template. He says, “Wala iyan sa damit…’Yung pinaglalaban mo, ‘yung principles mo, ayon ang punk. Hindi ka nagbabago sa takbo ng panahon.”
(It’s not the clothes…What you fight for, what your principles are, that’s what punk is. You do not change as time goes by.)
While punk is a channel that allows people to express their individuality and beliefs, it is also a form of rebellion against society and its injustices, helping raise awareness about important issues.
One need not look far into the past to see how punk can make a powerful stand in politics. The United Kingdom’s Rock Against Racism movement in the 70s was distinctly influenced and empowered by punk. Since its conception, the culture has always been firmly anti-establishment, with bands like The Clash, Gang of Four, and The Slits often writing about gender politics, working class struggles, and consumerism.
Similarly, the Philippines’ punk underground has been outspoken on sociopolitical issues since the 80s. Local acts Badmouth’s and Namatay Sa Ingay’s searing commentaries on police brutality, corruption, and fascism delivered with the trademark rage of punk has cemented them to be the most brazen names in the scene.
As an avid follower of metal, punk and all things related, Gerome Cuisia (III, BS-MKT) has attended international concerts and moshed with the best of them. Cuisia shares that listening to punk as a 14-year-old shaped who he is today. “It made me a lot more ideological, it made me more politically conscious…My favorite songs made me really really want to take action,” he says.
Similarly, punk has also shaped Trinidad’s principles. “Being a punk influences me in ways that I do not condone inequality, racism, and prejudice,” he adds.
Constants and changes
At its very core, punk is a reaction to society, a fight against conforming to the mainstream. The more society pushes, the more issues and injustices arise, the harder punk fights back. But like any other musical genre, punk has evolved. Naturally, different eras, generations, and cultures have unique influences. With the advance of globalization and the incredible access to information the Internet gives, it is no surprise that modern punk now draws inspiration from anything. Trinidad shares, “The main difference between then and now are the influences behind the music being created by the bands. The bands now have a wider range of music to draw for inspiration and creativity.”
But, as with most things, with globalization also comes commodification. While punk musicians write music and express themselves for the love of punk, they also have to fund their equipment, gigs, and records. Because punk isn’t favored by established recording labels and music producers, it is especially crucial for punk musicians to gain support and make themselves more marketable. “The scene before was pure and innocent. We didn’t have a clue on what was going to happen one week from the next. The scene over the last 15 years is more structured and focused on money as a main selling point of the gigs and promotion of their music,” laments Trinidad.
One thing that won’t change is the passion that fuels punk. Punk isn’t just about the distinct clothing, the loud music, or even the marked resistance against government and authority. Punk is about a person’s values—who they are as a person. That’s why Trinidad aptly says, “Being a punk stays with you forever.”