Ryan Mahan is the bassist for Algiers. Their debut record, The Underside of Power, is out now on Matador, and you can follow them on Twitter here.
In the first stanza of “History Lesson – Part II,” D. Boon of Minutemen, one of my teenage self’s favorite punk rock bands, articulates perfectly the Badiouian event of my Year Zero: “Punk rock changed our lives.”
Here was a band mentioning Richard Hell, Joe Strummer, and Jane Doe in the same breath as Bob Dylan, while belonging more to early Wire and Captain Beefheart than to their contemporaries on SST, Dischord, or Alternative Tentacles.
What resonated with me most was not simply an implicit feeling of belonging, but also the comprehension, for the first time, that punk rock could/can best understood as a commons. Contested, and often reproducing the same ugly power structures of capitalist society, punk rock provided and continues to provide, for me and countless others, a space for new social configurations, however youthful and doomed, to be pointed to and worked out.
Punk rock coincided with and supported my politicization. Crisis, Nation of Ulysses, Gang of Four and the Ruts all commingled with Fanon, Marx, Lenin, Carmichael, Luxemburg, and Lumumba in this righteous awakening. Growing up in the South, per Tennessee Williams, I always felt a haunting intuition of the dark times, as famously alluded to by Bertolt Brecht:
“In the dark times,
Will there be singing?
Yes, there will be singing,
About the dark times.”
Punk rock and politics provided me with just enough light in those oppressive times. It’s important to remember that, while each epoch has its own repugnant political class, it also has its dissidents.
Here are some of my favorites, both old and new.
Fugazi – “KYEO”
[Algiers guitarist] Lee and I often traveled to D.C. for the annual Fort Reno shows. “KYEO” best distills the spirit of those times, directly political and infused with the activism of Positive Force, a D.C. activist group started by musicians.
Good Throb – “The Queen Sucks Nazi Cock”
Fuck Off, Good Throb’s first record, is one of my favorite punk LPs in recent times. It is two-finger, bass-driven, boot music to incense any “upstanding” conservative.
The Proletariat – “Options”
A rousing take on the themes of the Clash’s “Career Opportunities,” “Options” deconstructs both Reagan-era neoliberalism and the increasingly conservative Boston hardcore scene.
The Oppressed – “The AFA Song”
The Oppressed best represent to me the contradictions at the heart of punk rock that gave rise to Marxist/anarcho anti-fascism and racist nationalism in the same street-fighting scene.
The Ruts – “Babylon’s Burning”
After the Clash, it was the Ruts. Both bands had little regard for the increasingly genre-policing tendencies of early ’80s punk rock and hardcore.
Downtown Boys – “A Wall”
Downtown Boys are our friends. I love how reflective they are about their own practice, leading the charge against SXSW’s collaborationist stance against undocumented workers and displaced people, and challenging AEG founder Philip Anschutz’s exploitative labor practices and anti-LGBTQ campaigning.
Crisis – “White Youth”
“We are black / we are white / together, we are dynamite.”
Au Pairs – “Armagh”
One of the most underrated bands in post-punk, Au Pairs fought patriarchy and genre convention in equal, groove-ridden measure.
UK Subs – “Warhead”
An anti-war song for the CND era…
The Clash – “The Call Up”
A comment on the chicanery of the ruling class as it sends working people to their deaths.
Fancy Rosy – “Punk Police”
The sound of the imminent possibility in early punk rock and no wave before it submitted to the macho, Thermidorian reaction of oi! and later strains of hardcore.
M.I.A. – “Born Free”
A Suicide and Fancy Rosy soundclash.
Test Dept. – “Total State Machine”
While belonging musically to the scene birthed by Industrial Records, their ethos more closely resembles the political dissent of the punks.
Bad Breeding – “Burn this Flag”
Another one of my favorite new punk bands. Bad Breeding smash together British antifa punk rock and early American hardcore.
Bad Brains – “Banned In D.C.”
When I was in high school, my mom and sister thought I had fallen in with the wrong crowd, so they sent me to a Habitat for Humanity–style retreat with the local Baptist church. Little did they know I would fall in with a far worse set, radical, atheist, and straight-edge, who would introduce me to Bad Brains Rock for Light for the first time.
State Funeral – “Tory Party Prison”
Let’s hope this is being built for Theresa May and her stooges as we speak.
Priests – “Radiation”
Dissident punk rock never left D.C.
Make Up – “Born on the Floor”
“I said, ‘Mama, you must create a terrible baby they all fear who destroys the State.'”
Nation of Ulysses – “Spectra Sonic Sound”
From 13-Point Program to Destroy America.