Like millions of people around the world, I follow troves of bands online and frequently purchase music from Bandcamp, mostly punk and hardcore records.
I’ve also played in punk bands that sell records through the website because it’s a convenient way for independent artists to sell their recordings and swag online for a reasonable fee: they take a 15% cut on digital music sales and 10% on merchandise.
It’s a useful service provided by a company that also supports some solid writing on music and seems to be run by fairly decent people, which is somewhat of an anomaly in the Zuckerberg/Dorsey era.
Lately, I’ve been struck by the relative lack of information that so many punk bands seem to include about themselves on their Bandcamp pages (I’m including hardcore under the ‘punk’ umbrella).
It seems more commonplace for underground bands to have little available for their fans, or curious web visitors, other than lists of tracks for sale. I feel like I see fewer mentions of band members’ names or the places they’re from, and even less about the band or their music.
Some don’t even post their lyrics, which is historically sacrilege in the punk world. At best, one can hope for a link to a band’s Facebook page if they want to know more about them, since it’s rarer to find bands with their own dedicated websites nowadays.
This wouldn’t bother me were it not for the fact that many underground punk bands have also started to turn away from Facebook, whether due to the company’s atrocious policies and practices, or because they simply don’t enjoy using a service that allows one’s random relatives and co-workers to post MAGA memes and anti-Antifa drivel on their band’s public page. Fair enough.
But at the same time, we’re also seeing the increasing disappearance of music blogs and websites, as well as long-running DIY punk web archives like Kill From the Heart. Even flagship punk publications like Maximum Rockndroll are going the way of the buffalo, having put out their final print issue this May after 37 years of hard copy publication.
Amidst such trends, I find myself staring at many of these spartan designed Bandcamp pages thinking to myself: How the hell are folks supposed to learn anything about your band, or your scene? And if this is the only way you’re presenting yourself to the world, is there really nothing else you want to say? Nothing else you want to show?
Mind you, I’m not looking for a cheesy press kit with 8×10 glossies and contrived band bios, and I’m certainly not suggesting that more options available on Bandcamp page templates is a solution (though it couldn’t hurt).
Rather, I just think it’s kind of sad if punks can’t do better than offering a mere list of Mp3s or a generic Facebook page as their way of communicating with other punks – unless you’re one of the lucky 300 people who can purchase a band’s 7” or cassette to check out their liner notes.
If the only option for learning about punk and hardcore bands today is by using a Facebook product or by scattering a few print album inserts across the globe, that just seems rather lazy and disinterested for a scene in which communication between punks has always been prized.
In addition to talking to audiences about our songs and chatting with other punks in person, our album inserts, zines, and websites are part of how we connected to and with each other outside the bounds of time and geography.
That is to say, pretty much every punk I know – young and old – learned about other bands and scenes around the world not just from listening to their records but by reading about them too, often voraciously.
Fleeting Snapchat posts and Instagram captions don’t really fill that same void, despite how much I appreciate the amazing photographers and bands that make such images available.
DIY punk has always been as much about crafting one’s own voice on one’s own terms as it is about democratising the means of production, distribution and performance, as well as the knowledge associated with those practices, such as pressing records, booking tours, etc.
That information has always been somewhat ephemeral but it was widely circulated and easily accessible to people looking for it, whether in print publications like BYOFL, zines like Punk Planet, HeartattCk, and Razorcake (still in print!) or on scene-based websites and message boards that were indexed and/or searchable.
Collectively, punks built both a body of knowledge as well as an archive that documented our scenes’ bands, music, publications, participants, cranks, and behind-the-scenes workers that were neither captured by, nor looking for, the spotlight.
It was information through which one could learn about punk/hardcore history, but it was also produced in real time about scenes happening at the moment.
The politics of participating in the corporate-owned, surveillance/advertising juggernauts like Facebook and Instagram are admittedly complicated, as there are many reasons why people embrace or shun them at different points in time, not all of which are within our individual power to dictate.
And I’m not condemning them altogether or suggesting that punks do so. After all, printing and distributing one’s own media or hosting/moderating conversations in a different online venue – like message boards of yore – are time-consuming endeavours that cost money and require plenty of invisible, unpaid labour.
Social media eliminates such burdens and, crucially, it’s also free (at least at face value). But since there’s far fewer record labels, zines, music blogs, or band websites nowadays, I would hope that bands would be a little more creative with, or cognizant of, how they present themselves to other punks out there.
While there’s a very real need for punks to preserve their subculture by keeping things locally focused and controlled, or by creating necessary barriers that keep tourists and troublemakers from infiltrating their scenes, there’s a lot of people who simply don’t live in cities with thriving DIY punk and hardcore scenes.
Lacking geographical access to shows is compounded by lacking decent media about current punk bands and scenes that used to be so prevalent in print and online.
Punk bands clearly aren’t responsible for creating or fixing that problem, and it’s not their job to serve as evangelists who try to appeal to the general public. Punk is not for everyone, nor should it be.
But I do feel like punks bands in the US, at least, could try to find more substantial ways to communicate with our people. Not just the punks and the alienated kids who are scattered across Trumpland, desperately searching for their community, but also folks who are simply connecting to punk rock for the first time: people who had their mind’s blown by some raw music and are thirsty to hear and learn more.
If the only thing today’s punk bands are offering them is a link to a generic Facebook page, a buckshot of Instagram posts, or lists of Mp3s for sale on a website…and nothing else…what does that say about our subculture? Our politics? I mean, what does it say about punks’ basic sense of taste and style?
I’m not entirely sure, and I certainly don’t have the answers. But I do think it’s worthwhile for punks and bands to think about some of these questions at a time when the media landscape is perpetually shifting in unexpected ways, and both ‘old’ and ‘new’ media outlets are disappearing into the abyss of advertising-driven algorithms and corporate-sponsored content.
Despite the radically different ways that different generations of punks might produce and distribute music, or communicate about it, we shouldn’t confuse our unprecedented access to bands’ recordings with access to the ideas and values that both built and support our scenes: DIY ethics, participation, creative abrasive expression, putting people over profits, support for radical politics, and carving out cultural spaces that support the beautiful freaks and lovely weirdos that make this world a more interesting and tolerable place.
That’s why it’s still up to us to share that knowledge, tell our own stories, and find ways to do it on our own terms. Because if punks are going to spend as much time as we do thinking about what our tattoos and vest patches communicate to people (shocker: it’s true), we could stand to spend a little more time on the details and messages that really matter.
Screenshot courtesy of Disfear. All rights reserved.