10 Great Modern Punk Bands
Since 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the Ramones’ classic self-titled debut, the existing state of punk is up for review. There’s no question that the contemporary landscape in punk music and culture looks remarkably different from 1976, or even 2006. The last 10 years alone have seen the movement sprouting new genres, legacies and heroes in the most unlikely places, making waves far beyond the American punk strongholds of New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
The past decade in punk has accommodated an expansion of sounds; ex-hardcore staples Ceremony retreated to Manchester circa 1979 for their post-punky 2015 release The L-Shaped Man, whereas Title Fight borrowed from 1991 to produce their soupy shoegaze venture, 2015’s Hyperview. Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace evolved from Floridian anarchist balladeer to global rock icon with the 2014 release of Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Also resurgent is the riot grrrl ethos, whether it’s through Pussy Riot storming the Kremlin or DIY-oriented Girls Rock camps cropping up across the United States. Thanks to a growing demand for better exposure for black artists (and their predecessors), the annual Afropunk Festival has created a space where Bad Brains, Trash Talk and Body Count can play alongside acts like D’Angelo and SZA.
Who do we think of when we look to define punk in this present moment? Who speaks to the context of now? We highlight some American punk bands that best exemplify the current scene — and will arguably impact the shape of punk to come.
Who They Are: This tough Philadelphia crew takes cues (and licks) from Seventies rockers like Thin Lizzy and Big Star, with a bonus dollop of soul, thanks to the hearty pipes of frontwoman Tina Halladay, who sings of heartbreaks and scummy real-estate tycoons. "Structure-wise it's very classic pop-based," lead guitarist Kyle Seely told Noisey. "A lot of pre-choruses, choruses, intro lead riffs that go into the pre-chorus. Those kind of classic things that you maybe have forgotten about in punk over the years … It's that kind of pop that just transcends the genre anyways."
The band's recordings are strictly self-released on Bandcamp; no full-lengths here, just potent, fizzy lo-fi jams in neat batches of four. Despite their lack of an external PR team or social-media presence, Sheer Mag's have risen through the indie ranks simply by word of mouth, scoring headlining tours through Europe and Mexico, as well as a spot at this year's Coachella.
Why They're Great: Sheer Mag could be playing nothing but big shows, matching their heroic riffs with some serious, precision-engineered pyrotechnics. Instead, you're more likely to see them winding down at your local dive bar, or getting stick-and-pokes on your weird neighbor's porch.
Signature Anthem: "Nobody's Baby" is a gritty musical hair flip, executed on behalf of all the cool girls given the runaround by flaky dudes.
You Might Also Like: Shannon and the Clams, Tony Molina, Nobunny —S.E.
Who They Are: Punk and poetry have been intertwined since Patti Smith's Horses, but the work of La Dispute feels like a new milestone in the genre's bid for real literary clout. Formed in 2006 by cousins Jordan Dreyer and drummer Brad Van Der Lugt – the Grand Rapids, Michigan, band's vocalist and drummer, respectively – and named after an 18th-century French play, La Dispute have progressed from a frenetic left-field hardcore outfit to a startlingly mature post-emo powerhouse. "There were parallels I could draw with characters at times with my own life, but for the most part I wanted to be able to really objectively create a universe," Dreyer told Idobi Radio of 2014's narrative-driven Rooms of the House.
Why They're Great: The combination of Dreyer's wordy fictions, delivered either as urgent barks or plainspoken asides, and the band's furious yet richly dynamic post-hardcore mini-epics made Rooms of the House one of the most arresting punk statements in recent memory.
Signature Anthem: Rooms' ominous opener, "Hudsonville, MI 1956," marries elliptical lyrics ("After dinner do the dishes/Mother hums/The coffeemaker hisses") to explosive half-time grooves and a creeping sense of dread.
You Might Also Like: Touche Amore, Title Fight, Joyce Manor. —H.S.
Who They Are: This Seattle outfit, formed by high-school friends in love with Mexican food, felines, palindromes and feminism, blends SoCal bubblegum with the traditionally girl-centric Northwest punk. Since 2007, they've been bringing their jangly pop to clubs and festivals across the country, confusing many of the bros who end up at their shows. "They'll be like, 'I was so surprised that you were good at drumming – I can't believe what a good girl band you are!'" singer Emily Nokes told Frontier Psychiatrist. "I think sometimes they think it's a compliment, but it's very, very hilarious."
Why They're Great: Because it was about time someone combined the Beach Boys with Bikini Kill. The band's songs aren't screeds – some, like "Psychedelic Quinceañera" aren't even overtly feminist – but they seem to be pushing towards a new wave of feminism, where the F-word can be fun.
Signature Anthem: "Crimson Wave" is the tongue-in-cheek period song you never knew you needed, with lines about Vicodin, white wine and swimming in the ocean even though you might attract a shark.
You Might Also Like: Upset, Diet Cig, All Dogs —E.G.P.
Who They Are: Olympia, Washington's G.L.O.S.S – shorthand for Girls Living Outside Society's Shit – made one of the more forceful statements in punk's recent history last year with their five-song debut. The Girls Living Outside Society's Shit EP clocks in at just about eight minutes, but its barbed, blown-out hardcore attack is hard to forget, especially when coupled with transgender vocalist Sadie Switchblade's lyrics, which rail against conceptions of femininity and society's way of ostracizing those who are different. "What we do is antagonistic towards society… I'm interested in destroying society, not being tolerated by it," guitarist Jake Bison said in an interview with Maximum Rocknroll. The band's songs spare no one yet offer solidarity all the same.
Why They're Great: In addition to creating transformative tunes, G.L.O.S.S. also work to ensure that punk shows are places where women, people identifying as queer, trans folks, the disabled and people of color feel not just safe but welcome.
Signature Anthem: The mosh-worthy "Outcast Stomp" is a rallying cry for freaks, geeks, rejects and anyone who has ever felt like they don't belong.
You Might Also Like: Firewalker, In School, La Misma —P.M.
Who They Are: What grew out of a solo project from former Reatards drummer Ryan Rousseau has emerged as a force in psychedelic hardcore. With its disruptive wall of doomy riffs and snarled vocals, the Arizona five-piece has attracted fans through records – the most recent being Negative Feedback Resistor, reportedly recorded while the band was high on dab – and by their acid-fueled live shows, which they sometimes can't remember. "I thought I had frozen on the spot," Rousseau has recalled of one set. "Until someone came up to me and told me it was one of the best shows we'd ever played."
Why They're Great: Not only is the band making some of the contemporary hardcore scene's most powerful statements on their own, they're supporting the scene with their cassette label, Ascetic House.
Signature Anthem: "Chemical Reaction/Chemical Delight" starts as a slow churn before developing into the band's signature headlong charge.
You Might Also Like: Pissed Jeans, Perfect Pussy, Pleasure Leftists —E.G.P.
Who They Are: Vocalist Victoria Ruiz and guitarist Joey DeFrancesco fortuitously met while working at the swanky Renaissance Hotel in their native Providence, Rhode Island. They've since evolved into a brassy, six-piece powerhouse signed to the label Don Giovanni. Through their distinctive sax-driven polemics, they're attempting to make sense of a nonsensical world. "We don't think we really need to challenge anyone's definition of punk right now," Ruiz, who sings in Spanish as well as English, told Noisey. "That is not really a priority. We are trying to make what is going on in the world around us relevant." While they've only released one album thus far (the terrific Full Communism), Downtown Boys are poised to thrash their pummeling, politicized tunes into much larger rooms from here on out.
Why They're Great: Songs like "Monstro" prove that punk continues to be a visceral, vital medium for protest. Also, those saxophones.
Signature Anthem: "Wave of History" fuses a simple riff with a righteous revolutionary message.
You Might Also Like: Los Crudos, Priests, Criaturas —P.M.
Who They Are: An irrepressible art-punk band with an uncompromising, New Age-meets-No Wave sensibility, Boston's Guerilla Toss rove from coast to coast with no solid objective but to be here, now. Its members convened after being liberated from the confines of their respective music conservatories and gospel choirs, opting instead to churn out noise-funk tantrums that recall both the devilish frenzy of Primus and the calculated, synthy chaos of Sixties psych lords Silver Apples. Above the racket, Kassie Carlson yowls prophecies like a wizened, Krautrock priestess, transported from the next millennium. "Anyone that goes to art school at some point goes through a phase like, 'Fuck art school, fuck school, it’s a scam,'" drummer Peter Negroponte told Wondering Sound, after the release of Gay Disco in 2013. "Then you grow past that, because it’s immature. But let me clarify: You don’t ever have to have studied music to be in a band. Most of the cool bands did not study music."
Why They're Great: Their aura is tie-dye, but their sound is brutal enough to incite a decent pit.
Signature Anthem: "Doll Face on the Calico Highway," from their new DFA debut, Eraser Stargazer, exhibits the band's peak idiosyncrasy through screeching organs and esoteric, Ari Up-like incantations.
You Might Also Like: Can Can Heads, Melt-Banana, Multicult —S.E.
Who They Are: Hailing from the town of Appleton, Wisconsin, this raucous DIY cohort is geographically isolated from traditional punk epicenters like New York, Minneapolis and L.A. But that hasn't stopped them from forging some the hookiest, most heartfelt songs the genre has seen in recent years. Helmed by frontman and guitarist Amos Pitsch, Tenement have mastered the interplay of thunderous riffs, a rollicking rhythm section and anthemic lyrics. The prolific band continues to redefine their sound, even exploring the marriage between pop and classical stringed instruments on their latest, the swelling Bruised Music Vol. 2. "I wanted to have every mood we could possibly have as a band," Pitsch told Grantland of 2015's rousing double LP, Predatory Headlights.
Why They're Great: Tenement refuse to conform to a single definition of punk. Predatory Highlights encompasses everything from woozy, Big Star-esque acoustic ditties ("You Keep Me Cool") to piano-driven experimental interludes ("A Frightening Place for Normal People").
Signature Anthem: "Dull Joy" epitomizes the band's knack for driving, hooky soul-punk, and builds to a chorus that's impossible to not scream along to: "Dull joy/For every girl and boy."
You Might Also Like: Beach Slang, Chumped, Cheap Girls —P.M.
Who They Are: RVIVR do right by the storied punk past of their hometown, but while they advance a staunch feminist agenda, they’re no Bikini Kill clone. Founded in 2008 by guitarist/vocalist Mattie Jo Canino – also of beloved Long Island crew Latterman – seasoned singer-songwriter Erica Freas and supple drumming force Kevin Rainsberry, the band plays an unapologetically accessible form of punk, built around razor-sharp riffing and shout-along choruses. "Mostly I learned from printing tabs off the dial-up internet," Freas told She Shreds. "I was not a hip kid who knew about underground bands, despite the fact I was a teen during the Nineties in Olympia. I was influenced by Tori, Bjork, Courtney, Dolores, Sinead, Gwen." RVIVR's anti-macho, pro-queer message resonates at grassroots shows around the globe; on YouTube, you can see a roomful of Japanese fans screaming along to every song, just like the kids do back home.
Why They're Great: Onstage, Canino and Freas are a co-frontperson dream team, shredding and shouting with boundless energy while they shoot each other sweaty grins. The chemistry translates to the studio too – try 2013's stunning statement of purpose, The Beauty Between, for proof.
Signature Anthem: The super-catchy "Wrong Way/One Way" could have been an MTV hit in the Blink-182 era, but its honest confrontation of identity issues rings out like pure underground poetry.
You Might Also Like: Worriers, Iron Chic, Slingshot Dakota —H.S.
Who They Are: Dead Cross began life in 2015 as an emergency stopgap, a way for ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo to fulfill some standing tour obligations after his former band Philm went belly-up. But this grindcore-meets-hardcore collaboration with Locust members Gabe Serbian – who bashed the kit in that band but handles raw-throated mic duties here – and Justin Pearson, and Retox's Michael Crain has emerged as a road-hungry full-time concern. "With this band, I play harder, I play faster, and I play with the fury that this music demands," the legendary drummer told Rolling Stone.
Why They're Great: Dead Cross manage to pull off a nearly impossible feat: combining the virtuosity of underground veterans with the feral energy of a young band on the come-up.
Signature Anthem: The band's lone officially released track to date, "We'll Sleep When You're Dead," serves as a seething statement of purpose.
You Might Also Like: Magrudergrind, Full of Hell, Bleed The Pigs —H.S.