Down Home Punk: An Introduction
The mohawk I had as a teenager is long gone. The army jacket I wore, with lighter clips and band names and patches scrawled all across it is buried and dead. The clothes I wear on a day-to-day basis are not ratted, and I’m not tatted, and no safety pin is in my nose, yet the movement that inspired me as a teenager continues to live on in my blood, and I continue to derive power from the legacy of the punk rock subculture and its various offshoots. I still love Crass but I have to side with the Exploited on this one and say “punks not dead”.
Punk is not dead. Its DNA lives on in a variety of mutated forms, just as the original aesthetics associated with the movement have grown, changed, or been dropped and new aesthetics adopted. The philosophy embedded within the punk subculture is still thriving and has the potential to form a core response to crisis of our times.
That is what this series of articles is all about: how the mindset, practices, and toolkit of the punk rock subculture can be applied to solving some of the problems humanity will face in the hard years of economic, ecological, and societal collapse that are now standing down the barrel at us in the present. As a subculture at odds with the Establishment the punk rockers developed workarounds and hacks for getting their ideas, words, art, and music out into the world on the cheap. They developed networks of support and communication that enabled the subculture to thrive in the absence, and without deference to, corporate handouts and support. I think that reviving and breathing new life into those methods now can be a useful adjunctive to the revival of the appropriate technology toolkit being done by enterprising green wizards.
In John Michael Greer’s book Green Wizardry: Conservation, Solar Power, Organic Gardening, And Other Hands-On Skills From the Appropriate Tech Toolkit he lays out three ways the appropriate tech toolkit was put together into some basic lifestyle options. He writes, “Back in the heyday of the appropriate tech movement…there were at least three distinct ways that the basic toolkit tended to be put to work, each with its esthetic and typical lifestyle choices. To the best of my knowledge no one gave names to them at the time, and that’s a gap that needs filling. For our purposes they can be called the New Alchemy, Down Home Funk, and Retrofit modes of green wizardry.” [i]
The purpose of these articles is to propose a variant on the Down Home Funk mode, which is what I call the Down Home Punk mode. In doing so I’ll explore some of the specific tools and techniques the punkers have used to accomplish their goals without selling out to the corporate overlords. Other people have already covered the history of the punk subculture much better than I have. I don’t have the space and won’t attempt to trace its origins and history here. I will be using examples from the history of the punk subculture to flesh out how some of that gear can be used to the green wizards advantage as civilization climbs down the stairs to a future dark age.
Punk is by its very nature a mutt, and as Amyl and the Sniffers say in their song “some mutts can’t be muzzled”. This mongrel breed is essentially urban and grew out of the subcultural ashes left behind by the hippies and beats. In some respects punk rock was a revolt against the failure of hippiedom. In other ways it was an outgrowth of the same impetus present in many post WWII subcultures: a revolt against consumer society and the ethos of “the Man”.
One of the touchstones of the movement is a refusal to ask “the Man” or other authorities for permission. If you want to do something or make something, go ahead and start. It is this willingness to get to work and get your hands dirty that is part and parcel of being a Down Home Punk. The punk work ethic was forged as a weapon against the complacency of consumerism, a tool to batten the hatches against the storms of inner resistance. To a punk the only authority is yourself.
In an interview Penny Rimbaud of the band Crass speaks of the slogan the group popularized: there is no authority but yourself. “You can’t look to any authority but yourself, and neither can you be ruled by any authority but yourself. Even those who acknowledge [the phrase]… they say, ‘I can’t exist properly because the police are such pigs or laws are so… but whose accepting the police, or whose accepting the laws? You are, so it’s your responsibility, it’s not their responsibility, it’s your responsibility. So there is no authority but yourself and what that simply means is, don’t look to others, and don’t be cowed by others. Don’t be fearful of others. That’s their business, not yours. And it is only because people don’t simply look at life in that way to realize that they are the only authority, they are choosing to buy into, or not buy into, because they don’t realize that, that people live fearful lives. You don’t have to feel fear, it’s just something, you know, you buy into.” [ii]
I think this attitude, or what I’ll call mindset, indigenous to the punk rock subculture, is something of particular usefulness as we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century. People in general suffer from a paralysis of volition. It is something I struggle with: the ability to choose and direct my own life and go down a path that hasn’t been decided for me by algorithms and advertising. In this brief window of life people can’t afford to drive blind, or be driven, blind.
It is also necessary to claim our own authority in matters that are regional to global in scale. In his essays and books John Michael Greer has shown with repeated analysis how the environmental movement in particular, and the political left in general, have failed at their own stated or implicit objectives. The reason he has given for their failure can be summarized as the unwillingness of individuals to practice what they preach and to live a lifestyle that is actually predicated on the values they publically espouse. It is hard to believe someone really gives a flying frack about the environment when they jet set about the globe dumping huge amounts of carbon and pollution into the atmosphere. It is hard to believe someone wishes to be free from the damages caused by consumer society when they do nothing to offset their consumption by practicing the habit of production. By teaching the Do-It-Yourself ethic and the idea that there is no authority but yourself, countless youths and adults who were inspired by punk became the producers of their own culture and decided to live in ways that reduced the strain mainstream society places on the systems that support life.
Punk gave permission to just get on with it, take action and do things. As the top-down resources and infotainment began to dwindle the Do-It-Yourself/There-is-No-Authority-but-Yourself mindset will become ever more applicable and necessary. Things we may have paid others to do for us in the past we will choose to do ourselves, as much for the personal satisfaction as for the financial solace. As industrial civilization continues to wane, as society spirals downwards individuals and allied groups will need to just get on with it. This is something the punk mindset can inspire and teach.
This series will look at a number of aspects of the punk rock movement, how it played it out, and what worked within it historically and how that can be adapted for use by the aspiring green wizard, with our without the safety pins.
First is a look at the punkhouse, or the shared living spaces created by punks to cut costs and pool resources so they could work and consume from the System less and do more of what they wanted, often creative projects. A number of specific and influential punk houses, and the cultures and legacy created around them will be explored. This section will also offer some thoughts on squatting, a rite of passage for many punks, and look into how squatting and group living can be useful tools for coping with homelessness and housing crisis. Some of the examples here will be Dial House, Positive Force, ABC No Rio, and other squats and spaces.
Next we will look at the sustainable and ethical business models created by enterprising punks such as Ian Mackaye and his work with Fugazi and Dischord Records, and the work of Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio Studios. The way they handled the financial side of having a band, record label and music studio show that fair and just prices can be charged for products and entertainment all while providing a living for the workers. Green wizards with a craft or service will be able to use these as models for starting their own businesses, whether full time or a side hustle.
Another section will explore the communication techniques of the punks that were honed in the days before the internet. The punk rock scene had a resilient and robust subculture of interconnected local scenes. People were able to communicate with each other, book tours, make pen pals and friends, all through small, independent fanzines and homegrown record labels and venues. It was an analog network that existed below the radar and made extensive us of the postal system.
Still another section will examine the fusion of folk and punk. I will look at how punk rock is an urban folk movement and look at examples of how the music itself has drifted into folk over the past decades. Other elements of punk culture as folk culture will be explored. This last bit dovetails neatly with John Michael Greer’s original naming of one mode of Green Wizardry as Down Home Funk. That mode is characterized by “reviving the technologies of the preindustrial past.” This fits in with the egalitarian ideals of the punk movement and ties it to “the folk”. Preindustrial tech is tech that potentially anyone can use, and that the down and out and broke and common people can afford or make. These are techs that can be scrounged, dumpster dived, rebuilt, repurposed. The Down Home Funk option embraces regional flair and variety in its tools, but they are tools that have been tested and prove to work. By fusing the appropriate tech of our folksy forebears with the additional kit built up around the punk mindset individuals can begin the process of reclaiming their own authority and autonomy and live a good and noble life during the decline of western civilization.
[P.S.: Additional subjects and areas are sure to come up as I work on this project, so consider the above outline in the introduction as a sketch that will be brought into greater relief as this project is carved out, over time. And it will take time, but I will work to get essays out as I can between other writing projects I am also committed to. As always, thank you for reading. –Justin Patrick Moore, Cincinnati, Ohio August 26, 2019.]
[i] Green Wizardry: Conservation, Solar Power, Organic Gardening, And Other Hands-On Skills From the Appropriate Tech Toolkit, New Society Publishers (September 3, 2013)
[ii] Video produced by Noisey website and published on February 28, 2017. Retrieved quote from on August 23rd 2019. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM8jTQjY3d4
Hey, thanks for this. I'd like to talk about some things to be explored in any comprehensive evaluation of the punk ethos. I'm a deep mover in it, and here are the things that troubled me, and why I distance myself from it.
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Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.