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Your Ultimate Guide to the Best Punk Bands of the 2000s

What is punk?

If we’re going to take a deep dive into the punk bands that made the 2000s memorable, we’re going to have to first understand what punk is, and what it is not. So, what is punk rock?

Like with many genres of music, there isn’t a single answer to this question. Punk means different things to different people, and those people will definitely argue about it, and they will never agree. One thing upon which we can all agree is that punk tends to be aggressive and powerful music that is meant to be subversive in some way. That last point is important because it goes back to the reason why punk was invented in the first place.

So, before we get into the punk bands that shaped the 2000s, let’s go back in time, and take a look at the bands that started it all. Where did punk come from? What did it want to accomplish?

What was the first punk band?

This is one of those hotly contested questions that doesn’t have a simple answer. Just like fans of metal will argue about who invented metal, punk fans often do not agree about who invented punk. While many argue that the obvious answer is the Ramones, others will insist that, no, the very first punk band was the Stooges.

Often, these arguments miss the central point. The question is not: who popularized punk? The question is: what was the first punk band? This is still a tricky question because there is much disagreement about what constitutes “punk” music. As we’ll see later in this post, this is not a question that has ever been answered.

So, while we often hear that either the Ramones, the Stooges, or perhaps the New York Dolls invented punk, the answer may actually be far more obscure.

While there might be plenty of disagreement about who was the first punk band, it’s generally agreed that punk started at the very end of the 60s or very beginning of the 70s. During this period, we tend to focus on two main punk scenes: New York and London. But recently, is has been revealed through a new documentary, that punk may have started much earlier. We just didn’t notice because it happened for a very short time in Peru.

The growing consensus among punk historians is that a little know Peruvian band named Los Saicos was actually the first punk band in history, and their few recordings seem to back this up. This takes us back to our original question: what is punk?

There is some agreement among people who were there at the beginning of punk that there was never a conscious decision to start a new genre of music. Instead, punk seemed to grow out of the limitations of the musicians involved. For many of these musicians that meant not knowing how to properly play their instruments or owning high-quality equipment. It was an attempt to go back to the roots of rock music, before everything had become so glossy and highly produced. But then there was the subject matter.

Members of Los Saicos talk about how other musicians at the time (1960-1961) were singing about love, and they were singing about destruction and anger because that represented their feelings at the time. This is a common theme among punk musicians: the feeling that music did not represent how they felt. So essentially, punk is a combination of two things: a revolt against mainstream music and stripped-down rock and roll. From there it evolved, but if you take a listen to any of the recordings by Los Saicos, you will recognize that they were doing these things a decade before we were talking about punk.

A Brief History of Punk

So, we’ve covered the very start of punk, but where did it go from there? The Stooges had formed in Detroit in 1967, but their first two records were flops both critically and commercially, and they entered a dark period of almost absurd drug use that led to the band breaking up for a few years. It wasn’t until 1974 when Iggy Pop met David Bowie that things really started to take off.

Interestingly, this was the same time that the Ramones were forming in Long Island, New York, and the Sex Pistols were being put together in London. While the Ramones are often credited as being the first punk band, it’s likely that all of these bands happened at roughly the same time. From there, both the London and New York punk scenes started to get more rebellious and aggressive.

Even though these bands have now achieved legendary status, most of them were not commercially successful at the time, and the Ramones have likely made far more money from their iconic t-shirts than from their music.

When disco came along, it became the natural enemy of punk which was starting to define itself a bit more narrowly. There were sonic differences between the bands, but they all seemed to share a common ethos that it was their job to revolt against the mainstream music industry. And until the 90s, this was the primary function of punk. When disco faded out in the 80s, punk’s new enemy were hair bands like Poison and Bon Jovi.

But then in the 90s something interesting happened. Bands that had shared the punk ethos started to ride the grunge wave to mainstream success. Green Day may have started out rebellious and raw, but then they were signed to a major label and their music was played on mainstream rock radio. And so, people started to wonder: is Green Day punk? Can a band be punk and sell out arenas? And to this day, this question has never really been answered. Green Day fans will say: “of course, they’re punk. They sound punk!” While punk purists will absolutely laugh in their faces. As time went on, though, the divide between underground punk and mainstream punk got wider, and this was where we found ourselves in the 2000s.

Early 2000s punk bands

By the early 2000s, there were a lot of underground punk bands that were starting to change the genre. Many of these bands started out as ultra-underground hardcore bands, but there was a split between the hardcore scene. Some bands stayed true to hardcore’s values of never being commercial, and never signing about “typical” rock and roll topics. They were much more political, and much less emotional. On the other side were the bands who wanted a bigger audience and didn’t just want to sing about fascism. This is where pop-punk was born.

So, while you’ve probably not heard of bands like Earth Crisis, Floorpunch, or Bane, you have likely heard of bands like Against Me!, Alkaline Trio, and Blink-182. The rift between these sub-genres of punk still exist, and they still don’t get along with each other.

Blink-182 was one of the first bands to make this transition from more underground to very mainstream. But this was already several years after Green Day had found commercial success by playing their version of punk. As the 2000s began, more and more bands realized that commercial success was possible.

Suddenly, there was a flood of bands trying to get in on the game. Bands that had once only ever played house parties were not softening their sound in an effort to be the next successful punk band turned pop stars. And thus pop-punk was born.

That punk became pop didn’t mean that real punk music disappeared, it just evolved and found success on a smaller level. Bands like At the Drive-In, Alkaline Trio, Propaghandi, and Anti-Flag maintained healthy followings, but they didn’t end up with videos on MTV.

Some early 2000s punk bands like At the Drive-In decided to become more experimental and reinvent themselves. In their case, AtD-I became The Mars Volta and pioneered a whole new frenetic sound. Mostly, what we saw with 2000s punk bands was a widening definition of what it meant to be punk.

Female fronted punk bands

While the boys tend to get a lot of credit when it comes to punk bands, there have always been female fronted punk bands, and many of them have been extremely influential. In the New York scene singers like Patti Smith and Debbie Harry were getting an awful lot of attention for their bands, The Patti Smith Group and Blondie respectively.

Across the pond in London, Siouxie Sioux and the Banshees were tearing up the punk clubs. In fact, there is a long history of women in punk that continues to this day. Olympia, Washington punk rockers Sleater-Kinney have been going since the 90s, and guitarist Carrie Brownstein gained much greater recognition after her role on the TV show Portlandia.

Even the LA punk scene had notable female fronted punk bands, especially the long-running band X. And the influence of these artists has inspired newer generations of women to take up the punk mantle. Band like Paramore, The Donnas, and newcomers the Linda Lindas have all been molded in the image of these punk pioneers.

Underground 2000s punk bands

While punk may have gone mainstream in the late 90s and early 2000s, there were still punk/hardcore/emo bands that decided not to go along with that trend. These underground 2000s punk bands still had healthy followings, but these bands continued playing in clubs when their more commercial counterparts played arenas.

But that doesn’t mean these 2000s punk bands are any less influential. If you ask members of popular pop/punk bands, they’ll likely tell you that they listen to bands like p.s. Eliot, Dillinger Four, Alkaline Trio, Tuesday, and Screeching Weasel. 2000s punk bands owe these lesser known bands a great deal of credit for pioneering a genre that has since become fairly mainstream.

Once these bands started to catch on with more mainstream audiences, the music evolved into something that the founders of punk probably wouldn’t appreciate: Punk became glossy and featured high-end production. Gone were the days of barely audible, screamed vocals. No more guitars so abrasive they hurt your ears. No more musicians who looked like they lived in a dumpster. Punk had changed.

The evolution of punk in the 2000s

In the beginning, punk bands tended to gain popularity in cities. Bands like the Ramones had to travel to New York City in order to gain a following. But in the 2000s, punk bands were more of a suburban phenomenon. The musicians were young, but they looked more like they lived in their parent’s basements than in a run-down motel. Their music tended to focus on teen angst instead of burning down the system created by “the man.”

Instead of rebelling against a system of government and corporate oppression, 2000s punk bands seemed more concerned with rebelling against another form of oppression: their parents. But music has always been a changeable thing.

We hear a lot from punk purists about the fact that all punk that happened after 1982 or so was “fake punk,” and that any modern punk band isn’t really punk. But this argument doesn’t take into account that most forms of music evolve over time and are sometimes unrecognizable after a certain period of time. Imagine for a moment, that rock and roll never changed from its early days. That would mean that bands today would still sound like Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.

So, of course, it’s natural that punk would evolve too. Just like Beatles fans from the 70s might hate the rock and roll the kids are making these days, punks from the 70s refuse to acknowledge the punk music of today.

One of the main reasons why punk music was reinvented in the 2000s was because this was the first time the music industry saw the genre as commercially viable. We often hear complaints that the music industry won’t recognize certain underground bands or genres, but that’s simply because the music industry doesn’t believe those bands or genres are going to be profitable.

After all, the music industry is a business first, and the fact that punk was becoming mainstream meant that the music industry saw a way to make a buck. Logically, this rankles some punk purists because it flies in the face of everything punk originally stood for. But this begs the question: would those original punk bands have sold out given the opportunity?

Chances are, the answer to this is a resounding yes. Classic punk acts like Iggy and the Stooges reunited a few years ago and have been headlining mainstream music festivals. Blondie has reunited a number of times, always in grand fashion.

Even 2000s punk bands that had either broken up or gone on hiatus have decided to jump on the revival bandwagon. Fall Out Boy, Sleater-Kinney, and Blink-182 have reformed to play festivals and in some cases record new music.

The future of punk

As the 2000s came to an end, it felt like the last era of guitar rock bands was ending as well. The EDM scene that had been simmering in Europe finally boiled over into the United States, and hip hop became more and more ascendant. Back in the 2000s it still felt as though much of the popular music we heard on the radio was punk or at least rock music, but that has mostly changed. Pop singers once again dominate the airwaves, and punk bands are being pushed back into the shadows from where they came.

But all is not lost. The original punk scene faced an enormous hurdle: they weren’t given the resources to record or release their records, which resulted in poorly recorded records which had to be distributed slowly, one fan at a time. But we no longer live in this world.

Today’s punk bands, which were inspired partly by the originals and partly by 2000s punk bands, are figuring out that you can build an audience without mainstream radio or label support. Music recording technology has made huge strides in the last ten years and sharing music has become easier than ever. These pieces of technology were mostly not available to 2000s punk bands either, which helps to explain why they worked so hard to change punk into something commercial.

The emerging punk bands of today have the advantage of being able to build a following without worrying about “being signed.” They are their own advocates, and they are able to have more control over their music. None of that is a bad thing. We may simply be at a point where punk is going back to its roots, and there has never been a better time for it.

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