Powerviolence, or How to Play Punk with a Hammer

A few years ago I wrote an essay about the history of powerviolence, an obscure sub-subgenre of punk rock that originated on the West Coast but has since spread to all corners of the world. It’s part of “The Punk Reader: Research Transmissions from the Local and the Global,” an edited collection published in November by the University of Porto in Portugal, and it’s a truly international collection. Happy to see this essay in print, but I am a little embarrassed by my preamble, which I clearly wrote while I was still in grad school. Who the hell in their right mind uses words like “prolegomena” in a normal sentence?

As a subgenre of rock ’n’ roll, punk rock has itself spawned various sub-generic musical and subcultural followings – or cults, of a sort. While many of these sub-generic reinterpretations of punk rock – Oi!, crust punk, skate punk – can be connected to a single musical group or geographically collectivized group of musicians with an associated coterie of cult adherents, the way in which these sub-generic movements impact or affect the greater punk rock ‘scene’ is far more difficult to quantify. It is with this prolegomenon in mind that this essay will investigate the phenomenon of ‘powerviolence’ (Man is the Bastard, Infest, Mind Eraser, Iron Lung, etc.) by first tracing the musical and social provenance of the subgenre and then analysing it in its present form, which is both sub-subcultural (and localized as such) and internationalized (Yacøpsæ, Fuck on the Beach, Merda, etc.) in its sub-subculturalism. There is little documentation and no accessible scholarship on powerviolence, either as a musical and cultural genre or as an instantiation of punk rock. As such, this essay will compile and analyse the current documentation available regarding powerviolence, and perhaps not surprisingly, most of this documentation is available almost exclusively online. Varied in both form and articulation, that this material is primarily accessible through online avenues is also telling of the way powerviolence has not only survived as a genre but also how it has grown in its reception and realization.

Check out the full book here, and if you’re curious what powerviolence sounds like, here’s one of my all-time favorite cuts:

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