David Pearson

Oct 26, 2021

Rebel Music in the Triumphant Empire

Punk Rock in the 1990s United States

Oxford University Press 2020

In Rebel Music in the Triumphant Empire (Oxford University Press, 2020), musicologist David Pearson explores the changing landscape of punk in the United States in the 1990s. Pearson examines how the 1990s underground punk renaissance transformed the punk scene into a site of radical opposition to the American empire. Nazi skinheads were ejected from the punk scene; apathetic attitudes were challenged; women, Latino, and LGBTQ participants asserted their identities and perspectives within punk; the scene debated the virtues of maintaining DIY purity versus venturing into the musical mainstream; and punks participated in protest movements from animal rights to stopping the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal to shutting down the 1999 WTO meeting. Punk lyrics offered strident critiques of American empire, from its exploitation of the Third World to its warped social relations. Numerous subgenres of punk proliferated to deliver this critique, such as the blazing hardcore punk of bands like Los Crudos, propagandistic crust-punk/dis-core, grindcore, and power violence with tempos over 800 beats per minute, and So-Cal punk with its combination of melody and hardcore. Musical analysis of each of these styles and the expressive efficacy of numerous bands reveals that punk is not merely simplistic three-chord rock music, but a genre that is constantly revolutionizing itself in which nuances of guitar riffs, vocal timbres, drum beats, and song structures are deeply meaningful to its audience, as corroborated by the robust discourse in punk zines.

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Rebekah Buchanan

Rebekah Buchanan is an Associate Professor of English and Director of English Education at Western Illinois University. Her research focuses on feminism, activism, and literacy practices in youth culture, specifically through zines and music.

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