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Books

'Global Punk': The Longevity of Punk Encourages

No previous survey of punk has likely examined a Celtic band from Indonesia, or swept across the Basque Country, Poland, and Edinburgh as well as Long Island, Chicago, or Austin.


Global Punk: Resistance and Rebellion in Everyday Life

Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
Length: 270 pages
Author: Kevin C. Dunn
Price: $29.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2016-05
Amazon

Do-It-Yourself punk's not dead. Its ranks include far more than "rich, bored white boys" in this political scientist participant-observer's experiences and analyses. Neither a memoir nor "a typical scholarly study of punk", Global Punk: Resistance and Rebellion in Everyday Life argues why the music matters. Its reach expands far beyond council flats or suburban basements, for Kevin C. Dunn promotes its "resources for agency and empowerment that individuals and communities employ in their articulation of domestic needs and struggles." Politically, sexually, practically, the deceptively "natural" regimen imposed by capitalism can be subverted. Alternatives burst into reality.

While Dunn incorporates Mikhail Bakunin, Walter Benjamin, Pierre Bourdieu, and Murray Bookchin into his findings, he also includes Banda Aceh, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Carrie Brownstein. No previous survey of punk has likely examined a Celtic band from Indonesia, or swept across the Basque Country, Poland, and Edinburgh as well as Long Island, Chicago, or Austin. This range distinguishes Dunn's ambitious, but readable and engaging scholarship. He applies his academic sensibility while stimulating reflection through his personal affinity for the movements he introduces. He integrates DIY punk's "oppositional identities" with an examination of their contributions to resisting alienation. Branching out from Riot Grrrl, queercore, and straight edge origins decades ago, Dunn treats them as resources for rebellion and for renewal. Thanks to technology, these energies transmit more widely.

Guiding us into local scenes across the world, Dunn goes from American college towns to Jakarta. Violence, vegans, commodification, and capital compete for market share among the marginalized. Detours from collusion with major labels endure, and networks emerge to counter corporate control.

Agency enters. Listening to a record in one’s room, little may happen. But if that listener transforms the energy of that album into her efforts to organize against injustice and oppression, DIY punk matters. Dunn stresses the cooperation between discrete fans who then build links to forge against the established order. Utopian as this may appear, gradual advances can be charted over recent years.

As Ian MacKaye exclaims in the introductory interview to Dunn, the longevity of punk encourages. Having existed for over four decades, "punk won", according to the Minor Threat/Fugazi veteran. To prove its campaign against oppression, Dunn enriches his feminist content with attention not only to the original Riot Grrls but also Russia's Pussy Riot, while he brings in the recent Aceh Riot Grrls collective from Indonesia. Plenty of documentation and theory enters this survey, but so does shared enthusiasm and insight. While punk's legacy generates today's diligent students compiling sociological and anthropological fieldwork into theses, Dunn stands out by his coverage from truly far-flung scenes.

Dunn incorporates fieldwork. Most notably, he reports from Indonesia. Stimulated by the import of bootlegged CDs from Green Day, Bad Religion, and Nirvana in the '90s, DIY punk disturbed Suharto's regime. While the rulers figured punk led to harmless entertainment, providing permits to play, those who gathered used the concert settings to organize opposition to the state. In a culture bent on marginalizing potentially dangerous youth movements, and emphasizing submission to elders and authorities, Dunn demonstrates how punk united activists that helped bring down Suharto in 1998.

However, this professor too often relies on citations from his scholarly colleagues, when interviews with those on the street deserve equal credit. The cries of these Indonesians need their own air time. Dunn grants them soundbites, but he passes over promising topics such as Aceh's Muslim Riot Grrrls. Certainly, these women "articulate a feminist engagement within their specific contexts", but these contexts diminish in these pages, instead given over to citations from many scholars, yet fewer punks.

These unheard voices get a chance to talk back in a later chapter. Here, contemporary indie labels and underground fanzines outwit publishing conglomerates, as have small presses and distributors. Voices of those marginalized need not be overwhelmed, when new avenues and venues emerge. Globalization need not crush dreams of those eager to sing and play their themes of transformation. Media consolidation offers fewer opportunities than even the original punk era to survive, as record sales decline and print outlets close. So, as a co-founder of the 'zine Razorcake confides, sustainable rather than profitable margins enable small enterprises to survive, committed to a brave DIY ethos. Dunn dismisses major-label signings, understandably. The less-heard chime in.

Dunn concludes with a balanced examination of anarcho-punk strife as the movement strives to go beyond product and performance into spaces or squats freed for daily existence itself to flourish. Juxtaposing Socrates' admonition to live an examined life with a professional skateboarder who found in punk a way to make a living running and producing for a tiny label, Dunn grounds his intellectual vision within a thought-experiment. He acknowledges the negative impacts and the distant idealism, but he also encourages readers to see how punk, in raging against alienation, has progressed and matured.

As so many punks still keep asking, what if the artists and fans took power?

7

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