Punk Through the Wires: A Study of the Effects of the Digital Age on a Analog Subculture
This study examines the influence of the internet on the punk subculture. Since the subculture is mostly a movement led by youth whom use the internet to engage with the punk subculture. The internet has altered the ways that participants within the subculture build cultural capital, exchange that capital, and communicate with other members of the punk community, these are important areas of study as they look beyond the more general peer-to-peer file sharing effect of the internet.
Interviews with subculture participants, fans and band members, suggests that the internet has made it easier and faster for all participants to communicate with one another. With most online communications by participants happen via social media, meaning that the mode of communication is now one to many, where as pre-internet it was one to one. Ultimately, tours by punk bands continue to play an important role in the promotion and marketing of punk rock, as well as offer subculture members an authentic punk experience.
Three qualitative methods were utilized to examine the ramifications of the internet on the punk subculture. Case study research involved the researcher in direct contact with the participants, with the participants being the primary source of data. The first method employed was content analysis, examining two punk label websites. Profane Existence and Discord were selected as both labels existed prior to the internet. The purpose of this preliminary content analysis was to assist in developing questions for the interviews. Second, was the conducting of three focus groups featuring 7 active members of the punk subculture, (active as in they currently attend shows, spend time online looking for punk, and/or play in a punk band.) The final method used was the interviewing of 8 punk band members. Exene Cervenka, John Doe, and Billy Zoom of the band X and five members from unsigned punk bands (J.R. Evans from thenistabbedher, Ryan Jolly from The Ronnie James Trio, and Sarah Grace-Young and Josh Allison from Choose Your Own Grave). The rationale for this three pronged approach was to garner a deeper understanding of the impact of the internet on the punk subculture.
Full understanding of the role of the internet within punk subculture required conversations with active members of the subculture. While several methods were considered, such as surveys, the focus group was chosen because it offered the best method to gather information from members of a punk-type subculture. The goal of this study was to examine what if any impact the internet has had on the punk subculture by talking to active members of the subculture.
In-person and phone interviews were chosen as the best method to examine the impact of the internet on punk band members. The goal of interviewing punk band members was to gather information on the impact of the internet on their band and ultimately the punk subculture as a whole. By interviewing punk band members, with the hope of gathering information that would help me understand a social actor’s perspective. As noted below, each of the interviewees had extensive experience either playing in punk bands or working within the punk subculture. With the ultimate goal of triangulating the findings of the interviews with those of the focus groups and content analyses.
The focus group participants agreed that punk fans can and do talk among one another about several different aspects of the punk subculture online one- to-one (e-mail, text messaging, IM’s) or one-to-many (websites, message boards and social media profiles). Fans exchange news about bands and labels, offering criticism and praise for bands and independent labels, or post reviews of recent shows that they attended. In fact, the number of potential topics for discussion online regarding punk is unlimited. Punk bands similarly utilize online technology to interact with punk fans. This ability to interact and discuss online the subculture on a consistent and up-to-the-minute context is significantly different from older methods of communication among punk participants.
Until the widespread consumer usage of the internet and the introduction of e-mail, blogs, and websites, the main method of dissemination of punk information was through hundreds of different locally produced zines. However, zines as a tool for disseminating information concerning punk had several limitations. Production and distribution issues meant that zines were only sporadically available for subculture participants. Second, most zines offered the chance for only a few voices to express their opinions. Third, it might take months for those opinions to be disseminated to other subculture members; this meant that by the time participants received the zine, the material inside was already old news. Face-to-face communication, required punk fans and bands to congregate together in one central location at the same time in order to disseminate material among subculture participants. The internet removed this delay in the transmission of cultural capital and online word-of-mouth replaced the old style of face-to-face communication and communicate material concerning the subculture. Moreover, there are no paper, printing, or postage costs.
A key approach for spreading punk material online works as label personnel, band members, or fans post material online, other participants come across the posting and forward the information via e-mail or instant messages to other friends. This e-mail chain can continue endlessly. This phenomenon is one of the central dissemination methods in use by subculture members online. This method of spreading punk information is far quicker and has greater reach than the traditional punk methods of zines and one-to-one communication.
The web allows punk bands to communicate one-to-one and that assists punk bands in finding shows and venues to play at outside of their local area. This, in turn, makes it easier for the subculture to thrive. Bands can very easily find shows outside of its area to perform and therefore spread its music to an even wider audience of people.
Online sites including Facebook allow punk bands to communicate with one another, as well as with fans. Facebook band profiles are often full of online fliers designed by different bands to promote upcoming shows. For instance, a band will develop a flier for an upcoming show, send it to other punk bands and request that the bands post it on its profile. This common live show promotion technique assists bands in disseminating information about its upcoming show to as many punk recipients as possible.
According to focus group participants, interviewees, and some punk band members, the downside to the internet, particularly on social media, is that too many bad punk bands gain exposure. The unfortunate result of so much material available online, according to focus group participants, is keeping up with what might be good and available online is more difficult.
The ability for anyone to post and send material over the internet makes it difficult for members of the subculture to weed their way through the massive amount of content online, making it difficult for good punk music to find an audience. The negative of all of this content is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for punk fans, bands, and independent labels to connect and interact with one another on social networking sites.
During its initial introduction, the internet and social media platforms were relatively open. Open in the sense that only early-adopters initially grasped the potential this new exposure could offer bands to promote new recordings. This initial stage of the technology allowed for early adopters to communicate relatively easy with one another. However, the increasingly overwhelming amount of content on the internet now makes it difficult for punk bands and labels to connect with fans. In addition, as John Doe from X mentions, the bands Facebook profile in-box is increasingly overwhelmed with numerous messages from a wide variety of advertisers. Findings from a few of the focus group participants seem to support John’s complaint.
A second issue of the internet and Facebook was raised by Ryan Jolly, of the Ronnie James Trio, is the potential loss of personal relationships as a central component of the punk subculture experience. Ryan said:
“Back to the Facebook things for a second. This is going to sound hypocritical because I spend a lot of time on Facebook. I think Facebook is terrible for music. I was booking shows back when Facebook did not exist yet, or at least I wasn’t aware of it and I was checking out band websites and I was still using the internet, but I made some phone calls. But, man, if I could go back, just like fifteen years ago or I guess almost twenty years now, before the internet and I can make phone calls and make these real personal relationships with all different dudes and girls and these different bands all across the country, I think that would be amazing. I would much rather do that. I just think it would be way better”.
All the subjects of this study agreed that Ryan’s desire for subculture to return to an era, when participants mainly communicated one-to-one is impossible. However, several participants offered potential solutions to the quandary. Including by attending punk shows and visiting recording studios in order to bypass the internet as a way to build closer interpersonal relationships through face-to-face communication among subculture participants. Two members of the focus group felt that a drawback of the internet on the subculture is that the internet allows for quicker worldwide dispersal of the punk subculture. According to these two participants, the ease and accessibility to all aspects of the subculture online increases the crossover rate of new punk music movements from a subculture to mainstream consumption. Both participants stated that the ease in which anyone can access material concerning the subculture online has potential detrimental ramifications on the subculture. Online access to this material makes it difficult for the punk subculture to remain underground long enough to establish a well-defined and substantial culture capital that allows the subculture to separate itself from the mainstream. While the majority of the focus group members agreed that the most important venue for finding new punk music is at a live show. If the band’s live performance is good, most of the focus groups members say that they will also seek out more information about the band online.
The internet’s impact on the central question of punk rock, whether to stay underground or to strive for mainstream acceptance, is quite diverse. The internet offers the subculture a potential to reach a worldwide audience more easily and cheaply than the printed DIY network. Punk bands and labels can use the internet to promote and distribute records, form relationships with other punk bands and individual punk fans, book, promote, and sell tickets to shows form online communities that are not based solely on a regional scene via social networking sites. Membership within these online communities is based on common interests among members for a specific band or regional scene. The internet offers DIY punk bands that wish to remain outside of the mainstream the tools to retain this independence. For instance, Sarah of Choose Your Own Grave mentioned an underground punk scene based on hardcore punk bands such as her band that initially did not record although this band recently added songs to their Facebook profile), but instead performed live at BMX trails outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This regional underground punk scene used the internet extensively to promote show times and dates to subculture members. The most significant impact of the internet on the relationship between punk music fans and performs is the level of contact among the different participants. The internet forges a much closer relationship among the aforementioned groups. Punk fans, bands, and labels can contact one another on a consistent, fast, and convenient basis through a variety of internet functions: e-mails, message boards, social media, and websites.
Punk Through the Wires: A Study of the Effects of the Digital Age on a Analog Subculture