where the beer is not the life of the party
July 29, 2008 2:13 PM   Subscribe

What's Folk-Punk? Although celtic-punk groups like the Pogues, Flogging Molly, and the Dropkick Murphys may have been the first bands to combine punk rock with folk music, other groups have been crossing over folk music and punk rock for some time now.

Focusing on anticapitalist, anarchist, and antiwar themes, folk-punk owes just as much to singers like Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs as it might to punk groups like Black Flag, X, or the Dead Kennedys.
Popularized through DIY basement shows and independent labels like Plan-it-X and No Idea Records, folk-punk has a small but growing following in the punk scene.
While Against Me! was one of the most popular folk-punk acts before they changed their sound and switched to a major label, other bands like Ghost Mice, Defiance, Ohio, and This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb (previously) don't look like they'll be renouncing their DIY ethic anytime soon.
posted by dunkadunc (54 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I like Neil Young.
posted by peewinkle at 2:21 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Were the Violent Femmes "Folk-Punk"? I always heard they were, but I could never tell.
posted by Pecinpah at 2:23 PM on July 29, 2008

DIY punk of all sorts is easily regarded as a folk art.
posted by klangklangston at 2:27 PM on July 29, 2008

In the celtic-punk vein, I really like Amadan (myspace link :-/) based in Oregon.

I guess I'd consider Violent Femmes to be Folk-Punk. Why not.
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2008

I would have said New Model Army were folk punk (although I thought of it as punk folk). And fucking awesome.
posted by jackiemcghee at 2:35 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been listening to Bad Religion again recently and I've noticed an element of folk starts creeping in around Generator. It kinda surprised me when I was finally able to put a name to what I was hearing, but it makes for some good music.
posted by lekvar at 2:38 PM on July 29, 2008

I may get hassled for saying as such- but The Avett Brothers folk-punk my face off.
posted by psylosyren at 2:38 PM on July 29, 2008

All punk is folk...

--but not all folk is punk, it should go without saying.
posted by y2karl at 2:41 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Cordelia's Dad. Good stuff.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:43 PM on July 29, 2008

Don't forget Gogol Bordello! Have you not crossed the seven seas?
posted by prefpara at 2:44 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Polk-funk, however, which combines polka with George Clinton-inspired grooves, is another matter entirely.
posted by ornate insect at 2:46 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Billy Bragg? Or is that just Folk?
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:47 PM on July 29, 2008

would this band be considered folk punk?

I really hate it when people post YouTube links that don't indicate what they go to. Just now I thought, "hey, I bet other people hate that, too." Sure enough, they do. A script that appends YouTube video titles to YouTube links.
posted by gurple at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been meaning to make a full post about these guys for a while now, but now that this likely superior FPP is here, what the hell, here's the Zydepunks!
posted by Navelgazer at 2:51 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know why, but I sorta feel like Chumbawamba, with their anarcho/punk background, could fall into this category, but then since the first song I thought of when I read the post was Come On Eileen, I might not be a good judge of this kind of thing.
posted by quin at 2:54 PM on July 29, 2008

So sorry for wasting the...

Naw, it's just that I'm at work and I want to estimate if I should take the risk of getting caught watching videos. Anyway, <end derail>
posted by gurple at 2:56 PM on July 29, 2008

Boiled in Lead. Maybe the first. Maybe the best. Maybe neither, but a damn fine show.
posted by shetterly at 2:56 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Chumbawamba have been spotted in last few years doing acoustic sets at folk festivals, and making albums of English rebel songs from 13something to 1984, so yes, I think they may fit. Sorta.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:58 PM on July 29, 2008

Waiting for Guinness, from Sydney.

*disclaimer: friend of the band. well, more friends of friends really.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:02 PM on July 29, 2008

I ain't from the peace movement
I'm from the anti-bullshit movement

He may call himself Anti-Folk, but Roger Manning is at least a bit of Folk-Punk.
posted by *burp* at 3:07 PM on July 29, 2008

Holy crap! Roger Manning. That guy is pretty nuts.

I remember, like, 10 years ago I took my girlfriend to see Roger Manning at the Hi-Point in St. Louis. It was fun because (a) he was late to the show because he decided to go rollerblading in Forest Park (after dark!) before the show, and (b) only 6 people total showed up and we were all there to see this Roger Manning, not this Roger Manning.

Oh, and he played an awesome set. He broke like 3 strings while doing it, but we all had a good time.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:14 PM on July 29, 2008

uh, the entire late-eighties and early-to-mid-nineties careers of michelle shocked and ani difranco (i've said it, and i'm not apologizing for it) more than fit the bill.

but i get the distinct sense i've wandered into a bro-zone, here. so now i'm going to back away slowly.
posted by wreckingball at 3:14 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Hell yes, Michelle Shocked! I was trying to remember, but I kept coming up with Annie Lennox and got distracted listening to old Eurythmics CDs. I think "I need you" on Savage might count, but the rest... uh, not so much.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:16 PM on July 29, 2008

ani difranco is punk? Really?
posted by prefpara at 3:17 PM on July 29, 2008

Greg Graffin from Bad Religion actually did a straight-up traditional folk album, Cold as the Clay, with a suitably gut-wrenching version of "Omie Wise."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:17 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Billy Bragg? Or is that just Folk?

Billy Bragg is, without a doubt, Folk Punk. Something like "A New England" or is a perfect example (his new album is pretty good in parts).

Neil Youngs Rust Never Sleeps was a good early example of folk with punk I guess. Welfare Mothers Make Better Lovers...Rock on Neil!
posted by twistedonion at 3:24 PM on July 29, 2008

Jeffrey Lewis is one of the great anti-folk singers (and also a comic book artist). He's got an amazing explanation of how punk rock came from the East Village folk scene, and another on the history of Communist China. His latest album, 12 Crass Songs, offers somewhat more accessible covers of Crass' classic punk noise.
posted by Jon_Evil at 3:30 PM on July 29, 2008

I've met a lot folks who were punks, but no punks who were folk.
posted by poppo at 3:32 PM on July 29, 2008

[...] Flogging Molly, and the Dropkick Murphys may have been the first bands to combine punk rock with folk music

Buh-whuh? They've been around since the mid-90s. Boiled in Lead has been around since 1983.

On preview: shetterly beat me to it. Ah-dee-doo-ah-dee-doo-dah-day.

It could be argued that much of Spirit of the West's repertoire is folk-punk, too. Certainly "Home for a Rest".
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:08 PM on July 29, 2008

Labels in music can be a drag. All music is folk music, since folks play it (Louis Armstrong said something like that). The Holy Modal Rounders were '60s folk-punk before the label made any sense. If you doubt it, listen to their tune "CIA Man." I would also vote Phranc, Penelope Houston (of the Avengers, who briefly had a solo folk thing), The Sun City Girls, the Meat Puppets, Eddie Detroit, Michelle Shocked, and others into that early '80s orbit. Throw in the '60s psych-punk of Nico, the blues-punk of Tom Waits, the '60s jazz-punk of Moondog, the rockabilly-punk of the Flat Duo Jets, or for that matter the Violent Femmes, who might well be called folk-punk, and throw it all into a musical blender... and one perceives how much music falls between the cracks of labels.
posted by ornate insect at 4:48 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Punk rock gay christians, from the son of a disgraced evangelical preacher, naturally.
posted by binturong at 5:12 PM on July 29, 2008

I f country counts as folk (I hate the term 'folk music' but that's beside the point), then what of cowpunk like Jason & The Scorchers, the Blasters, et al?
posted by jonmc at 5:30 PM on July 29, 2008

The Holy Modal Rounders were '60s folk-punk before the label made any sense.

The Fugs, too. and they did it better.
posted by jonmc at 5:31 PM on July 29, 2008

jonmc--you're right and "CIA Man" was a Fugs song. I misremembered.
posted by ornate insect at 5:34 PM on July 29, 2008

or *cough* Springsteen's Nebraska. Totally DIY, recorded on a Walkman in his living room, unremittingly dark and/or angry, lots of traditional influences...meets the definition to my ears.
posted by jonmc at 5:34 PM on July 29, 2008

(and yeah, I know, he's a 'rock star,' which makes the move all the more impressive. He was poised to hit superstar status and did the complete opposite of what was expected. That's pretty punk rock to me.)
posted by jonmc at 5:37 PM on July 29, 2008

Although celtic-punk groups like the Pogues, Flogging Molly, and the Dropkick Murphys may have been the first bands to combine punk rock with folk music

Not remotely close. This whole idea that "punk" and "folk" is somehow a unique pairing, recently sprung from the minds of artists, is just silly. To cast unoriginal and uninspiring bands such as the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly in with a band like the Pogues (more original and miles better), who were releasing decades a decade earlier, well . . . that doesn't make sense.

But even to look at the Pogues is to forget the the great Irish punk band which preceded them, the Radiators (From Space), who did folk-punk things, and whose own Philip Chevron later joined the Pogues.

I guess it depends on your idea of what "folk" and "punk" really are, but Cabaret Voltaire's many fusions of reggae rhythms with electronic noise could be an example. Scritti Politti's avant-garde songs an lyrics and melodies derived from both dub and English folk music could be an example. The Mekons' "English Dancing Master" EP is postpunk-folk. 4 Be 2's "One Of The Lads" is punk, reggae and Celtic sounds, all tossed together. There's folky banjo on the Nightingales' "Hysterics" album. All of these predate the Pogues . . . most of them are more progressive and experimental and less clichéd than what the Pogues did a few years later.

But why stop there? Quite a lot of the Fairport Convention has a lot of the noise and darkness of punk. The Incredible String Band, Nico, Anne Briggs and many others who existed outside the mainstream of folk . . . and many of the "folk punk" bands acknowledge and understand that these artists got their first. Have a listen to the 1971 studio version of Karen Dalton's "Katie Cruel" and compare it to the Cait O'Riordan version of "A Man You Don't Meet Every Day," and ask yourself . . . which is more punk?

The Raincoats' 1979, self-titled album - that's folk punk!

You can keep going back, and going back, all the way to the Bristol Sessions and the earliest recorded folk, and still hear something undeniably punk in it all.

Even in my country, even before punk, there were Roma musicians in their 60s and 70s playing music with a greater sense of energy, excitement and chaos than the Ramones did in 1976, and they were doing it playing songs from centuries ago.

Watching a "battle" between Serbian Gypsy brass bands live will leave you wondering what they punk of Flogging Molly is . . . they play with about half the aggression by comparison.

And you could go around the world (folk's not a Western construct) and witness music - Konono No 1 in Zaire, local renditions of the centuries old Ramayana Monkey Chant in Indonesia, Maramures village music, just to name a few - that reveal the "punk" and "folk" fusion of bands like the Dropkick Murphys or Boiled In Lead to be contrived, commercial and obvious.

I've got a special place in my heart for original aspects of the Pogues - Shane's a great lyricist with a real ear for folk motif, plus the band's top-rate and the original melodies are often worthy of being passed down the generations. But that's a rare exception.

The reality is this: the bands mentioned aren't representative of much new, aside from a distinct production gloss, even when very specifically defined. If you have a good knowledge of many musics and you think about it, there's one inescapable conclusion:

"Folk punk" is the world's oldest music.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:49 PM on July 29, 2008 [7 favorites]

I actually enjoy the Murphy's (they're fun), otherwise insightful comment.
posted by jonmc at 6:01 PM on July 29, 2008

You reach a higher understanding of music when you start to realize things like the idea that folk and punk rock, and for that matter early country and blues, came from the same "place", i.e. a populist, socially conscious "People's Music". Especially if you look at the lyrics. There's a lot of similarity between, say, Crass railing against the Falklands war or a Dead Kennedys indictment of corporate greed and an Irish rebel song or a song about the hardships of the Depression in the American south or the plight of northern English miners or what have you.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:15 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Quite a lot of the Fairport Convention...

and Steeleye Span.
posted by Miko at 7:37 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

a populist, socially conscious "People's Music"

I agree with your important point that the music of the people created outside of established culture is always "folk" by any meaningful definition, whether it be freestyle rap or work songs or punk, but I do balk a little at including the "socially conscious" part. For many artists in the "folk" vein, they weren't singing about their topics out of a sense of altruism or a grandiose notion of society's ills or identification with diverse groups. They were often merely describing their personal experiences and perhaps noticing patterns. And, after all, quite a bit of folk music isn't what we'd term "socially conscious" today - it really is about drinking, murder, love, sex, revenge, embarrassment, or whatever, and needs no higher purpose than to be reflective of human experience.

Maybe I'm reacting to the phraseology, which seems folk-revivalist, imbuing the folk with an degree of inherent virtue, purity, and empathy that would actually be preternatural. One of the things you learn as you study roots music is that the "folk" could be every bit as bigoted, shallow, and mean as anyone else, despite the creative work. That may even be some of what creates the edge of anger or aggrievedness that becomes so obvious in the punk genre.

I suppose that we could come up with a definition of "socially conscious" that really only meant "conscious of what it is to be human and live in groups of people." That narrower definition, I think, does apply.
posted by Miko at 8:06 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

but I do balk a little at including the "socially conscious" part. For many artists in the "folk" vein, they weren't singing about their topics out of a sense of altruism or a grandiose notion of society's ills or identification with diverse groups. They were often merely describing their personal experiences and perhaps noticing patterns.

"Socially conscious" was a poor choice of words, as it's a loaded term. Maybe something more like "lyrics that demonstrate an awareness of the larger society, even if only through relating personal experiences that document some aspect of widespread problems/shared experiences/etc." Or something like that. It's difficult to articulate, but you probably know what I'm getting at.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:47 PM on July 29, 2008

posted by Miko at 8:55 PM on July 29, 2008

Like, for example, "Stagger Lee": a lot of people don't realize that even though Stag kills a man for no good reason, he isn't the villain, he's more like an anti-hero. He's a black man that's so bad, even the white establishment is afraid of him. The intended audience knew that, and through the song we learn something about the time and the people. That kind of social relevance.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:02 PM on July 29, 2008

To be fair, I think a lot of people do realize it, which is why it has such traction. It's one of those universally resonant themes of power.
posted by Miko at 9:17 PM on July 29, 2008

Stagger Lee as signifier.

The Signifying Monkey
is always a good way to learn about double consciousness.

And, yeah, Dee Xtrovert is right about most of this stuff, so just read that one again so I don't have to type (although I'd throw in Bukka White's "Fixin to Die" as an ultimate statement of populist nihilism as a celebration of life and the Tropicalismo movement in Brazil and Selda Bagcan in Turkey as people who put their actual lives on the line to be free to play music, not just beer drinking songs for meatheads).
posted by sleepy pete at 9:28 PM on July 29, 2008

Or, as Billy Childish once said, "I only listen to dead black men, so I'm not so sure what punk is you're on about." I probably just made that last one up.
posted by sleepy pete at 9:54 PM on July 29, 2008

WOW! Someone mentioned Selda Bağcan! I had no idea she was known at all in America, but she was a big underground figure in Bosnia. There's a lot of Turkish pop influence in Bosnia, because of lingering connections to the Ottoman Empire, and because Turkey was an affordable place for Yugoslavs to visit, especially for younger people - it's still a popular honeymoon destination. And of course, people brought back things like recordings.

Her records (cassettes in most cases, I'd assume) existed only in the underground and were traded hand-to-hand - at least until a few years after Tito died, in which case one could suddenly get a wider variety of things. The reason was that her call for free speech and democracy was considered threatening, even though few people spoke or understand Turkish in Bosnia. The music - often psychedelic takes on folk melodies - and the general "image" were threatening enough by themselves.

The irony, of course, is that while she was harassed for her "Communist" views in Turkey, the Communist Yugoslavian state had no love for her either. Good folk tends to cut both ways.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:13 PM on July 29, 2008

I've been active in the small (but awesome) folk-punk community for most of my adult life. The first show I ever booked was Abe Froman (pre-Erin Tobey and Matty Pop-Chart), The Devil is Electric (Chris and Hannah pre-Ghost Mice) and This Bike is a Pipebomb.
posted by Lusy P Hur at 12:41 AM on July 30, 2008

And then there were the original "larrikins" of 19th- and early 20th-century Australia; working-class and underclass youth, often of Irish heritage, and usually on the wrong side of the law (as administered by the British colonial governments). They formed the usual street gangs one gets in cities, and got up to the usual mischief and low-level crime. When they partied, though, they formed bands, informed unselfconsciously by the Irish and British folk music traditions, playing tin whistles and fiddles, though with little concern for heritage, purity or virtuosity, and with what we'd now call a gritty urban edge. From what I hear, they were about as punk rock as you could get before the invention of electric amplification.
posted by acb at 4:18 AM on July 30, 2008

Worth mentioning here is the Riotfolk Collective. They're a group of DIY folk musicians that are in the same vein as a lot of the artists mentioned in this thread. They're more along the lines of radical 60's folk though. Their slogan is "Making Folk a Threat Again."
posted by symbollocks at 6:28 AM on July 30, 2008

"a lot of people don't realize that even though Stag kills a man for no good reason"

Dude took his five-dollar Stetson hat and wouldn't give it back.

(I guess my personal definition of folk has less to do with the content than the opportunity. I think of folk as music that has simple enough accompaniment that it can be made nearly anywhere. That's why hip hop started as more of a folk form and has kind of split, with rapping still pretty folk and producing getting less and less so as time goes on, some notable exceptions aside. And I think that the folk idiom can be further explored by looking at the competing views of authorship between folk and not-folk, though that connection is more tenuous. Folk music lives through covers and reinterpretations, a sort of socialist IP milieu.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:47 AM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Worth mentioning here is the Riotfolk Collective.

oh, i did :D
posted by dunkadunc at 11:18 AM on July 30, 2008

« Older Microchip microscope   |   He wanted to be a priest, now he's a beast... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments