In our Lifestyle Editor Joshua Rotchelle’s bid to teach 52 genres, one for every week of the year, we bring you his third instalment, on folk punk.
Let’s be honest: “Folk” and “punk”, much like “barbed wire” and “sex” or “hallucinogens” and “watching Spongebob”, just seems like a pair of concepts that do not mix.
However, should you care to wander off the beaten path, all three pairs can have surprising results. The last two our legal guy probably wouldn’t allow me to recommend here, but the first one is a genre of music, and if it’s a genre and it’s weird, it mandates a Music Lesson.
The niche of folk punk was pioneered by the Violent Femmes in the ‘80s (who are top notch by the way, check out Add It Up and Kiss Off). Despite being neither a punk nor folk band (the troupe fall under the ever-ambiguous label of “alternative rock”), they made the first steps toward the genre by playing some modern punk-y songs with traditional instruments.
To this day, the majority of the scene takes this approach with anything from banjos to bagpipes, but how far a given tune is punk or folk varies quite a bit. Fortunately, the genre is easy listening compared to many of punk’s descendants, often sporting a light and fun tone. Particular kind-to-the-ears tunes include This Is What I Want from This Bike Is A Pipebomb, and Oh Susquehanna by Defiance, Ohio.
Further into the genre however, things can get more folk than punk; some bands even get hyper-faithful and sing old, genuine folk songs alongside the usual modernised fare. The Dreadnoughts exemplify this excellently with shanties like Old Maui and the chilling Cruel Wars.
However, there’s still no doubt that folk punk as a whole is definitely a branch of punk, not folk: artists of the niche frequently show close adherence to the punk values of liberalism and acceptance. Brave as a Noun, for example, has folksters Andrew Jackson Jihad dealing with the topic of depression, while Transgender Dysphoria Blues from Against Me! puts a close, stark gaze on the stigmas transgenders face (as a matter of fact, the band’s lead Laura Jane Grace was born Thomas James Gabel).
All in all, folk punk is definitely worth a punt. It’s cousin pop punk is pretty popular, so chances are you’ve already had some limited exposure. Hell, it’s not that much of a jump from Green Day, there’s just more drinking and banjos. And, y’know, it’s less lame.