“I know it’s hypocritical to point fingers at the people who point fingers…” starts the tenth song on the fan favorite ska-punk-power-pop record, Scrambles. This is the first of many acknowledgements that Jeff Rosenstock, the man on the proverbial soapbox during “(Shut) Up The Punx!!!”, isn’t free from the shackles of what he’s raging against. But, there is a problem in punk and a multitude of other music scenes; one that actively pushes out people who may have found a home in that culture. After all, most underground music scenes, once founded by the outcasted, now have a set of unwritten rules you have to abide by out of fear of being disregarded by potential peers. Of course, this isn’t to say that problematic characters who emit negativity should be welcomed with open arms (Nazis, racists, sexual harassers, and all other assholes), but, as Jeff puts it, “… we could stand to be nicer.”
These strict guidelines don’t just boot ‘different’ people; they rot the very core of a counterculture. By making frivolous rules like “Vegans only, no meat allowed / Straight edge only, no drinking allowed / Fixed gears only, no three-speeds allowed”, you’re building a layer of conformity that’s hard to see from the inside of the group. Groupthink ideals that say different subgenres or suggestions are ‘not punk/rock/metal/trve enough’ pigeonhole progression. Rather, it creates a childish superiority complex (“Like God speaks through my acoustic guitar…”), a gatekeeping pseudo-authority (“Follow these conditions or we’ll kick your ass out…”), and ironic conventionality (“This organization doesn’t feel like anarchy / ‘Cause we’re suiting up to have the same identity”).
And then what? People on the outside, whether they’ve even been exposed to your counterculture or not, don’t see punkish rogues fighting for social progress, they see weirdos in jean vests “buy[ing] a forty and destroy[ing] a hotel party.” You’re effectively building a wall between yourself and the world around you.
None of us is perfect, though. Rosenstock shows moments of anger on this track itself (“If you really think that you and I are on the same page, you can go ahead and fuck yourself”), but his message rings true. Negativity and ingroup biases aren’t strengthening the bonds between punks, it’s denying anyone you deem ‘normal’ or ‘uncool’ the chance to see your view. It’s blunt, but there’s one perfect metaphor hidden in the song:
“… the man who cleans your mess up shrugs and says,
‘This nonconformity looks like conformity
Like boring, nice people pose threats to your authority
This positivity is negativity
And you boys sure left me with a mess to clean…'”
By losing their own identities and becoming a negative cog in a machine, they’ve directly left a poisoned impression on a humble, working man. The people they claim to fight for are essentially hurt by their arrogant actions of destruction and stupidity. What’s “punk” is creating a piss-poor consequence on someone just trying to do their job.
I’m not going to pretend that progress hasn’t been made in the 10 years since Scrambles was released. Ever since punk was first made, more acceptance has been granted to the groups originally not included, like the LGBT community and folks once considered to be ‘at odds’ with the “punk spirit.” But, it’s important to note that “(Shut) Up The Punx” shouldn’t be viewed in a vacuum. Various “cool clubs” have cropped up in music (black metal, death metal, progressive rock, noise, et cetera…) that promote a negative mindset.
I guess my point is that Bomb The Music Industry!’s two-and-a-half-minutes anthem against elitism and anti-conformity groupthink is a blunt, but cleverly forceful, call to action. Not a call to arms, mind you, but a call to positivity. A call to humble mindsets. A call for empathy, inclusivity, creations, progression, and acceptance (within reason, of course). A lyrically dense dive into what made punk rock tick in 2009 and what makes so many others tick in 2019. More importantly, a simple message:
“Smile big, hug bigger, talk big, act bigger.” —Bloon