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Punk Rock is Still Alive and Well in Philadelphia, 45 Years After Black Punk Band Pure Hell Led the Way

Punk Rock is Still Alive and Well in Philadelphia, 45 Years After Black Punk Band Pure Hell Led the Way


Punk Rock plays a key role in Philly’s underground music scene that isn’t fading anytime soon

The City of Brotherly Love might not be the first place that comes to mind when people think about punk rock, but Philadelphia has a long history with punk, dating back to the 1970s. 

Because of its smaller size and geographic location as the “meat” in the sandwich between Washington D.C. and New York City, Philadelphia is often lumped in with its larger neighbors. As a result, the Philly art and music scene has fought hard to retain its individuality.

Punk is a prime example.

Pure Hell ushered in Philly’s punk scene

In the 1970s, as New York started introducing art-punk and D.C. was experimenting with hardcore punk bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains, Philadelphia was busy cultivating its own underground network of punk. In 1974, the band Pure Hell helped launch punk as a legitimate genre all over Philly. By the end of the decade, punk had taken root and was there to stay.

It was a time of political and cultural divisiveness. Racism was still running rampant in the city, with elected officials often fanning the flames of hatred instead of trying to extinguish them. The punk rock counterculture was an escape for residents of Philadelphia. Tired of the declining economy, lack of jobs, and high taxes, people turned to music as an outlet for their frustration.

In 1981, Rick Millan opened the city’s first punk rock boutique, Zipperhead. The venue was a beacon for punk rock throughout the ’80s and ’90s until it closed in 2000. It later reopened around the corner under the name Crash Bang Boom. It is still referenced in pop culture. In its heyday, locals could rub elbows at Zipperhead with some of the punk scene’s most revered artists.

New punk bands continue to emerge

Today, Philly boasts an impressive DIY network of punk bands. Many of the modern punk bands are unknown in the mainstream recording world, but they don’t mind. They simply want to make meaningful music that entertains.

Philadelphia-born trio Thin Lips is a local favorite. They blend a mix of old songs with their cover of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” and original songs like “Gaslight Anthem.

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Other bands, like Cold Fronts, got their roots in Philly’s DIY music culture and are the perfect “starter punk” band with their mellow, upbeat lyrics and melodies.

Women are are rocking in the punk scene, too, with the emergence of all-female bands like Cayetana. The trio of Philly natives describes their music as “boisterous indie-punk” that screams “girl power.”

The Philadelphia punk scene is far from fading. It continues to evolve with new bands and new music. Since its origin, punk has been a megaphone for equality and disruption. In a world that is so politically and socially conflicted, punk is a refreshingly honest change of pace.

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