Deviance in Dublin: Punk

April 4, 2015 – Culture

above: illustration by Conor Nolan

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to see what it is that’s happening in Dublin in 2015 that’s making punk such an attractive subculture to be a part of. Obviously, it’s not an ideal time to be young or poor anywhere in Ireland. My experience was that not only does punk recognize this, but it also offers solutions.

Because punk tends to be underground, many aspects of the scene (booking shows, organising protests, recording music, etc.) are constructed by the individuals within the subcultures – It’s by the punks, for the punks. This DIY attitude is at the core of Dublin punk. It’s a necessity for a subculture that rejects many of the values of mainstream society, but it’s not necessarily a disadvantage. One of the main concerns of any punk scene is freedom, and this DIY attitude allows members to distribute their own music, art and ideas absolutely unfiltered – completely free from censorship. Events like the recent Independents Day festival which took place in the Dublin food Co-op are the epitome of this aspect of the Dublin punk scene. Members of the scene paid next to nothing to set up stalls allowing them to sell their work – zines, prints, records, clothes, badges, food, etc. – while a screening room just off from the main hall allowed others to show short films, give talks and host workshops throughout the day. It almost felt like an “open day” for the Dublin punk scene, where everyone was invited to come in, see the best and brightest, and decide if it was the sort of scene they felt was for them.

A more subtle result of this DIY aesthetic is that it promotes thinking for yourself. From my experience with many of the punks in Dublin, it’s clear they have incredibly strong opinions on all sorts of topics, from artists, music, movies, and writers, to issues like water charges and welfare. A vanilla character like myself didn’t stand a chance trying to add to the discourse. A person with an attitude of indifference is bringing nothing to the table. Even if somebodies opinions are diametrically opposed, it’s at least assumed they’ve done their research and are open to debate. Thinking for yourself is how you establish yourself and create your own identity within the subculture. This emphasis on thinking for yourself is what allows two people with radically different ideologies to both identify as punk. And Dublin’s punks are certainly diverse.

This emphasis on DIY also allows punks to construct their own values, which work for them. While it’s one thing to protest and demand change from the mainstream, part of the appeal of punk is that it provides alternatives to those within the subculture. An example of this from the Dublin scene is how it handles an issue like poverty, which many young people in Dublin (punk and otherwise) are dealing with. Punk, by its very nature, is a low-cost way of living. This is achieved in a number of ways. Rather than anything material, Dublin’s punk scene puts quite a strong value on knowledge. However, this extends beyond just having strong convictions as mentioned before, and into having information on upcoming gigs, talks, poetry readings, etc. This ties nicely back into Dublin’s punk scene being very underground. Because these events put minimal effort into broadcasting themselves, having this information gives status within the subculture. This type of knowledge is in high demand.

Another way Dublin’s punks are keeping their costs down is through communal living. This is probably just a nice way of saying “crowded apartments” but it seems to work out in everyone’s favour. The cost of rent and utilities is kept way down, food expenses can be kept to a minimum provided everyone’s happy to share, and you’re generally surrounded by your friends. While this might seem like its true of most young people in Dublin, the punks I’ve spent time with are the only ones I’ve seen who are happily embracing it as a positive.

Homemade clothing and furniture are other symptoms, not only of punks inherent DIY aesthetic but also the value it puts on thriftiness. Many of the people I’ve met over the last few weeks wore homemade t-shirts to support local punk bands with no official merchandise. These ranged from some basic stencils to genuinely impressive designs which must have taken at least an entire afternoon to craft.  Some even wore t-shirts supporting bands who didn’t exist, but whose names were too good not to go on a t-shirt (And I’m sure were all looking forward to the first release from “Adrienne Rich or Die Trying”). Another group I stayed with had just had an impressive handmade coffee table gifted to them by a friend. As well as being admired by others within the subculture, it was also clear the artists themselves took a lot of pride in their works.

Obviously, the purest expression of punk’s DIY attitude is its music. In the early days of the subculture, many people claimed what attracted them was the hands-on approach the musicians took, not only in performing, but also recording and distributing the music. Recently, the emergence of websites like Soundcloud, as well as huge improvements in the quality of home recording equipment, mean that this has become something which is no longer unique to the punk scene. Every terrible indie band since 2005 has at least four songs haunting a dead Myspace out there somewhere, and you’re lying if you say you weren’t a member of at least one of them. While punk may not have the monopoly on home-made music anymore, the Dublin punk scene can still pride itself on being almost entirely self-sufficient and having an incredibly devoted fanbase.

Dublin based punk label ‘Dogs and Vultures’ recently celebrated their one year anniversary by hosting a night of “Raw noizey distorted madness” featuring some of the acts they’ve helped over the last year. It was a BYOB event featuring four (amazingly named) bands – Rats Blood, Burnchurch, Gaze and Scumheads – and a sketchy toilet behind a shower curtain. The gig took place in Tenterhooks – a small, undecorated venue in Dublin 8. The crowd was a mix of people roughly between 20 – 40 years old, with a lot of beards, beanies and piercings. A couple of attendees had gone all out with mohawks, studded leather jackets and chains – The sort of person your parents picture when you use the word “punk”.

The crowd was so into it, at first I felt like a fraud for dropping in with no real background knowledge of the bands, but everyone’s enthusiasm made it impossible for me not to enjoy myself.  The music was exactly what had been advertised – “Raw noizey distorted madness”. It was loud and fast and it was pretty clear the bands and the audience were both loving it. I couldn’t really make out any lyrics for the most part but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the kind of engagement these bands were looking for from the crowd.  There was a similar buzz just outside the venue. From talking to some of the other attendees I learned that they had been expecting a bigger turnout but the gig was competing not only with a poetry reading, but also an outbreak of flu in the Dublin punk scene. If that doesn’t at least make you smile, it’s because you’re not picturing a group of punks stuck at home on a Saturday night blowing their noses and sipping a mug of Lemsip.

Because Dublin’s punks look for their supports from within, they need to be able to trust one-another in order to continue being self-sufficient. Clearly there’s a lot of trust and mutual support among Dublin’s punks. This is something that is never explicitly spoken about, but seems very important.  And it’s important because it needs to be. It gives a safety net to all members of the subculture. As long as everyone is helping out in whatever way they can, nobody’s going to fall too far. It’s a nice reassurance you don’t really find in mainstream society. Given everything that’s happened in this country in the last seven or so years, it’s obvious why this is such an appealing aspect of the subculture. It’s nice to know the punks have got your back.

Words: Shane Murphy

Illustration: Conor Nolan