Celebrating Punk Rock history through the eyes of the people on the ground — the people who were there, who helped shape the scene, and were shaped by it

photographs and interviews by Chris Ortiz

originally published on chris-ortiz.com

There I was: deep in the heart of unknown territory, surrounded by unknown foes, ready to slash and die. My head is on a swivel, eyes darting back and forth, I was ready to spring into action — to defend my honor or my life. The cute redhead I had as a date that night leaned over and said: ” Is something wrong?”


“I’m not sure.” I replied. “I don’t feel right. Like something is off.” She looked at me, shook her head, pinched up her lip, cocked her brow and said something to the tune of “Just relax. It’s cool.”


It’s cool. Yeah, it’s cool. Then it hit me, like a tons of fat kid stage divin’ ass, it hit me. “It’s too fuckin safe.”


I was in Nashville, and it was 2014. I didn’t know the no-name band at the local punk rock show, but I had seen them 1000 times in other cities and other times. I was far from my home punk scene of Lawrence Kansas. Even though the Outhouse is long gone, and some of my favorite local bands are defunct, I still have a healthy respect for my scene because it will set your ass straight when it needs to.


Back in Nashville my date turns to me and says: “Are you gonna make it?”


“Yes” I said. “It’s just… It’s just I don’t feel like I’m gonna get stabbed or nothing.”


“Umm? Ok.” Is all she said.


“It’s too safe. I don’t feel any energy in the room. Nobody is into it.”


Punk Rock has become safe, and I fuckin hate it. See I’m from a scene that was dangerous. Punk Rock to me should be dangerous. It should be dangerous to me, to you, and to the sleeping giants of society that won’t see the revolution coming. Punk Rock should feel like you might get stabbed in the bathroom. You might have to boot-party a Nazi to round out the night. It means vomit in your car, and sticky shit on your boots. It was visceral and greasy. There was not a god damned thing safe about it, except for your friends. But even some of those rat bastards would steal your mom’s credit card and bang your sister. Back in the day my scene was known for bands that were notorious for doing unspeakable things to farm animals on stage. Hell, one front man used to cram marshmallows up his butt. Bands were in your face and dangerous — bands like Kill Whitey, Cocknoose, Filthy Jim, Mopar Funeral, The Unknown Stuntman. God forbid that one night would go by without some dip shit getting his head kicked in for whatever we could think of at the moment. It was awesome. I remember tripping at shows, and having a religious experience in a corn field while D.I. or Toxic Reasons blared as the twisted soundtrack. It was an angry teen’s Valhalla. It was sheer bliss, and Anarchy, and unabashed freedom.


Back then you had to prove it. When rednecks and cops came calling, you stood and fought them. When you caught the jocks and bullies from school in your world, you taught them a lesson. Frat boys be damned.


But now it’s safe. Punk Rock should never be safe. Punks were meant to destroy. Now teachers and moms have blue hair, and its kitschy. People with corporate jobs have tattoos and piercings, and no one bats an eye. Somewhere, there are real punks left. Street level. In a part of town where your blue haired mom won’t go. Somewhere, there are loud guitars and blood and beer on the floor. There is a kid writhing on a makeshift stage screaming shitty poetry over feedback and dull drums. There are scars and drugs and fear. If you listen to corporate “punk,” if you have blue hair and Hot Topic jewelry and have never been punched in the mouth by a skinhead — or better yet punched one yourself, you are not a punk. You are bullshit. Live a little. Start your revolution. Tear it all down. Safety is for the weak. If there isn’t blood on you or the band, it was a shitty show. Pick up a guitar. Scream to the world. Safety is for complacent pigs. Stand up for your freedom. Wanna be a punk?  Bleed for it.  Show me the scars. Freedom isn’t free.

Punk Rock has become safe, and I fuckin hate it. See I’m from a scene that was dangerous. Punk Rock to me should be dangerous


— Shane Thirteen

I got out of a bad marriage 6 months ago. He hated live music, and he was very controlling — which is why I went from seeing two or three shows a week to nothing for about seven years. I was diagnosed with lymphoma nine years ago when I was 23. The scars on my neck are from all of the biopsies. The scars on my chest are from the 3 power ports I’ve had implanted over the years for chemo, etc. I’m a chronic relapser, so it never truly goes away. But I’m going on 3 years in remission now, and being so close to death for so long has given me a weird way of seeing life. I don’t give a fuck what people think, especially when they stare at my scars.


Life is too short to care about that sort of thing, so I refuse to cover them up. I used to be into punk music in high school, but I lost touch when I broke up with the punker dude I was dating. I needed some guidance. So when Josh and I started hanging out, he would give me his iPod to take to work. I went hog wild — I loved it all. I love the energy. I love the attitude. I love the loudness. I love how unapologetically opinionated and political it is. But most of all, I love that punk music is about: it’s about connection, and acceptance.


Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to wear combat boots and floral dresses — it’s super 90s, I know. But I didn’t really have the confidence until I was in my mid-20s. Now it’s what I wear most of the time.


[The cancer is] Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I ignored all the symptoms and kept partying. A huge tumor popped under my clavicle, and I only noticed it when I got syrup on it while I was working as a barista. I was stage 4 by the time I started chemo for the first time. That means that the tumors were everywhere — above and below the diaphragm — and that I was symptomatic in every way. Each treatment works, just not for long. Sometimes I get 6 months. Sometimes I get years. The side effects from the treatments stay with me: new problems. But I’m alive. Each day that I wake up is a good day.

I’m going on 3 years in remission now, and being so close to death for so long has given me a weird way of seeing life. I don’t give a fuck what people think, especially when they stare at my scars.


— Sara

What was it like being a minority in the scene? I rarely look back to the past since I’m so pumped for my future. A lot of my friends can look back on the skinhead scene fondly. I can find some love in the experiences and friendships I made too, but I feel remorse for things I’ve said and done.


I didn’t come from a scene where I felt like a minority. I was a poor kid like everyone else. I grew up in the San Antonio scene. It is mostly made up of Latino skins, punks, hardcore kids, rude boys, etc. I didn’t see many white faces at shows that didn’t belong to touring bands. Maybe I just didn’t associate with white kids because they weren’t from my part of town, or because they didn’t dress like me. Most of the fighting in the scene had more to do with which crew you ran with, rather than racial beefs. It threw me for a loop to hear from the media that we are all a bunch of racist assholes.


It wasn’t until I moved to Oklahoma City in the late 90’s that I began to feel like a minority. It’s no secret OKC had Nazi elements in its scene, but I wasn’t treated terribly. It was hard to wrap my mind around it.


My patriotism amped up to nationalism after 9-11. I started having long political discussions with other skins in other towns, and began listening to Rock Against Communism. I’ve always laughed at the idea of people living their lives by band lyrics, but it really made me want to push the envelope. I was furious with anyone I considered to be liberal. Music has power, and I truly believe that listening to angry shit all the time will let the anger seep in.


I became obsessed with militia groups like The Minutemen Project. But when I approached them at an anti-immigration rally with one of my white friends, they wouldn’t even look me in the eye. They gave her literature, and she threw it away. This set off a time of self-reflection, and a shift in politics. I was used to hearing things like “Aaron’s one of the good ones” but it made me wonder if I was just someone’s token minority.


I converted to Christianity. And the birth of my niece made me think about the legacy I would be leaving. It’s funny — most Christians align themselves with the Republican party, but after giving my life to Jesus I found myself having more compassion for my neighbors, and adopting politics that might be considered more liberal. I started cutting people into the scene who weren’t deemed worthy by my peers. It started a rift. A girl broke my heart shortly afterwards, and I was also difficult to be around. I lost some longtime friends. I started questioning everything. You find out really quick who your true friends are when you are deep in the gutter of life.


I decided that I should reevaluate my life, and I started going to school. I’ve always loved education, but I never thought I could manage the money to go, and I also thought that universities were rich, liberal cesspools. My ideas on that have changed somewhat. If there’s anything that’ll make you rethink your politics, it’s being surrounded by the people you may not have liked in the past. It’s easy to hate someone when you don’t know them face to face. I have spent time with people of different races, religions, sexual orientations, political affiliations, etc… I sat next to an Iraqi in history class, and we traded history notes on what he was taught and what I was taught. The best place for open dialogue is an educational environment, or the military.


I’ve learned to embrace myself, my Latino culture, and the moments that have shaped me. And I’ve allowed myself to dream. I don’t just focus on the “America” I want based on the politics of a scene. I’m a better citizen now. I contribute to my community through service work.


Although I’m nearing 40, I will always have a love for the music and for the skinhead subculture. I can see why the scene draws people in, and I hope that others find the same sense of pride that I learned from it. Pride in who you are. Pride in working hard for what you have. Pride in not taking no shit from people, and always standing by your guns.

I sat next to an Iraqi in history class, and we traded history notes on what he was taught and what I was taught. The best place for open dialogue is an educational environment, or the military.


— Aaron C.

I found the punk scene at a young age — something like 13 or 14 years old. It was around the same time that Green Day’s Dookie or Rancid’s …And Out Came the Wolves albums dropped. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Before that I listened strictly to Alternative Rock — albums like No Need to Argue by The Cranberries, and if you go back further, you’ll find an odd mix of country and bad 1980s pop. But something clicked in my head when Welcome to Paradise and Time Bomb first hit my ears, and things really fell into place shortly after when I discovered Ska-core, the devil and more by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The music inspired me, and it filled a void in my life. Its energy gave my teenage angst an outlet. It made me want to be creative. I was able to feel free and had the ability to channel my creativity into art and allowed my own depression to take a back seat in my mind


My lifelong venture in the world of photography started about eight years earlier, but it didn’t cross paths with punk rock until the late 1990s or early 2000s when I started spending most of my time at a crusty punk collective called “The Pirate House.” This is where I started to photograph my friends there, during every day events and at night during concerts. What I liked the most was the crust look about them, how they wore it was pride and not a sole could talk them out of it. It was who they were and what they loved. It was a look that I had only seen a few times before, and those times my parents demanded that I stay away from them since they were “dirty” or “scary”. In reality, my parents, like so many other people still even today, are scared of what they don’t know or don’t understand.


The crusty punk scene, also known as crust, or anarcho-punk, began in the late 80s with bands like Amebix, and gained notoriety in the 90s with bands like Aus Rotten. My appearance changed. Patches of my favorite bands, and metal studs appeared on my clothes. My friends started to change. This was the backbone that united us, the love of music and the scene. By seeing someone who looked similar to you randomly walking down the street, you would stop them to ask what they are into and a friendship would most likely be started at that time.


I attended the happenings at the Pirate House pretty much every night. Sometimes it was a vegan potluck, or just spending the night out on the porch with friends, drinking cheap beer and enjoying what the night had to offer. But other times it was community outreach — volunteering at the local soup kitchens or standing up for worker’s rights. Of-course there were also plenty of house concerts. Independent bands like This Bike is a Pipe bomb, The Sissies, and The Short Bus Kids were the norm.


It was an education and a sense of a family that I didn’t get at home, or at school. It was completely welcoming and did not discriminate. Your sex, race, or religion didn’t matter. Nobody cared if you were bald or had dreadlocks to your ass; if you were fat or skinny; if you had glasses or not. I grew up in a divided household since I was 10 months old and I was of half Latino, half European descent. I never felt like I fit in anywhere. But I did fit in here, and it was a good group of people. But it didn’t keep us from being judged for it.


This is a 10-year project that covers how my scene has developed over the last ten years from the 40th year anniversary of the subculture’s birth to the 50th. It is a collection images and stories from the community, from all walks of life; musicians and radio DJs to club bouncers to activists, about how it has stayed the same and how it is different. The people defy the stereotypes of uneducated drunk and drug addicted trouble makers or bums. Some also call them activists, but they just call themselves decent human beings. They take a stand against injustices that are against not just themselves but against everyone. These images and stories are from across the States and the world as experienced by those who experienced them first hand.

The people defy the stereotypes of uneducated drunk and drug addicted trouble makers or bums. Some also call them activists, but they just call themselves decent human beings.


— Christ Ortiz, Photographer