“What is punk?” a friend texted me when I told them I’d be going to the Priests show at Brooklyn Bizarre and described it as a punk gig. They were being facetious, but the question stuck in my mind. In a world where even Paris Hilton is called punk, what does it mean? Is it an empty signifier for a certain brand of cool? At the Brooklyn Night Bizarre July 29th, headlining DC band Priests and openers Future Punx and Groupie proved the genre is still relevant.
Before pop-punk turned the genre’s rage inward, it was a music levied against oppressive powers. Sure the Ramones only wanted to score dope and hitch a ride to Rockaway beach, but the Sex Pistols railed against the monarchy as well as classist British Society. Poly Styrene of X-Ray Specs famously shouted “up yours” to the idea that women had to be docile. In a recent documentary, We’re Here, We’re Present: Women in Punk, OG LA punk legend Alice Bag said “What really is the essence of punk is that feeling that you can challenge and create your world. You can challenge what’s happening and create the world that you want.” Whether that world is about combating the callousness of our society with more empathy or advocating to destroy a government that no longer works, punk is about that act of rebellion that leads to creation.
At the Brooklyn Bizarre, Priests and their supporting acts Future Punx and Groupie took aim at 2017 and all the ways it’s presenting the same oppressive bullshit that optimistic people thought we had left behind. In Greenpoint, that bullshit is a room full of predominatly white people who consider themselves alternative. The first band Groupie didn’t let anyone off easy yelling “You’re part of the problem!” during their song “Poor You.”
Future Punx drum machine synthetic bloops weren’t something the average person would call punk, but they have the same attitude. A male front person singing atonally about “society” is a cliché at this point, but I tap my feet anyway and soak up the Devo vibes. What’s scary about 2017 is classic demons that should be old clichés are still real and scary. Over the course of their set Future Punx outlined how the world creates structures to keep minorities locked out (“can we just admit that society denies?”) and mocked bigots ability to put their fragile anxieties on someone else (Punx “who will you take it out on this time”.) Later they mocked toxic masculinity “Always shoot first! Ask questions never!” A classic sentiment that sounds especially grim in a 2017 where the president taunts hostile countries on twitter.
The terrifying and ridiculous state of our Government should have quaked when Priests took the stage. Gutairist GL Jaguar’s searing noise, as well as the backbone by Daniele Daniele (drums), Taylor Mulitz (bass) provided the perfect stage for Katie Greer to give the performance of a lifetime. Opening with “Pink White House”, Katie Greer’s screams of “vote for options, 1 or 2, consider the options of a binary” electrified the crowd. Watching her stalking across the stage in a blonde wig while singing about “surface meaning” I was reminded of conservative women like Kelly Anne Conway and Tory Lanham, as well as the majority of white women who voted for trump over Hillary. Straight from that into “Doctor” their scathing indictment of our medical industry, and freshly grim with news of Republicans in the House and Senate trying to take away millions of American’s healthcare.
Another amazing moment was Greer performing their 2012 song “Personal Plane” while waving around a bouquet of flowers. Throwing them into the crowd, Greer said “give them to your real president. You could even split them up and give them to her” referencing Hilary Clinton and the fact she won the popular vote. As Priests play their final song, the mournful “Nothing Feels Natural” about working minimum wage, the lights flash red white and blue. The version of America isn’t what any of the bands want, but punk lets voice them voice their concerns, and the happily pogoing crowd offers the hearty reassurance that not everyone in America is too distracted to listen.
“I’m so impressed you all know the words” Greer admits halfway through “Suck.” Of course they do, this shit is a lifeline.