The Subgenres of Punk Rock

Punk Rock Comes in an Array of Sounds

Garage Band
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In order to fully understand the nature of punk music, it's important to be aware of all the forms it comes in. Punk is no longer just about the Sex Pistols and the Ramones; there are many different types of punk music with different influences and different sounds.

Anarcho Punk

The foundations of this movement can be linked to one song. The Sex Pistols first single, "Anarchy in the UK", was the first time punk and anarchy would be connected, and it would give rise to this specific subgenre.

Anarcho-punk isn't entirely about anarchy, but it is heavily motivated by politics. Its lyrics often convey messages about political issues, including animal rights and anti-government stances.

The English band Crass founded the movement, preaching communalism and the DIY movement. They dismissed punk bands such as the Sex Pistols as puppets of the music industry and believed that the only way to truly get your beliefs out was to produce your own music. This lead to Crass records, the original home of anarcho-punk bands such as Flux Of Pink Indians and KUKL (a band that featured a young Björk).

While Crass preached political change through pacifism, many other anarcho-punk bands believe that political change should be affected "by any means necessary," including violence.

Essential Bands: Crass, Flux Of Pink Indians, Against Me!, Subhumans, Propagandhi

Celtic Punk

Celtic punk is essentially punk rock accompanied by traditional Irish instruments. As a musical movement, it was founded in the '80s by the Pogues, a band of punk musicians in London who were seeking to reclaim their Irish heritage.

Celtic punk bands often play a blend of traditional Irish folk and political songs, as well as original compositions. While the plight of the Irish people throughout history is often a topic of their songs, it's not considered an overtly political movement.

Most recently, Celtic punk is seeing a rise in popularity as American bands such as Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys put their own spin on the subgenre and give it a decidedly American flavor.


Cowpunk is a strange marriage of country and punk rock. An offshoot of the psychobilly movement, cowpunk pays tribute to old country and honky-tonk bands.

While it's more melodic than psychobilly music and has a harder edge than later alt-country bands, cowpunk tends to share a following with both of those other types of music as well.

Christian Punk

Christian punk, sometimes called "Christ punk" is a form of punk in which the lyrics carry some degree of Christian content. Those involved in the Christian punk genre may well reject some of the other genres, such as Punk Rock, in reaction to those bands' hard-edged vulgarity. And likewise, many traditional punks ridicule Christian punk.  

Death Rock

Predictably, this is a subgenre in which lyrics are inward and macabre, dealing with themes of aloneness, despair, and death. The movement arose in early 1980 on the west coast. Lyrics may also adopt themes from horror and sci-fi culture. Death Rock often blurs into a subgenre known as Horror Rock. 


Early emo, or emotional hardcore, saw its birth in the '80s in the DC hardcore scene, when hardcore bands wanted the break away from the formulaic and violent constraints of straight-up hardcore. This spawned an era of exploration and experimentation, both musically and lyrically.

True early emo takes the basic structure of its hardcore predecessor and expands upon it. Its lyrics are often introspective and emotional, and the music is often more melodic, less-structured and not confined to the verse-chorus-verse structure in early hardcore sounds.

Recently, the term emo has been co-opted by the mainstream, used to describe many bands that carry a combination of hardcore and indie rock sounds and dwell on emotional (and often depressing) subject matter in their lyrics. These bands are so far removed from the originators of the term that the description is not apt, although current fans of emo are often unaware of this.

Gypsy Punk (aka Immigrant Punk)

Essentially punk rock that reflects Eastern European roots, the idea of Gypsy Punk was essentially spawned by Gogol Bordello who, while they may not have been the first, are definitely the most well known. While the word Gypsy suggests roots in Romany, this isn't always the case, and bands under the Gypsy punk moniker often reflect Russian and Jewish musical traditions, as well as a wide variety of world music influences.

Utilizing traditional Eastern European instruments and music and mixing them with punk sensibilities, Gypsy Punk is known for its high energy, ethnic pride and sweaty dance-positive live performances.


Hardcore punk's rise to popularity in the late '70s and early '80s happened in multiple cities throughout the U.S. almost simultaneously. Faster and heavier than other contemporary punk bands, hardcore songs were often very short and very frenzied.

Pop Punk

More melodic than hardcore, pop punk is a style that owes more to the Beatles and '60s pop than other subgenres of punk. While the sound began with the Buzzcocks, it was several years before it grew into what is arguably the most popular subgenre of punk today.

Pop punk's revival can be traced to 1988, with the establishment of Lookout! Records. Based in California, the label was releasing music that went against the California hardcore punk that was predominant on the scene at the time.

With bands like Screeching Weasel and some young kids by the name of Green Day, the label was systematically producing and releasing pop-punk records. Like pop music, the sound was infectious.

In 1994, Green Day's album Dookie became a huge commercial success, and other pop-punk bands like the Offspring and NOFX quickly followed suit. Pop punk bands continue to consistently climb the charts, and pop punk continues to be the most commercially successful type of punk rock.


Psychobilly is a blend of '50s rockabilly music and punk rock. It steals its name from a lyric in Johnny Cash's "One Piece at a Time", where he sings about a "psychobilly Cadillac".

Psychobilly owes a lot to '50s culture as well. Predominant themes are the themes that were considered underground in the '50s. This includes science fiction and horror films. Bands often play upright bass and vintage organs rather than modern instruments. People in the psychobilly scene often dress in '50s fashions as well.

Riot Grrrl

Riot grrrl was a relatively short-lived but very important punk rock movement. As a scene, it encompassed not only bands and music but printed zines and punk culture as well.

A politically-motivated movement, riot grrrl had an agenda that covered feminism as a whole, focusing on gender equality in the punk scene. The lyrics of the bands also addressed other charged issues, including domestic violence and rape.

The stronghold of riot grrrl culture was in Washington, where all-female bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile were demanding to be noticed. Huggy Bear brought the scene to the UK.

While it has essentially died out, riot grrrl's messages live on. Today, the punk scene is less male-dominated and more aware of women's issues.

Ska Punk

Many of the London neighborhoods where punk became popular with were heavily integrated with a large Jamaican population. This lead to the creation of ska punk. Ska punk blends the rhythms of Jamaican ska with the heavier beats of punk. It's similar to traditional ska but faster and heavier. Horn sections are common in ska bands as well.

Many early punk bands, most notably the Clash, experimented with ska and reggae beats at some point in their careers. They didn't make it the foundation of their sound like many American ska punk bands would in the late '80s and early '90s when the scene really began to grow.

Street Punk

Also known as Oi, the street punk movement started in the late '70s. Directed toward the working class and inner-city residents, it was intended as a direct reaction to the first wave of punk bands. The first street punks felt that those bands and their fans were pampered members of the upper middle class and that their music didn't speak to the blue-collar punk.

Street punk is like the Gangsta Rap of punk music. Its sound is often harsh; early street punk lyrics dealt with poverty and police brutality. Another predominant theme in street punk music is promoting unity among the working class. Today, partying and social issues are just as likely to enter into the picture.

A large portion of the working class punk scene was and is composed of skinheads. At the same time, the street punk scene was starting, racist organizations such as the National Front were also recruiting skinheads. This gave rise to the misconception that street punk was overtly racist. In fact, most street punk bands have reacted by crying out against racism.