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The British Punk Scene Is Alive and Well

And here are some bands that prove it.
May 30, 2014, 3:20pm

Caves, photo via Andy Johnson

Punk rock wasn’t born in the UK, not in any technical sense; there are arguments to the contrary, of course, but they’re wrong. Punk was born on this side of the Atlantic—in a garage in Queens, in Detroit when three kids started a band called Death, the moment Iggy first took the stage and pressed a microphone to his lips. But punk did come of age in the hands of England’s disenfranchised working class, pushed beyond the Clash and Sex Pistols by an exceedingly diverse collection of bands that approached music from all angles: Crass, Subhumans, the Exploited, Conflict, Chaos UK, and so on. While American bands shaped hardcore in church basements and group houses of Washington, DC, the Brits had already perfected quintessential punk—sneering, deeply political, mohawks and black leather, badges and haircuts. But since then, UK punk has lived firmly in the shadow of the expansive American scene. While there has been the occasional transatlantic export—Hooton 3 Car, anyone?—the bulging punk hubs of New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in the US have consistently drowned out the London underground.

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Over the past few years, all that has changed. UK punk bands have become a known commodity in the states, and here’s why: many of them are absolutely, empirically fucking excellent. As a human from America, I’m clearly not in prime position to discuss what happens in the deepest, darkest corners of the UK punk scene, the bands sweating it out in warehouses and house shows over a creaky PA. But the bands that do make it my way—some of which will be sojourning to Florida for the Fest this fall—are more than worthy of the US punk community’s attention.

The Cut Ups (Exeter)

The flag-bearers of British pop punk, the Cut Ups have been crafting speedy, sing-along punk songs for a decade now. While the band has always been solid, last year’s Building Bridges, Starting Here shined from start to finish. They’re the UK’s best answer to the Bouncing Souls—big, catchy songs about hometowns, riding bikes, and, you know, dreaming that you once saw Fugazi.

Crash of Rhinos (Derby)

Do you guys remember back when emo revival was a thing? Ha ha, those were good times! But while American kids were quietly weeping into the liner notes of their The World Is… and Into It, Over It records—beautiful albums they were—Crash of Rhinos quietly turned out perhaps the best emo record this decade. Knots is a big, spacious album that seamlessly shifts from quiet instrumental moments to churning punk steeped equally in the US post-hardcore scene and their own UK punk heritage.

Good Throb (London)

Good Throb is exactly as brutal as you might imagine, if in fact you imagine a band that names its debut full length album Fuck Off to be brutal. On the album, singer KY Ellie shreds through 11 songs of manic post-punk, at once hyper-feminist and juvenile, catchy and discordant. Good Throb is the direct descendent the DIY Crass Records scene that came before them, and kindred spirits to its American peers in feminist punk: Perfect Pussy, Priests (with whom they toured this winter), and Hysterics.

Caves (Bristol)

Noisey has written about Caves before, and for good reason. Forget about the UK—Caves might be the best punk band on the planet right now. Their last album, 2013’s Betterment, is a frenetic punk record with only a couple of quiet moments in which to catch your breath, before the breakneck drums and din of male/female vocals kick back in and you sing along, if only because the immense goodness of the music compels you.

Great Cynics (London)

Great Cynics’ big guitar version of pop punk comes with some easy American comparisons—The Menzingers, hello—but that shouldn’t take away from a punk band with real pop sensibilities and songwriting chops. There’s also a kind of jaded maturity to the songs on last year’s debut LP, Like I Belong, that resonates. “Nothing really matters if you don’t let it matter/so I tell myself it’s true." I feel that, you guys. Layer that on top of big, bright pop hooks, and the result is tremendously good.

Muncie Girls (Exeter)

Great Cynics' partners on a split 12-inch earlier this year, Muncie Girls are the kind of bright, loud, female-fronted pop punk that has become a staple of the scene on both sides of the Atlantic. That’s no slight; the band is as good as it gets anywhere, and harkens back to the best of the generation of bands that carved the road they now transverse: Tilt, Discount, and the like. Last year’s EP Sleepless is gorgeously balanced, and hits all of the right notes, from the driving punk of “Car Crash” to the pop sentimentality of “Music Forever”—mix tapes for lost loves and all.

Shopping (London)

UK art punks Shopping craft songs that are all shimmy and head bob, sparse guitar over driving drums. It’s fun, and it’s danceable, and it’s perhaps the best pure post-punk on offer. There’s a tenseness to the songwriting and clear DIY sensibilities, but at the end of the day, the warm bass and spinning, single-note guitar beckons. It’s the kind of music that can convince the most stone-faced punk to fill in those gaps in the spacious songs with hip shakes and hand claps.

Apologies, i have none (London)

With songs built for raised hands and collective choruses, Apologies, i have none live in the same mid-tempo punk world as Iron Chic and Red City Radio, with just as many inescapable hooks and shout-along sensibilities. Their debut full-length, London, is solid from the first note, but “Sat in Vicky Park” is the real star: A heartfelt ode to sunny days in Hackney, the 26 bus, and that other traditional British staple, Grade’s Under the Radar.

Bear Trade (North East England)

There are British bands, and then there are BRITISH bands. and Bear Trade is a proudly capitalized BRITISH band. With their thickest of Northern England accents, the band sounds like what would happen if you took some of America's best gruff, melodic punk bands and slapped some Brit slang on them.

Ron Knox is on Twitter, reading up on the Royal family - @ronmknoxDC

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