Since its inception, punk rock has, as often as not, been a forum for political expression, and political punk bands have always been around. Many of punk bands use their music as a vehicle for spreading ideas and to motivate their audiences toward political change.
If you've recently opened a newspaper, turned on the TV or taken a look at any media, you're already sick of all the politics flying around. Even so, here are 10 (technically 11) political punk bands you should know. They won’t tell you who to vote for, but they will open your eyes, and they won’t give you a headache like political commentary will.
Formed in England 1977, Crass were one of the founders of political punk and the founders of the anarcho-punk movement. The band picked up many ideals from bands from the ‘60s, and in addition to spreading their anarchist beliefs, the band advocated feminism, anti-racism, environmentalism and animal rights.
While the band’s political beliefs are easy to lay out, their sound is not. It’s often confusing to the uninitiated. Angry rants are laid out alongside heavy blasts of hardcore guitar and drum noise and interspersed with tape loops and sound collages. It may take some work to wrap your head around, but Crass is worth getting to know.
Essential album: Stations of The Crass (Compare Prices)
Trademark political song: "White Punks on Hope"
A relatively recent arrival to the political punk scene, Anti-Flag is still one of the most political, standing up against war and capitalism, and addressing such issues as fascism in the punk scene, American foreign policy and racism.
Their anti-capitalist position attracted a lot of criticism when they signed with RCA Records. Detractors said the band had sold out and would lose its passion and voice. Anti-Flag’s best defense against this was to simply not tone down their message or stance, and to let their music speak for itself.
Although they only existed for a few years, Minor Threat's influence on punk music is undeniable. Not only did the band create a sound that was influential for all hardcore bands that would follow, they inspired straightedge. A song on their first EP, “Straight Edge,” with its anti drug and alcohol stance, launched a dedicated movement that continues today, putting Minor Threat in the ranks of political punk bands whether or not they intended it.
Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye has gone on to front many other influential groups, most notably Fugazi, and to co-found Dischord Records, a label with a strong identity and DIY ethics.
Arguably one of the most popular modern anarchist bands, Against Me! has helped bring anarchist ideals to the masses, as well as the ever-popular anti-war, anti-Bush stance. The band combines elements of the original anarcho-punk movement and folk rock, and ends up coming across as a band less focused on a genre, and more intent on expressing their ideas effectively through simply making great music.
The clown princes of political punk rock, NOFX veers toward satire with their politics. Nobody is safe from Fat Mike’s sarcasm, and the band has, over the years, targeted political, social, religious and gender-based issues.
NOFX also makes a point of avoiding mainstream media and major record labels. They made few videos, and would not let them air on MTV or similar music channels.
Fat Mike founded Fat Wreck Chords, the label responsible for the Rock Against Bush compilations. He is also the man behind Punk Voter, an organization focused on getting America’s youth registered to vote and educated on political issues.
A Canadian anarchist band, Propaghandi is another band that managed to be overtly political, while still maintaining a hook and not sounding overly preachy.
Although recent releases have found the band exploring more metal-based influences, their earlier records were pop-punk explosions that attacked racism, capitalism and just about any other -ism the band could think of.
Chris Hannah and Jord Samolesky, founders of Propaghandi, also founded the now-defunct record label, G7 Welcoming Committee, a label focused on giving a voice to bands and political speakers who had radical points of view.
While this Chicago hardcore band’s “pet issue” is animal rights and vegetarianism (along with their open support of PETA), and speaking out against sport hunting, factory farming and other animal rights-related issues, Rise Against, especially vocalist Tim McIlrath, is openly liberal in many other areas, speaking out for human rights (as well as animal) and against the current political administration.
Their video for “Ready to Fall” was a sometimes disturbing look at environmental issues and the way they affect wildlife, and animal cruelty in general. It can be viewed here.
A major player in the ‘80s hardcore scene, the Dead Kennedys were critical of ‘80s capitalism and culture, taking aim at the Reagan administration and economic policies, and the commercialization of punk rock music.
In 1986, the band was brought up for obscenity charges based on a Giger poster included with their album Frankenchrist. The band was eventually acquitted, though they disbanded during the trial, due to legal costs.
After the band’s breakup, frontman Jello Biafra went to become a spoken word activist, politician and a co-founder of Alternative Tentacles, a label with a partial political focus.
One of the most fiercely political hardcore bands running at the moment, upstate New York’s I Object! stands behind the straightedge vegan lifestyle. Fronted by Barb Object, the band tackles a wide range of issues, from abortion to healthcare to prison reform, and presents issues in a positive way, motivating for change.
A refreshing part of the band’s politics that sets them apart from many similar bands is their ideal that veganism and straightedge are personal decisions, and that preaching either way of life or being militant about it simply makes people uncomfortable and causes division in the punk scene.
Subhumans and Citizen Fish are two different sounding bands with nearly identical lineups and messages. Both are fronted by Dick Lucas and share members, and both bear ideals influenced by Crass’ anarchist influence, mixed with a large helping of social awareness.
Musically, the Subhumans deliver in-your-face old school punk rock, and Citizen Fish is a skacore band with the same ideals but a catchier beat. Lucas seems to always be on the road with one or the other, and both deliver energetic, politically charged performances.
Essential albums: Subhumans - The Day The Country Died (Compare Prices),
Trademark political song: "Mickey Mouse is Dead"
Citizen Fish – Millennia Madness (Compare Prices),
Trademark political song: "PC Musical Chairs"