Anti-Fashion has its genesis in oppression. Austin aside, the South has never been kind to the punk scene. Being a punk in Dallas, for instance, meant being starved out by corporate employers, harassed and possibly beaten by police, and socially shunned by polite society. Thus, it was pragmatically impossible for punk fans and even the musicians themselves to express themselves through fashion in the typical ways most punks do.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s in Dallas, punk/skinhead skirmishes were causing such a ruckus in Deep Ellum that it was deemed a problem by the municipal government. Police action was initiated to resolve the situation and restore commerce to the Arts district. The police analyzed the situation and decided to side with the skinheads. This came as no surprise as many of the cops were skinheads themselves or related to skinheads somehow. When Terrel Bolton was made Chief of Police in 2004, I remember a lot of cops quitting because they didn’t want to work for a black man. It was a big deal.
And so, neon hair, mohawks, spikes, chains, and certain t-shirts were unofficially illegal in Dallas, and slowly all the punks were run out of town, often violently. Dallas literally had a fashion police, which is a testament to how one-dimensional the people who run that shithole are. The most extreme-looking people were ostracized and only the fashion moderates survived. Some of them retreated to the suburbs, and I came into contact with a group of them in Richardson, Garland, and Greenville in the mid/lateish 90’s. I had always been interested in punk music as a child, which drew dubious stares from my parents when I told them I wanted to grow a mowhawk. Luckily for them the mainstream music scene kept me from hearing any real punk until the early 90’s, when Kurt Cobain’s name dropping in interviews started cluing hopelessly uncool yuppie larvae suburbanites like me into what real punk music was.
The mid and late 90’s brought a punk revival of sorts. Since original hardcore artists had influenced so many grunge rockers, people started becoming interested in it again. Bands like Operation Ivy, Rancid, and NoFX were starting to blow up. The older peeps who had been punks in the 80’s thought it was cute to see teenagers dying and spiking their hair, and dressing like punks, but were quick to warn us that we wouldn’t be winning any praise from the powers that be. Knowledge of punk music was not hoarded or kept secret, indeed anyone who wanted to learn about it was warmly accepted by old gutterpunks, trying to keep their scene alive.
They dressed in a style which was pretty generic to the time, I guess what you would call ‘alternative’ or ‘grunge’. They didn’t really have a style. They had bands and parties, and played punk music but never called it punk. Rather than call a punk band a punk band, they just called it ‘a band’. Most of these old punks were just as into Primus, Soundgarden, and Screaming Trees as they were into Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, and the Circle Jerks. As a scene, it seemed to be the ‘last stop’ for a lot of them, as many of them were older and started dropping out of the party scene, mostly due to kids, career, etc… I didn’t ever even really consider it a ‘scene’, per se: there were no real venues, and most performances were at keggers in back yards. It was really just hanging out with co-workers and people I met that shared my obscure taste in dead music. Nobody was trying to set the world on fire, nor would it have been wise for anyone to make such an attempt. Rock venues did not book local punk bands, so true fans performed on private residences or in dive bars, ‘just for the lulz’. Shows were often all-ages so that older folks could bring their kids.
We certainly didn’t have an Emo’s, Red 7, or Mowhak’s. Instead we had Brian’s garage and Billy’s backyard. We had the filthiest little shoebox venues like the Palladium and the Galaxy, where the stage was made of plywood spray-painted black, and it shook so hard when we moshed, I sometimes thought it would collapse. This was back in the days when the Stagehand Union was still going and a lot of the guys I knew were running lights and sound for big acts as a means of paying the bills and keeping their own little local scenes alive. There were only a few places in town where freaky-looking people could get a job, the Stagehand Union was one and Whole Foods was another. I worked for both companies at one point or another.
This was the era of the Late 90’s Jock/Freak feuds and fights. For us it wasn’t so much skinheads we had to worry about, as in the 90’s, racism wasn’t that overt. It was really just jocks and rednecks that would fuck with anyone who looked freaky, be they punks, goths, hippies, or even ravers. The jocks basically considered themselves a gang. There would often be Jock/Freak group fights on the football field after school, with one side squaring off against the other. One punker kid even got his eyes gouged out, was blind for the rest of his life, and the police didn’t even do shit about it! They were just like: “Boys will be boys.”
And so I always saw the Dallas scene as truly underground. The people who were into punk did so with great caution and at great personal risk and expense. It wasn’t a great way to make friends and most people either wouldn’t know what the hell you were talking about or look down on you for being into it. There was no need for backbiting, cliquishness or elitism, because the social environment was just so shitty for punks already. The tendency was to stick together and be helpful to eachother. Although I was too young to have been subjected to police brutality, I have gotten in fistfights over fashion, much in the same way that gangsters get shot over flying the wrong colors on the wrong block. I certainly lost more than a few job opportunities due to being blacklisted for my punk-inspired progressive politics, so sticking together with like-minded individuals was often necessary for employment and survival. New members to the scene were welcomed if only for the benefit of strength in numbers.
But it was never a dominant scene and Dallas became better known for it’s prog-metal and rave scenes, the latter of which eventually coming under fire and being hunted into extinction as well, which is a whole other tale. But when I look at the modern punk scene, it is strange to me. Its like a retro revival of the early/mid 80’s. The fashion is so vibrant and alive, the people so juvenile, the politics so trifling, it startles me. I guess in Austin, anyone with the money to buy the clothes, tickets, and drugs can be a punk. But in Dallas, it was a hard-fought victory just to survive. The Austin scene survives and flourishes because the police and money are tolerant of it. If there were a crackdown, it would be too soft to survive.
So, young whipper snappers, go back to Westlake and dye your hair, wear your recently-purchased vintage punk gear. I don’t know who you are trying to impress with your derivative music, over-priced drinks, and “friends”. But I remember a time when people paid in blood for their tastes and their politics, only to grow up, become a regular working stiff, move to trendy, Hollywood-ized Austin and get hated on by a bunch of fashionistas, holier-than-thou sanctimonious liberals, and scenesters. Sorry I don’t respect your quiet derision, behind-the-back shit talking, and cock-blocking. I used to get beaten up and starved because I shared your taste in music and politics, so I really could not care less who you are connected to or whether or not you think I’m cool enough to be here. If anything, you should respect me if you were at all genuine about what you profess to believe.