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Punk: Punk Sub-genres

A guide to materials related to punk music and related genres

College Music and Grunge

College Music is a term for music which occupied a space somewhere between pop and the underground. The term specifically refers to music which could generally only be heard on college radio stations in the 1980s. It was, in essence, the name for Alternative music before alternative became an accepted music category. Once "Alternative” music became the mainstream, the term Indy replaced it as a means of describing independent bands or bands on independent labels.

College rock bands included some artists who became quite established late in the decade such as U2 and REM. However, many college rock artists remained underground. These bands included but were by no means limited to The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, Husker Du, The Pixies, The Smithereens and XTC. Many post punk bands were considered to be college bands largely because they were off the pop music radar, but also because college music wasn't a genre per say. Instead it was a grouping of bands who tended to be favored by college DJs during the period.

Curiously, most 1980s retro stations as well as 80s retro night at the local bar will tend to focus on college music rather than realistically depicting the popular music of the era which was almost largely corporate and vacuous. Examples of 80s pop artists include Richard Marx, Taylor Dayne, Kenny Loggins, Debbie Gibson, Lionel Richie, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Despite achiving little or no mainstream success, the college rock sound was borrowed from by later, more successful alternative bands.

This brand of music was applied almost immediately to any acts which used heavy distortion and tended to have base driven songs. Grunge was influenced by everything from college rock bands, the Pixies in particular, punk and 70s hard rock. Many grunge bands were from the Seattle area and grunge was often thought of as the Seattle sound. This brand of music tended to use heavy distortion and have bass driven songs.

Surprisingly, fashion was a big part of the grunge equation. Flannel shirts were essential, as were Doc Martens or Converse All Stars. Many grunge fashions appeared to be the result of resale store shopping. As a result grunge appeared both born of and geared toward the working class. The name grunge itself was meant to indicate the "dirty" sound produced by this type of music as well as illustrating the lack of hygiene associated with at least some of the musicians.

The metal band Alice in Chains wasn’t grunge initially, but after their A & R person realized how easily they could be assimilated into the genre, the band was encouraged to don flannel shirts and look the part.

Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Nirvana are the best known grunge bands.


"By the end of say, oh maybe mid-'79, the only people playing punk music left were the people who really wanted to be there. And so there was this big split, which meant punk went more underground, and got more intense, more purist in a way, which is both good and bad, and more hardcore" -Jello Biafra

“Cheerful, happy, well-adjusted people didn’t go to see the Mentors; those people stayed home and locked their doors whenever the Mentors were around.” –Jim Knipfel from Slackjaw


Some of these resources are located in the Music Library's reference section, and can only be used within the library. Click on the title to check the location and availability.

West-Coast Punk


The term post-punk expresses the tendency for some punk bands to develop increasingly sophisticated musical arrangements and demand more from their audiences than their punk predecessors. Bands such as Wire and Killing Joke represented a shift from the raw edge of early punk to a form which was more introspective and self-conscious.

Some of post punk artists had been involved in the nascent punk movement and, like Sid Vicious, had made the transition from super fan to punk performer. Siousxie and the Banshees were one of these acts. Siousxie had been a dancer for the Sex Pistols and later on she'd been the drummer in Sid’s solo band. However, Sid’s solo career was a notorious bust and Siousxie became the lead singer of The Banshees. Initially, Siousxie and The Banshees had a distinctly punk sound on tracks like “Love in a Void” and “Mirage.” However, they quickly moved toward a more artistic and musically accomplished sound. This was typical of many bands which would later be categorized as post-punk.

A number of these post punk bands including Bauhaus (itself named after a German modern art movement) and The Cure gravitated toward darker themes and lyrics. This new movement was known as Goth Rock, and much like Gothic novels tended toward a cartharsis based on horror. Bauhaus generated an image based to some extent on classic horror movies with “Bella Lugosi's Dead” being one of their most recognized efforts.

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