All too often, history is viewed as a contextual lens for the present. As noted novelist George Santayana has approximately said, “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”. The implication, of course, is that modernity should be informed by history. Yet as we all know, history is itself a product of the present – historical currency is the result of present designation, not inherent “historicalness”. Would the skeleton of Lucy, commonly seen as a significant evolutionary link between human and ape, be of importance to us now had we not had a modern investment in evolutionary theory, or would she just be a wonky-looking monkey skeleton?
Such are the thoughts of thousands of kids across the United States and Europe, as they ponder the true origins of tumblr-friendly pop punk in 2013. “I mean, sure, New Found Glory is old and they are awesome,” they think, “but there has got to be more to pop punk’s beginnings than that and Blink-182. Also, should I get this tattoo of a burrito hi-fiving a slice of pizza while riding a surfboard on my ankle or as a chest piece?”
The bands I will discuss in this article are not necessarily “important” bands, in the sense that for the most part, they weren’t very influential (even if some of them were fairly well known at one time), and they have almost entirely been musically surpassed by newer bands who fully realized the ideas that these bands were merely suggesting back when they were new and/or relevant. Nonetheless, as pop punk has undoubtedly become the most important cultural force of the 21st century, these bands have gained a certain historical significance due to the fact that they were poppy hardcore bands who (at times awkwardly) pointed the way towards the hardcore-y pop punk of the 2010s. While I can’t guarantee that any of these bands will sound better to you than the modern pop punk/new jack hardcore we all know and love today, they are helpful to know about if you are trying to prove to your friends that you know more about “the roots of pop punk” than they do. As such, you may want to try tossing out a couple of these bands’ names every once in a while (you don’t even really have to listen to their music to do so, just remember a couple of their names). Just don’t post anything about them on Tumblr, unless you want to end up with one of those embarrassing music video posts that only gets like, two notes max.
While Saves The Day were likely the first tr00 pop punk band (even though I vigorously defended the stance that they were emo, not pop punk ten years ago when I first started listening to them), H2O were the first band to use modern hardcore as an aesthetic basis for having melodramatic pop punk songs about girls and hanging out with your friends. That said, H2O were definitely coming from a very different time and place, and when they were talking about “hanging out with their friends” it often actually meant “sticking by your buds even though the cops are investigating some of them for hospitalizing some people” rather than “eating pizza and doing zany things at the mall”. Nonetheless, all of the elements of tr00 pop punk in place here as early as 1995, and H2O does deserve some credit for that.
I haven’t been able to come across very much information on Overthrow, other than that they are from Long Island and haven’t released very much music. That said, their 1999 album React is a very unique combination of 90s hardcore, pop punk hooks, and kinda monotone (but sweet) singing parts (ala Vision Of Disorder). Of course, it goes without saying that virtually nobody outside of a couple hundred people in New York/New Jersey know or care about this band, so to ponder this band’s influence would be an exercise in pointlessness – still, their recordings go to show that pop punk and hardcore were friends as early as 1999, if only to a very small, select audience.
Stretch Armstrong are best known as South Carolina’s premier uber posi alterna-Christian hardcore band, but by 2005 they had gotten progressively melodic to the point where their music sounded like a fairly even mix of slightly emo-y pop punk and hardcore. Unfortunately, they split up at pop punk’s commercial low point, just prior to easycore breathing life back into the genre (and setting the stage for tr00 pop punk to reign supreme in the early 2010s). It’s too bad, because songs such as “Hearts On Fire” really don’t at all sound out of place with any modern pop punk today. With better timing and greater exposure, they could conceivably have been considered godfathers of the genre along with NFG, Lifetime, etc.
Circa 2007, easycore was already in effect, but Daggermouth was one of its earliest adopters. Unlike much of the subsequent easycore to come (not to mention tr00 pop punk as well), Daggermouth came from more from the angle of combining really aggressive Epifat-style skate punk with hardcore gang shouts and breakdowns rather than building pop punk around a hardcore base. I wish this band was more appreciated by The Kids today as they are great and the songs still hold up, but then again they may still be too new to appreciated retroactively. Also, one can’t neglect to mention that while they didn’t invent zany song titles in hardcore, they definitely upped the ante on this important, utterly taken-for-granted element of pop punk.
So it is said: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. However, all too often, history is viewed as a series of major events rather than a sloppy, evolutionary shuffle up to a present status. Pop punk, in its modern and neo-regressionary incarnations, demonstrates this mindset: With regards to modern pop punk, deservedly huge bands in the genre such as New Found Glory are celebrated and imitated relentlessly, but nobody thinks about the corny melodrama of H2O, the stylistic uncertainty of Overthrow, or ill timing of Stretch Armstrong that didn’t exactly pave the way for tr00 pop punk, but did at the very least throw a couple of disparate shovels into the gravel. Same goes for unfortunately growing number of bands such as Title Fight who are going nu-grunge: They feel that they are supposed to imitate “historical” bands such as Nirvana and uh…judging by the music, apparently Hum and Filter (???), yet they completely forsake the sound of the bands whose shoulders the aforementioned bands stood upon.
Which, to be sure, is absolutely for the better and the way things should be, because if there’s anything that makes me want curl up into a ball and sob myself to sleep while clutching a copy Homesick tight to my chest, it’s the thought of some band of twenty year olds sounding like fucking Mother Love Bone in 2013.
DISCUSSION: What is your favorite totally irrelevant band that sort of but not really bridged the gap between hardcore and pop punk? Will anyone here own up to actually liking H2O? Is there a such thing as historical essence, or are the keys of history perpetually in the hands of the present? Are you old enough to know who Mother Love Bone and Green River are? Does all of the 90s worship make you nostalgic for when bands like Title Fight and TWY were just fumbling their way out of easycore?