During the past seven years, the magazine Punk Planet has quietly been one of the most intelligent voices in the kingdom of punk and post-punk. Founded by Daniel Sinker at a time when punk had suddenly become recognized by the mainstream, there had developed a “wildly reactionary stance” from the old guard of punksters. Oddly enough, punk is at its core about counteraction — in Punk Planet’s case against the myopic vision that would exclude and define the movement itself — and then doing something about it.
Despite the varied interviews of We Owe You Nothing — everyone from Jello Biafra to Steve Albini to Chumbawamba to Noam Chomsky are included — there is a profoundly unified vision among its subjects. Sinker explains it best: “A lot has changed — the music, the attitude, the fashion — in the two decades punk has been around, but one thing never has: the motivation.”
This collection begins with, appropriately enough, Ian McKaye, of the eminently key bands Minor Threat and Fugazi, and founder of the prototypical-DIY label Dischord. Within this one Q&A (Punk Planet avoids features, allowing the subject him- or herself to be the dominant voice), you catch a glimpse of the individual’s motivation and what that entails. Only because of the intelligent and respectful tone of the interview does McKaye feel comfortable giving a glimpse into the ambiguity of a man who has devoted his entire life to his beliefs. It’s a profound and knowing moment, far more profound than the anti-drug Straight Edge doctrine unfairly attributed to McKaye.
The rest of the interviews in We Owe You Nothing have equally telling moments: the strange bitterness between Black Flag founder Greg Ginn and seemingly all the other ex-Black Flag members, the minor victory of Negativland to get the RIAA to admit the gray area in American copyright law, the frustrations with the hardcore scene that led By the Grace of God member Duncan Barlow to quit music at the age of 26, and so on.
Anyone with the vaguest interest in music would be well-served to learn from these captured moments. Similarly, everyone can learn from the example of Punk Planet, that sometimes being passionate, aware and active is enough.
Aaron Warshaw is the MT listings editor. E-mail him at email@example.com.