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Punk Politics 101: Practices of a Punk

Today’s lesson features special guest Chicago’s Ouroboros the Poser and the Heathenz

By and Entertainment

Illustration by Uy Pham

What comes to mind when someone says punk? Eye makeup? Glaring music? Inordinate amounts of aggression? People yelling about the government and advocating violence?

Do you think of kind people? Do you think of people that think community is more important than anything? Of a group that thinks aggression is necessary to communicate the injustices in the world?

What is punk?

The look is what everyone thinks of first. It’s the most off-putting, scary part. Yet the punk look is antithetical to the actual practice of punk. The punk appearance may look scary but the core practice is kindness. Specifically when it comes to a punk’s community.

Punk is about community. It’s also about punching Nazis, but if you’re fighting for justice without community you’re not fighting for justice.

And if you’re a punk looking for community, then a great place to start is with getting to know your local punk bands.

Ouroboros the Poser and the Heathenz is a Chicago punk band whose music focuses on themes of mental health and queerness. The band began with lead singer Ouroboros as a solo act in 2022. The Heathenz, a collective whose precise members fluctuate, joined later in 2023.

“Survive out of spite and live out of spite: this is the folk punk way,” said the Ouroboros, echoing another core tenet of the punk moment — laughing in the face of the system that wants you dead.

Jimmy Murphy, who plays guitar and bass for Ouroboros, said he started playing music out of spite, but not spite against the world. Jimmy wanted to play better than his child-rival friend. Ouroboros put it into words for Jimmy: “I play guitar because I need to be better than Luke Manning.”

Additionally, we live under capitalism. Capitalism does not value individuals unless they are paying money or creating money. Punk seeks to overturn that.

“[Capitalism] takes the heart and soul out a person and puts it on sale,” said Ouroboros.

Punk doesn’t value money; it values people and what they create. Art is not a product. It’s a human expression. It’s not a thing to be sold on Etsy; it’s a way to express yourself. The creation comes first over commercialism.

This is where punk music comes in. Going to shows is an important part of punk culture. This is where you find energy, in the confluence of music and your physical body. This is where you meet people and make punk friends. This is where you can find a community that would support you no matter what.

Punk shows are for everyone. Most people at a punk show are there because of the differences they have, because of the ways they are not useful to capitalism. Punk shows take these differences that people are often ashamed of and say, as Ouroboros put it, “Not only should you not be ashamed, here’s the space where you can celebrate that”.

Jimmy expanded on the feeling of presentness when you’re at the concert, saying the music feels like life and the moving feels like just existing.

“You’re playing the music that gets people to do that — it’s cathartic,” said Jimmy.

“I found God at a punk concert,” said Ouroboros.

What punk shows are not about is making money. Unlike mainstream music and concerts, these musicians and artists are not in it to make a profit; often they are paying money to play for you. If there’s a fee at a show, it’s to cover doing the show so the artists can eat.

“I lose money, like I bleed money, doing these. Like, I did a tour, it cost $800. I still have not recouped that,” said Ouroboros.

“You don’t do something for the explicit gain of it. That’s not true love for something if you expect something out of it,” added Jimmy.

This is the mindset most punks have. This is why punk matters.

But community doesn’t end in the mosh pit. It expands into political activism and personal support. Friends that will let you sleep on their floor, that will cook you food when you can’t, that will be there for you when no one else will.

“Life is about connections,” said Jimmy. He continued, “Don’t be afraid to put out there and make friends. People who know people who know people.”

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is a very isolated place. It’s easy to feel alone, and the local music scene can be hugely helpful in feeling integrated back into the real world. Punk scenes are a place to meet people who aren’t crazy art students. To meet people who are more grounded in reality and aren’t in the chaos of college. And sometimes, to meet people who are crazy art students, but who are looking for something to ground and support them in an extremely radical way.

Go to a local music show. You can find posters for shows on Instagram, or you can take pictures of posters around the city. Another way to find shows is by simply Googling venues for bands that play there. Make friends at shows, or ask me (@underbed.void.goblin)!!! Listen to “Punk’s Half Dead,” the SAIC Radio show by Abby Martin. Read “The Uses of Anger” by poet Audre Lorde. Make bad art. Make zines. Get involved, become supported, and gain an outlet and a community.

Punk is about aggression. It’s about aggression for the people you care about and the problems that need solving. We are loud because we have to be. Because the world is wrong and the people you love deserve better.

Go out. Touch grass. Kiss your friends. Go to a punk show.

Alex Lee (BFA 2027; any and all pronouns) started writing for Fnewsmagazine in 2023. He mostly copyedits now, so watch out for her rare articles!
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