These bands keep the spirit of punk alive.
This summer, the Vans Warped Tour is making its final full cross-country run after more than two decades on the road. The music festival, founded by Kevin Lyman, began as an absolute oasis for punk rock fans, with now-famous bands like Blink-182 and The Offspring using it as a springboard into superstardom. In recent years, the lineup of bands has diversified beyond punk to appeal to today’s teenagers, but declining attendance still forced Lyman and his team to call it quits — but the end of Warped Tour does not mean the end of punk. In fact, contemporary punk bands are helping to keep the genre alive and thriving. Here are eight still-active punk bands you should be listening to.
1. Teenage Bottlerocket
Hailing from Laramie, Wyoming — a city not typically known for its distorted guitars — Teenage Bottlerocket deliver their own spin on the three-chord punk made famous by the Ramones. Dual vocalists Ray Carlisle and Kody Templeman wail their way through lighthearted songs about girlfriends, eating too much pepperoni pizza, and getting murdered in a haunted house, with their very different voices making way for some awesome harmonies.
No topic is off-limits in a Teenage Bottlerocket song. While other writers might deem themselves too cool to devote an entire song to Minecraft, Templeman has no such problem, and his heartfelt “They Call Me Steve” is among the best songs on the band’s 2015 album Tales from Wyoming.
2. The Homeless Gospel Choir
The Homeless Gospel Choir isn’t actually a band: It’s the work of Pittsburgh-based musician and artist Derek Zanetti. Coming onstage with a guitar and a voice so powerful he rarely needs the microphone, Zanetti tackles emotional and sensitive subjects, including feeling alone and the role Christianity plays in war crimes. Despite the dark subject matter, his knack for a clever phrase makes everything go down smoothly.
“We’ll occupy your country and spread democracy, build a mall on land your family owns so your family can be free,” Zanetti sings on “With God on Our Side” from 2013’s Luxury Problems. “We’ll do it all in the name of liberty. Everything will turn out fine as long as you agree.”
3. Masked Intruder
Dressed in color-coordinated ski masks and matching sneakers, Masked Intruder is technically a gimmick band, but they have something other novelty acts don’t: good songs. Classic, simple punk rock polished to a ridiculous sheen, the band’s music touches on heartbreak and falling in love, but with references to their time behind bars sprinkled throughout.
The band’s studio recordings are catchy and the perfect antidote for the blues, but it’s Masked Intruder’s live show that really captures the spirit of the band. They’re paired with “Officer Bradford,” a cop who must keep his eye on the four criminals at all times, but when the music starts blasting, even the police have to do a little dancing.
4. Alkaline Trio
Blending hard-core-influenced emo guitars with nihilistic and often violent lyrics, Alkaline Trio have been a staple of the punk scene since the late ’90s. They have slowed down their output since vocalist and guitarist Matt Skiba became a member of Blink-182, but Skiba’s knack for a clever line and pretty melody is more at home in his original band. Over the years, the group’s sound has gotten progressively grander, with the 2005 record Crimson making use of piano parts and cleaner production, but the pictures Skiba paints are just as disturbing.
Bassist Dan Andriano, with a deeper and less abrasive voice, sings lead on a few of the Trio’s songs on each record, and his output is remarkably different from Skiba’s. With more literal lyrics like, “So now it’s up to me to wait, I need you to reciprocate,” Andriano can cut to your core in a hurry, all over drummer Derek Grant’s reserved but consistent beats.
5. Knuckle Puck
Part of the new wave of pop-punk bands that emerged at the turn of the decade, Knuckle Puck is fast, loud and angry, but with a touch of vulnerability we don’t see from many of their peers. The band’s songs regularly shift between ludicrously fast and aggressive verses and booming choruses that make use of co-vocalists Joe Taylor and Nick Casasanto, who often trade lines in a sort of call-and-response pattern.
A common pitfall of pop-punk songwriting is to allow the guitar riffs to blend together in the hopes that the lyrics will still shine through, but Knuckle Puck is never complacent — its crunchy dual-guitar approach makes for songs that are entertaining even without a vocalist, though Taylor’s extensive vocabulary would be sorely missed. Drummer John Siorek manages to deliver fantastic fills during the breaks, all while playing with a loose style that makes it look like he could drop his sticks at any moment.
6. Less Than Jake
Hard-charging drums and guitars combine with bouncy ska horns to create Less Than Jake’s signature sound, which has remained relatively unchanged since 1992. The Gainesville-based group’s popularity peaked around the turn of the century, with the song “All My Best Friends are Metalheads” making it into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 and “We’re All Dudes” — featuring guest vocals by Kel Mitchell — becoming the theme song to the movie Good Burger.
Despite the world becoming a much darker place over the last decade, Less Than Jake’s music has stayed relentlessly positive. One of the band’s most recent songs, “Bomb Drop,” encourages listeners to take steps to make their lives better, regardless of the negative feedback they might receive from peers.
7. A Wilhelm Scream
Playing a harsher and more hard-core-influenced sound than most of the other bands on this list, A Wilhelm Scream has developed a reputation as one of the most technically talented punk acts around. Their brand of music is fast and abrasive, with dueling guitars playing riffs that would feel at home in a thrash metal track, but their melodies are quintessential punk rock.
If you’re unsure whether the song you’re listening to is by A Wilhelm Scream, just wait for Nuno Pereira’s vocals to hit — the singer sounds like his larynx has been filled with gravel and set on fire, yet he still somehow manages to hit impossibly high notes.
The oldest band on this list by a considerable margin, the Descendents were one of the major formative bands in the creation of both melodic hard-core and pop-punk music. Earlier albums leaned more heavily on the former genre, with the band’s sound becoming increasingly polished over the years, but the Descendents’ bouncy bass riffs and clever wordplay were never lost during this transition.
Despite retaining elements from its past work, the Descendents’ music has grown up with its members. The most recent album, Hypercaffium Spazzinate, touches on topics like feeling inadequate, eating healthier food, and overprescribed medication, all with genuine and often hilarious lyrics. The Descendents are also one of the only bands to be fronted by a biochemist, though vocalist Milo Aukerman recently left the world of science to focus completely on music.