Over the past few months, we’ve dabbled into the terminology-ridden world of scam rap, the anarchist learnings of folk punk and the problematic alt-right realm of fashwave. Backed with unique purposes, all three music genres were hybrids spurred between various subcultures. But what if there was a genre out there that rips off the original musical movement only to produce indistinguishable soundtracks along the way? Introducing butt rock, an ironic music genre considered to be the butt of all rock jokes.
If you were to Google ‘butt rock’ and sift through a couple of search results, it would essentially land you in a loop—where you keep juggling between multiple tabs on your browser to nail down the static definition of the musical genre. An anecdote recounted in the Houston Press claims the term ‘butt rock’ to have been coined by fans after a radio station advertised its programme as being “Rock, Nothing But Rock.” Listeners then removed the first half of the slogan and rephrased it into “Nothing Butt Rock”—thereby birthing the genre.
On Wikipedia, the genre is synonyms with glam rock and post-grunge whereas entries on Urban Dictionary refer to butt rock as the subgenre of hard rock influenced by nu metal. Some entries here go as far as defining the genre with the use of tight leather pants which emphasises a wearer’s butt. Search results on Esty, meanwhile, revert back a bunch of rocks with butts painted on them—retailing for a whopping $16.
While all of this seems like loosely-stated yet plausible definitions, metaphors and imagery can be leveraged to break down the concept into perceivable chunks. In the case of butt rock, let’s take the human anatomy system into consideration and divide rock music as a whole into two: head rock and butt rock.
Now, head rock leads. It pioneers, innovates and engages the intellect. The lyrics here address a variety of themes while weaving together melodies, harmonies and rhythms. In sharp contrast, butt rock—like any other organ in our body—follows. It is more derivative than innovative. It can essentially be considered as the ‘excretion’ of what head rock had previously consumed and processed. The genre is considered to be bland and formulaic with no distinct sound or rhymes to set them apart.
One of the best comparative examples in the genre, according to Overthinking It, is Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and Creed’s ‘Higher’. The former is considered to be head rock for pioneering grunge and angsty palates that would “later be co-opted by pale butt rock imitators that follow.” ‘Higher’, in this case, is written off as butt rock “with no rhymes or harmonies whatsoever.”
This entire framework, however, is subjected to an individual’s perception—what’s innovative and original to one may be derivative and unoriginal to another. This is one of the major reasons why the genre lacks commonly agreed-upon definitions.
Although the genre has no static definition, there are certain criteria that can be taken into consideration before labelling any arguable piece of rock music as butt rock. For starters, butt rock is primarily driven by power chords that focus less on complexity and more on radio-friendliness and the emotional impact it has on its listeners. It also features deep, raspy voices of artists—a characteristic which is said to mask the lack of musical talent in the genre.
Butt rock can be further classified into two: hard rock anthems designed to pump and rock the crowd in large arenas, and slow power ballads meant to attract female fans. However, the subject matters of the lyrics in both these classifications are deeply misogynistic—with women often portrayed as sex objects or home-wreckers.
Common themes in the subgenre’s power ballads surround love and drug abuse while hard rock anthems feature intense self-loathing coupled with ‘aggro machismo’. Playing with the broad concept of rebellion, authoritative figures like teachers, parents and police are often portrayed as factors who don’t understand their needs. The lyrics, in this case, tend to surround sex, violence, hedonism and other subjects which are considered ‘manly’.
The target demography of the genre is said to be blue-collar workers, typically men between the age of 18 and 45. They tend to have a fascination for light beers, big trucks and UFC fighters and might also be religious viewers of Monday Night Football. Women who listen to butt rock, on the other hand, are usually fans of Guns N’ Roses who are drawn to the genre by the “subconscious influence of corporate agenda.”
Visually, butt rock bands consist of men in their mid-30s—sporting eyeliners, Affliction t-shirts, barbed wire tattoos and mullets sprayed with several cans of hairspray. A typical fan is said to emulate this style coupled with personality traits of his own that are considered manly. A noteworthy mention here is the low-key usage of tight pants that accentuates a wearer’s butt. This factor is also said to have spurred the ‘cock rock’ genre.
Given all of its visuals, themes and criticisms, one thing to be kept in mind is how butt rock isn’t a label for ‘bad’ rock and neither is head rock synonymous with ‘good’ rock. Both the genres essentially play on the concept of what’s enjoyable versus detestable in mainstream media. And with listeners all across the world backed with their unique thoughts and opinions, it all merely depends on who you ask.
We previously introduced you to the terminology-ridden world of scam rap, where artists incorporated scam stories into their rap style, thereby creating a niche within its own audience. Such hybrid genres and subcultures essentially help keep the overarching movement intact. A similar case is that of folk punk—a hybrid between two revered music genres birthing iconic artists and influencing listeners since time immemorial.
Folk punk is the fusion between folk music and punk rock. The subgenre combines acoustic instruments and personal lyricism of folk music with anarchist learnings of punk rock to curate a unique music style and environment for listeners.
Well known for its minimalist and anarchic nature, the music often includes washboards providing rhythm rather than drums, with acoustic guitars as standard. The music may additionally feature folk instruments like banjo, double bass, ukulele or brass. Vocals are either sweet and melodic or nasal and extreme metal-harsh, both of which are sung off-key and juxtaposed in one song.
Often described as ‘low-tech punk’ and ‘do-it-yourself’ by critics and fans, folk punk takes the appealing elements from both folk music and punk rock to mold them together and conceive unconventional sounds with powerful lyrics.
Folk punk dates back to the 1970s when proto-punk bands like The Velvet Underground and T. Rex were influenced by folk artists such as Bob Dylan, Donovan Phillips and The Fugs. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the subgenre truly gained traction.
Folk punk was popularised in the early 1980s by The Pogues in Britain and by Violent Femmes in the US. While the genre has amassed mainstream success pretty recently, much of its credit goes to Plan-It-X Records of Bloomington, Indiana. The label was established in 1994 with the intent of articulating anarchist and DIY ideals as an alternative to capitalist art, music, and ways of living.
For artists, this involved making their own band merchandise, like patches or buttons as well as selling books, art, and music at little to no profit. For consumers, it meant getting a shot at living a ‘freegan lifestyle’—a no-waste lifestyle which included eating food that has been thrown out and residency at a community with little emphasis on private property.
Plan-It-X Records, through its music, ideals and praxis stood at the intersection between anarchism, class and queerness. An “archetypal Plan-It-X” artist had a low, gruff voice as they speak-sing while guitars, fiddles, kazoos, or trumpets play in the background. The label essentially helped unite the geographically isolated punk communities with common goals—thereby opening up a broad window for artists. It gave bands the freedom to choose between upbeat sound with banjos and violins or a more solemn approach with acoustic guitars and pianos without boxing them into a specific aesthetic.
Lyrics are what makes folk punk unique and powerful. Similar to punk music, folk punk tends to be quite political with a focus on the radical left and anarchist side of the spectrum. Fixating on ideas of poverty, anti-capitalism, childhood and religion, artists engage with “radical queerness” through their lyrics and aestheticism.
Folk punk appears as an entire movement favouring social justice while standing up for the oppressed, homeless and marginalised. Nihilism, smoking, drinking, depression and squatter life are common themes as artists reject mainstream norms “in a world obsessed with lies and appearances.” Such emotional rawness with open disregard for musical ‘rules’, instead favouring self-expression, makes the movement a fitting listen in today’s world.
Folk punk is deeply embedded in anti-profit and DIY culture. Spray-painted merch, self-recorded albums and a general preference to avoid the profit-based music industry altogether are trademarks of the subgenre.
A symbol commonly used in the folk punk music scene is the ‘anarchy heart’. Originating in North Florida, the anarchy heart is similar to the anarchy symbol except that instead of the A being set in a circle it is set within a heart. The heart symbolises the message that ‘love is freedom’ while the A within an O stands for ‘anarchy is order’.
Folk punk fashion is further described as “crust punk with a bit of rural farm labourer mixed in.” “Watch out for tats, piercings, gauges, jorts, rat-tails, whiteboy dreads, dyed hair and cut-down Discharge shirts,” wrote a fan on Quora. “Also, bare feet and homeless guys with dogs.” Filth is labelled as the “signature cosmetic” of folk punk. In terms of album art, it seemingly resembles “the kind of pictures a 14-year-old would have drawn in the ’80s for their D&D campaign.” “They miraculously make it work somehow,” concluded the fan.
Celtic punk fuses traditional Irish, Welsh or Scottish folk music with punk and rock sounds. Popularised in the 1980s by The Pogues themselves, common themes in Celtic punk music surround politics, Celtic culture, identity, heritage, religion, drinking and working-class pride. Instruments featured in this subgenre include bagpipes, fiddle, accordion, mandolin, and banjo.
Anarchist punk dips into the ‘protest song’ heritage of folk music to focus on anti-capitalist and anarchist political messages. Disassociating themselves from established anarchist currents, bands under this subgenre often support animal rights, anti-corporatism, labour rights and the anti-war movement. They focus more on their aesthetic that encompasses the entire creative process—from album covers, right down to their concept art—rather than their musical delivery.
Also termed ‘unfolk’, the subgenre rose to fame in the 1980s as a reaction against the remnants of the 1960s folk music scene. With the purpose of mocking its perceived seriousness, artists of the genre observed the “rules” of music only to deliberately break them. In recent years, the anti-folk scene has found fewer venues in London with the closure of 12 Bar Club and Buffalo Bar, such as the annual Anti-Folk Fest hosted at Nambucca.