This week I was lucky enough to see the State Champs and Neck Deep co-headlining world tour twice. It was a very interesting experience and not just because the musicians were great and a lot of fun to watch. These shows showed me a world I never really got to partake in. It reminded me of why I fell in love with music in the first place. There were hundreds of kids, on both nights, singing along loudly to music that spoke to them. Maybe this generation won’t have its own Iron Maiden or Metallica, but it certainly has Modern Baseball – and given the existential angst of millennials ‘caught between my adolescent safety net and where the world wants me to be’ then maybe this is what they need for absolution.
The thing that I think draws so many of these kids to this music is the very thing alienates the adult world – the sense of youthful pain. This isn’t the pop punk of Green Day that left a bad taste in the mouth’s of the masses. This is something much different and much more profound. One thing that struck me at these shows was that for the first time in years I actually wasn’t the youngest person at the show. An album title like “Maybe This Place Is The Same And We’re Just Changing” that Real Friends put out in 2014, hints at a sort of pain that is really only going to be relevant to a pretty specific subset of the population. Yet – the best pop punk is able to take these fundamentally high school concepts and turn it into something larger that reflects on the general darkness of a world that we are all suffering through. Somewhere in the late aughts and early 2010’s, pop punk went through a fundamental shift – bringing in emo touches to make the music much darker and full of existential pain.
That’s not what struck me though – kids have always been listening to sad music – that’s kind of the point of being young. What struck me was that for the first time in years I was in a jam packed venue of youths singing along loudly and moshing to high paced rock music. Sure it’s not as brutal as some of the stuff that I listen too on a regular basis, but there was just as much energy in the audience as when I saw Cannibal Corpse at the same venue back in 2014. Pop punk has both the mass appeal and energy that pure rock music has lacked for years now and I’m wondering if this is the long sought after way forward.
In a way it makes sense. Naysayers can’t really claim that it’s not as technical as typical rock music, just listen to the melodic content that goes into your average State Champs song. These guys are a cut above their punk predecessors. In fact, on any given song it is far more common to hear the impact of The Cure rather than the Sex Pistols. That being said – there is oftentimes a strong tie back to the hardcore scene with even massive headliners occasionally breaking out a hardcore tune or a death growl to emphasize a point. It gives kids a clear jumping off point into the world of independent music which is more important than ever in a world of niche marketing and fragmented taste.
Who can’t identify with a bit of youthful angst anyway? I mean yeah, some of the bands on the scene like Knuckle Puck come off as overtly pretentious millennials who don’t fully grasp the meaning of the word ‘preachy’. But as a general rule, it seems like pop punk provides catharsis for a generation of teens. Rock music is no longer dead, it’s merely shifted. Sure, the bluesy roots are by and large forgotten, but that doesn’t mean that the bands are afraid to show the influence of a more traditional band like The Killers. We are seeing a crew of youth who grew up on My Chemical Romance, actually learned their instruments and ended up writing some great songs.
There might be something of a sampling error though. As one merch guy put it “For half of these kids this is probably their first show” When you look at more underground segments of the rock and roll world with people attending literally hundreds of concerts year it should be obvious why they don’t have as much energy to contribute. Perhaps pop punk really is just going to be a short lived flame – but maybe it can grow into something greater. What I do know is that the next few years are going to be crucial for its development and evolution.
The scene is still young and maturing. A lot of bands still need to find where they fit into the big picture – but it’s the same with every scene. It takes time to grow. That’s fine though, you need to expect that if you’re trying to craft something greater that has real staying power. I think we just need to be happy that there are rock bands out there who are appealing to young people and making money off of it. I’m not saying that you need to go and start a pop punk band to pay your bills, but merely that there is some hope out there and we aren’t going to end up stuck in a haze of EDM for all time – there is still good stuff for the kids to connect with.
Long story short – maybe it’s nothing – just a phase. But when you see hundreds, if not thousands of kids getting together to honor some of their scenes biggest bands and proudly cultivating a massive underground you have to start to take notice. There is something special going on here, and sold out show after sold out show on the State Champs/Neck Deep world tour is proving that the kids know what they want. Hell – even the relatively low level Like Pacific who they had opening had dozens of kids singing along loudly to their music. Pop punk kids clearly love watching people playing instruments and having a good time on stage. Maybe just maybe electronic music will have to take a backseat again, because slowly, somehow, rock is coming back on top.