The Subgenres of Punk – Part 2

Ska punk

Many of the neighbourhoods in London where punk grew in popularity had a large Jamaican population. This resulted in the formation of ska punk. This subgenre bends Jamaican ska rhythms with punk’s heavier beats. It isn’t dissimilar to traditional ska but heavier and faster. Ska bands also commonly use horn sections.

Many of the earlier punk bands, with the Clash being a prime example, experimented with reggae and ska beats during their careers. However, it wasn’t fundamental to their sound as was the case with many of the ska punk bands coming out of America in the 80s and 90s when the subgenre really began to take off.

Pop punk

Pop punk is more about melody than it is about being hardcore. It also owes more to 60s pop and The Beatles than other punk subgenres. While the Buzzcocks were responsible for launching the sound, it was a number of years prior that it turned into what can be argued as punk’s most popular subgenre today.

The revival of pop punk goes back to 1988 when the California-bases Lookout! Records was formed. The label released music that rebelled against the predominant California hardcore punk scene. With such bands as Green Day and Screeching Weasel, the label managed to systematically make pop punk records. The sound was every bit as infectious as pop music.

The 1994 Green Day album Dookie was a commercial hit, and other bands such as NOFX and the Offspring followed suit. Bands of the genre climbed the charts and today pop punks acts are still the most successful type of punk rock music.


Emo music was born in the 80s in DC when hardcore bands were looking to escape from the violent and formulaic restraints of traditional hardcore. This led to a period of experimentation and exploration, both lyrically and musically.

Authentic early emo not only borrows from hardcore punk’s basic structure but expands upon it. Its lyrics are often emotional and introspective, with the music being less structured with more emphasis on melody, and not restricted to the ABA structure found in early hardcore music.

The term ‘emo’ has recently been used more by the mainstream, who have used it to describe a number of bands that combine indie rock and hardcore sounds and use emotional (or even depressing) material in their lyrics. These acts are so different than how the term was originally defined that it is a completely inaccurate description, even though current emo fans seem to be oblivious to that fact.

Riot Grrrl

This subgenre didn’t last very long, although it was an important movement in punk rock. It managed to encompass not only music and bands but also punk culture and printed zines. Riot grrrl was politically-movement with a feminist agenda, focused on gender equality in punk. The band’s lyrics address other important issues, such as rape and domestic violence. Washington was the queen of riot grrrl culture, with all-female acts such as Bratmobile and Bikini Kill leading the charge.