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Protopunk is a term used to describe a number of performers who were important precursors of the punk rock movement of the mid-1970s and later, or who have been cited by early punk rockers as influential. Their varieties of music span the spectrum from the avant garde pop of the Velvet Underground, the dirty Detroit rock n roll of The Stooges and the MC5 to the political messages of Patti Smith.
Typically, protopunk bands were not considered punk themselves, and protopunk, per se, is generally not regarded as a distinct musical genre, as the precursors of punk rock came from a wide array of backgrounds, styles and influences.
History of the Genre-
The invention of the term “punk rock” is generally credited to critic Dave Marsh who used it in 1970 to describe the group Question Mark and the Mysterians, who scored a major hit with their song “96 Tears.”[1] Over the next few years, the term was used occasionally to describe a number of American bands, mostly active in the mid-to-late ’60s, playing music that today would be classified as garage rock: a ragged, highly energetic and often amateurish form of rock and roll.
In 1976 and ‘77, punk rock became a worldwide phenomenon, with centers of activity first in New York City, then London and the Los Angeles area; though pockets of similarly-minded musicians could be found worldwide.
In later years, fans and musicians began exploring the roots of the early punk movement, and the term “proto punk” was coined to describe these early, pre-punk influences.
Problems of definition-
The term “protopunk” is of uncertain origins, and has proven difficult to define, and many widely different groups have been so dubbed. Most had a certain attitude or appearance seen as important, as opposed to any specific musical tendencies. According to the Allmusic guide:[2]
Protopunk was never a cohesive movement, nor was there a readily identifiable proto-punk sound that made its artists seem related at the time. What ties proto-punk together is a certain provocative sensibility that didn’t fit the prevailing counterculture of the time … It was consciously subversive and fully aware of its outsider status … In terms of its lasting influence, much proto-punk was primitive and stripped-down, even when it wasn’t aggressive, and its production was usually just as unpolished. It also frequently dealt with taboo subject matter, depicting society’s grimy underbelly in great detail, and venting alienation that was more intense and personal than ever before.
However, most protopunkers are rock and roll performers of the 1960s and early-1970s, with the garage rock often cited as a foundational influence. Many such garage rock artists can be found on the Nuggets compilations. Some protopunk bands, particularly in the United Kingdom, also fall into the categories of glam rock, UK pub rock or even Prog rock (such as Roxy Music, for instance, who were considered both glam and prog rock). German artists who influenced punk were sometimes part of a subgenre of prog rock called Krautrock, though this was more an influence on post-punk.
Though of lesser importance, influence has come from outside rock and roll. Genres such as classical music, the avant garde, outsider music, reggae (especially influential on English punk), traditional Irish music (especially Rebel songs) and free jazz influenced punk rock and later post-punk bands like Wire, Crass and Public Image Limited. In an interview with Trackmarx, a punk and indie webzine, Penny Rimbaud of the anarcho-punk band Crass said that they were more influenced by the classical composers Benjamin Britten, John Cage and the avant garde than rock ‘n’ roll.[citation needed] This, however, does not make John Cage, for example, a proto-punk artist.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, punk rock would fracture into dozens of subgenres.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of bands would hearken back to the early garage rock sound, creating the garage rock revival and garage punk movement.