Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Christian Punk and Ska

The following in an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

In high school, I was really into Christian punk and ska music. I don’t know if this 90s phenomenon was a uniquely Orange County thing, but I do know that in the 90s there was an explosion of Christian punk and ska bands in Orange County, including Fullerton.

Some of these bands were spawned by my church—one of the largest churches in North Orange County—the First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton. Some famous Christian punk/ska bands in Orange Conty included: The OC Supertones, Plankeye (more rock than punk), Slick Shoes, and a host of other bands on the infamous Tooth and Nail label.

I remember these bands playing shows at my church.

When I went to college, I met friends who broadened my musical horizons beyond the Christian subculture, and I pretty quickly distanced myself from those bands I loved in high school. Compared to "real" rock bands, their music seemed pretty lame.

Now, like ten years later, I look back on the 90s Christian punk/ska thing in Orange County as pretty fascinating. I hadn’t even thought about bands like The Supertones and MXPX for a long time, but I recently read an interview with the author of a book called Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture (Eileen Luhr) that revived my interest in this trend. The great irony, of course, with Christian punk music is that it totally goes against the original intent of punk, which was anti-authority, and often anti-religion. Bands like Crass and Dead Kennedys come to mind.

So why did people like me take Christian punk seriously? In my case, it was mainly lack of education. I knew very little about old school punk so, to me, this music was totally rebellious. Luhr sums up the appeal pretty well: “Christian acts tried to redefine what misbehaving meant. They believed that they lived in a ‘post-Christian world’ where few lived by God’s law. In this environment, true ‘rebellion’ was resistance to sin and obedience to parental, church, and divine authority.” (The Believer Jan 2010) How totally ironic!

I also suspect that the 90s Christian punk trend sort of rode the coattails of the whole 90s pop-punk trend, where bands like No Doubt and The Offspring achieved great commercial success. Looking back, the 90s were a pretty sad decade for punk. I wrote in another essay: “With the success of No Doubt and The Offspring, major record labels started signing punk bands, and the music that arose in direct antagonism to corporate music, was swallowed whole by the corporate music monster. The major labels took this underground genre and tamed it—dumbing down the lyrics, toning down the political commentary, smoothing over abrasive lo-fi sound with high production studio work, and basically doing what the corporate music industry does best—taking something good and true and meaningful, commodifying it, and emptying it of all value.”

I have a friend (who is not a Christian) who loves to listen to the SoCal radio station The Fish (95.9). When I asked him why he listens to music that is so obviously shitty, he replied, “It’s hilarious.” I guess there is a kind of ironic humor in Christian rock and pop music. It’s like watching a “praise band” at a church that is really trying to rock out. Sometimes it’s so bad it’s good.



  1. Jesus ALWAYS disproved and agitated the "religious" pharisee's... He did things that they deemed "rebellious". All relgions do not have a SAVIOR so I guess you could say that Jesus did something VERY DIFFERENT than others... Happy Easter.

  2. I realize this is an old post but I figured I'd what the heck....

    I don't agree with you. I grew up in Orange County in the late 90s. Actually, Fullerton. Christian punk wasn't on tooth and nail. You yourself said that from the church you attended came some of the largest 'punk' acts the Jesus scene had to offer. Why would good, Lo Fi, gritty badass punk come from one of the largest churches in so cal? Maybe it wasn't the punk that was lost..... I do agree that the Christian machine turns authenticity into commodity,, but more accurately, the machine in General does that, Christian, KROQ, or MTV, whatever. There was good Christian punk then, there is now. I hope you find it.

    Also, Jesus was anti authority. Read Christian anarchy. Check out my site, I'd love to talk to you more about this stuff: www.jesusgoddamnit.com

  3. Here we are.
    ** Shock Your Mom. Go to Church.

  4. "with Christian punk music is that it totally goes against the original intent of punk, which was anti-authority, and often anti-religion. Bands like Crass and Dead Kennedys come to mind. " that point of christian punk is to be different than the world and live by our conscience. so of corse christian punk go against the original intent of secular punk rockers after all punk is about being you.