Most people do not know that one of the earliest punk groups on the scene was a Black band from Detroit named Death that helped shape the sound of a radical style that would never sell out. Although Black and Latino culture lies at the roots of punk rock, its contributions have largely gone overlooked or erased. Artists like Bad Brains, Alice Bag, and Vaginal Davis have played an integral role, creating a space for communities of color within a predominantly white realm.
Over the past five decades, punk has transcended all boundaries, spanning four generations of disaffected youth. Mexican-American photographer Destiny Mata, (aka “The People’s Photographer”) remembers attending her first Punx of Color show in a Brooklyn basement and the thrill of being surrounded by Black and Brown musicians, which she describes as “the avant garde of the disenfranchised” in her first book, The Way We Were (Culture Crush Editions).
“After that one show, I thought, ‘Get me to the next one!’” Mata writes in the book’s introduction. “I met so many amazing artists, activists, and community organizers. But they were not just putting on a show, they were also putting together benefits for grassroots organizations fighting for undocumented and trafficked migrant workers, fighting against gentrification, supporting causes around autism and hunger like the Color of Autism Foundation and Feed the People/Bronx, all in support of their own communities. In other words, that night, there was much more to it than music.”
For Weirdos and Queerdos
Starting in 2014, and continuing until March 2020 when the city shut down, Mata documented the vibrant and ephemeral landscape of Punx of Color across New York. Photographing collectives like Silent Barn, Hydropunk, No Flowers for YT Powers, Club A, and Corpus, Mata traversed city’s five boroughs hitting up spaces including Punk Island on Staten Island, Club Anarchy in Brooklyn, and La Jungla, a basement in the Bronx.
Mata’s photographs capture the ethos of punk, the combination of rebellion, self-determination, creative expression, and pure angst that makes adolescence such a potent, powerful force. “In life, one of the times I feel the most strong is when I’m in the mosh pit because in the pit you’re allowed to take up space and push people around,” artist Melissa Maya told Destiny Mata. ”You feel the music and let it take over you. You don’t have to be apologetic. Being in the pit together feels like family.”
Though some of these spaces have closed for a number of reasons today, the spirit of punk lives on in the people whose voices are collected alongside Mata’s photographs. “A lot of venues are gone, but what was important was the spirit and the energy behind it all,” musician Nachi Conde-Farley says. “People actually need this… It is not because the market demands a new cool space it’s because marginalized people need marginalized spaces. They come together and survive out of that community. As long as people are hungry the spaces will form.”
As long as there is an establishment, there will always be a revolutionary force, a people who come together to contest the power and demand the basic human rights. This is also how this cultural and social movement is defined. Despite its popularity and enduring appeal, punk could never be commodified or co-opted.
As comic artist and Ratas en Zelo vocalist Yadee Araniva says, “It’s all about empowering and being conscious of the problems we face as a society, but knowing we have power and that we are not victims. Turn up the first, turn off the fear, and do what you love.”
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, including Time, Vogue, Aperture, and Vice, among others.
The Way We Were, by Destiny Mata. Published by Culture Crush Editions, $50. Available here.