SMASH IT UP!
Kerrang! writer Ian Winwood delves into the era that changed punk forever
You can find any number of books exploring the cultural impact of the Sex Pistols and the ’70s punk explosion. Similarly, the hardcore scene that coalesced in the early ’80s and the punk-tinged indierock that accompanied it represent well-trodden ground. The ’90s U.S. punk explosion that saw Green Day and The Offspring outsell any of their predecessors and drag punk properly into the mainstream? Not so much. There are snapshots like Punk USA, Kevin Prested’s slightly obsessive history of Lookout! Records, but no real comprehensive overviews to match Ian Winwood’s excellent new book Smash!.
Perhaps it’s because there was, and still is, some degree of snobbery from some quarters surrounding the music, its makers and their punk credentials – a point that is briefly addressed here. It’s impossible to argue that the ’90s era had a greater cultural or musical impact than the class of ’77, but it did have an enduring effect that still resonates through punk as we know it today.
As the author points out in his introduction, punk was a poor career choice before 1994. This book documents the significance and achievements of what Bad Religion singer Greg Graffin describes as “the democratisation of punk” as a result of the enormous successes of albums like Green Day’s Dookie. It does so not by the meticulous cataloguing of every League Two act that managed to rustle up an EP during the decade. The book’s subtitle is ‘Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX + The ’90s Punk Explosion’, and it largely sticks to those big fish. There are neat cameos from the likes of Pennywise and Pansy Division – who were one of the first openly gay groups of any genre – but the focus is firmly fixed on the scene’s driving forces.
Of these, Green Day and The Offspring are the obvious leaders. The book takes its title from The Offspring’s 1994 breakthrough album, in fact, which defied the odds to become the best-selling independent album ever. Smash! is built around original interviews with all the key players, including not just the bands but scene founders and music industry bigwigs too. Only the “dependably elusive” Rancid declined to contribute, but are not omitted from the story. We also get dissections of the period’s pivotal albums, an insightful overview of the circumstances that shaped the scene and some one-line zingers (“It would of course be wrong to say that up until this point [Social Distortion frontman] Mike Ness couldn’t get himself arrested because he had, many times.”)
If you have any interest in how punk came to be the beast that it is today, you should seek out Smash!. The ’90s punk explosion is a remarkable, if often overlooked, part of musical history. Finally, it has the book its story deserves. PAUL TRAVERS