In its infancy, trying to break punk music into sub-genres would not only have been almost impossible, but downright blasphemous. After all, the term punk - born sometime around the mid-'70s when the British press needed a label to pin on the antics of the Sex Pistols - was first used to describe a single look, attitude and music. Punk bands were sloppy dressers, sloppy musicians and extremely anti-social. But like so many other musical forms, the last 25 years have seen the original punk ethic morph and mutate into the many different offshoots that exist today.

Old school

Harkens back to punk's late '70s and early '80s heyday. Raw, gritty, refreshingly unapologetic and honest, often political and musically simplistic. There are two sounds, depending on what side of the Atlantic you look at.

Defining English moments:
Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks (Warner, 1977)
The Exploited Punk's Not Dead (Snapper, 1981)
UK Subs Another Kind of Blues (Gem, 1979)
The Damned Damned Damned Damned (Stiff, 1977)
The Clash The Clash (CBS, 1977).

Defining American moments:
The Germs GI (Slash, 1979)
Fear The Record (Slash, 1982)
Black Flag Damaged (SST, 1981)
The Ramones Rocket to Russia (Warner, 1977)
Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (Alternative Tentacles, 1980).

New school

Bands that took the early influence of old school punk and added new attention to song arrangements and lyrics without sacrificing the energy, attitude or politically-driven message. A sense of humour is essential.

Defining moments:
Bad Religion No Control (Epitaph, 1989)
NOFX White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean (Epitaph, 1992)
The Vandals Fear of a Punk Planet (Triple X, 1991)
7 Seconds New Wind (BYO, 1986)
Hüsker Dü New Day Rising (SST, 1985).


Although the term has been widely appropriated, hardcore's origins lie firmly in the punk community. Easily the most aggressive and intense of punk's sub-genres, the music is fast and furious with street-life lyrics that punctuate the mood. The closest thing punk has to metal.

Defining moments:
Judge Bringin' it Down (Revelation, 1989)
Agnostic Front Liberty and Justice for All (Combat, 1987)
Minor Threat Out of Step (Dischord, 1983)
Suicidal Tendencies Suicidal Tendencies (Epitaph, 1983)
Youth of Today Break Down the Walls (Revelation, 1986).


The most misunderstood and maligned of punk's sub genres. Emo is short for emotional, and is usually applied to bands that are brave enough to wear their feelings on their sleeves. Some people see this is as a sign of human frailty and weakness while others find the brave honesty refreshing. The music is usually, but not always, slower and more atmospheric, sometimes featuring acoustic guitars.

Defining moments:
Dag Nasty Can I Say? (Dischord, 1986)
Farside Rochambeau (Revelation, 1992)
Sense Field Killed For Less (Revelation, 1994)
Embrace Embrace (Dischord, 1987)
Jimmy Eat World Static Prevails (EMI, 1996).


Sitting somewhere between new school and emo, pop-punk offers heaping quantities of catchy melodies and hooks.

Defining moments:
The Buzzcocks Singles Going Steady (IRS, 1979)
Green Day 39/Smooth (Lookout!, 1990)
Descendents Milo Goes to College (SST, 1982)
Snuff Snuff Said (Worker's Playtime, 1989)
Big Drill Car Small Block (Cruz, 1990).