Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground from Alerta Roja to Z-Off By James Greene, Jr., 426 pgs.

Jan 31, 2018

There is no way to write a book like this and not bite off more than one can chew. Author James Greene, Jr. admirably handles the challenge though. Brave Punk World is essentially a survey of punk and punk-adjacent music from around the parts of the world that aren’t the United States and the U.K. The book zips through thirty-eight countries in about 360 pages, so this succeeds as a primer rather than a comprehensive encyclopedia of all of the world’s punk. Think of it as George Hurchalla’s Going Underground but covering several million more square miles of scenes.

The general pattern emerges of identifying and focusing on a handful of bands from the genesis of each country’s punk scene and unspooling out a bit from there, generally staying within the 1970s and 1980s. As Greene explains in his intro, the arrival of the Sex Pistols and Never Mind the Bollocks proves to be a remarkably dependable metric for honing in on many countries’ punk ground zero. Bands like the Clash, the Stooges, and especially the Ramones also figure heavily in finding and inspiring international audiences. Sometimes the way culture mixes across borders leads to some interesting examples of lighting the punk spark. Raswann Zaza from more recent Syrian punk band M For Mazhott admitted he first came across punk in his country from the American Pie soundtrack. The book’s author also observes that Director Walter Hill’s 1979 movie The Warriors seemed to be as nearly as big an influence on Mexican punks as the music making its way into the country.

Not all countries’ punk histories are created equal. An overview of Sweden, Australia, or Canada’s late ‘70s and early ‘80s bands could easily take up a whole volume or two by themselves. The Philippines punk scene has a remarkably rich punk history to dig into due the albums and compilations put together and left behind by homegrown DIY label Twisted Red Cross. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the chapter on Nepal revolves almost entirely around Sareena Rai and her bands Rai Ko Ris and Tank Girl. Zambia has a fascinating chapter on the homegrown phenomenon of Zamrock. Zamrock actually predates punk rock, and is more like the Zambian analogue of Brazil’s Tropicalia, in which garage and psychedelic rock are fused to more traditional local music. (One of the more glaring oversights in this book to me is no real mention of Tropicalia in the section on Brazil.) There are some other coverage gaps that stick out to me in the book, but overall this is a very immersive and fascinating read. I highly recommend reading the book with Youtube or Spotify nearby to sample some of the hundreds of fascinating bands featured within. –Adrian Salas (Rowman & Littlefield, 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706,