Cameron Sasmor adjusted the headphones in her ears and turned up the volume, blocking out the bustle of Bruin Walk with the guitar riff to Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ “Blank Generation.” Sasmor glanced up at the students passing by, wondering if she was alone in her love for punk music.
“There’s a certain mentality and attitude with punk that very few kids here seem to embrace,” said Sasmor, a second-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student.
For punks, UCLA’s lack of a punk music scene represents a larger concern about the scarcity of punk rock on campus.
Like Sasmor, some punk fans question if and why punk is dead at UCLA. Sasmor noticed a lack of punk music on UCLA’s campus, and worried that punk’s obscure image detracted mainstream culture from listening to punk.
“Sometimes it seems you need to know people (to join the punk scene) so it may intimidate those who want to branch out,” Sasmor said. “You may not know what you’re getting into.”
In response to the absence of punk on campus, Sasmor enrolled in Music History 13, “Punk: Music, History, and Subculture” to learn more about the history of punk and fostering a punk community.
The general education class, taught by assistant musicology professor Jessica Schwartz, examines the history of punk rock as a cultural and musical identity for youth.
The university’s willingness to engage punk as curriculum has risen on campus, but student curiosity may seem stagnant, Schwartz said.
UCLA has begun to preserve the influence of punk music in Music History 13 and the UCLA Library Special Collections Punk Archive, Schwartz said. The collection documents the multiple punk music scenes located within Los Angeles over a 40-year period.
“In terms of punk’s vitality, it should be archived,” Schwartz said. “It’s a way of teaching other issues and learning your own creative capacities.”
Despite the university’s focus on preserving punk music, Sasmor said UCLA’s Campus Events Commission and Cultural Affairs Commission have done little to foster a punk community through music on campus. She said the lack of a punk presence limited exposure to students.
Amy Shao, a third-year political science student and Campus Affairs commissioner, said events hosted by CAC must reflect educational aspects of underrepresented music and cultures. Since no students have formally requested punk through CAC, the organization has not devoted resources to creating a punk scene, Shao said.
Punk is not a genre that appears on mainstream radio often, said Christina Amini, one of the Campus Events commission’s directors of concerts and a third-year psychobiology student. She added punk is not the first genre that comes to mind when thinking of the average UCLA student’s music taste.
However, Shao said there are opportunities available for students who want to pursue punk on campus.
“The Kerckhoff Concert Series is much more flexible since the shows are based on student performance and participation,” Shao said.
Paul Abramson, a psychology professor and lead singer of the Los Angeles-based punk band Crying 4 Kafka, said pop culture criticizes and stigmatizes punk music. Stereotypes of intoxicated, violent and aggressive punk fans have created a cultural divide between punk enthusiasts and students.
“The lack of representation is odd, but then again, punk has never been truly embraced,” Abramson said.
Chilean exchange and geography student Damian Lovazzano took Schwartz’s punk course to learn more about the music he loves. Lovazzano created a punk band with some of his classmates for an assignment.
The band, Trumpalicious, performed and recorded the satirical song “Make America Great Again!” as part of a negationist aesthetics project, where students explored how unorthodox sounds and images form a larger identity for punks.
“I think punk music belongs anywhere there are people conscious about all the different social problems that exist nowadays,” Lovazzano said.
Lovazzano said punk music has always been a method of expression for him, so he finds UCLA’s lack of interest in embracing punk frustrating.
He also stated that he was not surprised at how different UCLA’s attitude toward punk was from the punk scene in Santiago, Chile, where students are much more interested. He added he was aware of stereotype conflicts between punks and UCLA’s professionalism that would limit the possibility of a large punk scene.
Many students who listen to punk often travel off campus to go to Los Angeles music venues, said Willow Stowe, a third-year German and philosophy student. She said she frequents venues like The Smell, The Observatory and The Echoplex because she has found accepting communities there. Stowe said she loves the genuine and unique nature of the music and people involved in the scene.
Lovazzano and Stowe said they believe punk should be appreciated as an art form, but that they and punk music are often criticized due to assumptions of substance abuse, racism and sexism in the scene.
While Lovazzano accepts the separation of punk and UCLA, Stowe is concerned with what causes the divide.
Stowe said stereotypes about punk lifestyle and attitude limit the conversation between the punk community and UCLA students. Conversely, a UCLA stereotype of mainstream conformity distances punks from being present on campus, Stowe added.
As programming manager for UCLA Radio, Stowe addresses this division through the programs she helps curate, like the shows “Off Your Rocker” and “Burger Radio U” that circulate punk rock music through UCLA airwaves. Stowe said she hopes radio exposure encourages students to establish a musical community for punk fans.
“Punk is something so accepting, so a lot of students that feel lost here could find a community,” Stowe said. “Punk isn’t dead – it’s a home.”
Schwartz said she has talked with several students who are interested in forming a UCLA punk community but have felt isolated from the larger Top 40 and EDM cultures on campus. She said punk fans also may not want to bring punk to UCLA, as the two cultures are associated with conflicting ideologies.
The institution of UCLA embodies facets of authority, conformity and consumerist culture that punks oppose, said Lovazzano.
“Punk exists in a weird space … and still may be taboo,” Schwartz said. “But this is your space, your university. Do it yourself, program it the way you want to and enjoy the music. That’s what punk is all about.”