Outer Borough Punk Culture in New York City

What became of punk culture in the outer boroughs of New York City?


Johanna Doyle

Here is the First Lutheran Church of Throggs Neck, which hosted punk rock nights for local teenagers.

Punk is typically associated with Manhattan, specifically Lower Manhattan neighborhoods like Greenwich Village. But the outer boroughs of New York City — Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island — have contributed much to punk culture in New York City as well. 

The punk subculture is a broad category, but it includes some general traits. It is mainly based around punk music, a form of rock marked by cacophony and aggressiveness.  Also integral to the subculture is punk fashion, which emphasizes rebelliousness in the form of trends like the mohawk haircut, Doc Martens, and leather jackets. Politics are also stressed; the punk life is typified by an anti-consumerist and a pro-working class bent.

Punk has roots in certain movements from the 1950s and 1960s, but it really flourished in the 1970s and 1980s as a response to the perceived pretensions of earlier youth movements like New Age.

Punk caught on in the outer boroughs of New York for a number of reasons, one being its general popularity. As punk bands like the Ramones and Blondie gained massive popularity across the world, teenagers virtually everywhere caught on to the subculture. 

But the outer boroughs were conducive in other ways. For instance, the traditional working-class nature of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, was propitious for punk, a working-class movement in its raw form. 

The rebelliousness of punk was another factor, because the act of rebelling requires a subject to rebel against. At the time, teenagers in the outer boroughs often had, among others, Irish, Italian, or Puerto Rican backgrounds that emphasize tradition and religiosity. This was a favorable catalyst for punk, which prided itself on its rejection of these values. Teenagers who felt socially excluded in their neighborhoods or otherwise unenthused with them were happy to join in on this rejection. 

Punk spread throughout outer borough youth in the 1970s and 1980s. Adolescents involved with the subculture wore tight jeans, ripped clothing held together with safety pins, leather jackets, and combat boots. They cut their hair short and donned multiple piercings. They protested corporations and graffitied messages about their anti-establishment political stances. 

Punk ultimately found a home in the outer boroughs, as evidenced by the many musicians and performance spaces that emerged from there. L’Amour, the “rock capital of Brooklyn,” was a Bensonhurst hotspot for punk and hardcore, and served as a catalyst for the formation of bands like Biohazard and Carnivore. Queens was the birthplace of groups like Sick of it All and Murphy’s Law, and the Ramones were formed in Forest Hills. Staten Island was home to many underground punk bands like Bitter Uproar, a band formed by Tottenville High School students that put out one of the first LPs from the borough.

As the popularity of punk waned, it lost favor among outer borough youth. But pockets remain. One example is the Throggs Neck Lutheran church in the Bronx, which hosted punk rock nights for teenagers for a number of years. 

Some teenagers feel that punk is experiencing a resurgence. Olivia Chadwick, a student at St. Catharine’s Academy in the Bronx, believes that “Punk pop and punk rap have become very popular with Gen Z. Many teenagers have favorite pop punk artists such as Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker. Even some of Olivia Rodrigo’s songs are punk pop. Gen Z has also adopted some punk fashion ideas which can be seen through the e-girl or e-boy aesthetic.” 

And as punk, pop-punk, and punk rap music experience mainstream revival, punk in the outer boroughs might once again resurface.

Punk ultimately found a home in the outer boroughs, as evidenced by the many musicians and performance spaces that emerged from there.