Native Oakland outfit SWMRS showed Portland that punk is in fact not dead, or meek, for that matter.
Punk rock is and always has been about passionate, defiant expression. Throughout the decades, despite facing inevitable stylistic shifts, mainstream commercialization and even genre purists attempting to police what is and isn’t punk, this ethos has remained rock solid.
The night’s openers helped speak to that too. The explosive and impassioned “riot-grrrl-esque” sound of quartet Destroy Boys was memorable—their socially charged resonance embraced a fiercely feminine intensity. This was followed by Beach Goons, who charmed the crowd with a fast-paced, classic punk rock sound that was tinted with the psych-infused, surf rock notes that their name suggests. But much of the night’s intensity came from headlining act SWMRS, and it wasn’t only the music that made it that way.
One might expect a band comprising of the son of Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong to find themselves trapped in the shadow of such a monumentally influential and culturally-established band like Green Day, and yet SWMRS managed to avert this trap effortlessly.
To say that the band is not standing on the shoulders of giants, or that such inborn music industry connections have nothing to do with the band’s current success would be ludicrous. However, at first glance, the band makes it painstakingly clear that they do not wear their predecessors on their sleeves. They are fiercely individual, both stylistically and otherwise.
From the moment the band hit the stage, it became clear that performing ability runs in the Armstrong family. To say that drummer Joey Armstrong commanded the crowd would be an understatement—he owned the stage. Jumping back and forth across the stage, Armstrong displayed an ardent swagger, seldom seen in some of the best performers.
After just three songs in, Armstrong stopped to make a speech about treating others well at a SWMRS show, specifically addressing sexual assault. “We gotta make sure absolutely no sexual assault happens in here,” Armstrong said, “We will stop the show and get that loser out of here.”
Gestures such as these set a powerful precedent on how one should behave at any show. This is especially true given that many of the concertgoers were younger and more impressionable. For this reason, SWMRS act as representatives for a younger generation of punk music. They openly and proudly stand up for the values their generation believes in, on stage and in the studio.
Every step of the way the band makes it clear exactly what they stand for. For example, their title song “Berkley’s on Fire” was written in support of “150 masked agitators” who protested the planned appearance of alt-right darling Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley.
Despite what genre purists and traditionalists might say, punk music is not solely defined by the musical attributes present, but by the energy brought to the table by those creating the music. SWMRS epitomizes this as well as any band, representing not only punk rock’s potential, but how far it’s come—and they show no signs of stopping any time soon.