Just, like, full disclosure real quick: SFR contributor JC Gonzo wrote about the 2018 punk rock doc Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution in 2018, but with a new book based on the film coming out in January—and the rare chance to write about punk rock in the pages of SFR—here we are.
So why's it back? Well, why the hell not?
The brainchild of filmmaker Yony Leyser (who grew up between Chicago and Tel Aviv, Israel, but now calls Berlin home), Queercore is an insightful and fascinating voyage through the inextricable links between punk rock as radical, revolutionary art form and the myriad queer writers, musicians and champions who shaped its future and created a musical respite for all the outcasts of the world.
Leyser beams into Santa Fe via the internet this Friday to discuss the film alongside artists D Samson and Brontez Purnell (you can rent it for a mere $1.99 beforehand on Vimeo), so we caught up with him to learn a little more.
Obviously there’s such a rich queer history in these alternative movements and subcultures throughout time, and punk rock seems(ed) the perfect natural habitat for queer folks. In your research, would you say that’s a fair approximation? In other words, was punk inherently queer from the get-go, or did queerness make it all the better?
Yony Leyser: The original term of 'Punk' meant a 'prison homosexual.' The two were always connected, but that wasn't really documented until the '90s because people associated punk with macho heterosexuals. Where I live in Berlin, the early punks hung out at the two gay bars in Kreuzberg because they were the only bars that would have them. Both punk and queer(ness) is about a postmodern exploration of pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo in a stylish way. They go hand-in-hand. Early punk was very queer, but those concepts and terms didn't exist yet. The re-claiming of the term queer from the insult came with [the organization] Queer Nation in the early '90s, but the original punks were all playing with breaking gender roles.
How did you originally get into punk rock and is it still something you like or love?
I was really into punk rock in my early twenties. I think in the end, punk is mostly a youth movement. As the punk declaration goes 'don't trust anyone over 30!' I think it's important to evolve and change. I don't go to punk shows or dress in the style, but I think it's interesting to study. Punk is big now in an academic context. I think, however, the ethos of punk to give the finger to authority is still very important for youths, and I still love it when I see young punks on the street here in Berlin. Electronic music has replaced guitars in a large part in popular music. Maybe it's time to go to a punk show!
How did you possibly narrow down what you wanted to address? There’s so much out there, how did the people who end up in the film end up in the film, and how did you settle on a narrative and timeline when there were so many different ways you could have gone about it?
We were limited in the film. We focused on Bruce LaBruce and GB Jones and the time period of the '80s and '90s, and finished mid-2000s. However, we went way beyond that period in a forthcoming book with the same title of the film, Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution, out on PM press in January—the release was pushed back because of the COVID-19 fallout. In the book we were able to have many more interviews including with Queercore artists still present. Since the mid-2000s, punk and queer punk has evolved to include many PoC which, is awesome, so it was exciting to include them in the book. The film was relatively limited, also, because many protagonists didn't feel comfortable in front of the camera.
When we use the term “punk rock,” it seems to have such broader implications. John Waters, for example, being in the film, while not a musician himself, has been an ardent supporter. Is punk a music, a movement? Something even more intangible?
Punk was a social movement, I guess, still is. John Waters was one of the main influences of most of the people in the film, and of Queercore itself. He is one of the most important queer rebels that has ever lived. His early films are very punk. Their mockery and satirization of middle-class, behaved society very much embodies the punk ethos. Even the styles of many of his characters—for instance in Desperate Living—showcase a punk aesthetic. Those films were made in the punk heyday and were very much intertwined.
Social movements are often tied to music in the zeitgeist because music is accessible and universal, and concerts were always a community gathering space. However, they extend well beyond that to literature, dance, film, art, activism, etc. All social movements need to eventually die so they don't get completely co-opted and/or commodified. The term punk seems to have become that in a lot of ways: being featured as a fashion extravaganza at the Metropolitan museum of Art and in things like Business Punk Magazine. (Author's note: I thought Leyser was kidding, but there is indeed a real publication called Business Punk Magazine). So, yeah, I think it's time for something new, but it's great to have documents of successful social movements to refer to.
If you could change, alter or update the film knowing what you know now, would you? If so, how so; it not, why not?
That's not a fair question, because it's so hypothetical. Films can't adapt like theater can, but I think the book details a lot of what we wanted to do in the film and weren't able.