PUNK BLACK Brings the ATL Scene to NYC

We first discovered the PUNK BLACK collective on Instagram a couple years back. Instagram has become a great repository of 15-30 sec clips of underground music captured in real-time from all over the globe. When I saw these little snippets of this Atlanta, Georgia based community moshing and rocking out in Cosplay – I sensed they were on to something heavy, gritty, and real for young folks of color. Each year the collective explores new ways to engage local youth and share an underground truth most people don’t know. More Black and Brown youth in America than you realize love rock music. From punk to death metal, it’s actually a thing. And though thousands of us can’t meet up as often we’d like, when we do, its a beautiful moment of braids flying, hips swaying and faces glowing.

PUNK BLACK (PB) is expanding its reach this summer by presenting an NYC music fest in Brooklyn on August 22, 2018. As Von Phoenix, one of PB’s founders tells it, “We’d like to create a space in NY were PoC can feel at home while doing what they love, as well as plant the seeds for a PB Chapter in New York. Not to mention we want to have fun (maybe, *ahem* get a little sauced) and see some kick ass bands.”

We asked Von about the upcoming NYC event, and how the collective came to be. Check it out.

Who founded the PUNK BLACK collective?

The original founders of PUNK BLACK (PB) are Kharis Ellison – age 26, Arkkade Kult – age 38, Jamee Cornelia- age 25, and myself Von Phoenix – age 28. There are 6 of us in the primary collective not counting contributors.

What inspired you to create Punk Black and the need for more representation in the scene?

I discovered rock music around age 12, and I noticed right away that I didn’t see many People of Color (POC) in main stream bands. Around that time I was still trapped in the notion that Rock music was created by white people, and POC weren’t really fond of it. This of course made me feel even more like the odd man out, and unfortunately fueled my self-hate phase at the time. It wasn’t until I started a band at the end of high school did I realize how bad the lack of representation was on the scene. Being an all Black band we got all kinds of looks, condescending remarks, and general hate.PUNK bLACK QUOTE

Was Cosplay always a part of the Atlanta Punk Scene? The collective seems to fill a need for youth interested in all things alternative, was that a natural progression?

Not that I know of. I definitely know a lot of cosplayers who like punk, and a lot of punk fans who like cosplay/anime/comics. It was a natural progression for us, as most of the collective grew up being influence by anime, and our designs have always been anime influenced.

About Community organizing, was finding space for shows and funding new projects something you had previous experience doing?

Definitely not. We had played a lot of shows before the first PB, but we had never really put on our own show, let alone organize a monthly event.


Photo courtesy of PUNK BLACK

Access to creative space is one of the key barriers for artists in NYC, how was it navigating venues in Atlanta?

When we started in 2015 it was a lot easier to find venues in ATL, but as time goes on it’s getting more and more difficult. We normally like to use a combination of house and DIY venues but as the siege of gentrification intensifies, we lose more venues. Over the last year we’ve luckily found a home base at Union EAV, which has been an awesome help to the movement.

When did you first get the idea to launch an event in NYC and what drew you to this city?

NY has always been one of the places we thought about setting up another chapter of PB, but it was when we were contacted by Mecca Shabazz earlier this year that we realized we could actually make it happen. She’s now our NY event director, and our eyes in New York. New York’s new scene is definitely what drew us to the city. It’s been the birthplace of things like Punx of Color, AfroPunk, and dope ass bands over the years. (Shout out to Shinobi Ninja).

Are there a couple organizations out there you admire? Why do you admire them?

Definitely Southern Fried Queer Pride (SFQP) in Atlanta and Punx of Color in New York. SFQP promotes and features the LGBT art community through events and festivals, and their style and the way they run things is really dope. I’ve been following Punx of Color for a few years now, and though I haven’t been able to make it to an event I can tell that do great work for punks of color. It shows not only in the numbers, but in the reactions of the community they serve. I’ve only seen and heard good things about them, and after speaking with Gayla Brooks I can tell they try to do what’s best for the community as a whole. I think both of these organizations think about the community first, which is one of the hardcore reasons I dig them both as well.

AfroPunk Fest 2015, Brooklyn

We danced, we laughed, we sweat out our afros under the Brooklyn sun-  Afropunk Punk fest rocked the neighborhood with alternative Nu Soul and fashion forward styles.

blkgrlswurld, christina long art, mfa, saic, zine, nyc, afropunk fest, warped tour, rock, metalcore, black girls rock, www.christinalongart.com

For people of color floating in the margins of alternative music, AfroPunk can feel like a national holiday. The one weekend a year you’re music interests and aesthetics about black beauty are validated. “So I’ve been styling this #twa right all along?! Go figure?” and “So that’s what Manic Panic looks like when you Really bleach first…maybe I should get that nose ring after all, looks good on her…”

I was happy this year to bring my lil sis along for the celebration, who like me comes from rural suburban roots where our interests in heavy rock and punk music were considered Extremely unusual for little black girls to be interested in. From the moment we got into the ticket line I could tell it was her Emerald city too. So many folks passionate about individuality and self expression. The love was deep!

However, a few hours into the first day of the fest, she turned to me with a very valid question. “Where’s the punk rock music?” I nodded with a solemn face, feeling too tired to acknowledge the truth. The rock scene that had started the movement had all but been driven out of the event these last few years and this year, with tickets over $50, the presence of the original punk rock scene and the local kids that normally would have attended for free had all but vanished.

I’m a metal headbanger by default so I wasn’t expecting full on circle pits or crowd surfs, but it was clear this year that only a couple of bands such as LetLive. and Suicidal Tendencies were even remotely hard core rockish in some way. The metal scene generally has a lack of focus on fashion or what people look like- it’s all come as you are, whatever is comfy for you. I’ve hung around the NYC punk scene enough to know they definitely care about fashion statements, but you need more than that to reside in their anti-establishment, DIY headspace. Yes, I know Lauryn Hill had to rep the nu soul/neo soul movement and Lion Babe is certainly on the fringes of pop as much as FKA Twigs, but this year’s fest relied too heavily on electronic DJs of little distinction and the saving grace of Lenny Kravitz closing out the event.

I know so many punk, hardcore, post-hardcore, metal and metalcore bands (locally and internationally) with multicultural members that could have exposed the Brooklyn scene to heavier, thrashier performances that still held a taste of R&B, bluegrass, hip hop or pop. Starting with Coheed and Cambria, Bloc Party, Counterparts, and Dance Gavin Dance- ending with The Word Alive, Alesana, Deftones, and Every Time I Die…come on guys keep up! Anyone one of these bands would have driven other underground music fans to the fest and inspired a more diverse mingling of alternative music cliques and communities.

As the AfroPunk brand continues to expand to other cities, I hope they really listen to their audience, lower ticket prices to under $20 for kids under 21, and book more musically diverse bands towards creating a space that is less predictable and more supportive of all things misfit.

xoxo #Blkgrlswurld