The Clash of Punk Rock and New Wave music: Is There Really a Difference?

“Are Punk and New Wave music identical in genre?” This is a question that has left many a music enthusiast stumped. People on forums like Head- Fi ponder if there is a difference between Punk Rock and New Wave and people on Yahoo even question if Post- Punk and New Wave are the same as well. These listeners inquire about this because most of the time punk and new wave music groups are associated with each other and without distinction between the two different genres of music. Although the common listener might not know the clear differences between the two genres as there are also similarities, there is a line drawn in the hypothetical sand including their history, the artists, and what each label consists of.

Punk Rock


Punk is a rock music genre that began as a rock and roll revolution in the early 1970’s as an intentionally nonconformist group that held their beliefs in rebellion and anti-establishment ideologies. Punk stemmed from the Garage Rock genre and kept many of its predecessor’s musical tendencies such as heavy guitar riffs, persistent percussion, and screeched vocals and added an easily distinguishable independent inclination. This distinct attitude has become a large part of what defines Punk Rock today. Chris Chouiniere, a music educator with a masters degree in music education, explains, “Lyrically, there was no hiding the meaning of punk songs. Topics were anti-establishment, anti-sentimental, confrontational, and controversial. In general, punk music was meant to offend and upset; it was everything that mainstream music was not.”

Punk Rock would come to influence New Wave through the defiant attitude that Punk introduced to the music industry.


Bad Brains, Bad Religion, The Clash, Crass, the Dead Kennedys, the Exploited, the Germs, Good Charlotte, Iggy Pop, the Misfits, New York Dolls, the Offspring, Operation Ivy, the Ramones, Social Distortion, the Stooges, the Velvet Underground etc.


This is Search and Destroy by the Stooges off of the Raw Power album released in 1973. Iggy Pop (lead singer for the Stooges) is also referenced as the godfather of Punk Rock.

The song describes a setting of war and possible detonation of the world by way of the Atomic Bomb. It was written in a time where it was viewed as contentious to sing about such a subject as willingly as The Stooges did. The tone of the song and the diction in the lyrics seems to be sarcastically challenging the government and their idea of blowing places up with radioactive explosives so easily. This song is one of the earliest and most defining punk songs in what it stands for and what it sounds like.

New Wave


New Wave music, also known as Post- Punk, is a genre that has roots in punk music, but relies heavily on electronics and synthesizers. New Wave gained massive popularity in 1983 and its relevancy has declined since. New Wave is structured around things like strong melodies with clear harmonies from its Power Pop ancestors, a forceful rhythm from Jazz influences, and its uncooperative attitude and foundation from Punk Rock. The movement was named after an obscure genre of French film that was different from the societal norm at the time and that really makes a statement as to the ground that New Wave was founded on. It prophesied the cultural changes that would be furtherly pushed after its birth. One definition of New Wave from Steven Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation from in 2013 divides Punk and New Wave saying that New Wave is “[popular] music less raw than punk rock and typically including unconventional melodies, exaggerated beats, and quirky lyrics.”

It later inspired Synthpop  with synthesizers being an instrument that is frequently used while adding a mostly upbeat tempo and mood. New Wave was also a role model for Electronic music because it uses technology as a main instrument and that was really introduced through New Wave.


Blondie, Cyndi Lauper, Depeche Mode, Devo, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Gang of Four, Joy Division, Men Without Hats, New Order, Oingo Boingo, the Psychedelic Furs, the Smiths, the Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, the Violent Femmes, etc.


This song is Walked In Line by Joy Division on their Warsaw album released in 1981.

Walked In Line makes a similar statement about the military and government establishment that the Stooges’ Search and Destroy does. It depicts the negative influences brought on by the corruption of the government. Walked In Line claims that the soldiers are being brainwashed not to question authority as part of their training. This is rebellious ideal is especially apparent in the lyrics of the song: “They made it through the whole machine/ To never question anymore/ Hypnotic trance/ They never saw/ They walked in line/ They walked in line…” This furtherly proves that Post punk music kept the same founding morals of questioning authority in that was prevalent in Punk. Their training has revoked the troops’ ability to freely think and replaced it with that of a robot programmed to obey every task given to it by the government and nothing more.


Punk and Post Punk are similar in establishing principles. Punk created a movement of questioning authority that had not yet been witnessed in such vast numbers at the time. With the challenging and changing of traditions brought on by such a movement it created controversy because it was rather an unwritten law that all people obeyed and to refuse it was deemed taboo. The nonconforming agenda that Punk Rock introduced was carried through New Wave, but it sounded different. New Wave brought with it an electric twist. It also used more versatile tempos that made New Wave easier to dance to in order to differentiate itself from its ancestral raw and unorganized Punk sounds.

Although the two are related, they are separate genres with New Wave succeeding the death of Punk music.


Post by KarlyB. Featured image credit: Desi Mendoza

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