As we exited the ’90s and entered the new millennium, pop divas, prefabricated boy bands and rappers bragging about conspicuous consumption and how poorly they treated women ruled the airwaves. Meanwhile, what passed for “rock” was the white guys who beat you up in high school P.E. class who’d discovered hip-hop and figured it’d sound killer over downtuned seven-string guitars playing metal riffs atop dope beats. It was as if neither Nirvana nor Green Day had happened.
Never count out punk rock. The minute anyone begins dismissing it as “dead,” it rears its spiky lil head in some grand new mutation, ready to shake things up like we’re all living on an unstable fault line. This time, not only did new pop-punk bands arise who’d been inspired by Dookie’s conquering of the mainstream in 1994, but a new wave of garage-punk also engulfed radio and MTV. (Though Music Television was well on its way to forgetting the first two syllables of its name, as the byproducts of The Real World slowly but surely metastasized, eating up every inch of its schedule. VH1 soon became what MTV used to be, followed by numbered MTV subnetworks also eventually eaten by reality show-itis.)
The return of pop punk, plus the rise of emo and garage punk, meant electric guitars and attitude became cherished qualities again. With the demise of prime traveling alt-rock showcase tour Lollapalooza, Warped Tour arose in the mid-’90s, showcasing much of this music (with the exception of garage). Meanwhile, the punk-rock underground kept lifting middle fingers to all of it, contrarian as usual. Plenty of bands still wanted to dish out old-fashioned pogo noise, post-Detroit raunch ’n’ roll or something more experimental. Here’s Alternative Press’ pick of the 10 best punk guitarists of the 2000s.
CLAIM TO FAME: The White Stripe
SIGNATURE MOVE: NYC’s the Strokes kicked open the door for millennial garage punk by injecting fresh 20-something energy into the Velvet Underground/Television Gotham art-punk blueprint. But the Detroit duo of Jack White and his “sister” (actually ex-wife) Meg on drums swallowed them whole, as if the White Stripes were Elvis and the Strokes were Bill Haley And The Comets. White was a preternaturally talented guitarist, bringing the musical smarts of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page to an ethic masterminded by Southern punkabilly two-piece Flat Duo Jets. His chosen weapons were intentionally cheap—a red 1964 Airline Res-O-Glass guitar and Sears Silvertone amplifier.
BEST HEARD ON: White Blood Cells
Pete Doherty and Carl Barät
CLAIM TO FAME: The Libertines
SIGNATURE MOVE: The Libertines applied the Strokes’ game plan to the more romantic, literate songwriting style of such late ’70s, Ray Davies-inspired punks as the Jam’s Paul Weller and the Only Ones’ Peter Perrett. Pete Doherty and Carl Barät added some jazzy chords, and Barät’s complex lead work occasionally resembled gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt jamming with a Merseybeat band. Before it quickly went pear-shaped due to Doherty’s narcotic misadventures and tabloid romance with model Kate Moss, he and partner Barät squeezed their “skiffly punk rock” from some antique gear once considered “student” equipment: A Gibson Melody Maker for Barät, an Epiphone Coronet for Doherty.
BEST HEARD ON: Up The Bracket
CLAIM TO FAME: At The Drive-In
SIGNATURE MOVE: These El Paso post-hardcore explorers pioneered screamo with their third LP, Relationship Of Command, which flexed like an American counterpart to Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come. Seeing At The Drive-In tearing through “One Armed Scissor” on The Late Show With David Letterman —all flying Afros, manhandled mic stands and raw emotion—was truly intense. The key to this violent prog assault seemed to be Omar Rodríguez-López hacking away at a Squier Super-Sonic through the aggressive overdrive of Orange AD140 heads and seemingly every effects box in a guitar shop triggered simultaneously. If only every band rocked this precisely and furiously.
BEST HEARD ON: Relationship Of Command
CLAIM TO FAME: The Applicators
SIGNATURE MOVE: Calling this Austin, Texas-based quartet a riot grrrl act would be a callous stereotype born of their shared gender. They were a punk band, with no hyphens. They claimed such influences as the Misfits, the Cramps and Motörhead but also ’90s alt powerhouse the Breeders, which likely explains their non-pop-punk melodic sense. Key to their hard, driving yet hummable sound was guitarist Erica Applicator’s articulate raunch. (Yes, like the Ramones, Sabrina, Kristina, Stephanie and Erica all changed their last names.) She wrenched her thick Angus Young-ish chords and sparse leads from a classic setup—a Gibson SG and a Marshall half-stack.
BEST HEARD ON: My Weapon
CLAIM TO FAME: Backyard Babies, The Hellacopters
SIGNATURE MOVE: Dregen emerged at a time when Detroit 1969 became Sweden’s rock capital (much as it served as Australia’s spiritual core for a chunk of the ’70s and all of the ’80s). And he served in the two bands who created this dynamic: The Hellacopters, who could convert pilfered KISS riffs into faux MC5 songs (or at least Sonic’s Rendezvous Band tunes); and the reigning kings of blitzkrieg glam-punk, Backyard Babies. He was a bit of a glorious throwback—a proper ’70s guitar hero in the Johnny Thunders/Mick Ronson sense, spewing wah-drenched voltage via a Gibson ES-335 semi-hollowbody.
BEST HEARD ON: Backyard Babies’ Making Enemies Is Good
Fadi El-Assad and Ian MacDougall
CLAIM TO FAME: The Riverboat Gamblers
SIGNATURE MOVE: The second guitar team on our list, from an Austin crew who blew minds across the 2000s underground like it’d just seen the MC5’s resurrection. Possibly the most wired and dangerous band on the circuit in those days, issuing a manic update of the classic Detroit sound as Mike Wiebe, the most spastic frontman you’ll ever see, mounted PA stacks, climbed lighting rigs and screamed surrealistic one-liners between songs. Driving vicious power chords and sick interpretations of the pentatonic scale up his butt were Fadi El-Assad on a Gibson Les Paul Studio and Ian MacDougall on a Fender Telecaster Deluxe.
BEST HEARD ON: Something To Crow About
CLAIM TO FAME: Krum Bums
SIGNATURE MOVE: These Austin screamcore powerhouses kept the flag flying for the ultra-musical thrash that was Poison Idea’s specialty. Singer Dave Tejas’ tonsil-shredding style eventually landed him the frontman slot for the Casualties, besides leading his own Starving Wolves. But Krum Bums’ true secret weapon was Trae Martinez. Without sacrificing an ounce of thermonuclear power, he wove beautifully melodic leads through incendiary devices such as “Gasoline” and “Misery” like he secretly desired a place in the Buzzcocks. This made him unique and special in a world that favors aggression over musicality. He accomplished it all with traditional rock weaponry—a Gibson Les Paul.
BEST HEARD ON: Cut The Noose
CLAIM TO FAME: The Donnas
SIGNATURE MOVE: These four Palo Alto ladies had the most interesting journey of any band featured in this list. Beginning as a teen metal group under Ragady Anne and then the Electrocutes, they morphed into a more garage/Ramones outfit as the Donnas. They next reverted to upgrading the Runaways’ concept before arriving in the millennium a fully realized amalgam of punk and hard rock, like KISS and the Ramones are kissing cousins after all. Dishing out titanium-strength six-string electricity was Allison Robertson and her Les Paul and Marshall, as strong a guitarist as they come. She’s as fundamental as Angus Young.