A Brief History of Soul-Punk

Unlike most hyphenated sub-genres, soul-punk isn’t really a collision of two different musical forms. It’s not so much a modification of punk as a reassertion of what’s been embedded in the music all along——do-or-die, preacher-man passion, pulpit-shaking intensity, and floorboard-smashing backbeats. After all, when you strip down the sound of proto-punk legends like the MC5 and Stooges, you’ll find an engine powered by Motown spunk and James Brown funk. And that emphasis on rhythm certainly wasn’t lost on future generations of garage-rockers—from the New Bomb Turks to Make-Up to The Bellrays—who liked their rama-lama with a little fa-fa-fa.

But soul-punk is more than just revved-up guitar carnage loosened up with hip-shakin’ moves. The conversation works both ways: In The Jam and Dexys Midnight Runners, you had bands that retained the formal qualities of classic ‘60s soul, but updated them with a working-class punk perspective. In the Afghan Whigs, you see the two forms fuse and explode into a cinematic maelstrom. And in the gospelized post-hardcore of the Constantines and the drum-machined manifestos of Algiers, you hear more modern variations that violently shake off soul-punk’s retro, party-hearty associations to forge a new kind of protest music for the here and now.