Five years ago, I was in Los Angeles at Sound and Fury. I looked at my phone and saw a new phrase lighting up twitter: "Egg Punk." Then I saw another: "Chain Punk." Then I heard it spoken aloud. I searched out the origin and found The Chart. I saw other people over the course of the weekend looking at The Chart. I heard people ask their friends what any of it meant. I haven’t seen the digital realm bleed into the physical realm like this outside of the 2016 election. I was in the right place at the right time, or the complete opposite depending on your levels of cynicism.
To give the uninitiated some context, let’s take a look at The Chart
This is it. It has its tongue holstered in its cheek but it does a great job of outlining the two larger subsets of punk rock aesthetic prevalent in 2018. The major takeaway from the chart isn’t the placement of the bands on it, but rather the words “Egg Punk” and “Chain Punk.” Chain Punk feels like the easier one to define. Chain punks wore, well, chains. Somewhere on their body. Or they had a tattoo of a chain breaking, or of a chained weapon. The chain is the perfect symbol for a brutal, mechanic sound driven by percussion hitting all of the beats you’ve heard before but with more precision and faster. It promises a future of black and chrome and sounds like a 1980s film’s premonition of the future.
The egg on the other hand, well I’m not as sure where that came from.
This meme from 2017 predates the chart by almost a year. It’s got chains on the top and there’s a fried egg on the bottom. There’s a clown there, too, but we never called it Clown Punk. It’s always been Egg Punk. Its sound is more colorful and psychedelic and imagines a future of dancing and wearing denim jackets. And also everyone is wearing glasses bc for some reason, this future does not have contacts or laser eye surgery and everyone must wear a pair of thick-framed glasses. It’s a silly future for the Egg Punk.
The interesting thing about these genres, to me, is that they’re defined by the audience rather than the sound. Partially because we’re talking about the kind of person who listens to this music, but also because no self-serious band used these names for the kind of music they made. The commentary on the chart itself is lost to time, but the people who created it knew they were shitposting. It was always a joke, but some people saw it as a legitimate chart. A classic case of humor getting lost in translation when it leaves its local jokesphere. As it got bigger and spread further, the idea of “chain vs egg” went from a joke to reality. If someone asked you what a band sounded like, there was a point in time where, if they were culturally aware enough, you could say “egg punk,” and it was understood.
I’d like to present a chart of my own that shows how language and ideas in subculture, really any subculture, evolve through social media:
A concept, a joke in this case, is told and several parties hear it through social media. If the joke is misunderstood and taken at face value, it is mocked and perhaps adopted by outsiders (Poseurs, herbs) who think this is a real phenomenon. If the joke is understood, it is expanded and riffed upon, keeping the joke insular and separated from those who misunderstand the joke. The joke remains in a cycle of being worn out but expanded upon, until it is eventually adopted by insiders who use the term or joke ironically to convey a serious concept. In most cases, the joke is worn out and its lack of longevity leads to retirement, where it dies a noble but forgotten death. HOWEVER, some of these jokes that are no longer funny are considered SO unfunny that they’re funny to use ironically, and then we’re back in the cycle of it all. For example, we can now use Egg Punk to describe a band and it's steeped in irony but its convenience is unmatched
Egg Punk and Chain Punk are a joke, yes, but there are bands who use the tags as legitimate tags on Bandcamp now, without a hint of irony. The “chain punk” bands are pretty good at identifying themselves correctly as chain punk, but the “egg punk” bands are mostly wimpy punk bands who aren’t weird enough to exude the art school dropout vibes that Egg Punk brings on the chart. So what did we learn from all of this? Not much, except that sometimes a joke stops being a joke if enough people are in on the joke.