10 venues where punk happened (and is still happening) 

Every revolutionary music scene needs an HQ to take over the world from, and these spots played a big part in the rise of punk, from the ‘70s to now

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Without music venues for bands to play in, it’s unlikely that punk would have got too far off the ground back when it first emerged in the ‘70s. Some of the world’s most iconic spaces were once the homes of the genre, helping to launch careers of both some of the world’s most revolutionary acts and local heroes who have impacted their own communities. Here are some of the venues where punk happened and, in some cases, is still going strong.

The Roxy

The Roxy
The Roxy CREDIT: Getty Images

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Where: London

Why’s it important: The Roxy served as the HQ for London’s punk scene, providing a space for the then-burgeoning movement to convene, drink, mosh and connect. Its opening shows set it up as the place to watch the genre’s most exciting bands, with Generation X, The Heartbreakers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Clash taking to its stage in its infancy. The venue also fostered the crossover spirit of some of the genre’s acts, with Don Letts serving as the resident DJ and educating the punters on reggae from behind the decks.

CBGBs

The Damned CBGBs 1977
The Damned at CBGBs in 1977 CREDIT: Getty Images

Where: New York City

Why’s it important: CBGBs is the venue when it comes to celebrating the punk scene – the scuzzy East Village space is considered the birthplace of the genre, as well as New York’s rock and folk scenes. On any given night in the ‘70s, you could have caught sets from the likes of The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads and many more in its graffitied walls. But that wasn’t the end of its legacy – in the ‘80s it became a hub for hardcore, giving a home to Sick Of It All, Cro-Mags, Gorilla Biscuits and more, while it continued to host gigs until it was forced to close by rising rents in 2006.

Max’s Kansas City

Where: New York City

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Why’s it important: A former hangout of Andy Warhol’s, Max’s had long been an iconic part of NYC’s underground scene before punk came around. It went through several incarnations, with its second playing host to everyone from Television to Blondie, The Cramps to Sid Vicious – unsurprising given that, at the time, its booker had jumped over to Max’s from CBGBs. The venue’s existence was short-lived, though – in 1981, six years after it reopened, it closed its doors again, bowing out with one final show by Bad Brains and Beastie Boys.

9:30 Club

Where: Washington D.C.

Why’s it important: Although the 9:30 Club didn’t open its doors til 1980, the D.C. venue is still an important part of punk’s story. It fostered the scene in the city in the ‘80s and ‘90s, helping raise artists like Minor Threat and Fugazi, who kept punk’s legacy alive and moving forward. It also gave the area’s young people a place to discover bands, letting 16-year-olds and up through its doors. Over the years, the good and the great of punk music and beyond have graced the 9:30 stage – including a teenage Dave Grohl, whose former band Dain Bramage scored an early gig there. The iconic venue still gives bands a platform today, albeit in a new location, keeping punk’s spirit alive and well.

100 Club

100 Club
100 Club CREDIT: Getty Images

Where: London

Why’s it important: Just across town from The Roxy, the 100 Club offered another space for the city’s punks to thrive. Everyone from The Clash to The Buzzcocks graced its stage, while it later gave a second home to ‘80s hardcore punk acts like Black Flag and Crass. Notably, in 1976, it also was the base for the 100 Club Punk Special, a two-day festival that is considered a pivotal moment in the genre’s growth in the UK, bringing it into a more mainstream space. Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Damned and more played at the event, watched by attendees including Vivienne Westwood, The PretendersChrissie Hynde, The Slits’ Viv Albertine, and The PoguesShane MacGowan, among others.

The Smell

Where: Los Angeles

Why’s it important: Since 1998, The Smell – located in downtown LA – has been a must-visit DIY hotspot in the city. Open to music fans of all ages, it was inspired by the closing of former punk-inspired haunts Jabberjaw and The Impala Cafe, filling a gap in the local music scene for a community-focused safe space for expression. In its two-decades-plus existence, the space has helped the likes of No Age, Best Coast, Warpaint, Ty Segall, and many others find both live experience and a circle of like-minded artists and music lovers.

The Bungalow Bar

Where: Paisley

Why’s it important: “It was an incredible place and arguably the most important punk venue in Scotland,” Creation Records’ Alan McGee once said of Paisley’s Bungalow Bar. “I saw many great bands there over the years.” A destination venue for punk rockers in Scotland, the intimate space offered Scottish punks their own CBGBs-like space where they could try their hand at making their own punk dreams come true or witness some of the scene’s most prominent names in a tiny venue.

The Harp Bar

Where: Belfast

Why’s it important: Active during both punk and the Troubles, Belfast’s Harp Bar became a place where the city’s youth could escape the violence of the outside world and immerse themselves in a community filled with passion. The venue was at the heart of a local scene that inspired bands like Stiff Little Fingers and The Undertones to make their mark on the city and, later, the world.

Wharf Chambers

Where: Leeds

Why’s it important: This not-for-profit DIY venue in Leeds has punk values at its core. Wharf Chambers is run by a worker’s co-op – or a business that puts its workers and community at the heart of everything it does. An inclusive space in the local music scene, it’s all about bringing people together regardless of background – as well as live bands, you’ll find gatherings for different groups working to help different causes, including immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

SO36

John band SO36 Berlin
John perform at SO36 Berlin CREDIT: Martyn Goodacre/Redferns)

Where: Berlin

Why’s it important: SO36, located in Berlin’s Kreuzberg, was a crucial part of the German city’s punk scene in the ‘70s and even drew celebrity guests through its doors in David Bowie and Iggy Pop. It helped propel the genre to greater heights in Germany and is often considered equivalent to New York’s CBGBs. It’s another venue that’s gone through many incarnations in its time but still remains true to its punk roots, bringing together from all different sub-sectors of the scene and walks of life.

These venues helped form the lifeblood of the punk scene, be that in its first incarnation, second or now, five decades on. They’re the spaces where thrashing and pogoing became a part of every gig-goer’s lexicon and where speakers ring loudly with the genre’s anthems. While you can’t quite bottle that spirit, you can get close enough with Ardbeg’s punk rock limited edition release, Ardcore (RRP: £105, ABV: 46%). Made with roasted black malt and incinerated to hair-raising levels, it has been described by Ardbeg’s Head of Distillery and Whisky Creation as tasting “like biting on a spiky ball.” Celebrating the characters of ‘PUNK ELLEN’ – the alleged nickname for Islay’s main port, Port Ellen, in the 1970s –  the devilishly delicious dram is as unconventional as the music that inspired it, and just as memorable.

For more information on Ardcore, please visit, Ardbeg.com. Ardcore is available to buy from Ardbeg Embassies, whisky specialists, online retailers and from the Ardbeg Distillery Visitor Centre. 

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