BAND AID 2015: A World Of Dread And Fear

By Samarth Kanal

You may not be aware of it but the holiday that is commonly known and loved as Christmas is soon to be upon us. It falls on December 25th this year and there’s so much to look forward to, like eggnog, and some other stuff probably – but what about for us punk music likers? Well, your favourite punk bands have got you covered with an unprecedented haul of Christmas crap. Strap in folks, it’s Christmas Twenty Fifteen.

Frivolous merch has previously been the subject of criticism on Punktastic, but that was mostly a bunch of metalcore bands who have fortunately been left behind in 2013. Now, Christmas merch is seeping into every other genre associated with punk, and it’s time to take a stand, or, just to sit down and read my article and not buy the most ridiculous, cynical attempt at selling merch since well, the whole career of the Descendents.


Let’s start with The Menzingers, which is really difficult, as criticising your favourite bands often proves to be. They ‘teamed up‘ with one of those breweries that puts edgy fonts and words all over their bottles of IPA in November to create ‘Menzinger’. That’s novel, except, we already have The Menzingers, and overpriced IPA. This is a form of merch which is as far removed from music as it could possibly be. Why stop here? We’re really lucky that craft cigarettes don’t exist – tempting fate, I know.

It’s not just The Menzingers who have made a ridiculous attempt to put their mark on beer. Enter Shikari, Frank Turner, Mastodon, The Clash and Bad Brains all have their logos on bottles of beer. The flat-footed and bumbling marketing team at Brewdog have also tried to throw their bottles of hop-flavoured water at the punk scene, as have Atticus Clothing, formally owned by pop-punk industrialists Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus.

frank turner

You can’t represent your favourite band with beer, unless somebody took out your liver and examined it for traces of ‘Menzinger’. Gildan – who probably make a couple of your T-shirts and sweaters – are described by the Worker Rights Consortium damningly: “They are being cheated out of an average of seven weeks’ pay per year…ill-fed, indebted and without access to medical care”, said the 2013 report about their workers in Haiti. T-Shirts can instill a sense of pride for the punk who likes to represent because – get this – you can wear them on your body, but the sourcing is a major issue and must be tackled.

If there’s a trope that’s as tired as beer marketed to punks, it’s probably ‘Ugly Christmas Sweaters’. Itchy, unattractive and ironic in an irritating self-important way – guys who constantly go on about their beards love ugly Christmas sweaters as much as they love themselves. It’s predictable to see a bunch of pixelated reindeer and some clip art snowflakes accentuating a band logo now, which isn’t clever or funny, but lazy design. Everybody is doing it, from 2Chainz to Five Finger Death Punch. Yes, even punk bands are doing it, and the aforementioned Menzingers are guilty once again.

Please stop.

The issue is that merch is taking the foreground while the music itself is losing relevance in comparison. There’s no particular data available for merch sales for only punk and pop-punk bands, but this research from ‘Future Of Music’ indicates that merch sales account for a proportion of band revenue that averages way higher for ‘rock’ than other music genres. It’s not a huge amount at 5.2%, but compare that to the 1.2% of revenue derived from merch within other genres, and it starts to paint a picture. That survey has a small sample size but 80% of the answers are from musicians who are part-time, which fits the small punk, pop punk and metal bands that Punktastic covers.

Nielsen – the giant company which makes around $6 billion a year doing market research – found that music streaming in 2015 was 92% higher than in 2014, while total album sales decreased 4% . That’s damning, but at least music sales from independent outlets went up by 0.8% and non-traditional retail outlets sold 8% more albums than in 2014 in the US, which shows that within smaller music scenes, people are still purchasing LPs and EPs.

Nielsen also show that while people aged 24 and under are most receptive to buying merch in the T Shirts, Posters, and Hats categories, the ‘Other’ category of merch is nearly equally marketable to all age groups. 25-34 year olds are slightly more likely to buy unconventional merch than teens.

“Fans want more,” said Barara Zack, Chief Analytics Officer at Nielsen Entertainment Measurement to Billboard in 2013. “There is an unmet need there. There is a desire to engage at a different level than what they have.”, he continued. That goes some way to explain why we’re drawn towards limited edition or seasonal merch.

Selling merch is also an effective way to sidestep the issue of piracy and streaming music. The gaming industry concurs, as the makers of the heavily pirated Football Manager series prove here. It seems to be a problem that we, the consumer, have created. We choose not to value art, and so bands are forced to start selling coasters and belt buckles to make one or two ends meet. That’s understandable, but it’s being taken to new levels. The Wonder Years have flip flops and beach balls and the Descendents have single-handedly accounted for hundreds of my groans and sighs at excessive merchandising, but the lessons we should learn from them are that merch is saturating the punk scene with useless and unrelated crap.

Unfortunately, with every example of contrived knitwear, hotpants, shoelace, and Descendents tribute shirt, it seems that the band members are more obsessed with their own logos than their music. With the new, inevitable flood of Christmas merch this year, it’s sadly undeniable that artists and labels are losing the plot and there is indeed an ugly side to their intentions.

It’s becoming clear that musicians are exploiting our desire to engage with them on a deeper level, and surely the jaded feeling isn’t mine alone. We have a part to play, as music sales threaten to decline, but there’s an easy remedy to that: stop buying clothes and start buying more music. Then, when you’ve bought their music, go to their gigs. Then when you’ve gone to their gigs, go and buy the limited edition represses of their music on clear vinyl, and then buy the repress on green vinyl, then on that vinyl colour that’s split between two colours and then go buy their new album. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s eggnog time.