How many times has the concept of punk been redefined? Far too many to count, and besides, no one seems to want to label music any more. Even in the early '90s, barely 15 years into its life, the definition of punk had been broadened and warped in surprising directions—punk could mean naive pop, heavy metal in the charts, or even doing something yourself, whatever that might be. In a new music culture where guitars have been replaced by cracked copies of Ableton, bands have been replaced by anonymous individuals with SoundCloud accounts, and where rock as such hasn't really been on the underground agenda for years, what significance does punk still have?
But the concept refuses to die. Take Zoom Lens, just one of many labels that have started up online in recent years. It was founded by young Californians, and offers a range of delicate synthesiser-pop styles with a Japanese influence. The label has this to say on its Bandcamp page: "WE ARE A LABEL AND COLLECTIVE OF MUSICIANS. HUMANITY ACROSS THE DIGITAL DIVIDE. DIGITAL PUNK ROCK SPIRIT. FUCK REAL LIFE."
By the 1970s, what made punk particularly possible as a wave—a musical generation, even—was the technologically lowered threshold of performing, recording and spreading the word. A large, networked and self-aware shadow music industry could be set up, and by the mid-'80s it was widely being called indie. Today this is happening as the latest phase in an ongoing process of technological-musical empowerment, with the vast migration of independent music online, much of it at the hands of a generation that hardly remembers a time before Web 2.0. The modern disconsolate teenager—"punk," if you like—has powers of production and distribution that her '70s counterparts could hardly dream of, conceivably reaching an audience of billions with tools that would have made the top studio engineers of 30 years ago weep.