27 Raw Images Of When Punk Ruled New York

Published August 11, 2016
Updated September 18, 2019

A look inside how punk music emerged from the depths of 1970s and 1980s New York City in twenty-seven candid photographs.

In the mid-1970s, a new incarnation of rock emerged in juxtaposition to the opulent and carnival-like music that had dominated the decade so far. It was punk rock, a music fast on pace and low on instrumentation with an anti-authoritarian ethos at its core.

Punk’s geographical center could be found in New York City neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and the Bowery, which white flight and deindustrialization had left for dead.

While today high-end shopping and dining eat away at whatever remains of punk’s memory in those neighborhoods, we look back at the early days when punk emerged from the depths of 1970s and 1980s New York City:

Ramones At CBGB 1977
At center stage of the burgeoning punk movement was the Ramones, a New York band that is cited as the first group to embody the punk sound. Formed in 1974, the Ramones sought a return to a simpler form of rock, one that stood in contrast to the era's heavily-produced arena rock.Wikimedia Commons

Ramones CBGB
The Ramones were known for their minimal fashion, manic tempo, and loud, straightforward sound. As described by the Trouser Press, "New York's Ramones blasted open the clogged arteries of mid-'70s rock, reanimating the music. Their genius was to recapture the short/simple aesthetic from which pop had strayed, adding a caustic sense of trash-culture humor and minimalist rhythm guitar sound."David Godlis

Patti Smith
In the early 1970s, strands of punk music sprang out of Mercer Arts Center members. Patti Smith, a highly regarded poet and feminist that came from the Mercers Art Center, recorded the single "Hey Joe"/"Piss Factory" in 1975, one of the first recognizable punk songs.Allan Tannenbaum / Artnet

Patti Smith Portrait
Patti Smith, like other early punk artists, fused together different types of music into her own version of punk, including jazz, spoken word, and garage rock. As with other artists, Smith's used her music to reject prevailing norms and power structures.New York Public Library

The Bowery
The Bowery was home to some of the worst poverty and crime in New York. Its destitution and underuse made it ripe for creative and social use. In the coming years, the neighborhood emerged as the heart of New York's punk scene.Leland Bobbé / Photographer

Hilly Crystal
In 1973, Hilly Crystal opened CBGB in the Bowery. In the above, he poses for a photograph outside of the club before a show.David Godlis

Outside Of Cbgb 1977
Originally called CBGB & OMFUG (standing for "Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers"), the club became the iconic venue for punk and new wave across the globe.New York Historical Society

Mudd Club
Another staple of the nascent punk culture was the Mudd Club, a TriBeCa venue opened in 1978. In the photo above, the lead singer of a band lifts a papier-mâché bomb over his head during a November 1978 performance.Allan Tannenbaum / Getty Images

Punk music initially enjoyed much critical acclaim but little popular success, as punk bands often self-recorded and self-distributed their albums. Terry Ork, a former Warholite, launched Ork Records, which would release seminal albums like Television's Little Johnny Jewel and Richard Hell's Blank Generation. In the photo above, the founders of Ork Records, Terry Ork and Charles Ball, hang out on Delancey Street in the Lower East Side.David Godlis

Iggy Pop, who was at the time launching a solo career after the disbanding of The Stooges, became a fixture of the developing punk scene that would strongly influence his performance style in the subsequent decades.Allan Tannenbaum / Artnet

Punks In East Village
A couple enjoys an East Village stoop during the summer of 1985.The New York Historical Society

Punk Sex Fence
CBGB attracted an array of visitors, reflecting the range of acts that frequented the venue. In the image above, a couple hangs out behind CBGB following a show in May 1978.Allan Tannenbaum / Getty Images

Wendy Williams and Richie Stotts of the Plasmatics perform at the Fun House in October 1980. The group became known for raucous live shows, leading to Williams' 1981 arrest in Milwaukee for simulating masturbation with a sledgehammer during a concert.Waring Abbott / Getty Images

CBGB Bathroom Picture
One of the most celebrated aspects of CBGB was its notorious bathrooms that featured decades of accumulated graffiti. Described by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne as "legendarily nasty," the Metropolitan Museum of Art recreated the bathroom as the centerpiece of an exhibit on punk culture in 2013.Wikimedia Commons

Debbie Harry Blondie
After the first wave of artists in the mid-1970s, at the end of the decade punk diversified into new distinct sub-genres. New Wave stood at one end of the spectrum, where groups like Blondie used a wider range of instruments and had a more pop-friendly sound.Wikimedia Commons

Black Flag 1983
Hardcore punk — pioneered by bands like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedy's — stood on the other end. They played in a faster and more aggressive style than their predecessors. Erica Echenberg / Getty Images

Black Flag Concert
Performing in 1985 in New York, Black Flag gained renown for the raw energy of lead singer, Henry Rollins, displayed.Frank Mullen / Getty Images

Robert Mapplethorpe And Patti Smith
Artists and musicians were pulled into the orbit of the burgeoning punk scene. Robert Mapplethorpe, an accomplished photographer, was a scene regular and the subject of Patti Smith's acclaimed 2010 memoir, Just Kids.Allan Tannenbaum / Artnet

Trash And Vaudville
St. Mark's Place in the East Village became a hub for punk rock culture, with Trash and Vaudeville as the premier destination for punk fashion. Founded in 1975, the store outfitted such acts as the Ramones and Debbie Harry.Viviane Moos Holbrooke / Getty Images

East Village Punk
A woman in punk attire enjoys a beverage on St. Mark's in the summer of 1985.New York Public Library

Punks On A Stoop In NYC
A group of friends hangs out in the Lower East Side in 1984.Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos

Punk Fashion Show
Punk's increased visibility in the streets of New York engendered a certain fetishization among high culture and fashion circles. Above, people attend the Punk Fashion Show in July 1980 at the Ritz Hotel.Ron Galella / Getty Images

Chrissie Hynde
Chrissie Hynde was another New York punk scene staple during its nascent years. She would be a founding member of and the singer for The Pretenders for over three decades.Allan Tannenbaum / Artnet

Punk At CBGB
While punk culture became associated with a distinct style in popular culture, its emergent aesthetic was diverse and diffuse. At an October 1977 Richard Hell show at CBGB, a fan sports a Christmas sweater matched with duct taped jeans.Ebet Roberts / Getty Images

Dead Kennedys
Punk shows became infamous for the immersive give and take between performers and audience. In the photo above, Dead Kennedy's lead singer Jello Biafra jumps into the crowd during a 1980 show.John P. Kelly / Getty Images

Jumping Into The Crowd
An audience member jumps into the crowd during a 1986 show at the Ritz.Eli Reed/Magnum Photos

CBGB Closed
Like many commercial landmarks in New York, CBGB succumbed to the pressures of gentrification and rising rents. In 2006 it closed due to rent hikes. On October 15, 2006, Patti Smith and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers gave the final performance.Wikimedia

And if you're a fan of punk of that era, we highly recommend you watch this video of Bad Brains playing at CBGB in 1982:

If you enjoyed this look at the punk era of New York, check out our other galleries on 1970s New York City and photos of when the New York subway was the most dangerous place on earth. Then, read up on punk rock wildman GG Allin.

Alexander is a Brooklyn-based cofounder of All That's Interesting with an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in History and Economics and an MSc from the School of Oriental and African Studies in Economics. He specializes in American history, the Cold War, and true crime.