The 10 best punk vocalists of the 2010s upheld tradition in a new era
Welcome to Alternative Press’ 10 best punk vocalists of the ‘10s. As we noted when counting down punk’s greatest guitarists of this period, the genre was 35 years old in 2010. Punk rock had a history and a tradition by now, as well as a rule book it was never supposed to have. Which, of course, brings up questions of just how rebellious a subculture actually is if it serves notions of how things are supposed to be. If the nonconformists are all conforming—sounding the same, looking the same, apparently all rebelling the same—how is this insurrection? Wouldn’t the truly insurgent thing be to do the complete opposite?
As with other punk musicians of the time, the 10 best punk vocalists of the ‘10s understood they were working within a heritage. Some, such as Jim Jones or the Strypes’ Ross Farrelly, reached beyond punk to early rock ‘n’ roll or to London’s mid-’60s R&B outfits. School Jerks’ Luke plumbed early hardcore’s Ipecac-fueled bawling. OFF!’s Keith Morris didn’t need to—he’d help invent it in Black Flag and Circle Jerks. Except, unlike most of his peers, he had a stronger melodic sense. A Giant Dog’s Sabrina Ellis circumvented it all by singing as if they were delivering the show-stopper in a Broadway musical. Fellow Austinite Orville Neeley of OBN IIIs ran circles around his Iggy Pop-wearing-a-shirt stage antics by leaning toward the ex-Stooge’s solo croon. Dee Radke of Afropunk trio Radkey was also a crooner, although his record collection clearly carried far more Misfits than the Stooges.
Please enjoy our custom playlist of the 10 best punk vocalists of the ‘10s as you read.
CLAIM TO FAME: The Jim Jones Revue
SIGNATURE MOVE: When he fronted British black-leather garage-psych rockers Thee Hypnotics, Jones was more of a street-walkin’ cheetah with a heartful of napalm—aka the 115,000th young Iggy reincarnation. But the band bearing his name was a different beast. They tapped into the elemental spirit of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, especially the piano-pounding boogie-woogie-infested sound of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Not such a stretch, considering both early punk and ‘50s rock relied on jackhammered eighth-note overdrive. Jones, consequently, revived Little Richard’s tonsil-shredding vocal blast. He wasn’t amelodic, but his delivery could be as distorted as the band’s guitars.
CLAIM TO FAME: School Jerks
SIGNATURE MOVE: No, we don’t have a surname. These then-teenage Torontonians were Ben (guitar), Ivan (drums), Matt (bass) and Luke on vocals. They barely gigged, hardly gave interviews and just about managed to release three EPs, two cassettes and the best punk album of the last 10 years. School Jerks was 13 songs on a 12-inch 45, each barely clocking in at over a minute. It was the type of early hate-core that would have fit perfectly at the bottom of a Black Flag/Germs/Chiefs bill at the Starwood in 1980. Luke vomited the songs perfectly. Then they seemingly walked away.
CLAIM TO FAME: Amyl And The Sniffers
SIGNATURE MOVE: Roommates from Melbourne, Australia, who started a band on a lark, Amyl And The Sniffers wrote, recorded and released their first EP within 24 hours. Between that day in 2016 and now, they have issued two LPs (including Comfort To Me, just released Sept. 10, multiple singles and toured the world several times over. In the process, they’ve become the international darlings of garage punk, with their AC/DC-meets-Ramones power stomp. A large part of their appeal is charming singer Amy Taylor, with her Ziggy Stardust mullet, snootful of irreverence and a vocal delivery like Debbie Harry leading a gang fight.
CLAIM TO FAME: The Strypes
SIGNATURE MOVE: The teenage pride of Cavan, Ireland, when they first burst upon the scene, the Strypes kicked some fresh, youthful vigor into the hoary old British R&B tradition. They injected that classic Stones/Pretty Things snot-raunch sound with about 500 CCs of ‘70s punk energy, and they were the greatest band in the world for about 10 minutes. Farrelly played the mop-topped, tambourine-bashing cool kid vocalist role to the hilt, strutting and manhandling his mic stand like 1964 Jagger. Since the band’s 2018 split, he’s acted in Elton John biopic Rocketman and fronts every-Strype-but-Josh-McClorey garage outfit the Zen Arcade.
CLAIM TO FAME: OBN IIIs
SIGNATURE MOVE: Leader of beloved Austin garage-punks the OBN IIIs, Neeley is one of four people who appeared on our top punk guitarists of the ‘10s list returning due to also being their acts’ singer. Except in his case, he didn’t strap on his guitar until late in their run. They began as a lark when a band dropped off a bill at a club where he mixed sound. Writing, rehearsing and performing a set within only a few days, the band’s aggro-Stooges assault was an instant hit. Neeley’s rich croon turned out to be one of many musical instruments he’d mastered.
CLAIM TO FAME: A Giant Dog
SIGNATURE MOVE: Honestly, A Giant Dog/Sweet Spirit’s frontperson Ellis should be joined here by guitarist Andrew Cashen. Their partner in both bands in every way—their songwriting fuels both—Ellis and Cashen are actually co-lead vocalists in the twin acts. But Ellis’ near-performance art take on fronting a band ("It's not really GG Allin," they joked to the Austin Chronicle in 2016. "More like Pee Pee Allin") is the most immediately eye-arresting in outfits that are visual treats. Ultimately, it’s Ellis performing to some imaginary balcony in the musical comedy in their head that makes them so dynamic.
CLAIM TO FAME: Flesh Lights
SIGNATURE MOVE: Beginning as an exercise in Devil Dogs/Dictators/Angry Samoans high-speed brutality, Austin garage unit Flesh Lights (named for the locally produced sex toy) had probably the most interesting musical journey of any of these bands. After debut album Muscle Pop’s fast-as-hell garage-punk, second album Free Yourself was more in the vein of Cheap Trick’s power chord-blasting pop anthems. Singer/guitarist Max Vandever’s songwriting simply evolved in the intervening time. This meant he also went from leaving chunks of bloody throat meat on his vocal mic to almost caressing his words, even as his guitar and the rhythm section pummeled as ever.
CLAIM TO FAME: Radkey
SIGNATURE MOVE: The third of our band-fronting guitarists, Dee Radke—one of the three Radke brothers fronting St. Joseph, Missouri, outfit Radkey, alongside Solomon and Isaiah—is as potent a force behind a mic as on a fretboard. They honed their chops on the festival circuit seemingly from their inception, so they became a formidable band of stadium-crushing power. Radkey have the taut musical chops of the Bad Brains, but Dee’s textured croon could only have come from years of listening to Glenn Danzig. He appears slightly more humble, still able to conjure a gospel revival with the snap of his fingers.
CLAIM TO FAME: OFF!
SIGNATURE MOVE: In the ‘70s, Morris was Black Flag’s original singer—and the favorite of longest-running BF vocalist Henry Rollins. The ‘80s saw him helming OG hardcore band the Circle Jerks, as he is again at a club near you right now. Come the ‘10s, he formed the decade’s definitive punk band, OFF! Which is why he’s the only singer on both our ‘80s and ‘10s lists. He’s one of the best howlers punk has seen, always more tuneful and witty than his peers. Morris defines “badass.”
CLAIM TO FAME: The Sandinistas
SIGNATURE MOVE: The Sandinistas burst out of South Wales five years back with an early Clash attack surprisingly devoid of politics. Imagine “Tommy Gun” or “Safe European Home” with lyrics about teenage frustration and romantic angst replacing those three-chord polemics. The main spark plug: Guitarist/songwriter Dan Hagerty, shouting tunefully with Joe Strummer’s eye-bulging/jugular-popping intensity, all the while resembling British rockabilly hero Billy Fury. It’s a heady combination, for sure. You just wish Hagerty hadn’t composed a romantic ode to Melania Trump, even if it was totally tongue-in-cheek. No debut LP in sight, even after six seven-inch singles in a row.