These 10 vocalists were punk-rock standard-bearers during the ‘00s
The mouthpieces for the White Stripes, the Libertines, the Hives and others kept the flag flying into a new century.August 20, 2021
Welcome to Alternative Press’ 10 best punk vocalists of the ‘00s. When we counted down that decade’s finest punk guitarists, we noted that the beginning of the new century was a turning point. The ‘90s began with Nirvana breaking down the door for punk-influenced alternative acts to become the mainstream music of the decade, peaked with Green Day cementing punk’s graduation to a significant commercial force and ended with Britney Spears and *NSYNC dominant. It was as if neither “Smells Like Teen Spirit” nor “Basket Case” happened.
The rock-oriented sound of the new millennium initially appeared to be nü metal—the ones who gave you wedgies in the high school locker room with seven-string guitars, backward baseball caps and a mishmash of Helmet’s downtuned riff-rock and hip–hop. This was most decidedly not punk, much less rock ‘n’ roll. Then NYC’s Strokes came along, creating a commercial market for acts who crossbred ‘77 punk with ‘66 garage aesthetics. Radio and MTV were now safe for the White Stripes, the Hives and several other exciting bands with fuzzboxes and copies of Rhino’s Nuggets box set. There was also a new wave of pop punk—basically Green Day’s progeny: blink–182, Sum 41, Good Charlotte.
Ignoring what was happening on radio or MTV that was interesting, there was plenty of basic punk out there in the guise of the gonzo post-Detroit Riverboat Gamblers. And Scandinavia was belching forth any number of punk bands trading in vintage hard-rock dynamics. Take your pick—the Hellacopters, Backyard Babies, Turbonegro, etc. Anyone who believed that punk had died in the age of Bush was ignorant, unobservant, unaware or self-delusional. Or some combination of all the above. These 10 punk singers of the ‘00s proved the music and culture were hardly dead.
Please enjoy our custom Spotify playlist, Alternative Press Presents The 10 Best Punk Vocalists Of The ‘00s, as you read.
CLAIM TO FAME: The White Stripes
SIGNATURE MOVE: Possibly the most crucial of the bands that walked into the space cleared on the Billboard Hot 100 by the Strokes for garage punk was Detroit’s White Stripes. It’s understandable, given how much more creative and dazzling the duo of Jack and Meg White was next to the rich-kid Velvet-isms of Julian Casablancas and crew. Only Jack’s wailing Robert Plant-ish tenor could’ve topped the fervid mix of Chess Records blues, ‘60s fuzzbox rock, Motor City protopunk and Led Zeppelin powering such White Stripes hits as “Fell In Love With A Girl” and “Seven Nation Army.” It was an essential ingredient.
BEST HEARD ON: White Blood Cells
Pete Doherty and Carl Barât
CLAIM TO FAME: The Libertines
SIGNATURE MOVE: Even England’s answer to the Strokes, the Libertines, was an improvement. It’s probably because they were really the U.K.’s long-delayed reaction to the Replacements: highly literate, heart-on-sleeve songwriting, a bruised romanticism and tangy guitar rock. Pete Doherty’s wastrel charisma mixing with Carl Barât’s heavy-lidded charm was integral to the Libs’ appeal. It powered their odes to Albion—their mythic, romantic vision of Britain—such as “Time For Heroes,” “Up The Bracket” and “Can’t Stand Me Now.” Their vocal stylings were long on magic, if short on range. They were certainly a fundamental factor in selling guitars to ‘00s British youth.
BEST HEARD ON: Up The Bracket
Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist
CLAIM TO FAME: The Hives
SIGNATURE MOVE: Scandinavia, in the ‘00s, became the new rock ‘n’ roll capital of the universe. Lay the blame at the feet of a wave of bands who combined classic punk influences, garage aesthetics and stadium-rock dynamics—everyone from Norway’s Turbonegro to Sweden’s Backyard Babies. The least metallic of the bunch was fellow Swedes the Hives. They were as garage as a semitruck loaded with scratched-up Kinks and Sonics 45s. Frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s Jagger-esque phrasing and scratchy pipes, alongside his hilariously arrogant stage persona, did a lot toward selling them to the world. It was a big reason for such tracks as “Hate To Say I Told You So” becoming massive hits.
BEST HEARD ON: Your New Favourite Band
CLAIM TO FAME: The Riverboat Gamblers
SIGNATURE MOVE: The Riverboat Gamblers burst out of Austin, Texas, with a rampaging MC5-on-crank sound and barn-burning stage show that redefined “high energy” in the 21st century. A large part of this is due to singer Mike Wiebe. He had a stage presence akin to Lux Interior as a giant Jerry Lewis-style spazz and a howl that sounded like the only record he owned was Raw Power. It helped launch such Gamblers albums as 2003’s Something To Crow About—stocked with “Rattle Me Bones” and other rampaging anthems—into the stratosphere. They still destroy audiences and phonograph styluses to this very day.
BEST HEARD ON: Something To Crow About
CLAIM TO FAME: At The Drive-In
SIGNATURE MOVE: The rise of El Paso’s At The Drive–In marked the full-blooded arrival of screamo on the musical universe. They were also the first solid evidence of the widely effective influence of Refused’s 1998’s The Shape Of Punk To Come album. Which was especially noticeable with ATDI’s 2000 breakthrough full-length Relationship Of Command and its exemplary tracks such as “Pattern Against User” and “One Armed Scissor.” A big part of their explosive prog-punk was lead vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala. With his gigantic afro, emotionally overdriven shriek and molten nerve stage presence, he was the personification of his band’s sustained crisis rock.
BEST HEARD ON: Relationship Of Command
CLAIM TO FAME: The Applicators
SIGNATURE MOVE: Austin’s Applicators caught the attention of media outlets as far flung as England’s NME for a few moments in the first decade of the century. They practiced an unself-conscious feminism that was less riot grrrl theory and more active. Musically, they meshed chaindrive old-school punk a la Ramones or Misfits and even a dash of Motörhead with what seemed to be the new–wave tunefulness of the Cars. Leader Sabrina Applicator’s husky alto rode Erica’s Briggs and Stratton guitars and the Stephanie and Kristina rhythm section’s brute slam like a fully broken-in Palomino. Her voice was a fine instrument.
BEST HEARD ON: What’s Your Excuse
CLAIM TO FAME: Backyard Babies
SIGNATURE MOVE: Swedish collossi Backyard Babies’ Black & Decker glam-punk was one of the new millennium’s most thrilling noises. It was as if the New York Dolls were Scandinavian and saw the value in the ‘80s Sunset Strip Aqua Net metal bands they inadvertently spawned but still decided aping Motörhead was a better option. It helped that singer/guitarist Nicke Borg rode the gargantuan riffs with a growl as overdriven as the band’s guitars. Then there was his phrasing, which definitely owed to the roots punk stylings of Social Distortion mainman Mike Ness. 2019 single “Good Morning Midnight” proved it was still a potent combination.
BEST HEARD ON: Stockholm Syndrome
Claim To Fame: Krum Bums
SIGNATURE MOVE: Dave Tejas mounted the Krum Bums’ tuneful thrash-metal take on hardcore like it was a tame, purring kitten, rather than the ferocious, nasty beast it was. For five albums, Austin’s greatest contribution to hardcore history this side of the Offenders seemingly revitalized the entire speedrock genre. Tejas’ high-pitched one-note bawl was as much their sonic signature as Trae Martinez’s tasty, melodic guitar work. So effective was he at conveying the band’s state-of-alert emotinalism, he frequently sounded like the spiritual cousin of ATDI’s Bixler-Zavala. It made him the obvious choice when street-punk heroes the Casualties needed a new singer.
BEST HEARD ON: Cut The Noose
CLAIM TO FAME: The Donnas
SIGNATURE MOVE: The emergence of the Donnas—from teenage Ramones clones to an almost wholesome Mötley Crüe gone punk—was one of the most glorious transformational stories of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. They were a great example of punk’s on-the-job training ethos. Just as we watched the other Donnas gain confidence and ability as they went along, so we saw singer Brett Anderson, the former Donna A, grow up in public and behind the mic. From the almost tentative, almost shy vocals on early albums such as American Teenage Rock ‘n’ Roll Machine to the attention-demanding alto growl that dominated later releases, it was a hell of a metamorphosis. When last heard of in 2019, she was completing a psychology degree at Stanford University and contemplating grad school.
BEST HEARD ON: Spend The Night