Bring up LGBTQ+ anthems in conversation, and chances are people will quickly turn to the world of pop for inspiration. That’s not to say that rock hasn’t been expressing itself just as much.
Already well known for self-expression, by the ‘80s punk had seen Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelly break into the mainstream with a song about loving somebody he shouldn’t, and glam rock was rapidly destroying the lines of gender norms. Then you had Judas Priest’s Rob Halford dressed head to toe in leather– who would come out during an interview with MTV in 1998 – bringing gay culture to the stage. And not forgetting both the queercore and riot grrrl scenes doing the same with subtlety.
So as the UK celebrates LGBT+ History Month, here are 15 alternative rock and punk anthems from the past 30 years to play loud and fucking proud…
FAITH NO MORE – BE AGGRESSIVE
Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum became the first star of the alternative music scene to publicly come out, speaking to San Francisco’s The Advocate in 1993. In the interview, he spoke of his decision as a political statement to further the gay rights movement, encouraging young people to be proud of who they are. The conversation arrived shortly after Roddy wrote the lyrics for ‘Be Aggressive’ from Faith No More’s acclaimed fourth studio album ‘Angel Dust’, a song centred around a very specific man-on-man sex act. A torchbearer in bringing LGBTQ+ visibility into the rock scene, Roddy recently revealed music as MAN ON MAN, alongside his partner Joey Holman.
BIKINI KILL – REBEL GIRL
Led by the iconic Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill are the pioneers of riot grrrl, a scene that emerged from the band’s native Olympia in the early ‘90s and would influence a huge range of music for years to come. Outspoken and unapologetic, 1992’s ‘Rebel Girl’ has remained a feminist anthem, playing with the idea of identity and sexuality, and even ending up on the soundtrack to the Rock Band video game fifteen years after its release. It thrives on its ambiguity. “Rebel girl, I know I wanna take you home,” Kathleen sings, “I wanna try on your clothes.” Read into that what you will.
GREEN DAY – COMING CLEAN
“Seventeen and strung out on confusion,” Bille Joe Armstrong launches into ‘Coming Clean’ from the band’s seminal 1994 release, ‘Dookie’. A year later he would tell The Advocate that he thinks he’s always been bisexual, adding more power to the track’s second verse; “secrets collecting dust but never forget, skeletons come to life in my closet.” Never shying away from the conversation, he’s gone on to speak about his exploration of sexuality in various interviews, telling Rolling Stone that ‘Coming Clean’ is part of ‘Dookie’s wider comment on his bisexuality. That clears up the often-mispronounced line about who was telling him his life was a bore in ‘Basket Case’ then.
SKUNK ANANSIE – INTERLECTUALISE MY BLACKNESS
Openly queer, Skin was tackling the notions of identity and outside expectation long before it had seeped into the mainstream, presented with full force on the band’s 1995 debut ‘Paranoid & Sunburnt’. Although the song doesn’t directly touch on sexuality, ‘Intellectualise My Blackness’ is Skunk Anansie vocalist Skin at her most furious. “He tried to intellectualize my blackness to make it easier for his whiteness,” she laments, going on to plead for saving from a toxic society. Decades later, Skin continues to turn the racism, homophobia and sexism she experiences into art, through her anger sharing hope with her fans.
LIMP WRIST – I LOVE HARDCORE BOYS, I LOVE BOYS HARDCORE
There’s no mistaking the message in this track by turn-of-the-century queercore frontrunners Limp Wrist. Coming in at just over a minute of thrashing hardcore punk, ‘I Love Hardcore Boys…” is an overt ode to the diversity of men in the scene. Complete with its uncensored sexual artwork, it rightfully doesn’t hold back on any front. “I love hardcore boys, it’s too good to be true,” vocalist Martin Sorrondeguy screams, “one on one or the whole damn crew.”
LEFTÖVER CRACK – GAY RUDE BOYS UNITE
Ska-punk outfit Leftöver Crack’s call to arms emerged as a response to homophobic material appearing across the alternative scene at the start of the millennium. They take shots at influential figures across a range of genres, not least the hypocrisy of prominent reggae and dancehall artists condemning racism but perpetuating homophobia in the same breath, and major punk labels signing artists with bigoted lyrics. “In a better time on this shitty little globe,” vocalist Stza incites, “we’d crucify the racists and be bashing all the homophobes.”
GAY FOR JOHNNY DEPP – ‘SHH, PUT THE SHIV TO MY THROAT
Part of a handful of celebrated acts keeping the queercore scene alive into the 2010s, New York noise-makers Gay For Johnny Depp never took themselves too seriously. With homoerotic references littered throughout their music, and a backup plan to switch their name to Gay For Patrick Swayze should Depp’s legal team step in, the band’s seven years were dominated by riotous live shows and a complete disregard for anybody offended by their antics. Led by the activist chant “throw them into the pit, behold the sound of revolution”, the ferocious ‘Shh, Put The Shiv To My Throat’ appeared on their unapologetically tired 2005 EP, ‘Blood: The Natural Lubricant (An Apocalyptic Adventure Beyond Sodom and Gomorrah)’. If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know about this band, nothing will.
AGAINST ME! – TRUE TRANS SOUL REBEL
Punk veterans Against Me!’s 2014 release ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ offers a powerful insight into the difficult yet vitally important journey of self-discovery and acceptance. One of the most candid pieces of music about transgender identity, vocalist Laura Jane Grace lays her anger, frustration and fear bare, not least on ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’. Semi-autobiographical, the protagonist’s search for herself and battle with suicidal thoughts build to a gut-wrenching bridge: “You should’ve been a mother, you should’ve been a wife, you should’ve been gone from here years ago, you should be living a different life.” It’s a sincere nod to missed opportunity and lost dreams, brought on by society’s fear of the other, on one of the most powerful punk albums of a generation.
PVRIS – HOLY
Religion and sexuality have a turbulent relationship, to say the least. On PVRIS’ 2014 track ‘Holy’, Lynn Gunn takes this hypocrisy head-on with this haunting pop-rock anthem. The track turns self-pity into defiance, as Lynn declares “there’s no way that there’s weight in the words that you preach” and turning the “poor unfortunate soul” refrain back on those who cast judgement. It’s as poetic and as spiritual as the world that inspired it.
WORRIERS – THEY / THEM / THEIRS
Pronouns seem to be the latest issue for debate for those trying to hold back self-expression, and Brooklyn-formed Worriers waded in with the uncompromising ‘They / Them / Theirs’ back in 2015. The upbeat melodic punk track brilliantly expresses the in-between. “What if I don’t want something that applies to me?” Lauren Denitzio asks rhetorically. “You are floating between two ends that don’t matter.” The simplicity of the response is beautiful, and a mirror of the rest of their ‘Imaginary Life’ full-length that also features the charged attack on police brutality, ‘Yes All Cops’.
LIKE PACIFIC – DISTANT
Some experiences are shared, regardless of sexuality. Take for example Like Pacific’s ‘Distant’, which perfectly portrays heartbreak and non-requited love in its three minutes of emotive pop-punk. With this being the title track of sorts from the Toronto five-piece’s 2016 album ‘Distant Like You Asked’, much of the album was written about vocalist Jordan Black’s ex-boyfriend. Open about his sexuality and an active advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, Jordan tells his stories from a queer perspective and in their directness shows their fundamentally universal nature.
HALESTORM – DO NOT DISTURB
Vocalist Lzzy Hale is far from timid, describing heavy music as genderless upon the release of their 2018’s ‘Vicious’. Openly bisexual, Lzzy oozes sex-positivity on the album’s gritty highlight ‘Do Not Disturb’. “Sex is part of who I am, and this is one of those things where if I’m going to own it, I’m going to own it”, she affirmed, speaking to Rolling Stone. Having built a strong gay female following, it adds a whole new punch to the band’s unholstered, self-affirming sound.
NERVUS – CONGRATULATIONS
Following the Watford DIY-punk’s breakthrough debut ‘Permanent Rainbow’, their 2018 follow-up ‘Everything Dies’ opens with the brutally honest trans anthem ‘Congratulations’. Like many of the LGBT+ community forced to hide their true identity, the song perfectly depicts the struggle between a lost past and an uncertain future, all wrapped up in a guitar and piano-led hybrid of queer-punk brilliance. It shines brightest in its directness, not least in the opening verse. “Physical form has determined you,” vocalist Em Foster sings, “and who you should grow up to be.”
LANDE HEKT – GOING TO HELL
Stepping away from Muncie Girls for her debut solo album, Lande Hekt’s ‘Going To Hell’ is a bold retelling of her journey to coming out and beyond. The album’s stripped-back title track best showcases the inner battle, pairing the search for self-acceptance with the damage of external judgements. In an experience familiar to most LGBTQ+ people, Lande sings, “The friends from home start acting strange when you try to be yourself for a change.” The biggest moment of realisation comes shortly after. “I’ve lived my life for other people but not in a good way,” she concludes with an unmistakable feeling that she’s now ready to be herself.
TRASH BOAT – HE’S SO GOOD
Openly bisexual, Trash Boat vocalist Tobi Duncan explores family dynamics on the pop-punk opus ‘He’s So Good’. Inspired by a conversation with a gay man he met on the road, the track tells the story of a person shunned by his parents after coming out. “His father disappeared like he was never here, it makes me want to scream,” Tobi offers with immediate anger and palpable disbelief. That ‘He’s So Good’ exists as a true LGBTQ+ anthem in UK pop-punk is nothing short of vital.