Break Down the Walls: Punk and Animal Rights

In the new series Animal Underworld, activist and singer-songwriter, Henry Rollins, explores the relationships between humans and animals around the world.  While advancements in technology have  allowed a larger audience to access information on  human/animal relationships, individuals have been questioning and challenging the dynamic between people and animals for decades.

Music has been a major component of cultures throughout history. With sounds and words we have used music to share a story, express a belief and bring people together.  In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the punk rock community took their music in another direction and began writing more politically focused lyrics.  Fronting the American punk band Black Flag, Henry Rollins sang about topics like anti-authoritarianism and neurosis attracting an audience of marginalized youths.  Overseas other sectors of the punk rock community started to focus on the relationship humans have with animals, specifically one of cruelty.

As the media was focusing on bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash, an underground movement of anarcho-punks was taking shape. Through songs and artwork UK bands like Crass, Flux of Pink Indians and Conflict encouraged their audiences to take a stand against animal testing, vivisection and even eating meat.  Lyrics like those from Conflict’s “Meat Means Murder”  asks  listeners  very simply  to question how one animal deserves to be saved from slaughter but not another. You’ve never had a fur coat; you think it’s cruel to the mink. Well, how about the cow, pig or sheep. Don’t they make you think?

In the late ‘80s/early ‘90s as apartheid protests and the demolition of the Berlin Wall were making headlines a new generation of punk was being born. From screams, chants and breakdowns, the underground hardcore movement spawned  a new sense of passion and urgency from bands like  Youth of Today whose song “No More”  yet again encourages listeners to stop supporting the meat industry and choose a vegetarian lifestyle.  In addition, the do-it-yourself punk ethics were still going strong with independent record labels like Revelation Records becoming home to several anti-meat industry/pro-vegetarian bands like Into Another, Gorilla Biscuits, Shelter, and Ignite.

Through labels like Revelation Records, these bands and others we able to not only use their music but also merchandise—like Youth of Today’s “Go vegetarian” t-shirt— to expose kids to animal rights. By the mid-90s it was nearly impossible to attend a punk show without seeing animal rights propaganda. T-shirts, books, zine, pamphlets and videos depicting the cruelty of the meat and dairy industry were at every merch table making the punk rock/animal rights connection undeniable.

The relationship between animal rights and the punk rock movement has a lengthy history that cannot be encompassed in a few paragraphs. The bands mentioned here are just a few examples of many who contributed to animal rights awareness within punk rock.  While  the advent of things like social media has made animals rights more prevalent today, this has not always been the case.  Before there were vegan talk show hosts and movie stars speaking out about how we treat animals, there was a punk rock subculture saying similar things but they were considered taboo.


  1. raven roulette
    May 27, 2012, 9:56 pm

    Lets grill out with henry rollins .. We will invite our cow and chicken friends ..yummm

  2. Bean M
    United States
    May 28, 2012, 4:07 pm

    So punk-rock culture transcends its own ideology into the ideals and morality of vegetarianism. Yet somehow cannot seem to avoid practicing the deprivation of happiness for the individual punk-rock self. Is this identification possibly a projection of alienation through these helpless animals that are in the insensitive hands of machine-kill society? (500 words – double spaced –due like yesterday.)

  3. jennifer stewart
    san antonio texas
    June 7, 2012, 9:12 am

    so in order too be punk you have too be either vegan or vegetarian what ugh oy vey

  4. Justin Bowen
    November 17, 2012, 10:43 am

    It never said you HAVE to be vegan or vegetarian to be punk. I dont know where you pulled that from. Its focusing on bands that promote veg lifestyle, not every punk band.

    on another note. Im stoked on this.

  5. Ognjen Knaus
    August 9, 2016, 7:23 am

    Fight for animal rights came naturally into punk movement, since anyone can easily make a connection between the oppressed humans and oppressed animals. Sentient beings are not there for anyone’s exploitation.

    Punk helped us take a look at our lives, and question everything. Se we must question if killing of innocent beings is justified just cause of our tastes.

    Many punk and hardcore people became vegans or vegetarians since it is a most simple thing you can do – stop paying for killing and torturing of animals. No need to pick up the guns, march on the White House etc, you can just simply vote against animal cruelty by not giving your money for that industry.
    So, you can fight for animal rights without even leaving your house.