The term "punk rock" was first used by certain American rock critics in the early 1970s to describe 1960s garage bands and subsequent acts then perceived as stylistic inheritors. Between 1974 and 1976 the movement now bearing the name "punk rock" emerged. It produced a new generation of bands such as Television and the Ramones in New York City, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned in London, and the Saints in Brisbane—by late-1976 these acts were generally recognized as forming its vanguard. As 1977 approached, punk rock became a major and highly controversial cultural phenomenon in the United Kingdom. It spawned a punk subculture expressing youthful rebellion characterized by distinctive styles of clothing and adornment (ranging from deliberately offensive T-shirts, leather jackets, studded or spiked bands and jewelry, as well as bondage and S&M clothes) and a variety of anti-authoritarian ideologies that have since been associated with the form.
In 1977 the influence of punk rock music and subculture became more pervasive, spreading throughout various countries worldwide. It generally took root in local scenes that tended to reject affiliation with the mainstream. In the late 1970s punk experienced its second wave in which acts that were not active during its formative years adopted the style. By the early 1980s, faster and more aggressive subgenres such as hardcore punk (e.g. Minor Threat), street punk (e.g. the Exploited), and anarcho-punk (e.g. Subhumans) became the predominant modes of punk rock. Musicians identifying with or inspired by punk often later pursued other musical directions, resulting in a broad range of spinoffs, giving rise to genres such as post-punk, new wave and later indie pop, alternative rock, and noise rock. By the 1990s punk rock re-emerged in the mainstream, as pop punk bands such as Green Day and the Offspring brought the genre widespread popularity.
The first wave of punk rock was aggressively modern, distancing itself from the bombast and sentimentality of early 1970s rock. According to Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone, "In its initial form, a lot of stuff was innovative and exciting. Unfortunately, what happens is that people who could not hold a candle to the likes of Hendrix started noodling away. Soon you had endless solos that went nowhere. By 1973, I knew that what was needed was some pure, stripped down, no bullshit rock 'n' roll." John Holmstrom, founding editor of Punk magazine, recalls feeling "punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock and roll, when to me and other fans, rock and roll meant this wild and rebellious music." In critic Robert Christgau's description, "It was also a subculture that scornfully rejected the political idealism and Californian flower-power silliness of hippie myth."
Technical accessibility and a Do it yourself (DIY) spirit are prized in punk rock. UK pub rock from 1972-1975 contributed to the emergence of punk rock by developing a network of small venues, such as pubs, where non-mainstream bands could play. Pub rock also introduced the idea of independent record labels, such as Stiff Records, which put out basic, low-cost records. Pub rock bands organized their own small venue tours and put out small pressings of their records. In the early days of punk rock, this DIY ethic stood in marked contrast to what those in the scene regarded as the ostentatious musical effects and technological demands of many mainstream rock bands. Musical virtuosity was often looked on with suspicion. According to Holmstrom, punk rock was "rock and roll by people who didn't have very many skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music". In December 1976, the English fanzine Sideburns published a now-famous illustration of three chords, captioned "This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band". The title of a 1980 single by the New York punk band Stimulators, "Loud Fast Rules!", inscribed a catchphrase for punk's basic musical approach.
Some of British punk rock's leading figures made a show of rejecting not only contemporary mainstream rock and the broader culture it was associated with, but their own most celebrated music predecessors: "No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977", declared the Clash song "1977". The previous year, when the punk rock revolution began in Great Britain, was to be both a musical and a cultural "Year Zero". Even as nostalgia was discarded, many in the scene adopted a nihilistic attitude summed up by the Sex Pistols slogan "No Future"; in the later words of one observer, amid the unemployment and social unrest in 1977, "punk's nihilistic swagger was the most thrilling thing in England." While "self-imposed alienation" was common among "drunk punks" and "gutter punks", there was always a tension between their nihilistic outlook and the "radical leftist utopianism" of bands such as Crass, who found positive, liberating meaning in the movement. As a Clash associate describes singer Joe Strummer's outlook, "Punk rock is meant to be our freedom. We're meant to be able to do what we want to do."