Hardcore punk was a short-lived subculture in the early 80’s that came as a response to the punk movement of the late 70’s. Hardcore took the music and ideologies of punk music, and pushed them to the extreme. The music was faster and heavier, the crowds were more aggressive, and the attitudes were more intense. Hardcore was a highly influential movement that sparked genres like thrash, powerviolence, grindcore, metalcore, and many others. It’s also responsible for the presence of DIY ethics in smaller music scenes, as well as starting the straight edge subculture.
Hardcore punks lived an all around violent lifestyle, and did it without the glam of the late 70’s punk fashion. The book American Hardcore, author Steven Blush, was published in 2001 and chronicled the highly influential and overlooked hardcore scene in early to mid '80s. In 2006 the book was turned into a documentary film with Blush as the writer and directed by Paul Rachman. I am also using an interview with Steven Blush done by The Miami Herald.
Hardcore was a subculture within a subculture that used Marxist ideals, allowing the movement to flourish without the need for things like record labels, expensive studio recordings, and tour managers. In order to talk about hardcore, one must first start with it’s predecessor, Punk. Punk rock was a response to the popular mainstream music of the 70’s, like disco and progressive rock. Punk took the rock n’ roll formula, stripped it down, sped it up, and took out the guitar solos. Musically punk was not a difficult style of music to play. The same goes for hardcore.
Guitar riffs usually consisted of only a few power cords, the bass parts were typically only a few notes for a whole song, and the quintessential punk drum beat is simply bass drum on 1 and 3, and snare hits on 2 and 4. The simplicity of the music made it possible for people with little to no musical talent to be in a punk band. Singers in punk bands were more shouters than singers. Anyone who could yell for long periods of time could be a punk singer. Lyrics were usually consisted of social and political commentary, with an anti-authority and anti-establishment message.
Punk rock refused mainstream society with its music, message, and fashion. In this interview, Steven Blush talks about the difference between punk and hardcore, and why he was more drawn toward hardcore; "I really loved all that stuff ('70s punk), but I didn't really relate to it too much, in that they were older and artistic, and into Warhol and Bowie, and went to art school. A lot of these bands were english and spoke of things I didn't know. So when I moved to Washington DC and got turned on to this new thing called hardcore it really spoke to me.
It was kids from the suburbs, jacked on the speed and aggression of punk rock. That's where I was coming from. " There are many different styles within Punk culture but they all seem to have one common goal, to go against what's deemed acceptable by mainstream culture. Their clothing was usually torn and then covered with patches or safety pins. Biker style leather jackets were covered in metal spikes and studs, with band names painted on them. Shoes typically worn were Converse, Dr. Martins, and skater shoes.
Commonly seen hairstyles were gravity defying mohawks and liberty spikes dyed in a range of different colors. Hardcore fashion can best be defined by it's lack of fashion. Unlike punk, hardcore was not about having a gimmicky, outlandish style. In American Hardcore, Holly Ramos of the New York hardcore scene touches on the attitude behind hardcore fashion in this quote, “Hardcore defined the fashion of the time. We were Hardcore, we were severe. Cuteness had no part. I didn’t wear my boots with little frilly things. It was serious. We were fucking militant.
I wore plaid skirts, real dirty ones I never washed. I’d wipe my hands on ‘em; they were green and white with bloodstains. I was really into being filthy and loving it. The private school I went to had a dress code: you had to wear a button-down shirt, so I’d rip the cuffs off like Patti Smith on Horses, with tight plaid pants over combat boots. God (I) was tortures in high school for looking like that. ” Hardcore kids would typically wear dirty jeans and a ripped up band shirt. The idea behind the clothing was to look tough and intimidating, to keep from being jumped by jocks or rednecks.
It's thought that one of the reasons for the minimalist style is because it was too difficult to slamdance in the outlandish clothing of the 70’s punk style. The typical style of dance at a punk show was known as pogo dancing. This was basically just the crowd jumping up and down in sync with the music. Hardcore took a much different approach with their style called slamdancing. Slamdancing consists of people running around in a circle while swinging their fists around trying to hit anything and anyone that they could, this is also known as a circle pit.
Lee Ving from the band Fear had this to say about the transition from pogo to slamdancing in American Hardcore, “Right around the time of our first album, around ’81, it changed from this pogo bullshit into the real slam stuff. Pogoing was just jumping up and down. It was less interactive, more benign. The focus changed from Hollywood toward the beaches, and the idea of speed and the slam pit had its birth. We started playing as fast as you could fucking think and the crowd would go as berserk, pounding the shit out of each other in the pit. It was good sportsmanship and all about working up a sweat. ”
It was a very common site to see people leaving a hardcore show with bloody faces and clothing. Stage-diving was also very popular at hardcore shows. The hardcore scene was mostly made up of working-class teenage white males with a lot of angst. Females were few and far between in the hardcore scene. One reason for this is due to the extreme violence at shows. Another reason is that hardcore was not driven by sex unlike almost all other forms of rock music. A lot of hardcore kids considered themselves as asexuals, and others were against promiscuous sex which was apart of their straight edge lifestyle.
The straight edge movement was unintentionally started by Ian Mackaye, singer of the hardcore band Minor Threat. He wrote a song called "Straight Edge" that criticized his fellow hardcore participants for wasting away on drugs, alcohol, and sex. This was a refusal of dominant rock culture and even punk culture. Not long after the song was release straight edge became much more than just a song, it became a subculture within a subculture. Ian Mackaye talks about the response people had to his song, "The reaction we got for being straight was so contemptuous, we couldn't believe it.
We thought being straight was just like being another type of deviant in this community, just like junkies. I didn't realize it was gonna upset the applecart so much - the reaction we got made us up the ante. That's when I realized 'Man, I'm saying shit, and people are getting angry. This is really effective. '" In an Interview with Steven Blush, the author of the book American Hardcore and writer of the film American Hardcore, Steven talks about what hardcore means to him and how he feels hardcore is an over looked social movement, That's what the thing about hardcore is to me, it's not like the sound. It's not like bands you know.
I'm not talking about who could play the good mosh riff, or who rules the pit. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the social movement. You know this was like almost a political movement. I think we talk about the post-war youth movements; there was the beatniks, the hippies, the punks, and hip hop, and I think somewhere in between there you have to stick hardcore. And that's really the DIY aspect, the do it yourself side that we still see in music today. "
The hardcore scene had a very strong do it yourself ethic. The scene was very much anti-corporate and anti-consumerism, so they had to do everything themselves. People started their own independent record labels to release their, or their friend's music. Bands screen printed their own shirts and sold them at shows for less than $5, just to cover the cost of making them. Shows were booked in residential basements and warehouses to avoid the costs and regulations of typical normal music venues. Tours were booked by the bands themselves rather than by a record label or tour manager.
And zines, which are small magazines that talked about hardcore bands and what was happening in the scene, were made and distributed at shows by average punks. They were very much consumers as producers. Minutemen were a band in the 80's hardcore scene whose music was very different from the rest. If hardcore music was a refusal of punk music, then Minutemen's music was a refusal of hardcore. They were known for playing funk and jazz riffs while still maintaining the hardcore attitude and political message. Most hardcore kids did not like hearing funk and jazz at a punk show, which is why I think Minutemen were the most punk of them all.
The hardcore scene ran strong til about 86', which is when everyone who was involved collectively agreed things began to die off. Bands broke up, people began to grow tired of the violence, and people were dying of drug overdoses. The movement was unstable from the very start, and with no real concern for the future, it's not very surprising the movement died off so quickly. There are still remnants of the hardcore scene that can be felt today. Nowadays, it seems that everyone is aware of what straight edge is, but are unaware of it’s origin.
Now most local scenes are full of this DIY ethic that was so new and unique back then. Steven Blush talks about how through writing his book and film, he now has a different idea on the end of the hardcore movement; "That new conclusion is instead of saying that hardcore ended in the mid '80s. Really what I'm saying is that this early '80s movement inspired generations of hardcore and like minded bands to come. It's kind of like telling the story of Christianity and saying it ended with the death of Christ. There's the followers that come, and that's just as important. So, I've learned that and I'm man enough to say that. "