A beginner’s guide to hardcore punk.
Hardcore was America’s response to punk rock. On hearing the first wave of British punk bands, American youth began to emulate the sounds, styles and attitudes of British punks, combining this with the sounds of punk’s American forefathers such as The Stooges and The Ramones. Punk’s impact in America was for the most part limited to large cities, mainly Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York.
Black Flag and The Dead Kennedys were among the first bands to emerge from California’s embryonic punk scene. They played their music faster than most British punk bands and, particularly in the case of The Dead Kennedys, added a more direct political stance than the vague calls for anarchy of UK punk.
The point where ‘punk’ became ‘hardcore’ is unclear. Steven Blush, in his excellent book American Hardcore: A Tribal History, attempts to explain the origins of the term ‘hardcore’:
“Some in-the-know cite the Vancouver band D.O.A.’s Hardcore 81 LP. This may be the first official use of the term in music. Regardless of the precise origin, when Punks said, “Hardcore,” other Punks knew what they meant. Hardcore expressed an extreme: the absolute most Punk”.
But while hardcore punk originated in America, some British punks have adopted the term, some adopting the style and ethic entirely.
The term ‘hardcore’ is now used in most underground punk scenes to describe bands influenced by the original hardcore bands. This is partially a response to the commercialisation of punk in the 1990s, when large record labels began to sign punk bands with pop sensibilities. Hardcore represents an anti-commercial, underground ethic amongst bands and audience members.
Classic hardcore albums
This bit might be contentious for some people!
Here are a selection of albums which have been called 'hardcore' at some point, and I feel represent the best of the genre.
Black Flag - The First Four Years
I think I just heard someone gasp and say "Not 'Damaged'?"
'Damaged' is a fine album but 'The First Four Years' is a fantastic document of their early career and rotating line up, as well as featuring some awesome tracks like 'Six Pack', 'Nervous Breakdown' and 'Wasted'. This album features almost everything they recorded up until Henry Rollins joined as their permanent singer.
Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables
This album blew me away when I first heard it. Funny, satirical, fast and even a bit crazy, it launched Jello Biafra onto an unsuspecting public. Like Black Flag they've been covered by all kinds of bands, from other punk and hardcore acts to metal bands such as Sepultura.
Minor Threat - Minor Threat EP
When I think of hardcore this is the sound that comes to mind - raw guitars played with abandon with drums clattering and an angry lad shouting. The longest track is only one and a half minutes long! 'Filler', "I Don't Wanna Hear It", "Straight Edge" and "Minor Threat" remain classics of the genre.