HARDCORE - DEFINING A GENRE

Written by: Ed Howson
Published: 21 Nov 2016 - 12:34 AM

Summary

Hardcore... harder to define than someone’s gender at an anti-Trump rally

HARDCORE - DEFINING A GENRE

If you were to google the word ‘Hardcore’, you would probably find a lot of different shit pop up. But we’re not talking about porn, wrestling, the Paul Dean album, or the film starring George C Scott - we’re in fact referring to hardcore as a genre, which in itself is harder to define than someone’s gender at an anti-Trump rally. As a general rule, I try not to break music into too many sub-genres, and although many people would classify hardcore under the metal banner, this is where I draw the line. On the other hand, I have friends who classify anything metal as hardcore, because in their mind anything heavy is a ‘hardcore’ style of music in the literal sense of the word. It all gets a little bit confusing, so I’ll do my best to explain it in my terms, and what I believe hardcore to be.

I’m not going to bore you to death with the origin of the term ‘hardcore’, because that in itself is a convoluted topic. All I will say is that hardcore (an abbreviation of hardcore punk) started as a form of punk’s absolution, with social or political lyrics, DIY ethics, and a fast pace. A real street genre. If you’re really interested in why this group of bands broke away from the rest of the punk scene, there are a number of documentaries and articles you can read about the subject. 

I find the easiest way to define the changes of hardcore throughout the years is to break it down into waves, in much the same way we generally talk about Ska being first wave, second wave (2 tone) and third wave. First wave hardcore, or commonly known as ‘hardcore punk’ or ‘punk hardcore’ sits in the realm of the late 70s to the late 80s, with bands such as D.O.A, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Minutemen and Agnostic Front to name a few. The music itself can be defined by a fast pace set by the drums, and even faster sixteenth note picking on the guitar, shouted vocals with gang backups. In many ways, hardcore is very similar to Trash metal of the same era, just played by guys with long hair and denim. Popular traditional punk bands such as the Ramones, the Clash and Sex Pistols were signed to major record labels, hardcore bands were generally not, sparking them to DIY their own records. Shawn and Mark Stern of Youth Brigade started BYO Records, Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion started Epitaph Records, and D. Boon of the Minutemen opened New Alliance Records.

The second wave of hardcore would take place in the 90s, particularly around the New York Hardcore scene based out of CBGBs night club. This new era is exemplified by more experimentation in the playing style, lyrical content and song composition. Although no single genre can claim a monopoly over the breakdown, it became a staple of second wave hardcore, generally (but not always) replacing the guitar solo of old. Some bands of this period include Vision of Disorder, Crown of Thornz, 108, District 9, Madball, Born Against and Hatebreed. In the late 90s, some bands reverted back to the ‘old school’ sound, such as H2O and Battery, however for the purposes of music categorisation, I would place them in the first wave.  

The third wave would be easily classified as the turn of the millennium through to now, when the music changed slightly again. With the proximity to the hip hop scene, particularly in NYC, hardcore bands began adding more rhyming vocals with a groove feel, although retaining it’s heaviness, if not getting heavier. Although this style was starting to emerge in the 90s, it became more prominent in the 00s. It was in the 00s that the genre would have a major split, reforming, reimagining, absolute cluster fuck... which ever phrase you want to pick. What I am referring to is the rise of Post-Hardcore. Now there are many different ways of explaining the rise of this sub-genre. Many say that Post-Hardcore fell out during the 1980s during a ‘redefining’ of the genre, and influenced ‘Emo’ music. However, I have a deferent theory on this, particularly when talking about what Post-Hardcore has been in the last 15 years. Pop-punk became increasingly popular in the early 00s with bands such as Good Charlotte and Green Day (especially after the release of American Idiot). These make-up wearing, skinny leg jeans clad girly-men sparked a phenomenon that we all know as ‘Emo’. Songs centred around emotional difficulties were sugar coated by bandanas tied to studded belts that held up drain-pipe legs on men wearing enough make-up to get Boy George to blush. In my opinion, it was the mixing of Emo and Hardcore that spawned Post-Hardcore as we know it today. Heavy songs with fluffy chorus’ that softly say “Daddy left me when I was a boy”. I digress. 

The 00s showed us some stella hardcore bands such as Terror and Norma Jean, however the scene was hidden behind the hype of the shit-fight outlined in the paragraph above. 

Over here in Australia, the hardcore scene has been healthy for years. Massappeal, Where’s The Pope?, Mindsnare, Break Even, 50 Lions, Iron Mind and Confession are among the long list of names. The scene was particularly good around the Sunshine Coast and the hinterland, known as North Coast Hardcore. NCHC gave us such bands as Wish For Wings, Against and The Amity Affliction (before their switch to Post-Hardcore). If you talk to some people who were around the scene at the time, you’ll hear about tit-for-tat fights with straight edge kids from the area.   

Straight edge. Where the fuck do I start with this one? In the early years, underage gig-goers were marked with an ‘X’ on the back of the hand to signify to the bar staff that they were not to be served alcohol. This later evolved to an anti-intoxication movement within the punk scene, and the phrase was coined by Minor Threat’s song by the same name. Since it’s humble beginnings, straight edge has been an integral part of the hardcore scene, and is now associated with veganism and, in some extremes, sexual abstinence. In the United States, straight edge groups are classified as a ‘gang’ after a long history of brutal bashings of non-straight edge people at hardcore shows - although the vast majority of straight edge people are non-violent.  

Along with straight edge, hardcore has been explained as a way of life... an attitude rather than a genre. For a long time Parkway Drive has been considered a hardcore band, purely based on their attitude, although their music falls most definitely in the world of metal. It’s the no frills, no bullshit, this-is-how-it-is, DIY mentality that defines hardcore, more so than the way bands play their music. I think it’s both.

I’ll leave you with a list of contemporary bands to wrap your ears around, so feel free to leave your comments.

Kublai Khan

Desolated

Lionheart

Wolf Down

Rise of the North Star