Various Artists: American Hardcore [DVD]

Based on the book by Steven Blush this is an excellent, exhilarating and near-definitive account of the American Hardcore Punk scene.

Various Artists

American Hardcore

Label: Sony
US Release Date: 2007-02-20

American Hardcore: A Tribal History

Publisher: Feral House
ISBN: 0922915717
Author: Steven Blush
Price: $19.95
Length: 352
Formats: Paperback
US publication date: 2001-11-09
See also Meremu C.'s review of this DVD

To the uninitiated most of the footage featured on American Hardcore is nothing more than repeated video-camera footage of a maelstrom of shaven-headed punks beating each other up in different venues whilst a 'band' struggles to blast out another 90 second 'song' from within the eye of the hurricane. In fact much of the time that is what it actually is: musical prowess and subtlety was NOT what these guys were all about. However, thanks to the excellent quality of the interviews and the detailed geographical context given to the nationwide spread of the U.S Hardcore scene the nuances of each fight/concert soon become distinct. Washington 'noise' and LA 'noise' were just were not the same, though fans of Coldplay could be forgiven for failing to spot the difference. Hardcore 'songs' mostly consisted of spittle-spewing torrents of aggression delivered over rudimentary chords, and drums played as hard and fast as humanly possible whilst the whipped up crowd stormed onto the stage. In this documentary Director Paul Rachman and writer Steven Blush deliver what is surely the definitive visual testament to this short-lived but hugely important genre.

Beginning with footage of Ronnie and Nancy at the Presidential inauguration this film makes it crystal clear that the roots of the Hardcore explosion grew from a profound dissatisfaction with the ethos of social conformity and wealth worship that the Republican government propagated in the early 1980s. Indeed many of the Hardcore scene's crudely produced leaflets and gig advertisements repeatedly featured the ex-cowboy President in scenes from his gun-toting past as if to say: 'HE is the reason we exist'. The other reason it seems was the proliferation of bloated airbrushed MOR Rock with its emphasis on musical expertise and financial aspiration and also the club and radio dominance of Disco: as one interviewee says 'Hardcore owed the least debt to Black music'…of which more later. Links between the US Hardcore Punk scene and British Punk bands like the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks are glossed over with a brief comment, the implication being that the two had next to nothing in common other than an ostensible dislike of the social and political orthodoxy. Musically Hardcore appeared to be a distillation of original Punk right down to it's core elements.

We then get a kind of Countrywide tour of the Hardcore scene starting out from its base in California with bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. There is something quite charming in the interplay of contemporary interviews of the major protagonists still defiantly punk in attitude but unmistakably paunchy and middle-aged with the intense squalling scrapping footage of their muscled-up sweat-drenched bands twenty-five years ago. What is evident though is that there is not so much as a hint of embarrassment or regret for the profoundly primitive/amateurish nature -the Circle Jerk's first album had fourteen songs and lasted fifteen minutes- of their music and the ramshackle gigs that frequently descended into pandemonium. Each interviewee is proud of their contribution to a movement that was more about personal catharsis and defiant non-conformity than having a music career, or any spurious notions of artistic longevity.

The film then moves on to look at the spread of Hardcore to the East Coast where the music and the ethos of the bands took a more extreme and possibly sinister turn. Not content with merely providing an outlet for disaffected urban youths to perform / participate in a noisy amateurish scene as an outlet for spleen-venting energy, those at the vanguard in Boston and Washington introduced an ethical militancy that had not been evident previously. Advocating a zero-tolerance approach to narcotics, alcohol, and tobacco the 'straight edge' scene grew out of seeds sown in the Minor Threat song that carried the slogan as its title. Their lead singer Ian MacKaye proves to be a fascinating and eloquent interviewee but is clearly uneasy at allegations of racism in the song "Guilty of Being White", allegations he strenuously denies. Boston band SSD pushed things even further, ejecting audience members for even daring to uncap a beer. There is footage of their guitarist Al Barille being interviewed at the time and denouncing what he calls "New-Wave faggots", a pronouncement that sadly goes unchallenged in the up-to-date interview conducted for the film. Minority elements within the Hardcore scene have long been linked to Far-Right extremism, a link which betrays the communal leftist idealism of the scene's original exponents. It's a shame that Rachman doesn't confront this schism head on; a deeper analysis would have been welcome rather than a continuation of the dizzying, exhaustive roll-call of every band to have been part of the growing nationwide scene.

Also inexplicable is the absence of any footage of the Dead Kennedys and their, still politically active, lead singer Jello Biafra. Along with Black Flag and Bad Brains they were one of the most significant and resonant of the early Hardcore bands yet here receive no mention at all. However, these points aside this is an excellent document of a vital counter-cultural movement. The live footage captures the raw, visceral nature of the gigs and are backed up with stunning original black and white photographs taken by Ed Colver. Rachman presents a wide and diverse selection of interviewees including 'Cremaster' director Mathew Barney, Moby and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers bassist 'Flea' as well as the obvious candidates like Rollins and MacKaye. All in all this is a solid piece of work as interesting for devotees of the music as it is for anyone with an interest in (un)Popular-Culture.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.