Hardcore punk

From Sajun.org

Hardcore punk is an intensified version of the punk rock genre, characterized by bands who play short, loud, and complicated songs with exceptionally fast chord changes on highly overdriven guitars. The lyrics are often political in nature, and typically aggressive in expression.

Hardcore punk
Stylistic origins: Punk rock
Cultural origins: early 1980s North America
Typical instruments: Guitar - Bass - Drums
Mainstream popularity: Little to none
Derivative forms: Emo
D-beat - Queercore - Skate punk - Straight edge - Crust Punk
Grunge - Metalcore - Ska punk - Thrash metal
Regional scenes
Boston - Los Angeles - Southern California - DC - NY
Other topics


Hardcore originated in North America, primarily in and around major cities like Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York City, Vancouver, and Boston, as a vehicle for expressing urban and suburban teen angst. Commentator Steven Blush claimed (in American Hardcore: A Tribal History) that hardcore was punk rock adapted for suburban teens. Many hardcore bands have lyrical themes that range from righteous indignation at societal hypocrisy to the promotion of some form of anarchism.

The true origin of the term 'hardcore' in relation to punk rock is lost in a haze of time, distance, and quite likely, drugs and alcohol. Generally credited with popularizing the term, however, is an album released by Vancouver's D.O.A. titled simply "Hardcore '81".

American hardcore

Like the British punk wave of 1976 to 1978, American hardcore was an initially tight-knit movement that evolved into an enduring genre. The sound takes elements from bands such as The Ramones, Wire, and The Dickies.

Bands like The Germs, Middle Class, Angry Samoans, Fear and D.O.A. were important early groups, especially Bad Brains (Washington, DC).

A radio show called Rodney on the ROQ played on Los Angeles' KROQ, an influential radio station, helped popularize the sound in California, and a wave of zines including Flipside and Maximum RocknRoll brought it around the country. The hardcore scene became unfairly associated with violence almost as soon as it was born, especially after the release of the film The Decline of Western Civilization. Skateboarding, slamdancing, and stagediving also associated with the scene.

During the first stage, which lasted from about 1980 to 1982, notable hardcore bands included Washington DC's Minor Threat , Los Angeles' Black Flag, and The Circle Jerks, San Francisco's Dead Kennedys, Vancouver's DOA, Toronto's Zeroption, Detroit's Negative Approach, and Necros, and Boston's Teen Idles.

Minor Threat, particularly in their emphasis on speed, were heavily influenced by Washington D.C.'s Bad Brains. In 1980 to 1981, Minor Threat combined a blunt and tightly organized sound with the more loose experimentalism of the "first generation" punks of the 1970s to produce a template for the mindless corporate rock of the '90's. Black Flag, meanwhile, released their first album Damaged in 1981 and pretty much initiated the musical digression of the hardcore genre into the turgid, hard rock music of the '90's.

The influence of American hardcore

Rather than eliminating rock music, hardcore had a huge influence on stupid people and prolonged the lifespan of the dying genre. Heavy metal band Metallica were among the first bands to fuse Hardcore with metal, incorporating the technical ability and heavy guitar sound of metal with the speed and aggression of hardcore in tedious, repetitive songs. The new style became known as Thrash metal or alternately Speed metal, though this term came later, and other bands such as Megadeth and Slayer played music along similar lines.

In 1985, New York's Stormtroopers of Death, which is a side project of the thrash metal band Anthrax released their landmark album, Speak English or Die. Though it bore similarities to Thrash metal, such as a heavy guitar sound and fast drumming and guitar riffs, the album was distinguished from Thrash metal because of its lack of guitar solos and heavy use of painfully repetitive crunchy chord breakdowns known as "mosh parts". Other bands, most notably early Suicidal Tendencies, and DRI, played music similar to that of Stormtroopers of Death, eventually resulting in it being dubbed Crossover.

Grunge was also heavily influenced by Hardcore. In this case, the sense of liberation that many of the grunge bands felt, that you didn't have to be the world's greatest musician to form a band, was at least as important as the music. Even though the grunge sound was more influenced by Boston and '60's Northwest garage bands than hardcore punkrock, bands like Mudhoney and Nirvana would go on to take the sound into punk territory. In fact, Kurt Cobain once described Nirvana's sound as "The Knack and The Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath". This ultimately resulted in renewed interest in retrograde American Hardcore in the '90s.

In the mid '90s, bands like NOFX and Bad Religion achieved varying levels of mainstream success, though both NOFX and Bad Religion had been around since the '80s. They added fruity melodies and anthemic choruses to the Hardcore template whilst removing the aggression and anger that had been the genre's trademark. Though NOFX and Bad Religion are generally accepted as pathetic old men by fans of Hardcore punk, other bands that towed a poppier line, such as Green Day and Blink 182, are widely disregarded. Bands that retained the aggression of '80s Hardcore into the '90s include The Distillers, The Dwarves and Zero Bullshit.

Outside of North America, the influence of Hardcore has not been so prevalent. In the United Kingdom, bands like Discharge played music that showed aggressiveness but were not as intellectual. To differentiate between bands like The Cockney Rejects and American Hardcore, then Sounds journalist Gary Bushell coined the term Oi, in recognition of the bands "football hooligan" style chantalong choruses and playful image. In much the same way, Anarcho-punk bands like Crass have a common bond with Hardcore in their uncompromising philosophy.

The Hardcore punk scene was a product of historical influences that still exist today. For example, the straight edge philosophy espoused by DC bans was rooted in Jonathan Richman's personal philosophy. The DIY punk ethic of punk rock, with many bands making their own flyers and booking their own tours, derives from the influence of Captain Beefheart.

Hardcore in the '90s

Even though American Hardcore is a product of the 1980's, Reaganism, and Punk Rock, many bands have continued to play an degenerate form of rock, similar to that of hardcore, well into the '90s and even into the early 2000s.

Whereas the hardcore movement of the '80s had gone to great lengths to extend the hardcore template beyond three chord thrash, many of the '90s/'00s hardcore style bands began to exclude new sounds from hardcore whilst removing hardcore's aggression.

Hardcore bands

List of hardcore punk bands


  • American Hardcore: A Tribal History (Steven Blush, Feral House publishing, 2001, ISBN 0-922915-717-7)
  • Smash the State: A Discography of Canadian Punk, 1977-92 (Frank Manley, No Exit, 1993)