American Hardcore

2006, Movie, R, 0 mins


Inspired by American Hardcore: A Tribal History, Steven Blush's comprehensive oral history of the faster, shorter, louder brand of punk that evolved out of first-generation California bands like the Germs, Fear and X, Paul Rachman's documentary is a fan's-eye view of a musical phenomenon, and a surprisingly shortsighted one at that. The film features virtually no commentary from anyone who wasn't part of the original scene and who might put hardcore into a larger cultural context, and ends up an intermittently interesting laundry list of same-sounding bands. Ignoring the music's roots in arty American punk rock of the late 1970s and the football-terrace stomping "Oi!" sounds coming out of England, Rachman begins his survey at the dawn of the Reagan '80s, a time ripe for a loud, angry and aggressive music that embodied the angst, rage and ennui of white, suburban middle- and working-class youth. Rachman then approaches the subject geographically, beginning with the beach towns south of L.A. that spawned groundbreaking bands like Black Flag and Circle Jerks. With no major label interest or corporate radio support (and no Internet, which would later become a major outlet for unsigned bands), the scene relied entirely on independent record shops, privately printed fanzines, mail order and constant touring to spread the sound and the word. And spread it did: Almost immediately, the nation's capital played host to two of hardcore's best bands — the Bad Brains and Minor Threat — who helped "seed" the scene in cities as far-flung as Vancouver (DOA), Austin (Big Boys, MDC), Chicago (Articles of Faith, Effigies) and Boston (SSD, Gang Green). New York City, a relative late bloomer, soon weighed in with Cro-Mags, the newly relocated Bad Brains and their biggest fans, the Beastie Boys. Rachman relies on interviews with such hardcore luminaries as Black Flag's Henry Rollins and Minor Threat's Ian MacKaye, who spearheaded the no-drink, no-drugs offshoot known as "straight edge," but Rachman doesn't have any real culture critics on hand to provide anything broader. Rachman's concentration on the all-black Bad Brains also gives the impression that the movement was more racially diverse than it actually was. While hardcore acts like MDC and Minor Threat made no secret of their liberal-to-left leanings, hardcore's rejection of explicitly black musical roots, its hatred of disco — a truly radical musical movement that, in its purest form, embraced real cultural and economic fringe dwellers — and the pervasive violence at shows all combined to make hardcore a hospitable cultural environment for the racist right. Twenty-five years on, hardcore continues to be the soundtrack of choice for extreme, white-supremacist groups hoping to tap into teenage rage. With no one on hand to counter the argument, this may go down as hardcore's lasting legacy. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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