The Hardcore Superiority Myth – Or, Why did I choose 78-90?
A lot of people have asked me why I have stretched the first wave of hardcore all the way to 89-90. It seems as if I opened a can of worms with this one which I find vaguely humorous. Some things don’t ever change and one of them is a phenomenon I call “The Hardcore Superiority Myth” which has existed with Hardcore since its inception. I would like to offer my rationalization about the dates in question and also shed some light on the phenomena of “The Hardcore Superiority Myth” and why it is inherently flawed,
First, my position on why the first wave of Hardcore stretched until 1990. To do this, I need to lay down some definitions. Hardcore, because it moved so quickly and was always trying to stay one step ahead of itself was composed of a succession of what we called “scenes”. These “scenes” were precise moments in time when a certain set of bands, venues, audience members and possibly even zines coalesced into something of that moment. Oftentimes, a scene would leave artefacts; The Nardcore LP on Mystic for instance, was an artefact of the Oxnard Scene which existed for a very short time in 1983-84, The Kids Will Have Their Say was an artefact of the X-Claim! Faction of the Boston Hardcore Scene in 1982.
A lot of times people who were part of a scene or a fan of a certain scene will say that Hardcore ended when their scene ended. What they are really saying is that they didn’t like the music or the tone of the scenes that followed it. That’s all well and good. I personally think Hardcore dried up artistically some time in 86. I don’t much like the scenes that followed in 87-90, feeling that they focused too much on boy scout bullshit, metal and conservative politics.
Problem is, me personally not liking something should not be the foundation for my defining its historical cycle. Think about it this way, The Roman Empire peaked in the First and Second Centuries but Its’ final collapse didn’t occur until the Fifth or Sixth Century. Historians cannot just arbitrarily decide, based off of Emperors they do not like, when the Empire fell. They need to track the historical cycle all the way to its conclusion. My contention is that the hardcore cycle that first started with Out of Vogue in 1978 came to its death in New York City towards the end of 1989. Between 78 and 90 is an endless succession of scenes that all were spawned out of the scenes before them. In many instances, the motivation for spawning a new scene was one of the two variations of the Hardcore Superiority myth, but I will get to that in a second.
The Post-Victim in Pain NYHC was the end of the first wave of US Hardcore. I’m not saying a lot of it was any good. But it had all of the signifiers that were part of the original Hardcore scene; the mosh-pits, the stage-diving, the Doc Martens, the mixture of weird religious iconography that started with the Bad Brains, the flirtation with Right Wing Ideology, the boys-only crew. Sure some things had changed, the flannels had given way to hoodies but the heads were still shaved. It was all there in NYHC. And then it was over.
And yes, it had been over for a good part of the late 1980′s in most of the rest of the country. Sub Pop was already laying the ground work for Alternative Nation. Am Rep was in full swing. LA was knee-deep in glam. Texas was knee-deep in acid damage. Gillman Street was redefining the San Francisco scene with less of an emphasis on speed and aggression and more emphasis on hooks and emotion. The young punk scene of the early 1990s from Screeching Weasel to Green Day was very inspired by bands coming out of the Lookout label in San Francisco. The Gunk-Punk scene of the 1990′s was well underway and a lot of the older hardcore folks were playing rockabilly and garage punk. Some scenes just dried up and died on the vine altogether. NYC dealt their hand and folded in 89-90 and the game was officially over.
If you don’t want my word for it, how about Andrew Beattie from the early 1990′s powerviolence band No Comment who stated that his band “just wanted to show that “Hardcore” was still alive yet there was no real “scene“. The few bands playing this form of music in the early 1990s like No Comment were playing in a vacuum. Hardcore was considered a joke by 1990 by anyone who had grown up in any of the scenes of the 80′s. The few scattered kids who were playing it were starting something new. The motivations were different and there really wasn’t much of a connection between No Comment and the scenes of the 1980s. During the 1990′s a new wave of Hardcore bands had cropped up and a new succession of scenes occurred that was almost completely independent of what had happened in the 1980s.
So Hardcore is made up of these succession of scenes and every once and a while it dries up completely before a new crop of bands, zines, venues and fans pop up with a new succession of scenes. These succession of scenes that have a defined beginning and end make up what I call “waves”. The first wave of hardcore stretched from 78-90. There were thousands of scenes in that wave and the quality probably peaked in 82-83. But it didn’t run out of steam until 1989-90 when it finally keeled over and died. In fact, the entire underground/college rock/independent/hardcore whatever scene of the 1980′s died in the early 1990s when Alternative Nation took over. Those of us from the 1980′s like to arrogantly think that it has been a non-stop continuum since then but it was not. There was a changing of the guard in the early 1990s. Hardcore was not exempt from this.
All of this leads me to the phenomena of The Hardcore Superiority Myth…
The Hardcore Superiority Myth consists of two variations. Variation Number One comes from the “elders” and generally goes something like this; “we had this creative, little scene full of artists which was (oftentimes) very Utopian and these younger kids showed up and turned it into some sort of knee-jerk rumpus room full of jocks.” Variation Number Two comes from the “up-n-comers” and goes something like this; “the existing scene was full of poseurs and rock-n-roll wannabe’s who weren’t really committed, we came in and created a real scene that was ground-breaking and authentic.”
What’s really convenient about The Hardcore Superiority Myth is that it is infinitely applicable. So a first wave Hardcore scene could use Variation Number Two to talk about how it replaced the punk scene before it and then turn around and use Variation Number One to explain what happened when the next scene of Hardcore kids took over. The next scene can do the same thing ad infinitum. What this enables is the false impression that the scene YOU participated in was the most authentic, the ones coming before just being a build-up and the ones after being a sad aftermath. This enables the author of said story to create a dramatic arc in which their particular scene positions itself as the climactic moment and the end of Hardcore.
If you view Hardcore as a succession of scenes making up larger historical musical waves, then The Hardcore Superiority Myth allows the climactic moment to be the one you participated in or your personal favourite. It’s all a bit narcissistic really and not really an accurate way to determine the history of something.