Growing up in a house were rock music was the main genre it was only the matter of time I would discover hardcore punk. I was in my teens when I took my first steps into hardcore when someone gave me a vinyl copy of Gorilla Biscuits self titled debut. It changed my musical tastes forever, like opening Pandora’s Box, a box I was happy to open. Learning that Hardcore was an amalgamation sounds, not just a sound it was a lifestyle. Paul Rachman‘s American Hardocre (2006) documentary chronicles one particular period, 1980 – 1986 when hardcore was punk and punk was hardcore.
The film comes from the pages of Steven Blush‘s book American Hardcore: A Tribal History which covers hardcore when Ronald Regan was in the Oval Office. Cocaine was the preferred choice fore recreation and Disco was ruling the airwaves. At this point Punk was sliding slowly into memories kept alive in the t-shirts we wore and the posters on our walls.
American Hardcore is set before internet was even a word nor where phones ‘mobile’. Word by mouth, fanzines and flyers were your ‘Google Search’. There was no CDs or even Sportify , you bought your music in local music shops or at the shows you went to. If the bands could afford it, t-shirts or any form of merchandise the bands designed and printed it themselves. Off course those shows were set up by local promoters, your local scene was 100% DIY (Do-It-Yourself). Each city or state’s scene was not just defined on their sound, many were recorgnised by their politics, lifestyle. A set up that would be ‘alien’ to many so called hardcore bands.
The documentary runs like a road map, jumping from city to city, state to state. Los Angeles (Black Flag, Circle Jerks) kicks off things before heading over to Boston (SSD, Gang Green, Jerry’s Kids). Both cities completely different in sound, still easily recognisable. The journey continues down to New York (Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags), Washington (Bad Brains, Minor Threat), down the east coast before heading west again. Via Midwest (Negative Approach), Texas (DRI, MDC) with all roads leading upto Canada (D.O.A).
The journey itself we see collectively through archived clips, memories and interviews. Henry Rollins (Black Flag, State Of Alert), Kieth Morris (Circle Jerks), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat), to name a few. They all help capture the mood and agnst of the time, delving into the violence, the backwardness, the testosterone that plagued the scene. It’s a shame they didn’t reflect more on the women and girls who made their mark on hardcore punk. What we get felt like it was written on the back of a cigarette packet or post-it-note.
American Hardcore is a value commodity , that tries it’s best to cover all bases and how each area progressed. The vibe of the film is certainly one of nostalgia, however at times it felt some areas overstayed it’s welcome (Los Angeles, Boston). Other area became merely a passing reference or even more frustating forgotten about.
In some ways I can understand why the latter years of hardcore as Hardcore punk got hijacked by the mainstream music industry. The days of when hardcore was punk and punk was hardcore are now nothing more than a evocation. The sound, the lifestyle, the ethics even the politics has been replace by metallic riffs, sales figures, corporate riders and in some cases getting your music on MTV.
It’s a bummer 15 years after the film’s release Rachman and even Blush haven’t made a follow up film, it deserves another bite at the cherry. American Hardcore delivers a taster of the legacy these bands left behind. Like the catacombs in Paris, if you climb down under the capitalist mainstream version of Hardcore, you will still find punk is not dead and scenes that still beleive in the DIY ethic.
Documentary, Music | USA, 2006 | 15 | Sony Pictures Classics | Dir.Paul Rachman | Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, Ian MacKaye, Brian Barker, Flea, Harley Flanagan | Watch Free on Prime Video