“Countless days were spent wreaking havoc in the back of some grotty pub wearing baggy camouflage shorts, basketball tops, bandannas and Nike dunks, competing with each other to pull off the best windmill in the pit to killer beatdowns”
I miss 90’s hardcore. I miss the vibe. The shows. The attitude. The excitement of receiving packages of CD’S from Goodlife Recordings and discovering new bands. A time when hardcore was all about supporting your small collective. Basically a group of friends who shared the same DIY ethic, would pick up some guitars and go out to play local venues, help out the scene, tour a little, buy records and generally not give a fuck. Countless days were spent wreaking havoc in the back of some grotty pub wearing baggy camouflage shorts, basketball tops, bandannas and Nike dunks, competing with each other to pull off the best windmill in the pit to killer beatdowns. Although there was a kind of unspoken divide between the Straight-edge vegan hardcore kids into Undying and Reprisal, and the kids that came from a more tough guy approach ala Madball, Bulldoze, Fury Of Five, etc …everyone still got on well together.
There was unity in a punch a brother in the face kind of way. Beatdowns and furious slam dancing were the standard. LBU (London Black Up) pits were notoriously rowdy. Crushing riffs would send the pit into a frenzy of thrashing bodies. Everybody was literally kung fu fighting. A bunch of guys and girls would come swinging wildly through the dance floor pulling off ninja moves, even cartwheels but in the most violent way possible. If you where in the way and got whacked that was your fault. You knew the rules and if you didn’t you’ll catch on pretty quick. Those not willing to partake formed a circle around the slam dancers who windmilled in front of their crew pulling off twisted moves. It was flying kicks and Bruce Lee imitations all over. Chugging guitar beatdowns and breakdowns, fueled the raucous crowd to maintain pounding out round after round of relentless sweaty aggression. The violence was a vent. Despite it hardcore remained a positive effort. Unlike the blatant nihilism of genres such as black metal, it was forward thinking, anti-racist, anti-sexist wishing to smash down oppression. It was about being yourself and fuck what anybody else thought. Unity was important. Hatred was an important emotion, if you hate something you can channel that anger and change something for the better. It was your own space to smash out some rage but often that space meant accidentally taking someone out.
“There was unity in a punch a brother in the face kind of way. Beatdowns and furious slam dancing were the standard”
One time a guy in a Leech Woman shirt took a roundhouse kick to the nose. It was pretty fucking hard. I’d not seen him before, he wouldn’t have known how rough it gets. To someone who has only experienced standard moshing it would have been a bit of a shock. A Blood everywhere kind of shock as his busted nose exploded and he rushed outside the venue never to be seen again. Guess you live and learn. The violence was unintentional, but none the less unrepentant. In Belgium watching a Die My Demon set, a girl took some serious fucking Royce Gracie chop straight to the face, nasty split lip as the pit continually raged around her. More gushing blood. I threw her a t-shirt I’d bought earlier to help mop it up. A friend of hers went up to the guy responsible. ‘Aren’t you gonna apologise mate?’ This Dutch dude turned around grinning and remorseless. ‘Why? Its a hardcore pit, what the fuck does she expect?’ The straight-edge/vegan-edge kids were a strong force in hardcore. They held massive support for animal rights, veganism, environmentalism and the straight-edge lifestyle. No drinking, no smoking, no eating meat. They abstained like tattooed puritans. Bands such as Earth Crisis, Abnegation, Canaan, Culture, Chokehold, Unbroken and Undying flew this banner proudly. Many straight-edgers sported large X’s on their hands.
At hardcore shows in New York the door staff would draw an X on the hands of minors to signify to bar staff that they were not of drinking age and therefore not to serve them alcohol. This X became a symbol and was representative of the straight-edge movement. Straight-edgers had a tendency to look down on those who chose to partake in drink and drugs. Most of these guys were sporting ‘drug free’ and ‘straight- edge till death’ tattoos and glaring at anyone dumb enough to be smoking at shows. A risky move seeing as there had been accounts of Kids caught smoking weed by straight-edge gangs and ending up getting X’S carved into their backs with Stanley knives. I remember walking into the backstage to help the straight-edge band Over My Dead Body with their merch table, carrying with me a beer and a lit cigarette. Daniel the vocalist was just staring at me as though I had dragged a dead rat out of the Camden underworld toilets. There was a direct message carried in the hardcore lyrics and conveyed in the art. Often depicting struggle, spreading a message on situations that were fucked up and needed addressing and overcoming predicaments that could hold you down.
“Unlike the blatant nihilism of genres such as black metal, it was forward thinking, anti-racist, anti-sexist wishing to smash down oppression”
One of the best examples of this was Release the Cure by Indecision. Release the Cure deals with conspiracy theorist subject matter. In particular, the belief that there is a cure for A.I.D.S that the government withholds as they make a substantial revenue through the sale of pharmaceuticals to treat the condition. It depicts a hellish reality feeding corporate machines at the expense and suffering of others. The dollar bill stretched over the patients face and the hopeless look in the eyes together with the sickly green coloring of the album merge to blend the medical disease and the disease of greed. I’m not sure if hardcore exists in the same way as it did anymore. So many people into hardcore these days seem to have become posers seeking some kind of rock star fame and fortune and that’s so far from the truth of what hardcore actually stands for. What kind of music do Victory records sell these days? They used to be filled with an awesome roster of bands. Strife, Bloodlet, Deadguy, Snapcase, No Innocent Victim, Earth Crises. They were crushingingly meaningful bands with subject matter and often complex lyrics dealing with subjects ranging from animal welfare to human rights and other important world issues I was disgusted to find that now all the bands look like fucking One Direction.
Editor’s Note. Rick Matthews and I share a common adolescence in music though we were born on different sides of the Atlantic. The images found on the covers of these records are deceptively brute. The images of sweaty young men, hands “x’ed up”, in seemingly violent concert settings seems like an anecdote for male aggressiveness all around, but it was not like that. The community at a hardcore show is actually the opposite of aggression and oppression. It is a fully liberated and open-minded cult. Sexual orientation and gender differentiation is widely accepted. The pit is the crucible where the excess economies of energy are worked out in unison. All that screaming, all those windmills, and the ape-like stances are but a way in which the culture deals with what would become unnecessary aggression without an outlet. So, it may look like a bunch of bro’s punching each other in the face, but the image is as always, deceptive. For the record, I took my hardest kick to the face from a young woman in the pit at an Earth Crisis show who apologized quickly and then went on to topple several other sweaty men, who smiled at her in comrade-like affection.
(All rights reserved. Text @ Rick Matthews. Images @ Rick Matthews.)