Written by John Honan
“Look beyond their riches or the color of the skin / Look beyond appearance and truth you will find.” These words shouted by hardcore legend Ray Cappo on Youth of Today’s debut album Break Down The Walls have finally begun to materialize. Born out of a desire to rebel against the commercialization of punk, hardcore has been a place for misfits to gather and scream about political change while stage diving and moshing. From the early 80s to the mid-2000s, those misfits were almost exclusively made up of white males; however, in the past few years there has been a massive increase of women and minorities participating in the genre both in the crowd and on the stage.
Bands like War On Women and G.L.O.S.S. have been bringing attention to topics such as rape, LGBT rights, and gender equality, while New York hardcore band Regulate has been discussing racial issues in their music. Punk and hardcore have always been about giving a voice to the voiceless, so it’s about time that genre has expanded to a more diverse audience and covered topics that have previously not had a place in the scene.
Formed in the late 70s, the genre broke away from the melodic nature of punk in favor of a faster, louder, and harsher playing style that typically sounded like a barrage of noise. In the 80s it found its home in cities like D.C., New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia and eventually branched out into several subgenres. Underneath the buzzsaw guitars, crashing drums, and brash vocals was an important message that ranged from preaching the straight edge lifestyle to racial tolerance. However, one essential thing was missing from the scene; diversity.
Attending hardcore shows can be a physically violent experience that usually see men at the front and women in the back. Baltimore band War on Women seeks to challenge this setup by melding feminist ideas into their rowdy punk music that encourages women to be up front shouting along. “The fact that men are coming to these shows and thinking about that; that’s cool. It means you’re in a position where you have to acknowledge that you’re not the only type of person that exists right?”, said front woman Shawna Potter in an interview with Dying Scene. Potters intends to “break down the walls” of the boys club label that’s been placed on hardcore by getting men to come to their shows and ask questions. The multi-gender band aims to bring men and women together and encourage discussion.
While there are many outspoken female fronted bands, bands like Firewalker, Krimewatch, Year of the Knife, Code Orange, and Gouge Away are challenging the stereotypes associated with hardcore by producing music that does not focus on their gender. Code Orange is one of the more terrifying live bands in the scene whose members portray the more violent and punishing side of hardcore. The Pittsburgh-based four piece is made up of high school friends Jami Morgan, Joe Goldman, Eric Balderose, and Reba Meyers. Meyers has never wanted to be the spokesperson for what it’s like being a woman in hardcore. Instead, she relies on her intricate guitar playing and throaty screams to provide a positive view of women in the scene. “Don’t overthink being a woman in a scene dominated by men. It really doesn’t matter. Just work hard and be as good at what you do as you can, and it will work out just fine.”, said Meyers when asked about the difficulties faced by women in bands in an interview with Canada Arts Connect Magazine.
The LGBT community has also seen an increase in participation in the hardcore scene in recent years with the formation of Washington trans-feminist group G.L.O.S.S. Led by Sadie Switchblade, the militant band released one of the angriest albums in hardcore’s rich history of pissed off music. Their 8 minute long demo from 2015 waved the flag of pride for the transgender and gay community by providing a cathartic release for all the outcasts mentioned on their track “Outcast Stomp”.
THIS IS FOR THE OUTCASTS/REJECTS/GIRLS AND THE QUEERS/FOR THE DOWNTRODDEN WOMEN WHO HAVE SHED THEIR LAST TEARS/FOR THE FIGHTERS/PSCYHOS/FREAKS AND THE FEMMES/FOR ALL THE TRANSGENDER LADIES IN CONSTANT TRANSITION
While issues like feminism and LGBT rights have not been discussed prior to the 2000’s, racial tolerance has been widely talked about since the inception of hardcore. Songs like “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” from the Dead Kennedy’s, “Unity” by Madball, and “Degradation” by Gorilla Biscuits all preached racial tolerance in an era where punk shows were infiltrated by pockets of neo-nazi groups.
Like the hardcore bands that came before them, Philly act Jesus Piece are speaking out against racism and police brutality; however frontman Aaron Heard isn’t just commenting on things he’s witness, he’s commenting on things he’s experienced. The quintet marries elements from sludge metal, thrash, and punk to create their dark, down tuned brand of hardcore. “Oppressor” speaks out against stereotypes that are placed against the black community and Heard’s refusal to act the way the world views him. “Refuse to become another target, another victim. Refuse to be labeled another thug or animal”, Heard yells in his guttural death metal growl.
New York hardcore band Regulate, led by Sebastian Paba who was born in Colombia, discusses the issue of being defined by the color of your skin on their song “Antispectrum” from their 2016 release Years of Rage. “Sorry I’m not like the rest you’ve met, I’ve never been like the others, And I’m not gonna spend my life just being a color.”, frontman Paba screams on the track while exploring the feeling of rejection he faced from mainstream society as well as his own race. In D.C., Pure Disgust is keeping the city’s rich punk history alive with their highly political and introspective lyrics. “I don’t care what white people think about my lyrics. I don’t write it for them. I live to make white people feel uncomfortable”, front man Rob Watson said in a interview with Bandwith.fm. Much like the feminist wave of bands, Heard, Saba, and Watson are challenging members of the community to start thinking about race issues, and how, while it may not affect them, is an important topic that needs to be addressed.
Hardcore was built around these ideas of tolerance and its members strived to keep its doors open to anyone who wanted to be there and shout along The scene has always looked out for each other, but, for the most part, the only representation listeners had were white males. Even the crowds were largely dominated by males, and if you were anything else, you generally stayed in the back and out of the pit. Fortunately, the genre has grown and is now appealing to a wider demographic that continues to grow each year.
At a recent Angel Du$t show, frontman Justice Tripp got on the mic and told all the males in the audience to get to the back of the room and allow all the women to come up front. He then handed the mic of to the crowd, allowing the females in the audience the stage time they’ve missed out on for years. This is the true essence of hardcore. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how much money you have, or where you’re from; it’s about coming together to vent your frustrations with mainstream society.