Starring Keith Morris, Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, HR, Dr Know, Brian Baker, Greg Ginn, and lots more people
Written By: Steven Blush
Directed By: Paul Rachman
I had an opportunity to see a screening of the upcoming punk/hardcore documentary called American Hardcore in NYC. I don’t normally go into Manhattan to see screenings (actually this is my first press screening), but I had to go see this movie! Who knows if it will be playing in a theater near me and I can’t wait for the DVD. But If you are fan of 80’s hardcore music, this isn’t a movie to miss!
American Hardcore is about the first wave of hardcore music that spawned from punk rock, that started around the late 70’s/early 80’s. The film is based off the book of the same name, written by Steven Blush. It documents the genre from the beginning to the end of the first wave of HC, roughly around 1986. The documentary starts out with a cool montage of concert photos, footage and hardcore/punk flyers to “Pay To Cum” by Bad Brains.
The film doesn’t have one narrator, but the narration is given by many of the bands, fans and other people associated with the hardcore scene during that time. The film is driven by all those interviews, but there also a lot of great old HC videos and concert footage that supports what the people are discussing. The beginning of the movie you hear stories from Keith Morris of Black Flag/Circle Jerks, H.R. Of Bad Brains, Ian MacKaye of Teen Idles/Minor Threat/Fugazi and Henry Rollins of Black Flag. But you also hear from other various people from that era of HC like: Joey Shithead (DOA), Vic Bondi (Articles of Faith), Mike Watt (Minutemen), Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks/Bad Religion), guys from SSD, Brett Gurewitz (Bad Religion/Epitaph), Greg Ginn (Black Flag), Moby, Dave Brockie, Dicky Barrett and many many more. Everybody talks about how hardcore was created basically in Los Angeles, Washington D.C, and Boston and the three big pioneers of the genre were Black Flag, Bad Brains and Minor Threat. Many of the kids going to the shows were just angry suburban kids who were sick of mainstream music and bad clothing, but also fed up with the Reagan Administration. The music was loud, faster, and a lot harder than normal punk. The scene was violent, raw, intense, exciting and quite entertaining. You get to see all that in this documentary!
As soon as the documentary was put on, I just had a smile of glee on my face. I just love watching punk & hardcore documentaries because I was too young to live this. I’ve heard and read stories but it’s great to hear the stories first hand and to see some of the footage from these shows. You learn a lot from these documentaries but they are also quite entertaining as well. The interviews were very interesting and it’s really cool to hear how the bands got their start, stories that happened on the road or at shows, and then how it all ended. It seemed like every band being interviewed talked about Bad Brains and how much of an influence they were on everybody. I like Bad Brains but I never imagined how much of an impact they had on everyone. They were clearly the kings of hardcore and everyone was afraid to play with them because they were just so good. H.R.’s stage antics were crazy and the band was just really sharp live. Call me ignorant, but I thought New York had a bigger part with hardcore in the beginning. It wasn’t really big there ’til Bad Brains ended up moving there. After that, that’s when NYHC really got rolling and became very important in hardcore.
Besides focusing on Bad Brains, the other two bands that got their fair share of recognition were Black Flag and Minor Threat. Henry Rollins and other Black Flag members had a lot of interesting stuff to say. I’m 50/50 with Rollins, sometimes I think he’s a douchebag but other times he has some good things to say. Plus the guy is very funny when it comes to re-telling stories of the old HC days. Ian Mackaye talked about Minor Threat and how straight edge took off across the country. It was cool hearing how it got started, but I wish they went into it a little more detail. But then again, the other straight edge HC bands that I’m thinking of were in the next wave of hardcore. The good thing about this documentary is it just didn’t focus on one or two bands, but went across the country and talked about smaller bands. Honestly, I never knew Boston had such a prominent hardcore scene back in the 80s. Bands like SS Decontrol, Gang Green, Jerry’s Kid, and D.Y.S. were really popular, even though they weren’t as big as the other bands from California and DC. Some bands were legendary when they might have only played 5 times or never recorded any studio albums. But they certainly made an impression on the scene. Other bands that the movie briefly talk about were: Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law, MDC, 7 Seconds, Battalion of Saints, Adolescents, DRI, Poison Idea, TSOL, Zero Boys to name a few.
Many of the people being interviewed discuss what it was like being in a hardcore band. Bands did one take in the recording studio, many bands across the country were friends with each other, they didn’t care if they sounded bad or not. The music was just fast, hard, and a little bit sloppier than punk rock. They were only worried about three chords and that was it. But it was obvious why so many of the bands disbanded and how the first wave fizzled out around 1986. The violence at shows were just getting worse and worse everyday, and the cops weren’t helping the situation either. According to Henry Rollins, they were making it worse and from stories that people were saying, I agree with them. Rollins had a lot to say about that time of the hardcore movement, and talked about getting into fights every show and getting threatened by the police. I particularly enjoyed watching footage from that, even though it wouldn’t be as fun witnessing the violence or getting punched. Towards the end of the documentary, everyone seemed a bit bitter and pissed off that bands calling themselves punk or hardcore weren’t punk or hardcore. Being on MTV, and driving in big tour buses to shows isn’t punk. I kind of have to agree with them on that subject. Many of them drove shitty vans that broke down, slept on people’s floors and didn’t have any money and that’s what made punk/hardcore so real.
But it just sounds like no one recognized what happened after hardcore and other bands that emerged from the scene. Or maybe they just think it wasn’t the same as it was but there were still many many bands that the documentary could have focused on. I’m talking about bands like Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Slapshot, Murphy’s Law, Sheer Terror, Judge, etc etc. But I guess they were in the second wave of hardcore so they weren’t pioneers so to speak. Even bands like Agnostic Front, 7 Seconds were only briefly talked about and that kind of mad me mad because they deserved more credit than what they got in the film. Maybe that was just the way it was edited? To be honest, I’d rather hear about those bands than some tiny band Moby was in. But one band that I thought was missing totally were the Dead Kennedys. They might be considered punk but they definitely were part of this genre and the movement. I just think they were overlooked big time, regardless if they weren’t considered straight up hardcore. In my mind, I think a lot of the punk bands in the 80s were hardcore. But what the hell do I know! Although, the film does have a nice balance between the smaller bands and the more well-known bands.
American Hardcore’s film style fits the genre well because not everything is all polished and sounding nice. You got raw footage, crackling audio from songs and concert footage and I liked it that way. The documentary serves it’s purpose and shows us what happened during this time and marks a special spot in American music. Even though the general public probably wouldn’t want to admit that! But you wouldn’t have Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys and other mainstream music. You probably wouldn’t even have slam dancing & stage diving if it wasn’t for hardcore! Maybe those long haired metal heads would have eventually figured out how to slam dance but you get the point. Hardcore was an important of music history, whether you liked it or not. The documentary by Paul Rachman and Steven Blush is very interesting that any punk or hardcore fan should go see!
Favorite Scenes: I just liked all the interviews with the bands and the stories they told.
Running Time: 98 minutes