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Hardcore punk (usually referred to simply as hardcore) is a punk rock music genre and subculture that originated in the late 1970s. Hardcore music is generally faster, heavier, and more abrasive than regular punk rock.[4] The origin of the term "hardcore punk" is uncertain. The Vancouver-based band D.O.A. may have helped to popularize the term with the title of their 1981 album, Hardcore '81.[5][6][7] Hardcore historian Steven Blush said that the term "hardcore" is also a reference to the sense of being "fed up" with the existing punk and new wave music.[8] Blush also states that the term refers to "an extreme: the absolute most Punk."[9][10] One definition of the genre is "a form of exceptionally harsh punk rock."[11]

Hardcore sprouted underground scenes across the United States in the early 1980s particularly in Washington, D.C., California, New York, New Jersey, and Boston—as well as in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Hardcore has spawned the straight edge movement and its associated submovements, hardline and youth crew. Hardcore was heavily involved with the rise of the independent record labels in the 1980s, and with the DIY ethics in underground music scenes. It has influenced a number of music genres which have experienced mainstream success, such as alternative rock, grunge, alternative metal, metalcore, thrash metal, post-hardcore, and hip hop.

While traditional hardcore has never experienced mainstream commercial success, some of its early pioneers have garnered appreciation over time. Black Flag's Damaged, Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime and Hüsker Dü's New Day Rising were included in Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003 and Dead Kennedys have seen one of their albums reach gold status over a period of 25 years.[12] In 2011, Rolling Stone's David Fricke placed Greg Ginn of Black Flag, 99th place in 100 Greatest Guitarists list. Although the music started in English-speaking western countries, scenes have also existed in Italy, Brazil, Japan, Europe and the Middle East.

Musical characteristics[]

In the vein of earlier punk rock, most hardcore punk bands have followed the traditional singer/guitar/bass/drum format. The songwriting has more emphasis on rhythm rather than melody. Critic Steven Blush writes "The Sex Pistols were still rock'n' the craziest version of Chuck Berry. Hardcore was a radical departure from that. It wasn't verse-chorus rock. It dispelled any notion of what songwriting is supposed to be. It's its own form."[13] According to Allmusic, the overall blueprint for hardcore was playing louder, harder and faster.[14] Hardcore vocalists often shout,[14] scream or chant along with the music. Hardcore vocal lines are often based on minor scales.[15] Hardcore songs may include shouted background vocals from the other band members.

Guitar parts in hardcore can be complex, technically versatile and rhythmically challenging.[16] Guitar melody lines usually use the same minor scales used by vocalists (although some solos use pentatonic scales).[16] Some hardcore punk guitarists play solos, octave leads and grooves, as well as tapping into the various feedback and harmonic noises available to them. The guitar sound is almost always distorted and amplified, creating what has been called a "buzzsaw" sound.[17] Hardcore bassists use varied rhythms in their basslines, ranging from longer held notes (whole notes and half notes) to quarter notes, to rapid eighth note or sixteenth note runs. To play rapid bass lines that would be hard to play with the fingers, some bassists use a pick.[16] Some bassists emphasize a very technical style of bass playing. Some hardcore punk drummers play fast D beat one moment and then drop tempo into elaborate musical breakdowns the next. Drummers typically play eighth notes on the cymbals, because at the tempos used in hardcore it would be difficult to play a smaller subdivision of the beat.[16]

Hardcore dancing[]

The early 1980s hardcore punk scene developed slam dancing (also called moshing), a style of dance in which participants push or slam into each other, and stage diving. The term mosh came into use in the early 1980s American hardcore scene in Washington, D.C. A performance by Fear on the 1981 Halloween episode of Saturday Night Live was cut short when slam dancers, including John Belushi and members of a few hardcore punk bands, invaded the stage, damaged studio equipment and used profanity.[18][19] Those band members included John Joseph and Harley Flanagan of Cro-Mags and John Brannon of Negative Approach and Ian Mackaye of Minor Threat.[20] Other early examples of American hardcore dancing can be seen in the documentaries Another State of Mind, Urban Struggle, The Decline of Western Civilization, American Hardcore, and 30 Years of Northwest Punk.

Clothing style[]

Many North American hardcore punk fans adopted a dressed-down style of T-shirts, jeans, combat boots or sneakers and crewcut-style haircuts. Women in the hardcore scene typically wore army pants, band t-shirts, and hooded sweatshirts.[21] The style of the 1980s hardcore scene contrasted with the more provocative fashion styles of late 1970s punk rockers (elaborate hairdos, torn clothes, patches, safety pins, studs, spikes, etc.).

Siri C. Brockmeier writes that "hardcore kids do not look like punks", since hardcore scene members wore basic clothing and short haircuts, in contrast to the "embellished leather jackets and pants" worn in the punk scene.[22] Lauraine Leblanc, however, claims that the standard hardcore punk clothing and styles included torn jeans, leather jackets, spiked armbands and dog collars and mohawk hairstyles and DIY ornamentation of clothes with studs, painted band names, political statements, and patches.[23] Tiffini A. Travis and Perry Hardy describe the look that was common in the San Francisco hardcore scene as consisting of biker-style leather jackets, chains, studded wristbands, multiple piercings, painted or tattooed statements (e.g. an anarchy symbol) and hairstyles ranging from military-style haircuts dyed black or blonde to mohawks and shaved heads.[24] Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris wrote: "the ... punk scene was basically based on English fashion. But we had nothing to do with that. Black Flag and the Circle Jerks were so far from that. We looked like the kid who worked at the gas station or sub. shop."[25] Henry Rollins echoes Morris' point, stating that for him getting dressed up meant putting on a black shirt and some dark pants; Rollins viewed an interest in fashion as being a distraction.[26] Jimmy Gestapo from Murphy's Law describes his own transition from dressing in a punk style (spiked hair and a bondage belt) to adopting a hardcore style (shaved head and boots) as being based on needing more functional clothing.[21]


  • Hurchalla, George (2005). Going Underground: American Punk 1979–1992. Zuo Press.
  • Manley, Frank (1993). Smash the State: A Discography of Canadian Punk, 1977–92. No Exit. ISBN 0-9696631-0-2.


  1. Cooper, Ryan. Hardcore Punk. Retrieved on July 2, 2014.
  2. Glasper 2004, p. 47
  3. Mastodon, Against Me! Stop, Smell Roses. Spin. Retrieved on October 28, 2011.
  4. Blush, Stephen (November 9, 2001). American Hardcore: A Tribal History. Feral House. ISBN 0-922915-71-7.
  5. Hardcore Punk music history. Silver Dragon Records (2003). Retrieved on December 22, 2006.Template:Dead link
  6. D.O.A. To Rock Toronto International Film Festival. PunkOiUK. Retrieved on December 22, 2006.
  7. D.O.A.. Retrieved on December 22, 2006.
  8. p. 9
  9. Steven Blush. American Hardcore: a Tribal History. Feral House, 2001. p. 18
  10. An article in Drowned in Sound argues that 1980s-era "hardcore is the true spirit of punk", because "after all the poseurs and fashionistas fucked off to the next trend of skinny pink ties with New Romantic haircuts, singing wimpy lyrics", the punk scene consisted only of people "completely dedicated to the DIY ethics".Symonds, Rene (16 August 2007). Features – Soul Brothers: DiS meets Bad Brains. Drowned in Sound. Retrieved on February 12, 2010.
  11. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
  12. Recording Industry Association of America. RIAA. Retrieved on December 4, 2011.
  13. Blush, Steven (January 2007). "Move Over My Chemical Romance: The Dynamic Beginnings of US Punk". Uncut.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Pop/Rock » Punk/New Wave » Hardcore Punk. Hardcore Punk | Significant Albums, Artists and Songs. AllMusic. Retrieved on August 20, 2014.
  15. Kortepeterp, Derek, The Rage and the Impact: An Analysis of American Hardcore Punk, p. 12
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Kortepeter, Derek. Kortepeterp, Derek, ''The Rage and the Impact: An Analysis of American Hardcore Punk''. Retrieved on August 20, 2014.
  17. Steven Blush. American Hardcore: A Tribal Tradition. Feral House, 2001. p. 151
  18. Fear at AllMusic
  19. Fear on SNL and Ian MacKaye. (1 March 2006).
  20. Spit Stix interview. Retrieved on December 4, 2011.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Brockmeier, Siri C., “Not Just Boys’ Fun?”: The Gendered Experience of American Hardcore, MA Thesis in American Studies Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages ILOS(Universitet I Oslo, 2009) p. 12
  22. p. 11
  23. Leblanc, Lauraine, Pretty in Punk: Girls' Gender Resistance in a Boys' Subculture. (Rutgers University Press, 1999), p. 52
  24. Travis, Tiffini A. and Perry Hardy, Skinheads: A Guide to an American Subculture (ABC-CLIO, 2012), p. 123 (section entitled "From San Francisco Hardcore Punks to Skinheads")
  25. CITIZINE Interview – Circle Jerks' Keith Morris (Black Flag, Diabetes). (2003-02-17). Retrieved on December 4, 2011.
  26. Hardcore Punk | Complex. Retrieved on August 20, 2014.