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Record Collectors Are Pretentious Assholes

Been awhile since I updated, so perhaps it's appropriate that today's post switches it up a bit. No minimal, no techno, no house, but hardcore punk is the theme of the day. A few months back, the good folks at Fact Magazine asked me to contribute a "20 Best: US Hardcore" installment, having somehow gotten wind of the fact that I grew up in hardcore's trenches -- ok, not so much the pit, but an imaginary battleground papered with lyric sheets and the pages of Maximum Rock 'n' Roll. (I did, however, break my collarbone while stage-diving at a GBH/Accused show when I was 16; if that ain't cred, I don't know what is!) Hardcore was probably my first true musical love -- the first culture I felt was mine (even if that experience was always about a double alienation -- from my straight-laced suburban peers, but also from a world I knew mainly through records). Class distinctions aside, I deeply identified with Repo Man's Otto; that whole film was a revelation, being the first semi-mainstream representation of hardcore I'd found in the US media. Holy shit, it really exists, I thought; and so, by some strange method of mediatic trans-substantiation, must I.

I was never faithful exclusively to hardcore; I had discovered new wave and goth slightly before, and my high school years offered a strange (or not) mixture of the Cure, Siouxsie, Joy Division, Xymox, Bauhaus et al, sharing turntable time with bits and pieces of UK punk and a growing diet of US hardcore from across the spectrum, anything I could get my hands on, often bought sound-unheard. Dischord touched me most deeply, and when, after college, I finally moved to the D.C. area -- Annapolis, MD, to be specific -- it was profoundly disillusioning to find that "Revolution Summer" was quickly fading to memory. But I still managed to get a last couple of good years out of hardcore; it was 1994, '95, and Born Against, Unwound, Heroin, Universal Order of Armageddon were all going strong; seeing UOA at a VFW hall in suburban Maryland felt like the culmination of a long quest.

That quest took a turn around 1995 when I moved to Providence and discovered Fast Forward Records, less a proper shop than a selection of new and used records sold out of Ron and Judy's apartment. (No other record store has had a greater impact on me; I will go to my grave swearing it the greatest record store on earth, for reasons I really must write about some time.) Fast Forward stocked all the post-hardcore I loved—the screamo, the powerviolence, the sludge. They also happened to stock a ton of Warp and Rephlex, and it was there that I realized for the first time that some of that "rave shit" wasn't half bad. My hardcore purchases dwindled to nothingness, and I began buying so many electronic-music records that I'd hide them from my girlfriend when I came home, stuffing the shrinkwrap to the bottom of the waste-paper bin, just so she wouldn't know how much I was spending, as we were supposed to be saving for a three-month trip through Greece and Turkey. (I believe this is called obsessive-compulsive behavior.) I defected and never looked back.

Which made the chance to look back all the more exciting. The assignment -- following similar recent features on bleep techno, UK garage and the like -- was harder than I expected; to begin with, all of my hardcore records languish in boxes in my mother's basement in Portland. More crucially, I wasn't sure I was qualified to speak authoritatively on hardcore. But the more I worked on the project – generously aided and abetted by Last.FM – the more I thought "fuck it" to the credentials issue. Hardcore was always ostensibly about bucking the system, DIY and individual expression (despite the movement's at times conservative, conformist counter-impulses). I might never have participated in "the scene" like some; I didn't necessarily look the part. But I immersed myself in the music and made it mine. And looking back, that's more than enough.

You can read the whole piece here, with an extended introduction that probably repeats a lot of points I've just made here. I'm looking forward to reading your comments, even (especially?) the ones that tell me I'm fucking crazy, a fraud, unfit to have a Blogger account, etc. It'd hardly be hardcore without a little turmoil, after all.


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It was the summer of 1995. I was living in a small rural town in Maine called Lincolnville. Between 7th and 8th grade one of my good friends, Adam, visited his sister who was living in Olympia washington and heavily involved in the music scene there. He brought back a lot of the records on your list and at that point I fell down the rabbit hole. Shortly after 8th grade I moved to Northampton Massachusetts and was finally able to go to shows. Almost everyone on tour at that time came through Pearl Street, the main venue in Northampton. My favorite record shop, B-side, was a few blocks from my house and was where I spent all my money. Somewhere along the line (believe it was at a party in 8th grade) I had heard Orbitals halcyon and on and on. That planted the seed that would eventually cause me to trade B-side records and Western x Mass x Hardcore for Growroom Records and The New England Rave scene. Slight wardrobe adjustment and good to go! Caught the tail end of both cultures.

Honorable mention for looking up Minor Threat on the web in 1995/junior high on a borrowed 2400 baud modem using my Apple Quadra 610. Oh the memories...

Great article Philip, brought back a lot!

similar paths taken here, too. all the more strange as i've had social reunions with former bandmates recently who are all just a bit surprised i've grown so heavily into techno. like you say, the obsession with records (thoroughly dispatched by that poison idea title - of whom, poison idea, i think i had a discography and no proper individual releases) was what really "mattered" in the grand scheme of things. there's not a whole lot different about shopping at gramaphone now as there was when buying slabs from basement distros, except for perhaps nicer accomodations.

anyway, very well considered and written piece(s), here and at FACT. can't say i totally agree with all your picks (who can, really, ever?) though #s 5 and 6 would definitely show up in my top-10, as well.

I was wondering what ever happened to Ron and Judy, so I Googled Fast Forward Records, and I found your entry.

Ron had the perfect set-up to advocate for electronic music. Judy would lure the kids in with her punk and hardcore records and shows, and while their minds were open, Ron would have them listen to whatever was the fantastic new release he had just gotten into.

My experience was similar to yours. Eventually I was buying more electronic than anything else.

I miss Fast Forward Records. Now that I live in the Bay Area, I can visit Amoeba, and readily sate my musical whimsies, yet there is something to be said for the small music shop with an almost curated selection.

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