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.