Looking Back: A Hardcore Retrospective


Looking Back: A Hardcore Retrospective

By Adam “O’doul’s” Holtzapfel & Kevin DeLury
This time around we’re taking the time machine back to the days of circle pits, militant straight edge, and a time when hardcore seemed semi popular. That’s right kids, we’re going back to the mid 90s-mid 00s hardcore scene.

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AH—Being from a small town in Ohio, with Columbus being the biggest town nearby and 30 miles away I was introduced to hardcore unknowingly around 1994 when I saw the Sick of it All video for “Step Down” on MTV’s Superrock (yes, MTV actually played music at one time).  It wasn’t until I was going to school in Dayton I found out what hardcore was.  It was 1997 and I was listening to the radio station of Wright State University. They had a punk show on every Wednesday that covered punk, ska, and hardcore. At the time my musical taste was just as diverse as it is now. I was listening to everything from Pantera, Master P, Dead Kennedys, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, etc. Hardcore seemed like a natural extension.

KD— I grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina which, believe it or not, had one of the best punk scenes I’ve ever seen. Like a lot of kids, I got into hardcore as a natural extension of listening to punk rock. Cutting my teeth on the Dead Kennedys and a heaping of goth, metal, and industrial, hardcore made sense as the next step.

I still clearly remember when hardcore hit my eardrums for the first time: a buddy of mine made me a mix tape with the standard fare for the time—Bad Religion, Atari Teenage Riot, Slayer, Master P (what? We were diverse!), and such. Then came on Strongarm’s “Sorrow is a Sage.” It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard. It made sense.

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AH—The scene in Ohio was pretty diverse you had punk kids and hardcore kids at the same shows, where today shows seem to be missing that diversity you saw in the 90s.  Some of the bands at the time were Twelve Tribes (Dayton), X Battleground X (Dayton), Pitboss 2000 (Columbus), The Creeps (Columbus), Integrity (Cleveland), Run Devil Run (Cleveland), Ringworm (Cleveland).  Not far from Cleveland you had the Erie, PA scene with greats like Shockwave, Disciple, Brother’s Keeper, and Problem Solver Revolver.

Let’s also not forget the violence that went on.  In Dayton you always heard of a certain “crew” beating up people 5 on 1.  This was also around the time when militant straight edge was becoming a big thing.  While I never saw too much violence, there was always a chance of something going down.

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Some of the best times I had were the road trips to Cleveland or Indianapolis for shows.  It was all about friends, music, and just enjoying the moment.  Seeing 10 bands for $5 in a basement or a Knights of Columbus hall.  This still goes on today, but it seems like a much smaller scale.  We used to find out about shows through the Bands in Vans link on Revelation Records.  Since the dawn of Myspace and Facebook that link has gone the way of the dinosaurs.

KD—Diversity and a DIY mentality were the name of the game in NC. For a while, you got to see a lot of different styles and faces at shows, until eventually, this overzealous mentality of militant straight edge, Christian hardcore won and all the faces and music fell in line. The violence and exclusion are still the thing that pains we about that time. Like Adam, I saw a lot of “crews” come and go, and the only lasting thing they managed to accomplish was turning away potential new fans.

Musically, you could not ask for a better scene. Among my favorites were Prayer For Cleansing (Charlotte), Undying (Raleigh), Bloodjinn (Greensboro), Codeseven (Winston-Salem), Heartscarved (Winston-Salem), and Hopesfall (Charlotte).

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Also crucial to the scene was local label Tribunal Records. They were responsible for a slew of the releases and music I was exposed to, including releasing the first From Autumn to Ashes and Atreyu Ep’s.

AH—Some of the influential bands for me at the time were Refused, Ensign, Boysetsfire, Avail, Candiria, Harvest, A18, and of course Sick of it All.  The songs ranged from politics & global/local issues to brotherhood and unity.

KD—A list of influential bands for me could go on for ever, but I’ll try my best to be concise: Boysetsfire, Poison the Well, Brother’s Keeper, Walls of Jericho, Avail, Hopesfall, Snapcase, Sick of it All, Stretch Armstrong, Grade, Drowningman, and Bloodlet. I was drawn towards music that lyrically spoke to me, as well as that which defied the norms that were taking hold. If a band took the hardcore-by-numbers template and turned it on it’s head to truly do their own thing, I was 100% in.

AH— As you can tell from both of our lists of influential bands this is just a smattering of some of the bigger names of the time.  When Thursday hit the scene, they took the world by storm.  They brought such a raw emotional sound back to a paint by numbers sound.  The first time I saw them was at Hessfest in Cleveland.  It was an all day hardcore/punk/metal fest put on by local artist Derek Hess.  This fest featured bands like Electric Frankenstein, Bad Luck 13 Riot Extravaganza, Boysetsfire, Thursday, Few Left Standing, Candiria, and a ton of other bands.  This small sample of bands highlights how diverse the scene was at the time.  Most shows at this time had similar line ups like H2O and Straight Faced touring with Bouncing Souls and US Bombs.

KD—The first time I knew things had gotten huge was when Thursday hit the scene. working for my college newspaper, I interviewed them as they made the jump to a major label. They were just kids themselves and looked like deer in the headlights. A year prior to that night, they were the openers for Skycamefalling, playing to 30 kids.  Selling out a thousand-capacity venue was something these bands were not supposed to do.

And for a while, things were good. Bands got their due. Hellfest, Krazyfest, and Furnace Fest became cultural pilgrimages. Bands like Dashboard Confessional, Snapcase, H20 and Face to Face did tours together and no one blinked.  And while all this happened on a worldwide stage, local scenes thrived like they never had before.  Most importantly, I made lifelong friends I am lucky to have in my life.

AH—To use the old Ian Mackaye quote “I didn’t check out on hardcore, hardcore checked out on me” seems kind of fitting.  For most of us the older we get the more we move away from the scene.  It’s not that we don’t love the music or the scene, but our priorities change.  A lot of the change for me had to do with bands breaking up only to reunite again a couple years later, basically every hardcore band was pulling a KISS routine.  Also bands like Earth Crisis going kind of nu metal with their sound, Hatebreed and Unearth turning more heavy metal than hardcore, the scene was just kind of eating itself and moving on. Victory Records line up seemed to change monthly, being a mostly hardcore band in the 90’s-2000’s they went heavy emo core, then dropped all of that for metal, I can’t even tell you what’s on the label now.

KD— I can’t place an exact moment I saw things start to unravel, but you felt it around you. As the scene hit critical mass,  it drew in people in droves. It would be nice to think that they were all open-minded and passionate about the music, but that would be naive.

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More people means more assholes, straight up. Bullies and their toadies just switched up their haircuts and t-shirts: the same mentality remained. Crews, internet shit talking, fights, and the like turned hardcore into a fashion show meets amateur fight club. The funny thing: none of those people were actually CREATING the art.

Eventually, bands broke up or simply evolved musically. After a while, mediocrity and meanness ruled and everyone else simply moved on. Shows got smaller and sparser, and the most militant of edge kids sold out with jaw-dropping descents into alcoholism that would make Bukowski go “dude, get a grip.”

AH—Looking back my friends and I had some great times, whether it seeing Walls of Jericho at a rec center in Dayton or Turmoil at Bernie’s Bagels in Columbus or seeing Boysetsfire at the Euclid Tavern in Cleveland.  We saw 25 Ta Life in the basement of a Donato’s or seeing Problem Solver Revolver and Run Devil Run play at a redneck bar in Grove City.  You don’t see that happen as much anymore.  It seemed like there were shows every weekend and for $5 you’d see 5-10 bands.  While I still love the music, it’s harder for me to get to shows as Columbus is skipped over anymore and seeing any reuniting bands or any of my favorite bands for that matter involves a 2-3 hour drive to Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland on a week night.  I still rock the standard shirt and jeans attire, once in a while I’ll get a comment on a shirt, but if it’s Sick of it All it’s from folks that don’t realize they’re a band.  This Ensign video is a great idea of how Kevin and I spent our weekends.  If you go to a hardcore show and don’t leave drenched in sweat, then you weren’t there.

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KD—Looking back at that time in my life, it really was amazing that something like this took hold in the way it did. I’m lucky to have witnessed it, and have discovered this music that’s carried me through the years.

Now, at 33, I still rock the same standard uniform of jeans and a black band t-shirt. If I’m lucky, a band I loved will reunite for a short tour and I’ll get to relive the glory days for a night. I’m still at shows 90% of my weeknights, and still discovering my new favorite bands regularly. It’s kinda cool to watch from afar as youngins build their own scenes and make music.

And still, every once in a while, I’ll walk into a bar wearing a Boysetsfire shirt and some stranger will make a beeline for me and go “I love that band.” Fast forward a few hours and we’re still swapping stories and annoying the piss out of everyone in the place by taking over the jukebox so play Dillinger Escape Plan. We grew up, but never grew old.

AH— To finish up one thing I have noticed missing from shows these days are the tables, distros, and zines.  You could go to a show and the A.R.A. (Anti-Racist Action) would have a table set up with info and merch, or you’d have an animal rights group that wasn’t PETA handing out literature.  You’d also have people that ran distros out of their home selling cd’s at shows, it could be hard to find stuff or stuff you’ve never heard, but the prices were always better than the big box stores, Very Distro (now defunct), and CD Now (also defunct).  You’d also always leave a show with a free zine or two that kids were putting together, reviewing shows, albums, and interviewing their favorite bands.  The scene at the time was DIY in every sense of the phrase and punk ethos.

KD— Absolutely. At that time, it seemed like every show you were going to was a benefit show at the local YMCA or church basement. Here’s a bunch of bands that aren’t making much money to begin with, playing for nothing. It was inspiring to see, and then there were always the ubiquitous zine, distro, and PETA/ A.R.A./Voter registration tables. People would rally around their causes and, quite literally, wear them on their shirts. I would be lying if I said I didn’t pick up some Krishna literature at a few shows (yup, Hare Krishna hardcore was very much a thing). That’s one thing I’d really like to see come back: socially conscious, community-minded activism. It pairs wonderfully with huge stompy breakdowns and the errant spin kick to the solar plexus.

AH—Yeah it would definitely be good to see the social conscious aspect come back vs the let’s mosh and fuck shit up attitude. It was all about the open mindedness. I picked up some animal rights literature, but going vegetarian/vegan just wasn’t for me. The point is it was all about being open minded and trying new things.

Thanks for taking a trip back with us. Leave your own scene report in the comments and be sure to let us know what criminally underrated band we left out!

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    Adam Holtzapfel

    Pic of Boysetsfire is at Euclid Tavern, Cleveland, OH. Pic of Buried Alive is at Fire Exit, Columbus, OH. Pic of Earth Crisis is at Alrosa Villa, Columbus, OH.

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