I took a trip to the record store immediately after watching this encyclopaedic documentary look at the colourful history American hardcore punk rock. The album I had to rush out and get was the self-titled 1982 release by DC hardcore originators Bad Brains.
American Hardcore practically acts as an advertisement for the seminal band. According to the film, Bad Brains inspired other bands in the movement to take the music more seriously, as opposed to doing a half-assed job messing around on their guitars.
Listening to the record, it’s hard to believe it was recorded in practically a single take, in a crude glass box at an apartment/rehearsal space on New York’s Avenue A.
If hardcore was married to any one ideal it was DIY (Do It Yourself). Inspired by pal Steven Blush’s 2001 book American Hardcore: A Tribal History, director Paul Rachman cut early ’80s fan-shot camcorder concert footage with interviews of some of hardcore’s heaviest hitters conducted over the course of the past five years adding photos and other tidbits as well. The whole deal was produced on his laptop. Very punk.
The only flaw in the film is the ridiculously small number of women interviewed (only four) to tell the story. Though it was a predominantly male movement, Blush’s book does a better job of explaining how the fairer sex fit into the hardcore movement. The film does feature Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler discussing her feelings on being part of an otherwise male group, but that’s pretty much it as far as delving into the female punk experience.
Any overview of a musical genre is bound to bypass a few interesting points, but Rachman and Blush do a remarkable job of thoroughly covering America’s hardcore movement both geographically and chronologically. The only bands obviously missing are the Misfits and The Dead Kennedys, which as the filmmakers explained to the audience after its TIFF premiere, was due to copyright problems stemming from splits between band members in those groups. A shame, but with all the awesome footage of bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, SS Decontrol, Cro-Mags, Corrosion of Conformity, Gang Green, Adolescents and many more, their absence is more than compensated for.
Entertaining, off-the-cuff interviews with hardcore luminaries like Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat), H.R. (Bad Brains), Al Barile (SS Decontrol), Harley Flanagan (Cro-Mags), as well as some unexpected interviews, like Moby, (who apparently sang for California hardcore band Flipper for two days) make this film a must-watch for any fan of aggressive music.
Whether or not you believe that punk died in 1986, as the film’s subjects suggest, this is an invigorating, expansive, and fascinating look at a subculture that is often dismissed as violent and juvenile.