The History of Hardcore Punk Music

Bad Brains performs at a concert
Bad Brains performs at a concert in London. Tony Woolliscroft/Getty Images

Fast, loud and furious — these are the elements of hardcore. From its inception in the late 1970s, hardcore began to pick up the attitudes and messages employed by the first punk bands, setting them to driving guitar and drum lines that were more wildly uncontrolled than those played by earlier bands that fell under the punk description. Faster and heavier than other contemporary punk bands, hardcore songs were often very short and very frenzied.

The Early Days of Hardcore

In the beginning, hardcore punk was primarily a phenomenon in the states. Hardcore punks rose to popularity in the late '70s and early '80s, happening in multiple cities throughout the U.S. almost simultaneously. Musicians that had been raised on heavy metal but were being influenced by punk were taking these two influences, combining them, and speeding them up into something exciting and unheard of.

On opposite coasts, three bands helped usher in the era of hardcore. L.A.'s Black Flag, Washington D.C.'s Minor Threat, and Bad Brains were the primary pioneers of the hardcore sound, which also ushered in the era of slam dancing at punk rock shows. While it had been around for a while at punk rock shows, the intensity of hardcore music really brought it into prominence.

Hardcore Breaks Out

With the birth of these early scenes came a DIY ethic that allowed hardcore scenes to pop up all over. The Midwest was especially dense: in Detroit, Negative Approach ruled the roost; in Lansing, Michigan, The Meatmen started a scene; and St. Paul, Minneapolis spawned the amazing and complex Husker Du, who mixed jazz, psychedelia, acoustic folk, and pop with their hardcore riffs.

Hardcore was breaking out everywhere. Nevada had 7 Seconds, New Jersey had the Misfits, and Gang Green was raging in Boston. New York was putting hardcore shows on by the Beastie Boys, a hardcore band that would later be better known as a rap outfit.

Once the sound began, it was impossible to put a lid on it. Essentially, any city or town large enough to have a scene seemed to have a hardcore scene, with its own chunk of local hardcore bands and local hardcore followers. This continues to be the case, and while it was and continues to be primarily popular in the U.S., hardcore scenes are evident all over the world.

House and Club Shows

Hardcore records are an essential part of the hardcore scene. Without them, we would not have a recorded history of the music. At its core, however, hardcore music and its encompassing scene was and is really about the hardcore show, where all of the DIY ethic comes together. Even now, hardcore house and club shows happen everywhere, with bands getting together to play out of basements and garages and selling self-recorded music and handmade t-shirts, which are typically advertised by self-produced fliers.

Perception in the Mainstream Media

From the early days, hardcore shows were misunderstood as violent affairs by the mainstream media. TV talk shows grabbed onto these shows and TV dramas depicted them as dark, violent events.

Hardcore music's only unifying factor is its sound. The lyrics and messages vary from band to band. While some hardcore bands preach drug- and alcohol-free living, known as straight-edge, other bands write songs that are all about partying. There are even Christian hardcore bands with a strong religious message.

Heavy Sounds of the Future

Hardcore continues to be a subgenre of music with a strong following. While it paved the way for thrash metal and other heavy sounds, many of the early hardcore bands are still together and new bands are constantly forming. Along with the continuing tide of hardcore is a wave of bands known as post-hardcore.