:: Article

Youth of yesterday

By Ben Myers.

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Ian Glasper, Trapped In A Scene: UK Hardcore 1985–1989, Cherry Red Books 2009

History has it that punk died anywhere between The Clash signing to CBS in 1977 and Kenny Everett taking his punk parody character Sid Snot into the nation’s living rooms in 1981, and that the only decent punk bands in the 1980s came from the US in the shape of Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains and all the other cool bands that you see on T-shirts today.

But musical history has a habit of being very selective, the unspoken consensus among the gatekeepers and tastemakers being: if it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen. Which is precisely why writer Ian Glasper‘s third book on the UK punk scene – or specifically it’s leaner, more militant and aggressive offspring, hardcore – is so welcome.

Because, unlike it’s American big brother, the UK hardcore scene of the mid/late 1980s and early 90s spawned no credible, vaguely bankable bands, had no real enduring figureheads a la Henry Rollins or Jello Biafra and operated so far beneath the radar that the best a hardcore band could hope for would be the release of a seven-inch, a tour, a fanzine cover story or the odd play on John Peel. It didn’t die it just went deep underground.

Which isn’t to say that it didn’t matter to those involved. From a personal perspective as a speccy thirteen year old in a north-east town in 1989, how else was I going to get to see bands, mix with older, cooler people, have a dance or maybe even get up on stage and sing a verse or two? The answer was hardcore: a form of music so willfully non-commercial and completely disinterested in the hedonistic indulgences of the rock ‘n’ roll that it was a reaction against, that it stood aside from the usual conventions and welcomed all freaks.

Hardcore gigs took play in church halls and community halls. And crucially, perhaps for the first time in the modern history of British rock music, it took place away from the major cities and instead its strongholds were in places like Durham, Guisborough, Wigan, Exeter and Bradford – towns battered by Thatcherism which had little else on offer to its young. There was no security, no door policy, no soundman, no bar. Yet as Glasper conveys here through his meticulously and exhaustively compiled interviews (all collected under the sub-title ‘Frontline Reports From The Hardcore Punk Underground’), out of this lack of restriction, a general disregard for ability and a sobriety amongst many of its exponents that was rare for a youth movement, hardcore became a hive of energy and ideas: fanzines were written and produced, friendships formed, record and distribution companies started. Everything was self-moderated. Self-policed. Possible.

The notion of sober sixteen years old arguing about feminism, pornography, veganism and all manner of other political issues may seem naïve today, but back then it was inherently exciting and had implications which have resonated through the lives of men (and, sadly, to a lesser extent women) now in their thirties and forties.

History has documented none of this – until now. Because like its music, everything about hardcore was short-lived and brutally executed. Bands came and went, with only the odd one breaking through to forge lasting careers – bands like Napalm Death or Snuff. Step forward then the unsung heroes of hardcore interviewed here, bands whose contribution was no less vital: Steadfast, Doctor and The Crippens, Electro Hippies, Heresy, Sore Throat, Jailcell Recipes, Sleep, Anhrefn, Sofahead, Joyce McKinney Experience and many more. Bands whose mere names recall memories of scratchy, hand-made seven inch singles and the vague stench of sweat. Bands who – dare I say it – were more influential to a few thousands British kids than The Beatles ever were….

Hardcore as it was had its many downsides too – its complete lack of female input, the one-dimensional aspect of the music, the occasional shoddiness of its hastily-formed networks, in-fighting and violence, far too many rules (some of us actually enjoying getting hammered, thank you very much) – and all that comes across here too. Yes, it was flawed and it was ugly, but hardcore sure was fun. As an overview of a movement, Glasper’s Trapped In A Scene is a valuable socio-historical document.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Ben Myers writes about music and culture for publications including The Guardian, Mojo and Bizarre. His new novel Richard is out in 2010 on Picador. You can visit his blog here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, October 27th, 2009.