photo & text by nacrowe
NYHC: NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-1990 (BAZILLION POINTS, 2014) by TONY RETTMAN is a compiled series of interviews regarding the origins and influence of the HARDCORE community in NYC by the participants that were there. It would seem that this book is more of a document cementing the legacy of the NYHC scene for and by the community itself, rather than as an entry point to those that were not there. part of that is due to the structure of the book itself.
unlike UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN (book review linked HERE) which covered similar ground for the LA PUNK scene but gave each participating voice a chapter, this book chooses to go paragraph by paragraph. this results in more participation and coverage at the risk of redundancy as often many people kept repeating the same thing over and over again. the impression it gave me was the uniformity of opinion regarding the history of the scene and that concerned me a bit just in terms of the anthropology of it all. when humans get together and agree on things so thoroughly it usually means either there is a hierarchal power structure playing out or a very strong peer group influence.
when i think of the music produced by this scene, especially the celebrated marquee second wave bands (AGNOSTIC FRONT, CRO-MAGS, MURPHY'S LAW, SICK OF IT ALL) what always stood out was the uniformity of its sound and approach. call me crazy, but music is universal and the whole idea of "you had to be there" or "you wouldn't understand because you weren't a part of the scene" is a weak argument for substandard product. i'm not trying to be harsh on the music itself, but at times it is almost laughable when people from this scene talk about how it wasn't fair that bands like NIRVANA gained popularity at their supposed expense. bands from the pacific northwest came from an equally insular scene that celebrated diversity and inclusivity, often at the risk of alienating more conservative elements in their ranks. the NYHC bands where conservative in their approach to their craft and politics, which veered from reactionary to downright thuggish.
what i gained from this book was a wider appreciation for the origins of the NYHC scene, which grew out of a legendary punk scene that celebrated a diverse community of artists (PATTI SMITH, TELEVISION, THE RAMONES) and initially attracted a like-minded next wave (BAD BRAINS, KRAUT, THE MOB, THE UNDEAD, THE NIHILISTICS) before the second wave took cemented the rules of the scene from there on out.
i made reference to the LA PUNK scene already but it followed a very similar trajectory. to me it is always interesting how with social movements new opportunities beget new rules and both scenes are guilty of such. it is just human nature i guess. i wonder with our modern digital social media world where access to music is immediate via the internet and streaming services whether or not such regional genres can develop apart from one another. i doubt it.
in this way i think a book like NYHC: NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-1990 is a beacon to a mode of culture that can literally never be repeated as technology has erased the potential of such. whether that is good or bad i don't know. my only hope is that it won't lead to more uniformity because then we all lose.