1979: The Birth of Hardcore Punk

Even as punk rock was peaking as an artform, major schisms were forming that would come to define underground and alternative music for the next few decades or so. And the most vital and active wing of post-'79 punk would be the Hardcore movement, in all its various iterations.

Hardcore as a style has many progenitors, dating back to the Sixties. Detroit was ground zero for pushing the musical pedal to the metal, with face-punching hard rock acts like The Bob Seger System and The Amboy Dukes playing cheek by jowl with protopunk wildmen like The Stooges and MC5. 

So it's no surprise that the basic building blocks of Hardcore Punk would come from a Detroit band called The Punks in 1973, a good three years before the Summer of Punk, and six years before the rise of Hardcore as a culture.

The stark, austere, confrontational "Year Zero" approach of Hardcore was codified by The Clash in their early, speed-freak incarnation. You can see the seeds planted for tens of thousands of bands in this one two-minute clip: four-man lineup, quasi-militaristic apparel and presentation, overly-aggressive energy and very-fast/very-loud music. 

Though the Hardcore form as it came to be known was already in development, The Clash's early 1979 tour would help solidify the nascent movement, especially in the wake of their chaotic concerts in California, which saw their biggest US audiences. 

Tragically, The Clash would soon lose their nerve and quickly revert back to their early/mid-70s pub-rock roots, but their impact on American punk rock in general - and the Hardcore movement in particular - cannot possibly be overstated. Quite simply, they were the most extreme major label rock act people had seen to that date.

Just as The Clash set the parameters in 1977, this Middle Class EP from 1978 created the exact musical template that tens of thousands of bands would soon copy without even the most trivial variation. I can't tell you how many bands did absolutely nothing whatsoever but churn out blatant rewrites of "Out of Vogue," even if hardly any had ever even heard the song in the first place. 

It's why Hardcore became so insufferable tedious so quickly, despite the efforts of better bands to expand the palette (or just write more interesting variations).


Despite the sunshine and happiness of pre-Globalist California, there was a large and vibrant punk rock scene there, pretty much from day one. But on the whole, the early Cali punk bands were better players and writers than the Hardcore bands that would replace them. 

One example is The Weirdos, who'd release two records in 1979, but fall apart soon after. Since this is LA we're talking about, the band was lead by two brothers whose mom was a TV actress (Nora Denney).

San Francisco stalwarts The Avengers featured iconic blonde hellcat Penelope Houston on lead vocals. They hit a high-water mark when they opened for The Sex Pistols on their shambolic 1978 tour but would split in 1979. Like most of the other bands they'd reform over the years.

Before professional chiseler and Big Pharma sellout Jello Biafra decided he was the punk rock Michael Dukakis, The Dead Kennedys were a sick joke/novelty-punk band. Their visibility inspired a lot of other bands, but they'd jump the shark when they too hopped on the "Out of Vogue" rewrite bandwagon. 

Meaning they degenerated into just another boring, generic Hardcore band after they'd used up all their good ideas on their 1980 debut Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables and their early singles.

It must have been kismet, because The Dickies released their debut LP the same time The Clash were touring the US for the first time. Like the early DKs, The Dickies were a joke/novelty act but their 33-RPM-record-played-on-78 style would up the ante for pure speed in the punk rock pastures. 

Unlike most of the bands that followed, The Dickies were fairly competent instrumentalists. That gave their jackrabbit sprints an exhilarating rush most Hardcore acts could never equal.

Same goes for NYC's entry into the cartoon punk sweepstakes, Plasmatics. Wendy O Williams was a former porno model who teamed up with professional provocateur Rod Swenson to form a band that would take Hardcore-adjacent punk into America's living rooms in the early Eighties.


The original Germs would set the standard for all LA Hardcore acts. They formed in 1976 but wouldn't release their only LP until 1979 (GI, produced by Joan Jett), and their "singer" Darby Crash would have the bad timing to commit suicide the same day John Lennon was murdered.

The band originally formed while attending the Innovative Program School, which was apparently an unholy marriage of Werner Ehrhard's EST programs and the Church of Scientology. What that all means is open to conjecture. 

Germs guitarist Pat Smear would go on to fortune and fame with Nirvana and Foo Fighters and The Germs would later reform with actor Shane West - who played Crash in the biopic What We Do is Secret - on lead vocals.

LA Hardcore would get very problematic very quickly, particularly when SoCal's legions of gangs got into it. Everyone from West LA surfers to East LA cholos to any number of plain old sociopaths soon descended upon the scene, forming or coalescing around their favorite bands, whose honor they defended like British football gangs. 

Ironically, that would transpire in the wake of "the St. Patrick's Day Massacre," in which newly-appointed LA Police Chief Daryl Gates saw a ragtag but essentially-harmless coterie of art students, working-class whites and Chicano kids as a telegenic scapegoat to be crushed for clout. Inevitably, the scheme would have the inverse effect of signaling to real trouble-makers that punk and Hardcore were the place to be if you were looking to do some real violence. 

Soon, real violence-enthusiasts took over LA Hardcore and turned shows into bonafide warzones. As with the skinhead gangs taking a shine to Oi! in the UK, this wanton violence would soon sound the death-knell, as more and more clubs refused to book Hardcore bands. 

I remember hearing horror stories all the time from folks who'd been out to LA in the early 80s. Boston Hardcore wasn't exactly what you'd call pacifistic, but we usually didn't have genuine gangbangers bringing guns to shows. At least not back then.

1979 would see the rise of Hermosa Beach's hometown heroes, Black Flag. They'd eventually lapse into self-parody - particularly with their proto-grunge makeover in 1984 - but they were the most dangerous band around after the Germs fell apart. 

Unfortunately, Black Flag leader Greg Ginn's blend of megalomania and deep-spectrum Asperger's would result in a never-ending game of musical chairs, with frontman Henry Rollins the only other constant member following his joining the band in mid-1981.

But before it all degenerated into free-jazz, sub-Stooges rubbish, Black Flag's relentless touring would inspire hordes of Hardcore imitators in every city they played. It all seems a million years ago, now that Ginn has been dragging around an ersatz, low-grade Black Flag for the past decade-plus. Any remaining mystique was pissed away a very long time ago.


Hardcore was also flourishing outside of LA in 1979. Another unlikely nursery for the movement was Washington, DC, where a bunch of former fusion players from the city's projects called Bad Brains (after a Ramones song on Road to Ruin) blew everyone away with their force-of-nature thrashing. 

They'd later incorporate dub Reggae into the mix before helping pioneer the groove-metal sound that became so ubiquitous in the Nineties with their 1986 LP, I Against I.

1979 also saw the rise of DC's Teen Idles, which later lent two of its members to the legendary Minor Threat, which in turn lent its singer to legendary post-Hardcore band, Fugazi. The Idles were pretty terrible even by Hardcore standards, but were a crucial piece in the genre's early puzzle.

Another unlikely venue for early Hardcore was Vancouver, British Columbia, which gave the world the influential and long-running trio DOA. They'd also go through the usual string of lineup changes and careen between joke punk and political punk, but their influence cannot be overstated.

Vancouver also had The Subhumans, who'd eventually before overshadowed by the legendary British Hardcore band of the same name.


Back in the UK, other bands were following in the footsteps of the early Clash's political punk and Sham 69's working-class skinhead ramalama, giving birth to what became known as the Oi! movement. This sub-sect was basically invented by Sounds journalist Garry Bushell, who'd understandably grown disgusted with first-wave punk acts getting all arty or selling out in a bid to reach the mainstream. He then championed a bunch of street punk bands and daubed them with his new label.

Sham 69 weren't the only role models for the new wave of working-class punk: there was also Chelsea, whose early lineup featured Tony James and Billy Idol before they left to form Generation X. The only constant member has been lead singer Gene October (real name John O'Hara). Chelsea never made it to the big top, but unleashed a lot of great punk rock nonetheless.

Another second-wave band that would caucus with OI! and Hardcore were the seemingly-eternal UK Subs, led by former former hairdresser David Perez AKA Charlie Harper. Who, as it seems, is the nephew of the original Joker, Cesar Romero.

Perhaps the first true Oi! band were The Angelic Upstarts, who broke big in 1979. Unlike most of the other Oi! bands, the Upstarts were outspokenly leftist. Sadly, they also left the charts largely untroubled and followed their heroes The Clash into 1982-style New Wave sellout/suckitude with their stinker, Still from the Heart.

Chastened, they snuck back into the punk camp when that LP inevitably went nowhere.

When Sham fell apart, East London's Cockney Rejects picked up the mantle of "the Punk Band the Papers Loved to Hate." The Rejects were formed by the Geggus brothers, who cut their teeth (as it were) on the amateur boxing circuit. Which makes sense, since their sound was the aural equivalent of a full-tilt punch-up. Their first single "Flares and Slippers" was released in 1979.

As the violence and political turmoil got worse and worse in the Oi! scene, the Rejects sought refuge in the greener fields of heavy metal in 1982. Many, many others would follow.

Oi! got a bit darker and scarier when bands like The 4-Skins came on the scene in 1979. The Skins were a bit older, more serious-seeming and frankly, a bit scarier than rowdy hoolies like the Rejects. They never ventured into extreme right politics like other Oi! bands, but they definitely gave the impression they were always up for an invigorating street fight, and didn't much care for bourgeois liberals anyway.

The Business also hit the scene in 1979. They too worked to distance themselves from the extreme right but at the same time gave the impression they weren't ready to break bread with the SWP. The long-running Business had the foresight to recognize their fortunes lay across the pond, and came west to play for adoring Yankee punks on many an occasion.


While working-class British kids were slugging it out to The Business and 4-Skins, intellectually-minded middle-class British punks went more for Crass, and their postpunk-inflected proto-hardcore. 

Made up of leftover hippie squatter types, Crass would become nearly a genre unto themselves, with their in-house imprint releasing records by anarcho-punk outfits like Conflict, Rudimentary Peni, Flux of Pink Indians, and The Poison Girls.

Crass themselves would release a double LP in 1979, Stations of the Crass. It was so popular with LA punks that Rodney Bingenheimer played the album in its entirely on his KROQ show.

1979 would signal Crass's peak as a creative force, but they'd soldier on for another five years.

Formed in 1977, Stoke-on-Trent's incalculably-influential Discharge were recording their debut EP towards the end of 1979. Their ear-shredding brand of metallic punk noise would essentially give rise to thrash and thrash-metal, as well as a genre created in their honor, D-Beat. 

Discharge weren't alone in pursuing a synthesis of extreme punk and speed metal, but they certainly perfected it. Their 1982 debut Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing inspired legions of bands, including Metallica, Anthrax and Sepultura.


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