Primal to the core: “American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986″

By on December 8, 2018

Paul Rachman’s 2006 documentary American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986 features incredible never-before-seen live footage of some of the best primal-to-the-core punk bands from the ’80s, including Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, the Adolescents, 7 Seconds and many more.

Watch this Sundance-selected Sony Pictures Classics documentary — featuring exclusive interviews with Black Flag’s Greg Ginn and Henry Rollins, Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, the Circle JerksKeith Morris and Bad Brains’ H.R. (Paul Hudson), along with many, many more — on Night Flight Plus!

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Corrosion of Conformity, photo by Skizz

A title card informs us that Rachman’s film was inspired by writer Steven Blush’s book, American Hardcore: A Tribal History, which was published in October 2001 by Feral House.

Blush’s book was updated in an expanded second edition in November 2010, after the release of Rachman’s film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006.

Blush — the publisher and primary editor of Seconds magazine, the author of American Hair Metal (Feral House) and .45 Dangerous Minds (Creation) — writes in the introduction to his American Hardcore that “Hardcore was the suburban American response to the late-70s Punk Rock revolution.”

Similarly, Rachman’s film informs us how hardcore ’80s punk was a gut-punch reaction to ‘late-70s recession, an ineffective Carter administration and the dire global political scene.

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American Hardcore reminds us how, after America shifted widely to the right after Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 — seen as a promise to “make America great again” (sound familiar?) — hardcore punk bands rose up as a flipped-off middle finger response to what was happening politically and culturally during the ultra-conservative Reagan era.

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Henry Rollins, photo by Edward Colver

American Hardcore‘s soundtrack is chock-full of songs that defined the hardcore punk ’80s: “Pay to Cum,” “Banned in D.C.,” and “Big Takeover” (Bad Brains), “Rise Above,” “No Values” and “Nervous Breakdown” (Black Flag), “Word Attack” (Adolescents), “Seeing Red” and “Straight Edge” (Minor Threat), “I Just Want Some Skank” (Circle Jerks) and literally dozens more.

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Read more about American Hardcore below.

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In his introduction to the second edition of American Hardcore: A Tribal History, Steve Blush writes:

“Hardcore arose an American phenomenon fueled by British and homegrown Punk influences. The first HC bands came out of Southern California beach towns, probably because they lived as close to The American Dream as one could get. Born of a doomed ideal of middle-class utopia, Punk juiced their nihilism.”

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Like Blush, Rachman’s film also focuses on the SoCal hardcore ’80s punk scene quite a bit.

Expect to see lots of on-screen time devoted to the Adolescents, Channel 3, D.I., Middle Class, T.S.O.L (all from Orange County), Bad Religion (San Fernando Valley), Black Flag, Nig-Heist (Hermosa Beach, CA), the Circle Jerks (Los Angeles), the Minutemen (San Pedro, CA), Suicidal Tendencies, Wasted Youth (Venice, CA), and Youth Brigade (Hollywood, CA), among several other west coast bands, including Flipper (San Francisco).

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There are exclusive interview segments here with Steve Soto (R.I.P.), Frank Agnew with Tony Cadena (Adolescents), Casey Royer (Adolescents, D.I.), Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flag), Mike Watt (Minutmen), Greg Hetson and Brett Gurewitz (Redd Kross, Circle Jerks/Bad Religion), and Greg Ginn, Henry Rollins, Dez Cadena and Kira Roessler (Black Flag), among many, many other representatives of the west coast hardcore punk scene.

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From there, Rachman’s film travels eastwardly, dropping punk rock pins in the map along the way to show us where some of the important hardcore bands came from, including Washington D.C. (Bad Brains, the Faith, Iron Cross, Marginal Man, Scream, Teen Idles, Void), New York City (Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Heart Attack, the Mob, Murphy’s Law, Undead) and Boston (the Freeze, Gang Green, Jerry’s Kids, Negative FX), with other bands hailing from points elsewhere: the Dicks, Big Boys, MDC (Austin, TX), D.R.I., Really Red (Houston, TX), Articles of Faith (Chicago, IL), Corrosion of Conformity (Raleigh, NC), Die Kreuzen (Milwaukee, WI), 7 Seconds (Reno, NV), Poison Idea (Portland, OR), and D.O.A. (Vancouver, BC), along with dozens more bands we haven’t listed.

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Along the way there are even more candid interviews with the Bad Brains’ Paul “H.R.” Hudson, Darryl Jennifer and Gary “Dr. Know” Miller, and Minor Threat’s (and now Fugazi’s) main man Ian MacKaye, among many others you’ll probably already know about or recognize if you’re a fan of ’80s east coast hardcore punk.

Speaking of which, true hardcore punk fans may note a few of the glaring omissions here, including important bands like JFA, Reagan Youth, Warzone, the Angry Samoans, etc.

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L.A.’s the Germs and Suicidal Tendencies, San Francisco’s Dead Kennedy’s, New Jersey’s the Misfits, and St. Paul, Minnesota’s Hüsker Dü, for example, are given the short-shrift, compared with some of their contemporaries, although they certainly all had a major impact on punk as well.

On the director’s commentary track on the DVD, Rachman says he wanted included both the Dead Kennedys and the Misfits, in particular, but those bands were undergoing intense legal turmoil at the time of filming and the interviews didn’t happen as he’d hoped.

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In addition to American Hardcore, check out some of the other great hardcore punk titles we have streaming in our Punk and Music Documentary sections, including Clockwork Orange County: The Rise of West Coast Punk Rock, Dead Kennedys: In God We Trust Inc. Lost Tapes, Finding Joseph I: The HR from Bad Brains Documentary, Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90), The Dicks from Texas, and Rage: 20 Years of Punk Rock West Coast Style.

Watch American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986 on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.