Tag Archives: culture

How Hardcore Can Make You A Better Person

Bradley Walden of Emarosa
Bradley Walden of Emarosa

Anything can make you a better person if you let it. Scratch that. Rephrase: Anything can make you a better person if you work with it. Being the best “you” takes effort. Hardcore, as far as music genres go, is uniquely capable of aiding in that process.

Hardcore doesn’t initially sound pleasant or happy or pretty to anyone who hears it for the first time, and that’s not by accident. It’s abrasive and grating and loud for a purpose: To confront the things in life that aren’t necessarily pleasant or happy or pretty. To talk about issues other genres don’t talk about. Let yourself listen to it for a little while, allow the rough sounds to sink in and become familiar, and you start to understand. You begin to tap your fingers, to bang your head and to feel something–the reasons behind the screams. It becomes more and more clear that form, as it always does, reflects content, and that the sounds of raw emotion coupled with the meaning of thoughtful lyrics create music that is more than music. Hardcore—the songs, the lifestyle, and the code of ethics—is a powerful guide if you pay attention to what it has to say.

Look in the basement of your heart
There is a light that just went dark
Look through the wreckage to find reverie
There is a truth that we all must see
       — 
The Path,” Senses Fail (Renacer, 2013)

It’s no secret that hardcore deals with some of the more “negative” emotions. For this reason, it also tends to sound pretty harsh. These very characteristics that draw people to hardcore are what repel others from it. Usually, it’s a matter of how naturally comfortable or willing you are to sort through those kinds of emotions. And this is the first way hardcore can help you become a better person.

Hardcore provides a space for you to confront and work through suffering. Life is messy and troubling. Everyone has problems with it. It’s hard. Sometimes, though what you may want most is to forget about what bothers you, what you need most is to go through the pain; to “look in the basement of your heart,” as Senses Fail phrase it in their song, “The Path.” Hardcore music helps you realize the things that may feel bad or negative are just part of life. In a way, they’re not really negative at all. Hardcore not only sympathizes with you, but reminds you that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes. At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie: From suffering comes strength, from self-reflection comes wisdom.

In these goddamn dark nights I start to realize
This is war.
I’m gonna have to fight tooth and nail,
Tooth and nail just to stay alive.

Look at me, I’m living proof.
You’re not alone, we have each other and we’ll pull through.
This chapter’s called “you’re alive.”
You’ve been writing it this whole time.
So come back to life.

Don’t write, don’t write your ending.
 
— “Digging,” Vanna (Void, 2014)

Not only can hardcore help you realize that the tough times are worth going through, but also that you’re not alone in going through them. Hardcore is as much about the individual as it is about a community; a community of outcasts, of misfits, of weirdos. If you’re having trouble, this is the place for you. We know what it’s like and we’ll help you through it. As Vanna say in their anthem “Digging,” “You’re not alone, we have each other and we’ll pull through.” Keep going, keep pushing, and you’ll find something worth sticking around for, even if you have to fight “tooth and nail.”

Just as important as accepting others is the ability to accept yourself for who you are. This genre is perfect for wrestling with that, too. Again, I use Senses Fail as an example:

I have learned to love myself
I have learned to care
I have learned to make peace
With the sadness and despair…
…I want to love with the courage of an open heart.
             — “The Courage Of An Open Heart,” Senses Fail (Pull The Thorns From Your Heart, 2015)

Being vulnerable is scary. Leaving yourself open to getting hurt by opening up to others is difficult to do, and for that reason most people avoid it as much as possible. Hardcore itself offers conflicting messages about this. The “fuck this” or “fuck you” attitude is a huge part of hardcore and its progenitor, punk. Although it may seem contradictory, you can say “fuck this” or “fuck you” and at the same time be open-minded and vulnerable and strong. How? By realizing that these words aren’t all antonyms for each other. Stand up for what you think is right, and stand against what you think is wrong, and don’t let people tear you down, but at the end of the day, don’t shut everything and everyone out either. Love with the courage of an open heart.”

Speaking of sticking up for your beliefs, traditional hardcore has a very strong code of ethics concerning staying true to who you are. One of the biggest hardcore bands in the modern age, Terror, dedicates an album to it–2013’s Live By The Code. The title track’s lyrics elaborate on just what that means:

Convictions you built in me /A sense of purpose, firm standing beliefs / We’ve kept traditions, held with clear aims / Respect the roots, but we live for today / Fighting against the grain / Live by the code, the diehard remain / The ethics, traditions kept / Live by the code, the freedom to live / Live by the code / Foundation, you are my strength / You are my rock, the anchor I need / Keep me honest, you keep me tight/  The freedom to live, I remain positive / Fighting against the grain / Live by the code, the die hard remain / The ethics, traditions kept /Live by the code, the freedom to live / Desperation, the broken, we found honor / Live by the code, the music and our culture / Live by the code, the roots and the ethics they have taught us / I believe in now, the new breed /  LIVE BY THE CODE!
            — “Live by The Code,” Terror (Live By The Code, 2013)

While we hardcore kids may put up a middle finger to many things in this world, there is a strong sense of morality behind the gesture. In this way, hardcore music can give you the strength to be yourself against all odds as well as the encouragement to get up and take action. The music video for “Live By The Code” is also a great example of why this scene is as much a culture as it is a collection of records. Sure, it can be super aggressive and even somewhat dangerous, but shows provide a communal space for people to let out their aggression in a positive way that doesn’t end up in destructive, mass violence like you see on primetime news channels. It’s a positive outlet for negative things, and I guarantee you that most of the time after you see people slamming into each other at shows, you’ll see them hugging it out and smiling moments later.

The importance of self-reflection, understanding, acceptance, suffering, individualism, community, empowerment, identity, compassion, self-sufficiency, hard work, dedication, creativity–these are just some of the lessons hardcore has to teach those who are willing to listen and learn. It’s a place to turn to; a home. There are countless other lyrics from countless other bands that could keep illustrating my point, but at the end of the day, what you need to know is this: 

Hardcore is burning through my veins
Without you who the fuck would I be?
Gave me a place to call my own
This will forever be my home.
          — “The New Blood,” Terror (Keepers of the Faith, 2010) 

Decoding Our Culture: Punk Still Undesirable

It has actively shaped our dinner conversations, our values, and our standard of living. It delivers narratives of truth and falsehood to us on a daily basis. Some may even be wont to call it a progenitor of American culture as we know it–the Television. And guess what? Punks, hardcore kids, and rockers of essentially any type have been targeted by it for some time. It’s a popular sitcom trope, a supposedly funny joke, and an inexcusable insult to an entire subculture: The Undesirable, The Delinquent, the kid you hope your daughter isn’t dating. We get it, you don’t think we belong here.

“Do you think that people should be judged until they’re driven into a hole, perhaps even suicide? Let us know!” – Russell Brand

The institutions that fabricate, structure, and reinforce American cultural values are numerous and under-analyzed. Magazines, movies, TV shows, and advertisements are all products of such institutions that the average person tends to accept as facts of reality. Outlets like People Magazine and TMZ, for example, make it acceptable and commonplace to glorify and harass the famous, a sentiment to which actor Russell Brand recently spoke. (For those of you who haven’t yet seen his keen rant on bullying in the media, with specific regards to Bruce Jenner’s so-called transgender “crisis,” watch the above video.) The music that makes it to Top 40 and the advertisements that guide us to buy our chosen brands of liquor economize the female body and human sexuality, helping to make both a battleground. The point being, the products that come from our culture are the very same that create it. This is why we as people, as Americans, and as contributors to the modern Zeitgeist need to be hyper-aware of the way we brand, market, and sell.

The video clip above is a currently running commercial for Downy’s Unstopables air freshener. Notice anything? The son of the woman who wishes the room smelled “like he’s away at boarding school” is playing guitar, has skateboarding and band posters on his wall, and is, arguably, dressed in rocker-like attire. This is the visual that is meant to warrant our, the viewer’s, sympathy and agreement. “Yes, I can see how that is unpleasant for you, Mom. You should ship him off and get an Unstopables air freshener!”

But maybe you’re not as easily triggered as I am. Maybe you don’t think this is enough of an argument to make. No problem. Below is another commercial that ran for DirecTV a couple of years ago.

Miss it that time? I hope not, because “Undesirable” was stressed four times. Of course the delinquents the daughter hangs out with after getting kicked out of school for poor behavior are dressed in studded vests, big hair, and black skinny jeans. DirecTV makes it painfully clear, “Don’t have a grandson with a dog collar.” Run along now and upgrade to DirecTV, like a Type A American.

The same problem that Brand addresses in his indictment of celebrity news as bullying is the same problem that I address here. It is that of Other-ing an individual or a group of individuals; of making such people feel unwanted and somehow wrong for their own self-expression. To put it simply, it is prejudice. If you think the use of the word here is inflammatory and misplaced, I implore you to reconsider. Like Brand aptly remarks, these kinds of media that promote bullying are “not disassociated from the more vivid and violent terrors and horrors of the world. This climate of bullying and judgement and cruelty is a violence of its own nature. It contributes to the climate. All of these things are real.”

How many people are deemed not hire-able because of piercings, tattoos, or dyed hair? Did you know any kids (or were you perhaps the kid) in school who was called ‘freak’ or ‘fag’ or some other ridiculous term, and even beat up for dressing differently or for listening to heavier music? Do you catch people staring at you in a judgmental way because you wear a lot of black or do people label you naive when you tell them “*sigh* Yes, I do still listen to My Chemical Romance”? For not just these daily experiences, but for the very reason that this concept keeps appearing in our TV commercials do I call it prejudice. Commercials like the Unstopables and DirecTV ads referenced in this article tell consumers that there is a certain type of person that does not fit the accepted model of the good ol’ American family. “You don’t want this, so take necessary precautions to avoid.”

Instead of avoiding a certain type of person, how about we make society at large more accepting of different kinds of people? Instead of relegating the American standard of youth to the white (which is a whole other can of worms), cardigan-wearing child, how about we expand our definitions? What if we accept the notion that people don’t occupy clearcut binaries of good and bad, acceptable and not? But what do I know, I’m just a delinquent, a thief who admittedly borrowed that last bit from The Breakfast Club.

Sincerely,

I straighten my hair and wear my black hat backwards and my room smells fine.

Response to Gene Simmons: “Rock Is Dead”

Markarian_musictat

THIS EDITORIAL WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED THROUGH TAYLOR MARKARIAN’S GRIMM ROCK REVIEW AND IS RE-PUBLISHED HERE VIA THE AUTHOR’S CONSENT.

“Rock ‘n’ roll” is a heavy phrase. It carries with it sex, drugs, death, youthful rebellion, dreams made and dreams broken, all culminating in a unique spirit that has all but become synonymous with America itself. Unfortunately, folks, it’s all over.

Gene Simmons told us the bad news on September 4th in an interview with Esquire— “Rock is finally dead.” So all of you up-and-coming’s out there can pack your bags, clip on a tie, and major in finance, because none of what you’re doing matters. The kids lined up around the block hours before the show can go home. Warped Tour? Mayhem Fest? Shut ‘em down. And all of those band t-shirts in your closet can be sewn into a nice dark quilt for grandma because there’s just no arguing with Gene.

Really, who are we to point out that Warped tour garnered $23.4 million last year and is the longest running musical festival in the country (Billboard Magazine)? Or that numerous acts such as My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink-182, The Foo Fighters, and The Used have become landmarks of rock and of American pop culture post-1983, the year Simmons demarcated as the last of true “musical anythings that are iconic, that seem to last beyond their time”? How can we dare to worship albums like Senses Fail’s Let It Enfold You or Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends 10 years after their release? And what miscreant keeps plastering the words “sold out” on almost any venue hosting Asking Alexandria, Pierce the Veil, Lamb of God, or Avenged Sevenfold?

The answers to these snarky questions are multi-dimensional and interconnected. In all seriousness, Gene Simmons is partly right. That amorphous, umbrella term—“Rock”—is dead, in that its dozens of subgenres have made it relatively meaningless. No one can be just a rock band anymore, because it’s simply too broad. What are you? Metal? But what kind of metal? Thrash, Nu, Black, Death? Are you hardcore? Meaning, are you post-hardcore, hardcore punk? The lists and divisions go on and on.

Another reason Gene Simmons is right is the same reason that he is laughably, infuriatingly wrong. His definition is limited. He equates rock with acts like (what a shock) Kiss, The Beatles, The Stones, and U2. For him, rock is dead because it is no longer main stage. The arena shows are reserved for Justin Bieber. Radio time is given to endless repeats of the latest Katy Perry club mix.

Well—and let me be as professional and eloquent as possible here—DUH! It’s 2014, not 1980. (And it’s not 2008 either, by the way. The “file-sharing” argument is not news. So if Gene Simmons was going to announce the vicious murder of music, meaning all music, it should have been during the golden age of Limewire, not in 2014 during an LP revival.) The technology has changed, the entertainment market has expanded, and the media is over-saturated. Of course when we develop new electronic gadgets every five minutes the mainstream sounds of our generation are going to be pop, hip-hop, and EDM-centric. The enormous technological shift finds its echo in a shifting cultural paradigm, so it makes sense that the gritty, raw texture of Beartooth is going to be passed over for smooth, shiny, easily-digestible Deadmau5 nine times out of 10.

But does that make all rock music irrelevant and the victim of senseless slaughter? Of course not. To stand by such an assertion would be flagrant and ludicrous reductionism. All genres have their time in the spotlight, and if we’re being true to the meaning of rock, the “underground” is exactly where it should be right now anyway.

“The meaning of rock.” What’s that? It’s a question that can engender thousands of answers, but if we’re speaking historically, rock is fundamentally counterculture. Rock always needs something to resist. Whether it be The Sex Pistols or Bob Dylan, rockers of all branches have been “anti—” and controversial for decades. They even oppose each other.

On the other hand, rock is and has been one of the most uniting forces the world has ever known. It provides much needed respite for the world-weary, the angst-ridden, the broken-hearted. Kids who might otherwise have wanted out of this life decided to stick around because of that one chorus in that one A Day To Remember song.

So we pick up our guitars. We set up our kits. We plug in our amps and attempt to dial them past 10 even if we won’t ever book Madison Square Garden, because house parties and club venues and even empty basements are just as good. We don’t scream the lyrics for the money. To paraphrase a Dangerkids song, we do it because “there is something in us that won’t leave us alone.”

So, in the spirit of all that is rock ‘n’ roll: Fuck you. Rock is alive and well.