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.
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.
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)