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Generally unheralded at the time, the early-’80s Hardcore Punk Rock scene was more than just loud, fast music—it was a way of life created by Reagan-era misfit kids. In a testament to the power of youth and its cultural influence, director Paul Rachman and writer Steven Blush trace this lost subculture from its early roots to its extinction. Featured bands include Adolescents, Agnostic Front, Bad Brains, Bad Religion, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Flipper, Gwar, MDC, Minor Threat, Minutemen, The Misfits, Murphy's Law, Poison Idea, The Replacements, 7 Seconds, Suicidal Tendencies, TSOL, Wasted Youth, Youth Brigade and more.

 Full Circle Hardcore Punk

The room was bare, concrete and painted flat white. The lighting was fluorescent and bright. Tickets were $1. There was no beer or alcohol, nothing to drink for that matter. There were maybe 30 or 40 kids in the space and another 20 or so loitering and skateboarding outside on the street. Most of these kids were between 14 and 19 years old; the boys wore plain T-shirts, jeans and had crew cuts. The girls wore tattered short skirts with torn black stockings and army boots. The year was 1981, the city Boston, the space was the Gallery East downtown near South Station. The bands that played that day were The Freeze and Gang Green, I think. I saw so many shows there they all get mixed up. The music was loud, angry and dissonant—like nothing I had ever heard before.

That was my first exposure to what has now become known as American Hardcore Punk Rock. I was 20 years old and a college student who really had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I was majoring in International Relations and Art History. I had never been part of any particular scene and my college life was no exception. I stumbled upon the local hardcore scene because my college roommate had dropped out and was starting to promote hardcore punk rock shows in Boston. For once I didn’t feel like I had to prove anything to belong—I could just be. I was one of the very few college students attending these shows; it was mostly disaffected suburban high school kids.

It wasn’t until a full year later that I began my filmmaking career. After a few summer film sessions in New York at NYU, I came back to Boston to finish college and started using cable TV public access video gear to shoot the hardcore shows I so loved. By 1983-84 my rudimentary Gang Green videos were playing on MTV’s Sunday night show 120 Minutes.

Where did a career that had its roots in hardcore punk get me? Well, by 1989 I was directing music videos in Hollywood—lots of them—and it wasn’t punk anymore. Most of the work had become “money jobs” that came around like seductive sirens. I remember a really bad Hair Metal music video I confess I directed. I was repeatedly told by the record company guy who was hiring me, “We want to give these guys an edge; they need to be more edgy. You’re the edgy guy.” There was no way that this band could ever be anything but what they were—hair metal.

We had everything on that set. A million lights. Lots of smokey special effects and pyrotechnics. 35mm Panavision cameras, cranes, dollies, Steadicam, tons of wardrobe changes, big hair extensions, makeup, catering and hot hair metal groupie chicks hanging around. The look of the genre was lots of flashy lighting all around, as the band rocked out on some enormous set. I was surrounded by clichés and depressed. What a waste.

In 2000, after many more music videos, some television and a feature film, I found myself lost in a business that was choking me. So I left. I returned to my native New York City and one day I ran into an old friend from the early hardcore days. It was rock journalist and author Steven Blush, who told me he had just gotten his book American Hardcore: A Tribal History published. This was the film I wanted to make. Five years later that same early Gang Green hardcore punk footage found its way from my past onto the silver screen at the Sundance Film Festival. There is a saying in Hollywood that you always make the same film over and over again. I do not know how true that is, but after more than a 20-year arc, I have made the very first thing I ever shot into something bigger and better.