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The Pop-Punk and Hardcore Connection

New Found Glory at KROQ Micro Brew, Santa Anita, CA, 2014. (Photo: Bethany Unwin Photography)

I found hardcore through pop-punk. At first, it was my punker-than-hell cousin, who noted my budding interest in Green Day and blink-182 and introduced me to Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag, which led to me searching for “hardcore punk” on the internet and discovering forums like CMHWAK and the B9. Later on, in high school, I met many of my closest friends in hardcore through going to weird mixed-bill shows (for example, the Wonder Years played with the Beautiful Ones in a miniscule taco shop in Las Vegas in 2009/2010 or so; cut to a year later, and my best friend fractured his wrist at a Touché Amoré show in that very same venue. It is now closed due to an insane amount of health code violations. RIP Yayo’s).

All of this is to say that in my experience, the culture of hardcore and pop-punk have been mutually inclusive and in fact damn near inseparable since their modern inceptions. Pop-punk, in effect, has provided a pipeline through which hardcore can impact mainstream culture at large. Once upon a time, Pete Wentz played bass in Chicago hardcore bands Arma Angelus and Racetraitor, and today “Centuries” is literally one of the most famous songs in the entire world.

Pop-punk is largely agreed to have had its roots in the original punk movement of the 1970s. The Ramones, Buzzcocks, and the Dickies were at the forefront, playing sugary pop melodies at relative light-speed. Pop-punk, however, arguably did not start to cohere into a genre of its own until Descendents released Milo Goes to College, essentially creating the entire blueprint from which all future pop-punk is at least partially indebted to. There were hardcore bands contemporary to the Descendents who were pushing melody into their music— the Adolescents, Bad Religion, Naked Raygun, the Effigies, and Articles of Faith, among others. The crucial difference is that Descendents laid down a specific songwriting structure, a self-effacing lyrical bent, and a goofy sensibility that set them apart from their peers and made them immensely influential.

When you listen to early blink-182, it’s clear that their two biggest influences at that time were the Descendents and Screeching Weasel (another pop-punk band that was considered contemporary with hardcore in their day, even releasing a split with Born Against).

The mid-to-late '80s and the early '90s saw pop-punk emerge more and more distinctly, while simultaneously splintering into a few different directions. NOFX, Lagwagon, and Propagandhi played a more technical and thrashy iteration of the music that came to be known as “skate punk," but they still layered their music in sticky sweet melodies and “oozin’ ahs.” These bands still had roots in the hardcore scene, many of them starting as more straightforward hardcore bands. Meanwhile, the Bay Area scene was coming into its own and birthed bands like Rancid and Green Day. 

Broadly, the pop-punk bands who were on Lookout! Records were heavily influenced by the Ramones, but Green Day set themselves apart by incorporating influences from Husker Du and the Replacements. However, the scene surrounding these bands and the 924 Gilman venue in particular was much more deeply rooted in hardcore than many would previously think. Green Day played with legendary screamo band Portraits of Past at one point, as well as power violence legends, Spazz (by the way, Chris Dodge of Spazz/Despise You/general power violence infamy was also in an early lineup of No Use for a Name— again, the degrees of separation between pop-punk and hardcore become thinner and thinner the closer you look).

No Use for a Name at the rehearsal room, circa 1991. (Photo: TonySly.org)

Most of what has already been discussed is, to be fair, something that many people have written whole books about, but while bands like Green Day are now considered to have had some credibility, I feel that it is the bands who sprang up after this point—the late '90s and early '00s emo pop explosion—who rarely got a fair shake and were slagged off as posers from the word “go,” when the truth is that many of them had roots in hardcore that went much deeper than most of the people who were criticizing them.

These days, it is fairly well-known that Chad Gilbert sang for Shai Hulud before leaving to form New Found Glory, or that the members of Fall Out Boy played in agonizingly brutal Chicago hardcore and screamo bands like Racetraitor, killtheslavemaster, and Yellow Road Priest (and continue to be involved in hardcore— see SECT as well as Patrick Stump’s guest vocals on the Weekend Nachos song “Jock Powerviolence”), but at the time they were among the bands most consistently called out for being posers, a term which seems silly to level at anyone nowadays.

The hardcore roots of these bands don’t end there, however: Saves the Day toured with Bane; Dashboard Confessional played solo acoustic sets opening up for Florida mosh bands; the members of My Chemical Romance, Senses Fail, Taking Back Sunday, and Thursday were entrenched in the same basement hardcore scene as Majority Rule and Kill the Man Who Questions; Cobra Starship featured members of screamo act Kite Flying Society; Set Your Goals and Four Year Strong seamlessly embedded major-key breakdowns into their pop hooks; AFI made the jump to sanitized pop music while still maintaining a hardcore side project in XTRMST (also featuring members of Loma Prieta, Punch, Stick to Your Guns, Casey Jones, Evergreen Terrace, and Saosin); Anthony Green of Saosin/Circa Surive and Tom Erak of Fall of Troy both started out in “true” screamo bands (Audience of One/Jeer at Rome and Tribune/The 30 Years War, respectively); fuck, even that Owl City kid played in weird screamo and metalcore bands in high school (they’re called An Embrace of Angels and Isle, in case you’re wondering). This is by no means a comprehensive list, either.

These bands with more “legit” roots ended up having their sound bitten by copycats in bands like Boys Like Girls, All Time Low, and Cute Is What We Aim For, whose members most likely had no clue who the hell Lifetime were, let alone that they were indirectly taking influence from them. Whereas a band like Fall Out Boy would throw in a nod to their roots— a breakdown here, some screaming vocals there-- this new crop of Disney-fied pop-punk bands were only taking from the cleaner elements of the sound, and monetarily benefiting from its moment in the spotlight, without putting in the work (and time hasn’t been kind to these bands, as opposed to, say, New Found Glory, who still have a rabid fanbase, which shows that people will always give more of a shit about musicians who also give a shit). 

Also, because time is a flat circle, around 2009, the older guard, who were once “trendy shit for posers," became legends by virtue of still being around and/or actually being good. Sticks and Stones, Take This to Your Grave, and Full Collapse became “favorite album of all time” material, and it was possible for kids in Donnybrook mesh shorts to admit to an inner fondness for The Swiss Army Romance. Correlatively, there was a new, DIY and hardcore-influenced renaissance happening in the pop-punk scene as a backlash against the neon pop that was happening around it. 

If I were to point to a singular band that really kick-started this trend, it would be Man Overboard. Hardcore band the Effort sarcastically made a shirt that said “Destroy Pop-Punk," and Man Overboard’s response was to make their now-iconic “Defend Pop-Punk” merch as a parody. This, combined with their music (early Man Overboard was an interesting blend of sticky pop hooks, mild Midwest emo influence, and a dash of melodic hardcore) all contributed to a new image of pop-punk in the hearts and minds of American youth, one less associated with malls and Manic Panic hair dye, and one more associated with integrity, “Real Music™," and a strong DIY ethos. The Man Overboard clique expanded to include other hardcore-inflected and strongly DIY pop-punk bands, such as the Wonder Years, Fireworks, Transit, and of course Title Fight. Title Fight is arguably the band of this era who have aged the best and managed to stay relevant for, at this point, an entire decade. 

Another thing that really contributed to the muddying of the social waters, in addition to the constant cross-genre pollination, was the fact that hardcore bands, pop-punk bands, and so-called “emo revival” bands all seemed to run in the same circles. For example, in 2010, I saw Tigers Jaw and Man Overboard at Sound & Fury with Punch and Loma Prieta. A few years later, I saw Tigers Jaw again, this time with Touché Amoré and Dads. And, to complete the Tigers Jaw trifecta, there was their split with Self Defense Family, Code Orange (Kids), and The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die.

My point is that with all of this crossover, both musically and culturally, it seemed like pop-punk was a vital new element of the then-modern DIY hardcore landscape. But then something happened— the Story So Far. Specifically, their debut album, Under Soil and Dirt, which dropped in 2011, was probably the most hardcore-influenced that a pop-punk album could get at the time before becoming straight-up melodic hardcore. It was huge, and their 2013 follow-up, What You Don’t See, was even more successful, positioning them as one of the most popular bands in the scene.

Parker Cannon had a side project in the hardcore band Snarl, they’ve toured with Turnstile and Rotting Out, and when I saw them at Warped Tour, Parker was urging everyone to go check out Terror. So, a band with legitimate hardcore roots, right? They also became a mainstream crossover act and inspired many, many, many sonic copycats. Some of the bands that sprung up in their wake, like Real Friends and Knuckle Puck, seem pretty genuine (I always see one of those Real Friends kids wearing a Code Orange hoodie, and the drummer from Knuckle Puck used to be in William Bonney), while others, like State Champs and Neck Deep, smack uncomfortably of the Good Charlottes and Simple Plans of years past, manufactured for mass consumption.

Perhaps it’s a personal thing, where I find that hardcore roots make for a more appealing songwriting style to me, while these other bands don’t really same to have the same kick, groove, or passion behind them. Regardless, it’s inarguable that a sea change has gradually happened since the success of the Story So Far, and the main audience for pop-punk is once again more stratified, with less crossover with hardcore and emo.

Which brings me to today— who is carrying the torch for pop-punk with hardcore roots? Well, to me, it seems like a lot of the current crop of “sparklepunk” bands take just as much from hardcore and pop-punk as they do from twinkly emo riffs. Hot Mulligan are a great example of this, as are Mom Jeans. (who often sweat for Vein and Loma Prieta, and are also in the power violence band Natural Flavor).

California Cousins are a more recent band who take blatant influence from the groove and dynamics from hardcore, partially due to the time their members spent in the punishing mathcore band Knife Culture, but seamlessly combine it with the melody and technicality of modern twinkly emo and pop-punk. The first time I talked to the singer of Michael Cera Palin, we spent an hour bonding about our shared history in the hardcore scene, and I know the kids in Commander Salamander are also in the project Plastic Taste, who play DC hardcore shows with bands like Coke Bust.

Who knows? Maybe the next cycle of hardcore-indebted, strongly DIY pop-punk is right around the corner. Not to mention the crossover coming from the other side of the spectrum, with record labels previously more associated with pop-punk, such as Pure Noise and Run for Cover, releasing bands like Knocked Loose and Fury.

Either way, let’s focus on the things the two genres have in common— hatred for and pride in your hometown, strong devotion to a chosen family made up of friends, and going to get pizza or burritos after seeing a show. That’s stuff anyone should be able to get behind. More than that, I think it’s awesome that a more accessible genre like pop-punk can prove to be a gateway to hardcore for people, and I especially think it’s awesome that the audience who made the jump from Knuckle Puck to Turnstile is a lot more diverse than hardcore has traditionally been in the past. Hardcore may be an intensely cyclical genre, but the progress is there, and I hope we continue to see more of it.

Of note: This article was mostly written before the passing of Pete Shelley. Considering that he is, in many ways, the father of all of this, consider this piece a tribute to him. Rest in peace, Pete.

Tagged: new found glory, no use for a name, shai hulud

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