Elitism in Hardcore: An Analysis Nobody Asked For (OP-ed)

The following OP-ed was written by Matt Crittenden. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. —No Echo


Elitism in hardcore is not at all a new thing. I would say that it's been around since right after the beginning, but even then, there were those calling hardcore fake punk and people even using the terms "hardcore" to be posers. Elitism in hardcore is as old as people calling Black Flag hippies because they had long hair. 

Sure, it's fine and dandy to dismiss it as bad and tell people to stop, but why has it been such a prevalent set of ideas over time? I'd argue that sometimes, excitement can get mislabeled as elitism.

This of course, is all very contextual. 

I put together 3 scenarios of "elitism" that all have very different implications. 

Scenario 1:

Kid who's new and young and interested and energetic loves Focused Minds (whatever, I'm old) but has never heard Floorpunch. "What! Dude you like Youth Crew but you've never heard Floorpunch? You gotta listen to Floorpunch!"

This is how I checked out a lot of bands coming up, there was sort of this hunger to know more and I felt a pressure to check out new music. One of the beautiful things about hardcore is that there's this rich timeline of verbal history that hasn't really been recorded since the '80s, and that you only piece together from firsthand and secondhand anecdotes from people older than you. And if there's no pressure to start trying to get the context on those stories, it can be really isolating when people reference Cro-Mags beef or the One Live Crew voicemails. 

This kind of "elitism" can be a sometimes-misdirected excitement from oldheads to share something that's valuable to them with a younger generation of hardcore kids. I don't really think that this form is wrong, and I think that there should be an understanding that the music is best enjoyed with the context, it's the same reason that everyone reads the Norwegian black metal lore when they start checking out Mayhem for the first time.

Scenario 2: 

I think that this context is the best valid criticism of elitism. For some, it's not enough to show up and have fun, instead they feel the need to determine who doesn't belong.

It's important to note the context that those who have been in hardcore longer than others sometimes feel the need to justify the time they spent focused on hardcore rather than other adult success measures. There, of course, is a certain insecurity from being 32 with roommates if someone's perception is that they would be a more traditional "adult" if they didn't make decisions like putting off college to go on tour. 

The expression of this elitism of course can be scientifically proven if the measure of dedication is knowledge, and obviously someone who's been around for longer will likely win this match up. Measures of knowledge might be done without prompting, or basically be subjected to people with very little provocation, like an aging cheetah in camo shorts. "Haha how the fuck have you never heard of Youth of Today? Who fuckin' cares what you have to say on anything." 

As hardcore kids age, there's a phenomenon of the realization that hardcore is no longer something that they identify with, and that the youthful excitement that they had when first coming up has since lapsed. Many fill this void in different ways (hockey, podcasting, powerlifting) but, it's a terrible feeling to show up to a show full of people they no longer identify with. It's hard to live the life of an outsider despite that fact that they "came up" in the hardcore scene and have the encyclopedic knowledge of hardcore only available from experience. 

So, sometimes oldheads focus this angst into talking about how "these kids don't know shit" and "if they really did they'd know what I was talking about with x, y or z" even though these bands might not be particularly relevant to them at that time, and maybe they'll check them out as they get older and want to learn more. 

However, often the worst cases of this stated elitism are the mid-career hardcore kids fresh out of their awkward new kid phase. They try to bridge the gap between that past version of themselves and the perceived super-cool oldhead space. The cheapest way to prove that someone is inside the circle publicly distancing themselves from newer additions to the scene and providing examples of how they are not part of the new kids anymore. 

It can be argued that this form of elitism cannibalizes the hardcore scene and makes it hostile to newcomers while oldheads live out their time and stop coming around as the scene becomes less familiar and adult responsibilities start leaving less time for shows and music. 

Scenario 3: 

I think that when people defend elitism, this is the example that they usually point to. There's a phenomenon of a kid who's new and young acts as a local authority because his band gets 100 recently retired deathcore kids in a legion hall. Sometimes there's a patent insecurity and impostor syndrome that comes from gaining a lot of popularity in a short amount of time that can express itself in embarrassing and counterproductive ways. 

I've watched these kids bash bands simply because they haven't had the time to really sink in and understand the context that made these bands significant. This defensive contrarianism is ALL OVER the internet, shitting on bands like Judge or Agnostic Front, just because that kind of music isn't accessible to them yet. The spotlight that comes from the uber popular new band members in a scene means that because of that popularity, they are required to give their opinion immediately and possibly before those opinions can flesh out. 

You also see this manifest when kids say that Integ2000 is the best integrity record because they haven't yet had the time to listen and process other records (there are a lot of them LOL). and they equip themselves with an opinion that is so out there, that others will either dismiss it or assume that they are an authority only because they're not giving the generic answers that you'd expect for someone that just thumbed through the Spotify Most Played. 

I think the offense comes from this since retired idea that hardcore kids had to "earn their place" in the scene, and that this ego reflects a lack of appreciation for the factors that made the scene possible. 

"Ah cool, sweet Biohazard shirt, what's your favorite song not off Urban Discipline?" 

Maybe knocking someone down a peg isn't really justified here, I mean I had a phase where I thought that since I knew something, I knew it all. Maybe these kinds of valid criticisms were an important humbling exercise for me at that time and helped my overall growth and let me know I didn't know it all. 

Not that it's the moral imperative of anyone who knows Gorilla Biscuits lyrics to then manifest their energy in a younger version of themselves and perpetuate the scene, but hardcore thrives when the energy and excitement people feel is then passed onto another generation once that fire fades. Unfortunately, sometimes this care of the scene can be a veil for one's own insecurities.

Alternatively, sometimes newer kids may need to be reminded of context to better appreciate something that is very important to them. The only thing that I personally know is that if that torch continues to be passed, younger generations will still be able to access to the music and shows that created such an impact on us.

Tagged: op ed