|Cultural origins||Mid to late 1980s, United States|
Post-hardcore is a punk rock music genre that derives from hardcore punk, maintaining hardcore's aggression and intensity, but emphasizes a greater degree of creative expression initially inspired by post-punk and noise rock. Like post-punk, the term has been applied to a broad constellation of groups. The genre took shape in the mid to late 1980s with releases by bands from cities that had established hardcore scenes, such as Fugazi from Washington, D.C. as well as groups such as Big Black and Jawbox that stuck closer to post-hardcore's noise rock roots.
Hardcore punk typically features very fast tempos, loud volume, and heavy bass levels, as well as a "do-it-yourself" ethic. Music database AllMusic stated "these newer bands, termed post-hardcore, often found complex and dynamic ways of blowing off steam that generally went outside the strict hardcore realm of 'loud fast rules'. Additionally, many of these bands' vocalists were just as likely to deliver their lyrics with a whispered croon as they were a maniacal yelp." Allmusic also claims that post-hardcore bands find creative ways to build and release tension rather than "airing their dirty laundry in short, sharp, frenetic bursts". Jeff Terich of Treblezine stated, "Instead of sticking to hardcore's rigid constraints, these artists expanded beyond power chords and gang vocals, incorporating more creative outlets for punk rock energy." British post-punk of the late 1970s and early 1980s has been seen as influential on the musical development of post-hardcore bands. As the genre progressed some of these groups also experimented with a wide array of influences, including soul, dub, funk, jazz, and dance-punk. It has also been noted that since some post-hardcore bands included members that were rooted in the beginnings of hardcore punk, some of them were able to expand their sound as they became more skilled musicians.
Groups such as Saccharine Trust, Naked Raygun, and The Effigies, which were active around the early 1980s, are considered forerunners to the post-hardcore genre. Chicago's Naked Raygun, formed in 1981, has been seen as merging post-punk influences of bands such as Wire and Gang of Four with hardcore, while author Steven Blush notes the band's use of "oblique lyrics and stark post-punk melodies". Similarly, The Effigies, who also hailed from the Chicago scene, released music influenced by the hardcore of Minor Threat and the British post-punk of bands like The Stranglers, Killing Joke, and The Ruts.
During the early to mid-1980s, the desire to experiment with hardcore's basic template expanded to many musicians that had been associated with the genre or had strong roots in it. Many of these groups also took inspiration from the 1980s noise rock scene pioneered by Sonic Youth. Some bands signed to the independent label Homestead Records, including Squirrel Bait (as well as David Grubbs-related Bastro and Bitch Magnet) and Steve Albini's Big Black (just as his subsequent projects Rapeman and Shellac) are also associated with post-hardcore. Big Black, which also featured former Naked Raygun guitarist Santiago Durango, made themselves known for their strict DIY ethic, related to practices such as paying for their own recordings, booking their own shows, handling their own management and publicity, and remaining "stubbornly independent at a time when many independent bands were eagerly reaching out for the major-label brass ring". The band's music, punctuated by the use of a drum machine, has also been seen as influential to industrial rock, while Blush has also described the Albini-fronted project as "an angst-ridden response to the rigid English post-punk of Gang of Four". After the issuing of the "Il Duce" single (and between the release of their only two studio albums, Atomizer and Songs About Fucking), Big Black left Homestead for Touch and Go Records, which would later reissue not only their entire discography, but would also be responsible for the release of the complete works of Scratch Acid, an act from Austin, Texas described as post-hardcore, that, according to Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "laid the groundwork for much of the distorted, grinding alternative punk rockers of the '90s".
Outside the United States, the genre would take shape in the works of the Canadian group Nomeansno, related with Jello Biafra and his independently run label Alternative Tentacles, and that had been active since 1979. A reviewer noted that the group's 1989's release Wrong was "one of the most aggressive and powerful opuses in post-hardcore ever made".
The Washington D.C. scene
During the years 1984 and 1985 in the "harDCore" scene, a new movement had "swept over". This movement was led by bands associated with the D.C. independent record label Dischord Records, home in the early 1980s to seminal hardcore bands such as Minor Threat, State of Alert, Void and Government Issue. According to the Dischord website: "The violence and nihilism that had become identified with punk rock, largely by the media, had begun to take hold in DC and many of the older punks suddenly found themselves repelled and discouraged by their hometown scene", leading to "a time of redefinition". When The Faith put out the EP Subject to Change in 1983 it marked a critical evolution in the sound of D.C. hardcore and punk music in general. During these years, a new wave of bands started to form, these included Rites of Spring (which featured The Faith former guitarist Eddie Janney), Lunchmeat (later to become Soulside), Gray Matter, Mission Impossible, Dag Nasty and Embrace, the latter featuring former Minor Threat singer and Dischord co-founder Ian MacKaye and former members of The Faith. This movement has been since widely known as the "Revolution Summer". Rites of Spring has been described as the band that "more than led the change", challenging the "macho posturing that had become so prevalent within the punk scene at that point", and "more importantly", defying "musical and stylistic rule". Journalist Steve Huey writes that while the band "strayed from hardcore's typically external concerns of the time – namely, social and political dissent – their musical attack was no less blistering, and in fact a good deal more challenging and nuanced than the average three-chord speed-blur", a sound that, according to Huey, mapped out "a new direction for hardcore that built on the innovations" brought by Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade. Other bands have been perceived as taking inspiration from genres such as funk (as in the case of Beefeater) and 1960s pop (such as the example of Gray Matter).
According to Eric Grubbs, a nickname was developed for the new sound, with some considering it "post-harDCore", but another name that floated around the scene was "emo-core". The latter, mentioned in skateboarding magazine Thrasher, would come up in discussions around the D.C. area. While some of these bands have been considered as contributors to the birth of emo, with Rites of Spring sometimes being named as the first or one of the earliest emo acts, musicians such as the band's former frontman Guy Picciotto and MacKaye himself have voiced their opposition against the term. In the nearby state of Maryland, similar bands that are categorized now as post-hardcore would also emerge, these include Moss Icon and The Hated. The former's music contained, according to Steve Huey, "shifting dynamics, chiming guitar arpeggios, and screaming, crying vocal climaxes", which would prove to be influential to later musicians in spite of the band's unstable existence. This group has also been considered as one of the earliest emo acts.
The second half of the 1980s saw the formation of several bands in D.C., which included Shudder to Think, Jawbox, The Nation of Ulysses, and Fugazi, as well as Baltimore's Lungfish. MacKaye described this period as the busiest that the Dischord Records label had ever seen. Most of these acts, along with earlier ones, would contribute to the 1989 compilation State of the Union, a release that documented the new sound of the late 1980s D.C. punk scene. Fugazi gained "an extremely loyal and numerous global following", with reviewer Andy Kellman summarizing the band's influence with the statement: "To many, Fugazi meant as much to them as Bob Dylan did to their parents." It has also been noted that the group's "ever-evolving" sound would signal a more experimental turn in hardcore that paved the way for later Dischord releases. The band, which included MacKaye, Picciotto, and former Rites of Spring drummer Brendan Canty along with bassist Joe Lally, issued in 1989 13 Songs, a compilation of their earlier self-titled and Margin Walker EPs, which is now considered as a landmark album. Similarly, the band's debut studio album, 1990's Repeater, has also been "generally" regarded as a classic. The group also garnered recognition for their activism, cheaply priced shows and CDs, and their resistance to mainstream outlets. On the other hand, Jawbox had been influenced by "the tradition of Chicago's thriving early-'80s scene", while The Nation of Ulysses are "best remembered for lifting the motor-mouthed revolutionary rhetoric of the MC5" with the incorporation of "elements of R&B (as filtered through the MC5) and avant jazz" combined with "exciting, volatile live gigs", and being the inspiration for "a new crop of bands both locally and abroad".
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the formation and rise to prominence of several bands associated with earlier acts that not only included the examples of Fugazi and Shellac, but also Girls Against Boys (originally a side-project of Brendan Canty and Eli Janney, which would later incorporate members of Soulside), The Jesus Lizard (formed by ex-members of Scratch Acid), Quicksand (fronted by former Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits member Walter Schreifels), Rollins Band (led by former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins), Tar (which raised from the ashes of a hardcore outfit named Blatant Dissent), and Slint (containing members of Squirrel Bait). Acts such as Shellac and Louisville's Slint have been considered as influential to the development of the genre of math rock, with the former featuring "awkward time signatures and trademark aggression" that has come to characterize "a certain slant" on math rock, while the latter presented "instrumental music seeped in dramatic tension but set to rigid systems of solid-structured guitar patterns and percussive repetition". According to reviewer Jason Arkeny, Slint's "deft, extremist manipulations of volume, tempo, and structure cast them as clear progenitors of the post-rock movement".
AllMusic has noted that younger bands "flowered into post-hardcore after cutting their teeth in high school punk bands". In Washington D.C., new bands such as Hoover (as well as the related The Crownhate Ruin), Circus Lupus, Bluetip, and Smart Went Crazy were added to the Dischord roster. Hoover has been cited by journalist Charles Spano as a band that had "a tremendous impact on post-hardcore music". In New York City, in addition to Quicksand, post-hardcore bands such as Helmet, Unsane, Chavez and Texas Is the Reason emerged. Quicksand and Helmet have also been associated with alternative metal. Chicago, which alongside the Midwestern United States has been important to the progression of math rock, also saw the birth of post-hardcore acts such as the examples of Shellac, Tar, Trenchmouth, and the Jade Tree-released group Cap'n Jazz (as well as the subsequent related project Joan of Arc, which also released their work through Jade Tree). Steve Huey argues that the release of Cap'n Jazz's retrospective compilation album Analphabetapolothology helped spread the band's influence "far beyond their original audience", while also considering the group as influential for the development of emo in the independent music scene. Champaign, also in Illinois, was known for an independent scene that would give way to groups like Hum, Braid and Poster Children. The American Northwest saw the creation of acts such as Karp, Lync and Unwound, all hailing from the Olympia, Washington area. The latter's music has been considered by critic John Bush as a combination of "the noise of Sonic Youth's more raucous passages" with a "rare energetic flair which rivals even that of Fugazi". Texas saw the formation of groups such as The Jesus Lizard (later to be based in Chicago) and ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead in Austin, and At the Drive-In from El Paso. This last band was known for their energy in both performances and music, and for their "driving melodic punk riffs, meshed together with quieter interlocking note-picking".
The genre also saw representation outside of the United States in Refused who emerged from the Umeå, Sweden music scene. The band, which made itself known earlier in their career for its "massive hardcore sound", released in 1998 The Shape of Punk to Come, an album that saw the group take inspiration from The Nation of Ulysses while incorporating elements such as "ambient textures, jazz breakdowns", metal and electronica to their hardcore sound.
The San Diego scene
The early-to-mid 1990s would see the birth of several bands in the San Diego, California music scene, some of which would lead a post-hardcore movement associated with the independent label Gravity Records. This movement would eventually become known as the "San Diego sound". Gravity was founded in 1991 by Matt Anderson, member of the band Heroin, as a mean to release the music of his band and of other related San Diego groups, which also included Antioch Arrow and Clikatat Ikatowi. The label's earlier releases are known for the definition of "a new sound in hardcore rooted in tradition but boasting a chaotic sound that showcased a new approach" to the genre. Heroin were known for being innovators of early 1990s hardcore and for making dynamic landscapes "out of one minute blasts of noisy vitriol". These bands were influenced by acts like Fugazi and The Nation of Ulysses, while also helping propagate an offshoot of hardcore that "grafted spastic intensity to willfully experimental dissonance and dynamics". This movement has been associated to the development of the subgenre of screamo, while it also should be noticed that this term has been, as with the case of emo, the subject of controversy. The label also featured releases by non-San Diego bands that included Mohinder (from Cupertino, California), Angel Hair and its subsequent related project The VSS (from Boulder, Colorado), groups that have also been associated with this sound. The VSS was known for their use of synthesizers "vying with post-hardcore's rabid atonality".
Outside of the Gravity roster, another band that played an important role in the development of the "San Diego sound" was Drive Like Jehu. This group, founded by former members of Pitchfork, was known, according to Steve Huey, for their lengthy and multisectioned compositions based on the innovations brought by the releases on Dischord, incorporating elements such as "odd time signatures played an important role on its development in spite of the band's music not resembling the sound such term would later signify. In a similar manner, Swing Kids, composed of former members of hardcore bands from the San Diego scene such as Unbroken, Struggle and Spanakorzo, have been described by journalist Zach Baron as the moment in which the "hardcore" sound of bands like Unbroken effectively became "post-hardcore", known for "covering Joy Division songs" and for its sonic "jazz-quoting" and "guitar feedback" experimentation features. They were also one of the first bands released under the independent label Three One G, founded by the band's vocalist Justin Pearson and later known for releasing the works of several other post-hardcore, noise rock, mathcore and grindcore groups.
Bands like At the Drive-In have acknowledged the influence of the post-hardcore sound coming from the San Diego scene, with vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala citing elements such as "screaming vocals with over-the-top emotions, calculated, heavy riffs, [...] offbeat rhythms" and an "incredible amount of energy, chaos and melody" put by these groups as crucial in the development of his band's sound.
According to Ian MacKaye, the sudden interest in underground and independent music brought by the success of Nirvana's Nevermind attracted the attention of major labels towards the Dischord imprint and many of its bands. While the label rejected these offers, two Dischord acts, Jawbox and Shudder to Think, would sign deals with major labels. The former's signing to Atlantic Records would alienate some of the band's long-term fanbase, but it would also help with the development and recording of the 1994 release For Your Own Special Sweetheart, considered by Andy Kellman as "one of the best releases to come out of the fertile D.C. scene of the '80s and '90s". The subsequent tour for the album and the MTV rotation of some videos would introduce the band to a handful of new crowds, but ultimately the album would remain "unnoticed outside of the usual indie community".
Likewise, out of the Dischord label, Interscope Records would sign Helmet after a reportedly "ferocious" bidding war between several major record companies, and while MTV would air some videos by the group, which by the time of the release of their major-label debut Meantime, was considered then as "the only band close to the Seattle grunge sound" on the American East Coast and would be hailed as "the next big thing", these expectations would "never be fully realized" in spite of the record's later influence. In another notable case, Hum would sign to RCA in 1994, selling approximately 250,000 copies of their album You'd Prefer an Astronaut fueled by the success of the album's lead single "Stars", and while the band had established by this point a strong underground fanbase, this would prove to be "the pinnacle of Hum's media attention", as its follow-up, 1998's Downward Is Heavenward would sell poorly, resulting in the decision of RCA to drop the band from their roster.
Record producer Ross Robinson, who was credited for popularizing nu metal with bands like Korn, Slipknot, Soulfly and Limp Bizkit in the 1990s, helped post-hardcore achieve popularity during the 2000s. Mehan Jayasuriya of PopMatters suggested that Robinson's sudden focus on post-hardcore was his "pet project" designed to redeem himself of "the 'Nu-Metal' scourge of the late '90s". Robinson recorded At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command (2000), Glassjaw's Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence (2000) and Worship and Tribute (2002), and The Blood Brothers' ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn (2003); four albums that are said to "stand as some of the best post-hardcore records produced" during the 2000s. In John Franck's review of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence for Allmusic, he stated: "Featuring extraordinary ambidextrous drummer Sammy Siegler (of Gorilla Biscuits/CIV fame), Glassjaw has paired up with producer/entrepreneur Ross Robinson (a key catalyst in the reinvention of the aggro rock sound) to take you on a pummeling ride that would make Bad Brains and Quicksand proud."
Later forms of post-hardcore have garnered more mainstream attention with bands such as Sleeping with Sirens, whose third album Feel (2013) debuted at No. 3 on the US Billboard 200 chart, making it one of the highest charting post-hardcore album by any band to date. Pierce the Veil's third album, Collide with the Sky (2012), has also received much attention. While Madness (2015) and Misadventures (2016)—by Sleeping with Sirens and Pierce the Veil respectively—incorporate more elements of pop rock and pop punk, entering territory that many find to be loosely defined as post-hardcore. Seen also is the emergence of independent post-hardcore bands like The Men, Cloud Nothings and METZ, who are described as moving closer to the dynamics and aesthetics of earlier acts, whilst diverging deeper into external influences. Reviewers have also noted the incorporation of a diversity of elements like krautrock, post-rock, sludge metal, shoegaze, power pop and no wave in addition to previous hardcore, noise rock and post-punk sensibilities.
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