This is Hardcore: Dig into the roots of the punk rock fest beginning tonight at Union Transfer

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This is Hardcore Festival 2008 | Photo by Ken Penn | www.kenpenn.com

Now in its seventh year, This is Hardcore Fest has evolved into a multi-site music festival which brings together bands less than a decade old – like Pennsylvania-based Title Fight – with bands like Suicidal Tendencies and the Cro-Mags, who first took to a stage in the early 1980s. Theoretically at least, what binds them all together is something called hardcore.

The word is vague, but if you were wondering, it refers to a spin-off sub-genre of punk rock that had fully taken on its own identity by the mid-1980s (or the early 1980s, depending on who you ask). Where punk bands were often deliberately shambling and sloppy, hardcore bands were generally tight and disciplined. Where punk bands were frequently androgynous, hardcore was intensely masculine. Whereas punk was generally libertine, hardcore was ascetic, with bands like Youth of Today emphasizing abstinence from drugs and alcohol, some, like Earth Crisis, focusing on strict veganism, and some Krishna-affiliated bands even calling for strict sexual abstinence. (Don’t believe me? Check it out.)

And then there was the violence. Whereas violence at punk shows was more often than not simply an extension of whatever chaos happened to be going on in a particular moment, violence at hardcore shows was all but ritualized. To say, however, that hardcore music glorified violence is to miss the point. Like hip-hop from the same era, hardcore was a response to an already existing violence, a violence born of the rapid decay happening at the time in practically every industrial city in the United States.

As with everything else, the 1990s and 2000s brought fragmentation, with subgenres of hardcore continually breaking down and reformulating. Thus, eventually, came everything from the melodic and introspective Lifetime (playing on Saturday) to the metal-influenced Terror (playing on Friday) to the retro stylings of Blacklisted (playing Sunday) and Grey Area (playing Saturday) and far more other permutations than can be named in this small space.

And that is precisely the point: the promoters of This Is Hardcore Fest are not so much promoting as they are curating. Hardcore was never just a genre; it was a movement. They have painstakingly assembled a lineup that cuts across time and space, encapsulating the full breadth of that movement. Missed out on the first three decades? Here’s a chance to catch up in four days.

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