Recently we have been kicking around a few strands of our beloved genre that I would place at the edges of what I am personally into. I posted about the Oi! culture of the early 80s, DeHud mentioned a new Agnostic Front track, and our American buddy Dave commented on this, giving a familiar view that he had held back from that particular ‘scene’ because of what it invoked. If I was to try and define what I am on about here, I would have to call it ‘tough guy’ hardcore – which to me always summed up the whole NYHC scene of the late 80s up until today – a scene which started out very much influenced by the UK 82 wave of bands, then encompassed the growing Straightedge movement in the mid 80s, and finally grew through the 90s into the scene we see today – whose visual signifiers include shaved heads, big muscles, copious tattoos, sportswear, some sinister gang related affiliations and lots of talk about ‘Bro’s’.
The music that emanated from this scene has been a mixed bag. I used to love some of the stuff that bands like Youth of Today, Cro Mags, Judge, SOIA, Agnostic Front and such like put out; brutal, and containing the ‘fuck you’ attitude that I am told summed up New York street life at the time. And that’s it – it was all about New York. Nobody did it like them – the whole ‘attitude’ thing was very similar to the Hip Hop scene that was around at the same time, and to an extent the two culture bounced off each other – hence the whole ‘Beastie Boys‘ look that ‘edge took on back in the day.
But as I get older myself, I think there is something slightly sad about seeing the same bands still doing the tough guy shtick in their late 40s. Ok, the shaved heads are more of a necessity now [like mine!], but seeing chaps old enough to be a grandfather strutting about in big sneakers, vests, BB caps and the like rather reminds me of walking into a council estate pub in Salford. It’s a New York thing, I guess, and I’m an observer thousands of miles away.
I guess the best parallel to the way this ‘scene’ has ended up is the British Oi! scene, which I alluded to earlier.
Back in the day, Oi! was all about being ‘working class’, we were told. It spawned many, many bands, most of whom were just awful and as such have been rightly put out of their misery. It sometimes attracted unsavoury right wing elements in the politically polarised 80s; and much of the music never really progressed beyond speeded up pub rock. Yet some of the bands still tread the boards, cranking out their nostalgia-fest to the ageing, balding faithful.
So – where does that leave us? Well, I guess my Ronnie Corbett like point here is that the scenes on each side of the pond have kind of intertwined. The Business, South London’s finest Oi! export, could be seen playing with US hardcore bands. The ethic is the same – working class, blue-collar street level lyrics, glued together with an air of menace which I am sure you would find in certain areas of New York if you looked for it.
That’s why I’ve always felt slightly uneasy about this kind of music – I just didn’t like the almost exclusively male, slightly homo-erotic shirtless pits at gigs, the violence that is always present and largely celebrated in the lyrics [check out ‘New York Crew‘ by Judge for example]; the arms-folded, tatts on show, legs apart, cocked head pose – it is an iconography which seems to miss entirely the humour, irreverence and irony that was supposedly part of punk. And so, when I’ve heard or seen bands playing [and looking] like this style, I’ve always been cautious. I’ve also always assumed they are from New York. Which is why Knuckledust have surprised me.
A band based in London, playing brutal New York – style hardcore? Shurely shome mishtake! But no, these boys hail from the big smoke, and they started out in 1996. Since then, this four – piece has forged a number of records, and maintained the line up. Two of the members are ex- The Business, which gives you some idea of their heritage, and this is why I made my point above – this is a kind of meshing of the American hardcore and the UK Oi! ethics into one entity.
Anyway – I’ve probably analysed this enough now, which is never a wise thing to do where music is concerned – whatever I might think about the ‘scene’ that this comes from, I really like this track, because it has a tune as well as being pounding and aggressive, with some killer chanted choruses. See what you think!