How Quicksand, Rites of Spring and 7 Other Bands Define Post-Core
I have spent many a leg-numbing, ass-tingling hour upon the bowl contemplating just what the hell “post-core” really is. According to to my post-dump, Ted Kaczynski-esque notes, I have a lot of crackpot theories on the subject. First off, bands such as Black Flag, Die Kreuzen, Fugazi or Hüsker Dü — and their forays into their own self-carved sonic territories — are not included in the category, as they were progenitors of the music style and its ethos. The title for me can only be held by musicians who were inspired to pick up an instrument because of hardcore punk, and then funneled that raw fury and angst into another challenging direction in sound. Now, it’s with that declaration where all of this coagulates into something of a clusterfuck. If you’re gonna cast the net that wide, you can apply the title to a lot of stuff out there. And that’s when my head starts to pound and I curse myself for not pondering something easier — like macrame.
I guess to just make things nice, easy and migraine-free, we’ll condense it down to the bands who might have alienated the more fervent contingents of the scene, but still stuck within the aesthetic perimeters of hardcore — while kicking out the edges enough to break free from the fast-part-into-mosh-part paradigm. Does that make any sense? I sure hope so, because in this Crash Course, we’ll going to try our damndest to trace the thread on this over-30-year thing we call post-core.
RITES OF SPRING
Sure, I guess the entire canon of bands on the Dischord label from 1985 onward could be mentioned here, but Rites of Spring should be recognized as the germ from which this whole new strain of expression evolved. When the group took the energy from that first wave of American hardcore and traded in its macho posturing for an unashamed emotional transparency, they struck a nerve with many who felt disconnected and lost in the hangover-like limbo the scene was in at the time (feautring heavy metal crossover and thuggish violence). From there, you can just follow the swath of bands they inspired both in their locale and around the world for over three decades. I guess you could get vexed over the throngs of stinker bands they influenced throughout the years who fell on the floor and cried for no good reason, but just give a listen to tracks like “For Want Of” or “Nudes” and I’m sure you’ll forget all about it.
While the first-stringers from the D.C. hardcore scene seemed confident in where they would go both musically and politically for the rest of the ’80s, their Midwestern counterparts didn’t seem too concerned with adhering to a certain sound or addressing any social issues. Instead, they decided to project a cynical brand of macabre that went beyond the physical menace of a Motor City mosh pit into much bleaker atmospheres of the mind. Fronted by the formerly burr-headed frontman for Negative Approach, John Brannon, Laughing Hyenas were certainly the most psychically frightening of the lot. Much like Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club, the band took lessons learned from the blues pioneers and beat them into a shape that fit their own tales of self-made desperation and woe. Although the Hyenas’ recorded output is pretty stellar, it doesn't hold a candle to what they were like in a live setting, which was both life-affirming and bone-chilling.
Although New York was the cradle of the hardcore renaissance of the late ’80s, there were a couple bands in the city who did not fully adhere to the puritanical agenda of leading bands from the scene, like Youth of Today and Warzone. Supertouch were one of them. Born from Death Before Dishonor, one of the most legendary groups of the early ’80s New York hardcore scene, they took elements of melody from D.C. bands like Marginal Man and Gray Matter and merged them with the patented punch of NYHC to present something appealing to the many factions in Manhattan’s scene at the time. Like a lot of the bands on this list, Supertouch never really captured their magic in a recorded setting. That is, until they got a second stab at it when they reformed in 2010 and released the excellent "Lost My Way"7" on Reaper Records. Ain’t that strange?
There’s no denying that the explosion of mellower sounds mined by D.C. bands associated with Dischord in the late ’80s was an important bubble in time. The loud ‘n’ fast rule book was chucked in order to find a new form of musical expression that didn’t result in having your teeth smashed in at a gig. But despite all this, there were still those on the scene who wanted something that kicked a little ass musically. When Swiz formed in 1987, they filled that void by providing an aggressive alternative for those who knew better than to get caught in a mosh, but certainly didn’t want to throw flowers and weep. Due to having this skeleton key-like forceful sound, they could play on bills with everyone from Gorilla Biscuits to Public Enemy, and blow the minds of youngsters such as myself, who hadn’t figured out yet that angry music didn’t need to have an agenda.
In those moments when the subject of post-core comes up at dinner parties, yoga classes or the occasional orgy, the first band on anybody’s lips is usually Quicksand, and rightfully friggin’ so — they were the embodiment of where the “genre” was at the cusp of the ’90s. Founder Walter Schreifels has stated that Quicksand was formed in reaction to the musical oppression he felt while in Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today, but the band was certainly not a total sidestep outside of hardcore. If anything, what they created was a redistillation of the urgency learned in the sweatbox of those CBGB’s matinees while all the other influences outside of that realm — like My Bloody Valentine and Current 93 — were flipped and twisted into their breadth of vision to create the distinctive sound the band is regarded for to this day. And yes, “Dine Alone” is a total (ahem) “banger.”
If Rites of Spring are looked at as the genesis of what would eventually be called (excuse me while I playfully place my finger down my throat) “emo,” then I think Maryland’s Moss Icon should be recognized as the reluctant forebearers of where that whole loose subgenre eventually moved towards. From their minimalist extended passages that would always pay off with a crashing wave of tortured dissonance to the whisper-to-a-scream vocal stylings of Jonathan Vance and the whole handmade, silk-screened-piece-of-paper-glued-onto-a-fucking-paper-bag approach to packaging their self-financed records, the band is certainly responsible for much of the flailing and flopping around that happened in many a church basement for the duration of the ’90s.
For many people, including myself, the bands coming out of San Diego in the early ’90s — namely Heroin and Antioch Arrow — were seen as peerless innovators attempting to push hardcore outside of its comfort zone into exciting, uncharted territories. Guitarist Matt Goldsby formed Clikatat Ikatowi, a wonderfully fucked up glob of a band responsible for a lysergically damaged form of serendipitous art rock that still manages to confound people to this day. If there are any doubts to this statement, please throw on the band’s sole full-length Orchestrated and Conducted by ... and try not to float away on a cloud of sheer confusion and joy.
If any group in the ’90s attempted to take the loose concept of what “post-core” was and meld it into a look and sound, it would be Southern California’s Statue. Made up of members from late ’80s straight-edge icons Chain of Strength, the band made a conscious effort to dress like they were straight out of a photo from the back pages of Cynthia Connolly’s photo book Banned in D.C. Faded black pocket T’s, old man slacks and perfectly scuffed dress shoes was the look, while the sound was a conglomerate of the sonic drama expected from D.C. bands like Ignition and the Hated added to the band's own bizarre sound experiments — including the use of typewriters as percussive instruments and found recordings bobbing in and out of the mix. Expect an expanded reissue of their highly overlooked sole piece of vinyl, the 12" EP Filter the Infection, soon on Revelation.
Are you looking for an end result in the present day regarding all the shit discussed above? Look no further than Washington D.C.’s Give. These longhairs are a multifaceted history lesson of the whole shebang, taking in both the musical and visual concepts from their hometown heroes alongside elements of both New York and California bands from the ’90s that were scouring the same soul-searching territories. And although what they do can certainly come off studied, it certainly isn’t some bullshit Xerox of a long-lost time. What Give are is the perfect culmination and representation of the lessons learned from those who stepped outside the lines of hardcore while still managing to keep a grasp on their self-respect. Take a listen to their mind-bending full-length Electric Flower Circus and try not come out a flowerhead.