Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound

December 14, 2009

Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound bookA lot of people involved in hardcore were pretty relieved to see the 1990's coming to its end. The Dark Years of hardcore were something that could be buried and forgotten. As a kid who got involved in the hardcore scene in the mid 1990's when I was in my early teenage years, I considered myself lucky to come in as a lot of bands were forming (Ten Yard Fight, Floorpunch, Fastbreak) who were interested in getting back to the musical roots of hardcore. To me the more that something was influenced by metal or noise the more that it sucked. This was the age of unlistenablecore where hardcore bands were often striving to be sophisticated and ideals were more important than music. Metal, hip hop, noise, and indie all had their way with hardcore and from about 1990 to 1996 the musical definition of what hardcore sounded like could be called loose if not obsolete.

Just as soon as the 1990's were over though there were already people who were missing the serious tone that bands like Earth Crisis and Chokehold had taken and the weirdness of bands like Groundwork had created. With just a little time 90's hardcore had its own mystique for young kids who didn't experience it first hand and just as us young kids in the mid 90's sought out Youth Of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, and Chain of Strength, younger kids were now seeking out Shelter, Earth Crisis, Path of Resistance, and Integrity. Eventually a few bands started popping up who were more influenced by hardcore from the 1990's than hardcore from the 1980's. Verse, Maintain, Lion Of Judah and Soul Control embraced the weirdness and political and spiritual overtones of the 1990's while Guns Up! and Shipwreck embraced the heaviness and dark themes.

With 90's hardcore being romanticized, revered and given its own mystique, it actually seems very appropriate that a book like Burning Fight would come out. Burning Fight documents the phenomenon of 90's hardcore and how the musically oriented scene of the 1980's became and ideologically oriented scene in the 1990's. Covering the political aspects of the scene, along with social aspects such as straight edge, vegetarianism, and spirituality, Burning Fight takes a decidedly academic approach. As serious as the bands and individuals at the forefront of the 90's hardcore scene were, author Brian Peterson matches their passion and intellect.

In many ways politics were at the forefront of the 90's hardcore scene. It was certainly common to find bands passing out literature at their merch tables on topics as wide ranging as racism, sexism, animal liberation, and the evils of capitalism. Bands lyrics sometimes read as manifestos. Some of the most impressive of the politically oriented hardcore bands included Los Crudos, Trial, and Born Against. These bands all took an intelligent approach to singing about complex subject matter and made it cool for kids to think. Unfortunately the other side of the coin was that it sometimes discouraged impressionable kids from forming their own opinions and also the musical aspects of hardcore were sometimes sacrificed. Crudos/Limp Wrist vocalist, Martin Sorrondeguy comments in the book that "I didn't like all of the music in the nineties but it was the first time where there was this incredible amount of dialogue and amazing voices being heard in punk and hardcore. . . It was like music was secondary and the message was the primary thing, which was amazing!" HeartattaCk Fanzine editor Kent McClard also helps sum up the philosophy of the era stating that "Hardcore isn't about a musical style; it's about emotion and anger and hope and you can express those feelings in a variety of ways and not necessarily rely on traditional hardcore sounds."

Where straight edge and vegetarian/vegan diets are generally regarded as positive choices that people can take on in their own lives, some of the bands that are covered in Burning Fight took a militant stance on these issues and in many ways ended up alienating as many people from their ideals as they attracted. Earth Crisis were the most well known hardcore band of the 1990's and their mix of Hardline Straight Edge ideals (which included an equally militant stance on animal liberation and environmentalism) with heavy metallic hardcore caught all sorts of attention. The ugliest side of 90's hardcore was the militant straight edge scenes that were most prevalent in Salt Lake City and Upstate New York. Earth Crisis were at the forefront of this movement and became a media spectacle. For a long time straight edge was unfortunately associated with gangs who had fucked up mentalities involving influencing people through violence. Surprisingly the guys in Earth Crisis come off as even more insane in Burning Fight than they did in the 1990's. There is also coverage of Vegan Reich who were more obscure and were around earlier than Earth Crisis but even more extreme in their views. These band's viewpoints are thankfully balanced by people with more positive ideals from bands like Outspoken and Mouthpiece.

The issue that comes off as the most marginalizing in Burning Fight is that of spirituality and religion. While Shelter and 108 espoused spiritual views that had been vaguely touched upon by the Cro Mags in the 1980's and Integrity preached strange ideas about Satan and the occult, there were plenty of bands who were vehemently against religion in all forms involved in the scene. Members of Chokehold and Charles Bronson flat out dismiss the Krishna influence on hardcore while  plenty of other interviewees in Burning Fight share more moderate opinions, stating that they accepted people discussing spiritual views when they were respectful about it.

The band spotlights in Burning Fight mostly prove to be pretty intriguing. Members of Raicetrator and Downcast have interesting perspectives. It certainly doesn't hurt that some of the bands who were more musically appealing than some of their counterparts are covered. Avail, Mouthpiece, Inside Out, Trial, Los Crudos, and Undertow all had musical appeal in addition to offering their own unique philosophies. It does seem strange that a band who was as influential both musically and politically as Chokehold do not get their own chapter in the book, but rather are only mentioned occasionally within the context of the members' perspectives on some of the pressing issues of the day.

For the most part Brian Peterson does a superb job of covering the diverse ideals that were discussed in the 90's hardcore scene. Where he has biases they are barely discussed. As mentioned before much of the book is approached from a strictly academic perspective. The only major criticism that could be given is that some of the less desirable elements that the 90's hardcore scene attracted are completely passed over. The violent aspects of the scene that came along with the "tough guy" crew mentalities of the 90's go almost completely unmentioned, as does the commercialization of the music that came along with major labels and the mainstream media showing an interest in the activities of profitable record labels like Victory. While these aspects of the scene are rarely looked back upon fondly, one cannot completely talk about 90's hardcore accurately without talking about these issues in depth.

Beyond the aforementioned criticisms Peterson does manage to rather thoroughly discuss a scene and era that has otherwise not been discussed in a meaningful way. And while I am obviously very biased when it comes to the 90's hardcore scene it would be hypocritical to complete dismiss the era as it has clearly had some influence on my life. It is more than likely that if I were not involved in the 1990's hardcore scene myself I would not be straight edge, vegan, or actively politically minded. Perhaps the 90's were not quite as bad as I remember, or it could just be that Peterson stated his points so eloquently that he even has me somewhat convinced.

Here is a source for the book:
Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound   from




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