Ben Parker at n+1:
ONE OF THE INEXHAUSTIBLE sources of conversation among fans of hardcore punk is the attempt to identify the onset of a band’s (or scene’s, or label’s) irremediable decline. For example: When did Black Flag lapse into long-haired, noodling weirdness? One connoisseur might offer a contrarian’s apology for the freak-outs of their late album My War, another will insist that it was all over once barrel-chested Henry Rollins joined the band. When did the robust Washington DC scene collapse into the self-flagellating exhibitionism of emo? My own position here is that Minor Threat’s Out of Step from 1983 was already a hopeless case, the veritable death throes of the DC sound, while others are more forgiving, straining to single out modest achievements in what had become mere competency.
Knowledge of hardcore among its partisans easily organizes itself into these canned teleologies. But in the case of New York’s hardcore scene, thoroughly documented in Tony Rettman’s oral history, the reliable trajectory of most scenes—an initial monolithic “sound” ultimately and inexorably giving way to decadence and exhaustion—doesn’t apply. One is dealing instead with something more mysterious, like the enigmatic collapse of the Mayan or Khmer empires. Regrettable trends and eccentricities, which ought to have been lethal, instead became defining and enduring aspects of the scene.