A very interesting (and long-ish) interview, not in the least because of discussing fashion from a feminist/punk perspective for much of it (as an aside, the question above struck me as odd, since for me hardcore - or at least post-hardcore - is very much about visual aesthetics. But how much that is really typical and is engaged with critically, I can’t say)
I totally understand where Meredith is coming from, but what she’s really talking about is not a lack of aesthetic but very much “the aesthetic of no aesthetic,” which is to say, a scene in which the party line is to appear as if you don’t care how you look or what you wear. But if people REALLY didn’t care about their aesthetics, having the members of Perfect Pussy show up in unusual outfits wouldn’t be an issue. Instead, it becomes a stance to be enforced: “If you’re not wearing plain black clothing with a short, unobtrusive haircut, we’re gonna frown in disapproval at you.” And that was (and is) an aesthetic of hardcore in the more orthodox, less innovative scenes within the movement.
Look at the late 80s youthcrew scene that produced Youth Of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, for example—athletic clothes and crewcuts were de rigeur, and anyone that stepped outside that style was looked at askance. And yet, all those bands would probably have told you that they weren’t going for any particular visual aesthetic. They perceived themselves as being sincere and not conforming to any particular aesthetic principles, instead wearing “whatever they had on that day.” But in taking that stance, they unwittingly enforced some pretty strict rules about what it was “acceptable” for a hardcore kid to do with their fashion sense.
It’s funny that I’m talking about this, actually, because it’s been an issue for me pretty much my whole life. I’ve been straight edge since I was 15, but I’ve always preferred to have long hair, and I never hid the fact that I was into stuff like metal and alternative rock even when I was going to pretty straightforward sXe shows in the early 90s. Kids used to think I was lying about being straight edge because I had long hair; the funniest thing that ever happened in relation to that was when a younger kid I knew, who met me when I was in my mid-20s and he was still a teenager, told me I would be “more straight edge” if I shaved my head. I told him I was pretty sure that by not drinking, smoking, or doing drugs, I was already as straight edge as was humanly possible. He looked at me like I was crazy.
I could also tell some pretty funny stories about the last couple of years Tri State Killing Spree were together, when I got it into my head to start playing shows in hotpants and glittery fishnet tights. I shaved my legs at the time, too, and we did several out of town shows with me dressed like that at which the kids in the crowd were visibly recoiling from me because my gender presentation was so unlike what their idea of a hardcore singer should be. It was glorious, I must say.
There was another response which I don’t really trust myself to respond to fairly (or at least productively), but I think the substantive point is pretty much the same as yours: hardcore as “anti-aesthetic”, or the aesthetic of no-aesthetic (I’d further suggest ‘negative aesthetic’, since it sounds the most like a hardcore band name). There’s both an effect in terms of discouraging atypical forms of expression and, despite itself, a style - harsh, frequently violent, derived from cheap photocopying and the fetishised lack of technical skills in punk - which ironically is the punk ‘aesthetic’ most easily incorporated into modern fashion through band t-shirts, etc. But what I want to unpack a little is why the idea of aesthetics in relation to punk and hardcore means something rather different to me, and in many ways in opposition to that: ‘emo’, post-hardcore and even progressively-inclined punk/hardcore (from Refused to Fucked Up) seems to strive away from that limited, often literally black-and-white aesthetic. I realise I’m talking about subsets of a genre, and it’s not meant to disprove Meredith Graves’ statements - which seem particularly valid both in relation to local scenes and to a persistent trend in hardcore more generally - but my ‘experience’, for what it’s worth, and which is essentially as an outsider perusing a genre and its history from a distance, choosing which styles to follow, is that a “strong aesthetic” is perfectly compatible with both punk and hardcore (which is really implicit in the beginning of her answer, anyway).
However, that is much less so if hardcore is taken to mean ’80s hardcore’ or is limited to a scene where that is the case, rather than as a genre that has fractured into at times heavily aestheticised scenes (Three One G?) or split off into post-hardcore in order to create space for that aesthetic expression (Husker Du, Revolution Summer-era Dischord, anything 1990s Dischord especially Nation of Ulysses, and basically anything in the screamo/skramz/whateveryoucallit field). Bikini Kill and Riot Grrl are one further splinter in that, which perhaps focused more than anything on reappropriating the visual and linguistic aesthetic of punk towards explicitly feminist ends. Whereas the emo/post-hardcore aesthetic is not necessarily as progressive - there’s a whole thing about Moss Icon using Central American imagery I’m not wholly comfortable with - and tended more towards an abstract, post-industrial feel (though compared to earlier punk/hardcore it was often more humanist - e.g. Rites of Spring), but it was I think consciously an aesthetic in a way which strict hardcore negated. And I think missing out on this history also plays into the idea that Perfect Pussy are merely a revitalisation of some hidebound genre rather than a further flourishing of what is has been a long expansion of punk aesthetics, notwithstanding the constant challenges of conservatism within the community itself.
This is an interesting read.
Not for the first time this made me think of Perfect Pussy in terms of Han Shan, a briefly-existing Californian hardcore group in the early 90s who released an 8-song 7” (so about the same length, if not shorter, than Perfect Pussy’s 4-song demo cassette) of abrasive yet plaintive shouty noise. Beneath the grimy layers of obfuscating under-production, the sludgy hardcore is pierced by eerie, woodwind-like sounds and swirls of guitar distortion, while the vocals convey a barely decipherable (even with the lyric sheet) litany of depression and anger. It’s emphatically not as positive as Perfect Pussy, nor as sonically bright (and by comparison, which is no doubt odious, it really makes the current band stand out as smooth indie-friendly punk rock*) but the energy is similar.
More relevant to the above though, Han Shan took their name (plus design, and perhaps lyrical, aesthetic) from a Chinese poet who I first read about in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums.
(* Bandcamp review: “Think of Japandroids blended with Crystal Castles and Fucked Up. Yep, it’s ultimate punk band of our time.”)
As is suggest in the following caveat, one might be sceptical about the second assertion, and although nothing springs to mind immediately I am obviously most interested in punk-influenced types of rock. Still the ubiquity of influence is almost a reason for ignoring it - punk as the bottleneck of rock’s development before and after the late 70s, or like a glittering disco ball that scattered all the sounds around it. I think it’s an idea that already gets at least lip service from critics and musicians alike - but there’s perhaps too much of an inclination to focus on punk as the ‘idea’ (without going into too much historical or cultural detail on what that idea actually meant) rather than an identifiable sound - other than fast/loud/snotty - because to do so would mean delving into the complexity of influences both before and after, and dismantling the punk myth of meaningful but ultimately empty gestures thrown into the 70s wasteland. Whereas a somewhat more sophisticated reading of it is not that there wasn’t anything interesting happening prior to punk, but rather that the punks-to-be felt completely alienated from what they saw in culture - a point of view that should have relevance today, when even as shared content producers and meme generators we remain alienated from the means of true cultural production in consumption-driven capitalism. That’s why you need DIY, and also why you need flagrant sellouts subverting and exposing the commercial nature of art from underneath its cosy humane gloss.
I still think the ‘post-’ signifiers - punk and hardcore - have value when it comes to describing sounds, if not ideas. To me there is a qualitative difference when a style becomes more sparse, less direct, and incorporating more elements of experimentation. The sonic lines blur just as much if not more than the pure chronological history, of course, but as a local example I always think of the difference between the two albums of Irish band the Radiators (from Space), the more punk-sounding 1977 TV Tube Heart and the more musically eclectic 1979 Ghostown. The latter can easily be described as post-punk, fits chronologically and probably deserves more recognition within that canon, but it’s the same band as on the earlier record. Or the album which I think of as quintessentially post-hardcore, Hoover’s Lurid Traversal of Route 7, has amongst the dubby elongations and twisted emo anguish very appropriate sections of blistering hardcore punk, and is largely sited in that milieu, even though it post-dates and shows clear influences of Fugazi’s better-known breakout. Post-hardcore isn’t as well established as an idea, other than in the negative sense of not being traditional hardcore - it’s simply a ‘progressive’ genre. Post-punk, on the other, being better-known, has more baggage (no one, for comparison, really claims hardcore is dead, although braindead might be the criticism): I still think it’s more of a (loose, eclectic) sound than an idea, but there probably is still a case to be made about the rejection of punk in its original form - as long as its made with care and not relying on a single myth of decline retrospectively applied to consequent diversity.