Special thanks to Chris Ulsh, Arthur Spoiler, Matt Luttrell, Chris Bonner, Matthew Bellosi, and Trevor Maguire for consulting on the list.
- Texas circa 2000 - Present
- Boston circa 1978 - 1985
- Italy circa 1982 - 1989
- San Francisco Bay Area circa 1982 - Present
- Chicago circa 1977 - 1984
- Toronto circa 1996 - Present
- New York City circa 2010 - Present
- Belgium circa 2003 - 2006
- Southern California circa 1978 - 1984
#10 - Southern California (West Coast Powerviolence) circa 1986 - 1997
This scene broke the mold on powerviolence. The term 'powerviolence' was actually coined by Infest guitarist Matt Domino. It would be referenced in song by Man Is The Bastard on their song "Hispanic Small Man Power (H.S.M.P.)". Following the cues of Larm and Siege, the WCPV scene came about in the mid 80s. It was based in Southern California. The major bands in the scene would include the legendary Infest, Crossed Out, Neanderthal, Man Is The Bastard, No Comment, and the Capitalist Casualties. All of these bands would establish cult followings for their brand of hardcore.
The scene's influence would be felt forever. The WCPV scene isn't some flash in the pan niche situation. They became the standard for powerviolence. The bands have been cited as an influence for countless bands. They would directly influence the powerviolence scene in the San Francisco Bay area which would lead to the creation of famous labels Slap-A-Ham Records and 625 Thrashcore.
It isn't enough that this scene was influential. Powerviolence bands after this scene seemed almost incapable of replicating their greatness. There are obvious exceptions. The Bay Area scene has received a great deal of adoration over the years with Spazz, Slap-A-Ham, and 625 Thrashcore all basing from it. Despise You, Rorschach, Hellnation, Charles Bronson, Iron Lung, Hatred Surge, and the Nu Scene powerviolence projects are the only other bands that seem to have been close to the WCPV scene since. This compared to the hundreds of bands that have tried and failed.
The WCPV scene is a metaphorical powerviolence song in itself. It was brief, it was violent and chaotic, and then it ended, leaving audiences wanting more.
#9 - Boston (Nu Scene) circa 2002 - Present
The Nu Scene is roughly 30-40 guys from Boston. At the heart of this group are Chris Corry AKA CC and Justin DeTore AKA DFJ. CC runs the Paincave which is a studio that many of the bands record at. DFJ drums for most of the bands within the scene. In the last 12 years, the Nu Scene has tackled USHC, straight edge hardcore, NYHC, powerviolence, oi and, more recently, various kinds of metal.
The Nu Scene has two labels that were the scene's engine for a long time: Painkiller Records and Lockin Out Records. In the last few years, Rock and Roll Disgrace and Fun With Smack records have shouldered some of the workload for the scene. The scene has had a relationship with other scenes working with notable personalities from other locales. This includes Jon Westbrook (Obliteration), Alex Hughes (Put To Death), and Shaun Dean (Mens Interest).
Much like the NYHC scene at #1, all of the Nu Scene's bands are held in high regard by initiated parties. Anything from the lesser known Born In Hell demo to the universally acclaimed Stop And Think demos. The output from this group is remarkable. They record and release music with little fanfare or warning. They simply just keep trekking along. The number one feature of the Nu Scene is their prolific work ethic with their quality being a close second. It is one thing to record good music, it is another thing entirely to do it at the pace and the versatility that the Nu Scene has done it in.
As far as contemporary scenes go, the Nu Scene is far and away the best in the USA (and one of the best in the world). Their work is already held high by most and they are only 12 years old. The Nu Scene doesn't even have the benefit of time and hindsight working for them yet. As time goes on, their rank on this list can only go higher.
Finland got a raw deal when it came to attention. This can be attributed for a variety of reasons. First, a lot of Finnish bands never bothered to sing in English. This hurts when you consider the fact that bands in Japan, Sweden, and most every other foreign scene does everything in English. Second, and this is exclusively an American thing, it seems like a lot of Americans don't have an aptitude for foreign hardcore. Too often you hear about kids only just getting into Japanese hardcore and want to know the best bands. That's the second best (or first best to a lot of initiated parties) hardcore scene in the world and they're oblivious to it. It was almost a foregone conclusion that Finland would fall by the wayside.
Finland has plying the hardcore punk trade since the genre's beginning. Finland's scene would produce bands like Rattus, Terveet Kadet, Bastards, Kohu-63, Varaus, Riistetyt, and Kaaos. Finnish hardcore was dark and dreary by nature. Unlike Sweden, which was out of control and blown out, Finnish hardcore was more controlled and honed their ugly feelings into the sound. Finnish hardcore would carry on a tighter relationship with metal influences than other hardcore scenes (with the exception of the UK scene). They were doing it long before many hardcore scenes considered such a move. Terveet Kadet being one of the most successful to make the jump. Max Cavalera (of Sepultura) has cited Terveet Kadet as one of his favorite / most influential bands.
Finnish hardcore's biggest influences can be found in today's crust punk scene. While Sweden became a d-beat mecca and the UK bands moved on to other genres, Finland continued to hold it down for crust punk. Along with the USA, Finland would become a stronghold for crust punk as a genre. Bands like Terveet Kadet, Bastards, Rattus and Kaaos are sworn by in crust punk circles. More recently, Finnish bands look closer to their neighbors in Sweden with acts like the d-beat / Burning Spirits influenced Selfish and the recently defunct Kieltolaki. The scene's legends have also continued on with Terveet Kadet, Kohu-63, and Riistetyt all still touring and releasing music to this day.
The Finnish scene is the zenith of initiated scenes. While the Burning Spirits, Cleveland, NYHC, and Swedish scenes have become increasingly accessible over the years, Finnish hardcore remains out of reach to the average subculture constituent. To know Finnish hardcore is to declare you truly know hardcore punk.
#7 - Washington DC circa 1978 - 1983
Is this where it all started? If it is, they set the standard in one major respect: hardcore does not last forever. It came and went just as fast it started. Unlike New York, which took a decade to abandon hardcore and move on to post-hardcore, the DC fell apart almost as quickly as it started.
Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Youth Brigade, Faith, Void, Teen Idles, and Government Issue were just some of the bands that led the charge in DC. The DC scene was a grand experiment in hardcore punk. It was a juxtaposition of a violent scene against a sea of normos. The DC hardcore scene made the Georgetown area their stomping grounds. This was a far cry from New York's Lower East Side. In DC, the kids were well read, mindful, and socially conscious. That's not to say they were weak. They just weren't what was happening in other cities. While LA was fighting a war with the police, Boston was at war with themselves, and New York was at war with everyone, DC was being a controlled release. There was a ceiling to the aggression. This was made abundantly clear when the Bad Brains split for New York in the early years of the 80s.
DC did a lot of things differently and the results are timeless. The obvious accolade being Minor Threat's coining of the term 'straight edge' and starting the movement. The Faith / Void split is considered by many as the greatest hardcore split of all time. The split was a microcosm for what DC hardcore was and would become. Void was drenched in hate. The noisy sound, Weiffenbach's lyrical themes, and infamously violent shows are Void. Hardcore kids ever since Void have held them up as a role model. On the other side was The Faith. The Faith would be one of the first bands from the DC sound to explore melodic sounds. The rest of the scene would eventually follow them in the "Revolution Summer" with the post-hardcore style that Dischord would become famous for. DC also helped to push for all ages at shows. It was the Teen Idles who would lobby the famous 9:30 Club to allow minors in and mark them with X's on their hands to allow them entry.
DC hardcore really did get there first. In a genre that is constantly criticized for lacking originality, the early DC scene can lay claim to many firsts within the subculture. That's important on its own. Even more so, what the bands were doing musically was different. It didn't take long for the scene to abandon hardcore punk and move on to post-hardcore. They were the first to make that jump. The DC post-hardcore scene has a cult and, in some cases, mainstream following of its own today. When you do it first, maybe you don't want to keep doing it because where's the fun in doing something over and over again?
#6 - Portland circa 1980 - Present
Portland, Oregon. Doomtown. The city was designed to house a world class punk scene. When we think of college sports recruiting, we think of pedigree, facilities, culture, and lifestyle. When we apply that to punk, it is only logical that Portland would become a punk destination. Beginning with Poison Idea in 1980, Portland has flown the flag for hardcore since. In the 1980s the city played host to Poison Idea, Final Warning, Lockjaw, and Sado-Nation. This in addition to the city's world class punk scene most notably featuring The Wipers and The Rats. Together the first generation of Portland hardcore punk held it down admirably.
Poison Idea would go on to influence the some of Burning Spirits scene in Japan's second generation while The Wipers would go on to influence the grunge scene in Seattle. The Rats were made up of darling punk couple Fred and Toody Cole who are the subculture's undisputed longest running married couple. The Rats would eventually run its course and the Coles would go on to start acclaimed garage punk act Dead Moon. Dead Moon would end and the Coles would form Pierced Arrows. Basically, the Coles have made a blissful lifetime of playing great punk music.
Poison Idea would eventually become the last hardcore band standing in Portland. For a moment it looked like the city ran the risk of a dark age, considering Poison Idea's fragile balance. Then Portland got reinforcements...
In the late 90s the Burdette brothers relocated to Portland from Memphis. Arriving in Portland, the brothers' reputation preceded them. These were the guys behind His Hero Is Gone. What could they do in a punk mecca like Portland? The brothers had already started Tragedy, which at that point was still very young. They took Tragedy with them to Portland and started to increase the band's activity and output. Each release seemed to be better than the last. Along with Tragedy, Portland in the early 2000s also welcomed d-beat band Hellshock and female-fronted Lebenden Toten. With Tragedy and Hellshock, Portland became the capital for d-beat in the western hemisphere.
Besides Tragedy, the Burdette brothers took up other projects. Todd Burdette started Warcry, Trauma, and Call The Police. Paul Burdette was also in Call The Police as well as starting Criminal Damage. Criminal Damage is an oi project in the vein of Blitz. They are one of the best USA oi bands since the genre made it to this country. In addition to other bands, the Burdettes also run Feral Ward Records which has specialized in USHC, d-beat, and crust punk from around the world.
Portland has survived on because it is influential. It will continue to survive on because the nature of the city makes it a place where punks to want to go. Poison Idea helped to shape Burning Spirits hardcore. The Wipers shaped grunge. Tragedy helped shape modern d-beat. The city's influence is eternal on the rest of hardcore punk.
#5 - Cleveland circa 1982 - Present
Cleveland punk is famous for the Dead Boys to some. To the people in Cleveland hardcore punk scene, that isn't the definitive Cleveland band, The Guns are. The Guns set the tone for Cleveland, influencing much of what would become the Non-Commercial Records scene. The other major influence on the Cleveland scene would be the Burning Spirits scene for both the Non-Commercial scene and, to a lesser extent, the Dark Empire scene. After The Guns ended around 1987, the Cleveland scene would explode.
Bands like Confront, Integrity, Face Value, Ringworm and Bowel would all sprout up around 1988-1989. They would collectively lay down the foundation for the modern Cleveland scene. During the 1990s, much of the USA was losing itself in the silliness that was 1990s hardcore. Following the demise of Face Value, the Non-Commercial scene would truly open up. The Non-Commercial scene was centered on a select group of characters: Paul Schlacter (who runs Non-Commercial Records), Tony Erba (who, along with Paul, fronted most of the scene's bands), and Wedge (a Burning Spirits fanatic who drums for a lot of the scene's bands). The Non-Commercial scene would produce Cider, The H-100s, Inmates, Gordon Solie Motherfuckers, Upstab, 9 Shocks Terror, Ruiners, Brainwashed Youth, and The Darvocets. For the 1990s and even early 2000s, this would be some of the best and interesting USHC. It was abrasive, both in the aggressive and sarcastic way. Bands like Inmates, 9 Shocks Terror, and Upstab would incite fights because of their sound. Bands like Darvocets and Cider would drive you insane because of how obnoxious they were. The Non-Commercial would effectively fortify Cleveland's place as a hardcore stronghold in the USA.
The Dark Empire scene was centered on metallic hardcore. From the ashes of Confront, Bowel, and Die Hard came Integrity, Ringworm, In Cold Blood, and One Life Crew. It was in this scene that metalcore would be perfected. Largely through the excellent work of the Melnick brothers and the scene's ignominious frontmen Dwid Hellion (of Integrity), Human Furnace (of Ringworm), and "Mean" Steve Murad (of One Life Crew). The scene's ability was only outshone by the controversy it drew. From Integrity's war with DMS / FSU / Victory Records to the rumors of One Life Crew's racism. Controversy followed the Dark Empire scene everywhere it went.
The vocalists from this scene are personalities that are worthy of study. Tony Erba's banter on The H-100s' live album is a textbook case of this, much like Dwid Hellion's banter on the Palm Sunday set is. The guitar work from the likes of Aaron Melnick, Frank 3Gun, and others have been emulated ad nauseum since their day. The drum work of Wedge is perhaps the closest an American will get to playing at the level of a Burning Spirits drummer. For a scene that perfected metalcore and played amazing USHC in the 1990s, Cleveland's contributions are deep to the modern discourse of hardcore.
#4 - Sweden circa 1977 - Present
"I don't know who started it and I don't give a fuck. The one thing I do know is that we did it harder, we did it faster, and we definitely did it with more love, baby. You can't take that away from us."
If one quote summed up Swedish hardcore, it is this line from the 90s film SLC Punk. While Sweden didn't necessarily innovate in the way NYHC or the UK did, they did take things to the next level the way Burning Spirits did. I imagine the day Swedes discovered d-beat was like when man discovered fire. It was a brave new world for them. The difference is that the Swedes used d-beat as an outlet to become more savage than civilized.
No scene has a prouder d-beat tradition than Sweden. Beginning with genre icons Anti-Cimex, who are arguably more beloved than Discharge, the tone for d-beat was set in Sweden. It needed to be ugly, it needed to be mean, and it needed to be unrestrained. Along with Anti-Cimex, the early Swedish scene also produced the likes of Mob 47, Avskum, and Totalitar. D-beat might have started in the UK, but it was unquestionably perfected in Sweden.
After the first generation, Sweden saw a second generation of d-beat emerge to carry on the country's tradition. These bands included Wolfpack (now Wolfbrigade), Skitsystem, Disfear, Martyrdod, and Driller Killer. Today bands like Infernoh have taken up the national style and carried on the tradition.
When you consider styles (d-beat and crust punk), ferocity, longevity and, above all else, quality Sweden is a step above most for hardcore punk.
#3 - United Kingdom (UK82 scene) circa 1978 - 1989
The UK scene innovated both the d-beat and grindcore genres. Without the work of Discharge (who put the "d" in d-beat), The Varukers, and Charged GBH, who knows what the d-beat genre would have been like? The first major grindcore scene was in the UK with Heresy, Sore Throat, Extreme Noise Terror, Unseen Terror, and eventually Napalm Death. Even the beloved death metal act Bolt Thrower began as a crust punk band within the UK scene. There is a term in Islam known as "Kharijite". It means 'those who went out'. In Islam, it is the mark of an outcast. The UK scene, for its day, were hardcore punk's Kharijites. All of them were doing something else, all the while straddling other genres. What would begin as d-beat would eventually become crossover and then bad punk. What would begin as crust punk would become death metal or grindcore.
Discharge gave hardcore punk seven of the best years anyone could ask of a band. Those years were so good that today when people hear about Discharge playing somewhere, they get giddy and excited, completely forgetting about the 28 years of utter dross the band has given us since. Discharge helped to innovate one of the sexiest genres in hardcore punk with d-beat. Along with Charged GBH and The Varukers, they gave the world the blueprint to the d-beat style.
On the other side of it, the crust punk genre owes an infinite debt to the UK scene. The modern foundation of crust punk comes from England. Bands like Amebix, Crass, Antisect, and Hellbastard (who coined the term) would help to establish the crust punk genre. It would be Deviated Instinct who would make crust punk more than just a sound as they would fashion the look (and smell) that would influence the modern crust punk. Then you factor in bands like Chaos UK, Electro Hippies, and Doom and the conclusion becomes obvious: the UK was loaded with transcendent talent.
The UK scene is one that innovated two genres and created the foundation for an entire subset of hardcore punk. For these reasons, the UK's importance can never be discounted.
#2 - Japan (Burning Spirits) circa 1980 - Present
Burning Spirits is a term that is used to describe Japanese hardcore (and is far more appropriate than the unfortunate "Japcore" label). It is an allusion to the puroresu (Japanese pro wrestling) concept of 'fighting spirit'. 'Fighting spirit' in puroresu is when a wrestler takes a gross amount of punishment and is actually emboldened to fight harder. Although the Burning Spirits moniker wasn't coined until the late 1980s by Forward's Ishiya (also of Death Side) and Buta-man (of Tetsu Arrey), Japan's hardcore scene was already been developed and had been one of the best in the world for some time.
Japanese hardcore's first generation included bands like Gauze, GISM, Lip Cream, Death Side, Systematic Death, and Gudon. All of these bands featured some of the best to ever do it. From frontmen like Ishiya and Sakevi to the virtuoso guitarists. Japanese hardcore is heavily influenced by the earliest UK hardcore punk bands, most notably Chaos UK and Discharge. The early UK scene was the template for the Burning Spirits genre. The second generation would be influenced a little more by Poison Idea (who were influenced by the first generation of Japanese hardcore). With Pig Champion (of Poison Idea) being one of the greatest American hardcore guitarists of all time, it should come as no surprise that Burning Spirits guitarists are some of the best to ever play. Japan's first generation gave us at least 4 of the top 10 hardcore punk guitarists of all time: Randy Uchida (GISM), Souichi (Gudon), Zigyaku (Gudon), Chelsea (Death Side) and Momorin (Gauze).
What make Japan a remarkable scene is that the second generation is arguably better than the first. The second generation featured bands like Bastard, Judgement, Framtid, Forward, Disclose, Tetsu Arrey, Paintbox, Warhead, and others. It was in the second generation that Japanese hardcore officially became Burning Spirits. In addition to mastering hardcore itself, Japanese bands would also attack raw / noise punk with bands like Zyanose, D-Clone, and Disclose. Disclose's Kawakami would become a legend within his own right for his work.
Much of the second generation of Japanese hardcore has continued on to this day. I just saw Forward last weekend. I saw Framtid last year who were celebrating the release of a new album. Warhead has a new album in the works. Consider the fact that the second generation has soldiered on into what would be a third generation for most other scenes and that the bands holding it down are still excelling. Consider the fact that a lot of these bands' personnel is made up of people from the first generation.
Burning Spirits will live on as long as the people within it do. Chelsea played in Death Side, Poison Arts, and Paintbox until he died. Kawakami played in Disclose until he died. Burning Spirits is a lifer operation through and through.
#1 - New York City (NYHC) circa 1982 - 1994
Everything about this scene is iconic. Books have been written about it (notably the much anticipated book by Tony Rettman). Movies are being made about it (Ten Thousand Saints starring Emile Hirsch and Ethan Hawke). Kids have made it their mission to model their lives off the people from this scene. Modern hardcore bands have tried desperately to capture this scene's essence. The fact about NYHC is that it was the right time, right place. Much like the Fertile Crescent made the conditions ripe for the empires of Mesopotamia, so did the social wasteland that was 1980s New York make it possible for the NYHC scene to come about. Every piece of music from this era is held in some form of high regard. Be it The Age of Quarrel or Underdog's abominably recorded Carl The Mosher demo, it is all beloved.
The world knows CBGB as a musical mecca. Here's a fact: CBGB was it what it was because of NYHC. That place earned a reputation because of the likes of the Bad Brains, the Cro-Mags, Youth of Today, and Agnostic Front. Never forget that when CBGB began to go under that it was the hardcore bands who reunited en masse and tried to save the day. It wasn't Blondie, who didn't show up until the venue was officially shutting down and then she came to pick the bones, or any of those other A-list bands who held up their CBGB lineage like a badge to gain some kind of credibility among wealthier circles.
So many of the motifs we think of in hardcore were immortalized in the NYHC scene. Straight edge with Judge, Project X, Youth of Today, and others. Skinheads with Youth Defense League, Warzone, Agnostic Front and others. They had melody down with Gorilla Biscuits, Underdog, and others. And violence? They all had it covered. NYHC was a fighting scene. They had to be. They lived in the concrete jungle.
The scene is one of a kind. It won't ever happen again. Top to bottom perfection. It is everything you wanted a hardcore scene to be. It is everything that hardcore scenes have measured themselves against since.