The origin of the term hardcore punk is uncertain. The Vancouver-based band D.O.A. may have helped to popularize the term with the title of their 1981 album, Hardcore '81. However, until about 1983, the term hardcore was used fairly sparingly, and mainly as a descriptive term. (i.e., a band would be called a "hardcore band" and a concert would be a "hardcore show"). American teenagers who were fans of hardcore punk simply considered themselves fans of punk – although they were not necessarily interested in the original punk rock sound of late 1970s (e.g., Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, or The Damned). In many circles, hardcore was an in-group term, meaning music by people like us, and it included a wide range of sounds, from hyper-speed hardcore to sludgy dirge-rock, and sometimes including arty experimental bands, such as The Stickmen and Flipper.
Since most bands had little access to any means of production, hardcore lauded a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach. In most cities the hardcore scene relied on inexpensively-made DIY recordings created on four-track recorders and sold at concerts or by mail. Concerts were promoted by photocopied zines, community radio shows, and affixing posters to walls and telephone poles. Hardcore punk fans adopted a dressed-down style of T-shirts, jeans, and crewcut-style haircuts. While 1977-era punk had used DIY clothing as well, such as torn pants held together with safety pins, the dressed-down style of the 1980s hardcore scene contrasted with the more campy, elaborate and provocative fashion styles of late 1970s punk rockers, which included make-up, elaborate hairdos and avant-garde clothing experiments.
During the same period, there was a parallel development in the United Kingdom of a British form of hardcore punk, which later became known as UK 82. British hardcore bands such as Discharge and Charged GBH took the existing late 1970s punk sound and added the incessant, heavy drumbeats and distorted guitar sound of New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) bands such as Motörhead. This led to the development of the thrash metal sound of the 1980s.
Black Flag, formed by guitarist and songwriter Greg Ginn in Los Angeles in 1976, had a major impact on the Los Angeles scene – and later the wider North American scene – with their raw, confrontational sound and DIY approach. Tours in 1980 and 1981 brought Black Flag in contact with developing hardcore scenes in many parts of North America, and blazed trails followed by other touring bands.
Minor Threat, formed in Washington D.C. in 1980, played an aggressive, fast, hardcore punk style directly influenced by Bad Brains. The band was responsible for inspiring the straight edge movement, especially with their song, "Straight Edge".
Several 1970s bands from southern California released records featuring music that sounds very similar to what later became known as hardcore. One of those records is the Middle Class’ 1978 Out of Vogue EP.. A more influential record was The Germs’ 1979 LP (GI); essentially a hardcore record, not only for its quick tempos but also for its fast chord changes. Also from Orange County, T.S.O.L (formed in 1978) made a name for themselves in the hardcore punk scene with a melodic yet aggressive punk sound. In Long Beach, Rhino 39's split single with Xerox/No Compromise is one of the first hardcore punk records. The Bags from L.A. sped up the punk sound and can be considered a proto-hardcore punk band.
San Francisco's Dead Kennedys formed in 1978 and released their first single "California Über Alles" in 1979. By the time they released the In God We Trust, Inc. EP in 1981, Dead Kennedys were playing very fast tempos. Circle Jerks’ first album (recorded in late 1979, released 1980) features several songs with very fast chord changes and tempos. The Misfits (of New Jersey) were a 1977-style punk band involved in New York’s Max's Kansas City scene. Their horror film aesthetic was popular among early hardcore fans. In 1981, the Misfits integrated high-speed thrash songs into their set. Hüsker Dü was formed in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1979 as a post-punk/New Wave band, but soon became a loud and fast hard punk band. Hüsker Dü released the 1982 live album Land Speed Record, which has been called a "breakneck force like no other... Not for the faint of heart. By 1985, the band morphed into one of the seminal alternative rock bands. In 1980, Bad Religion released How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, which is considered a benchmark hardcore album, and which secured them as one of the most enduring outfits of the early 1980s hardcore scene.
By 1981, many more hardcore punk bands began to perform and release recordings, including 7 Seconds of Reno, Nevada who formed in 1979; The Neos of Victoria, British Columbia; Negative Approach and Degenerates of Detroit; The Meatmen of Lansing, Michigan; The Necros of Maumee, Ohio; The Effigies of Chicago; SS Decontrol, DYS, Negative FX, Jerry's Kids, and Gang Green of Boston; Zeroption of Toronto; the Big Boys, MDC and The Dicks of Austin, Texas; Sadistic Exploits of Philadelphia and Adrenalin O.D. from New Jersey. The Beastie Boys, more widely known for their later hip hop music, were one of the first published hardcore bands in New York City. Negative FX, perhaps the most popular hardcore band in Boston around early 1982, did not appear on record while they were together. They were largely unknown outside their own area until a posthumous album was released in 1984.
Notable early hardcore punk records include The Angry Samoans’ first LP, the Big Boys/The Dicks Live at Raul's Club split LP, the Boston-area compilation This Is Boston, Not L.A., Minor Threat's 7" EPs, JFA's Blatant Localism EP, the New York-area compilations New York Thrash and The Big Apple Rotten To The Core, Negative Approach's eponymous EP and the DC-area compilation record Flex Your Head.
College radio was the main media outlet for hardcore punk in most of North America. The Berkeley, California public radio station KPFA featured the Maximum RocknRoll radio show with DJs Tim Yohannan and Jeff Bale, who played the younger Northern California bands. Several zines, such as Flipside and Maximum RocknRoll, also helped spread the new punk style. A few college stations faced FCC action due to the broadcasting of indecent lyrics associated with hardcore songs.
Concerts in the early hardcore scene increasingly became sites of violent battles between police and concertgoers, especially in Los Angeles. Reputed violence at hardcore concerts was featured in episodes of the popular television shows CHiPs and Quincy, M.E., in which Los Angeles hardcore punks were depicted as being involved in murder and mayhem.
Discharge played a huge role in influencing early Swedish hardcore bands, such as Anti Cimex. Many hardcore bands from that region still have a strong Discharge and Motörhead influence. The band Entombed is also cited as a strong influence on Swedish hardcore bands from the early 1990s onward. Discharge were a big influence on Metallica as well.
Anarcho-punk bands such as Crass, Icons of Filth, Flux Of Pink Indians and Rudimentary Peni had little in common with American hardcore other than an uncompromising political philosophy and an abrasive aesthetic. Perhaps closer were bands like The Membranes, whose 1984 releases were far noisier than anything the Americans were offering.
Many American hardcore punks listened to British punk bands, but others upheld a strict regionalism, deriding the UK bands as rock stars, and their fans as poseurs — a derogatory term that implies that a person is not authentic. American hardcore bands that visited the UK (such as Black Flag and U.S. Chaos in 1981-1982) encountered ambivalent attitudes. European hardcore bands suffered no such prejudice in the U.S.; Italian bands Raw Power and Negazione, and the Dutch BGK, enjoyed widespread popularity.
In the more underground part of the UK punk scene, a new hardcore sound and scene developed, inspired by continental European, Scandinavian, Japanese and American bands. It was started by bands like Asylum and Plasmid, and their sound – only heard at concerts and on demo tapes and compilations in the mid 1980s – evolved into bands such as Heresy, Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror.
Some of the most important influences among late-1980s UK bands included the Japanese band GISM, Boston band Siege, Idaho band Septic Death, Los Angeles band Cryptic Slaughter and Swedish band Anti Cimex; as well as more metallic bands such as Celtic Frost and Metallica. However, by the late 1980s, UK bands were becoming far more influenced by American bands such as the Dead Kennedys (who were always very popular in the UK), Black Flag and many of the early Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston and West Coast hardcore bands such as Minor Threat, DYS, Slapshot and 7 Seconds. Straight edge began to make its presence felt in the UK, with the emergence of small straight edge communities in most major cities in the UK, and with straight edge bands forming in Durham and London.
There were many 1980s bands that could be described as sounding like something in between the styles of the dominating UK and US bands. While the bands that had the most significant influence were bands such as Discharge and Charged GBH, others, such as The Stupids (a UK band influenced by US hardcore) gained brief but widespread college-radio airplay in the US.
Other notable bands from that era in Europe were Crise Total (Portugal), Wretched, H.H.H., MG-15, Subterranean Kids, L'Odi Social, Ultimo Gobierno (Spain), Vorkriegsjugend, Spermbirds (Germany), U.B.R. (Former Yugoslavia), Heimat-Los (France), Lärm, Funeral Oration (Netherlands), Dezerter (Poland), Kaaos, Lama, Riistetyt, Terveet Kädet, (Finland), Headcleaners, Homy Hogs and Mob 47 (Sweden).
Examples of European bands that continued to play the original style of hardcore in the 1990s include: Voorhees, Totalitär, Disfear and Sin Dios. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe, many hardcore bands were created or became more publicly known (after hiding in garages and being known only by small circles of underground fans). Examples of such bands include Sarcastic Front from Czech Republic, or AMD and Leukemia from Hungary. Hardcore also become popular in Asia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with bands such as Disaster Funhouse, Chronic Mass, Noisemonger and Cramp Mind from Malaysia; 4-Sides and Stomping Ground from Singapore; Tame The Tikbalang, N.S.A., Agony of Destruction, Death from Above, Mutual Assured Destruction and Biofeedback from the Philippines also with the help of Take Four Collectives a number of bands are striving to showcase their stuffs with Sauna, Bystorm, Play just to name a few.; and Disclose and Death Side from Japan.
Thrash metal and melodic death metal elements are also common in metalcore. Some metalcore bands, such as Biohazard and Candiria, were influenced by hip hop music, and their music is sometimes described as rapcore. Other important bands of the era, such as Inside Out from California and Burn from New York, retained elements of classic hardcore along with more progressive rhythms, chord progressions and lyrics. In 1998, thrash metal band Sepultura released their first hardcore punk album, Against.
Ebullition Records, founded in 1990 by Kent McClard in Santa Barbara, California, often released albums by bands that criticized the American political and economic system; giving far less attention to personal issues. Anarchist ethics seeped their way into the work of many hardcore punk bands, most notably Aus-Rotten, who were also popular in the crust punk genre. On the east coast of the United States, bands such as Rorschach and Born Against also played a similar left-wing, almost Marxist form of metallic hardcore. Refused gained international recognition after touring for several years with their first three Albums. They released their final album The Shape of Punk to Come and later broke up during a US tour. During this period, Vision of Disorder, starting with their first 7" "Still", introduced melodic singing to their hardcore songs.
In 1985, New York's Stormtroopers of Death, an Anthrax side project, released the album Speak English or Die. Although it bore similarities to thrash metal – with a bass-heavy guitar, fast tempos and quick chord changes – the album was distinguished from thrash metal by its lack of guitar solos and heavy use of crunchy chord breakdowns (a New York hardcore technique) known as mosh parts. Other bands, such as Suicidal Tendencies and Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI]), switched from hardcore to a similar metallic style, which came to be known as crossover thrash.
Some hardcore bands began experimenting with other styles as their careers progressed in the 1980s, becoming known as alternative rock. Bands such as Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Hüsker Dü, and The Replacements drew from hardcore but broke away from its loud and fast formula. Critic Joe S. Harrington suggested that the latter two "paraded as Hardcore until it was deemed permissible to do otherwise".
In the mid-1980s, Washington State bands such as Melvins and Green River developed a sludgy, "aggressive sound that melded the slower tempos of heavy metal with the intensity of hardcore", creating what became known as grunge music. The early grunge sound was largely influenced by Black Sabbath and Black Flag (especially their My War album). The popularity of grunge resulted in renewed interest in American hardcore in the 1990s.
Melvins, aside from their influence on grunge, helped create what would be known as sludge metal, which is also a combination between Black Sabbath-style music and hardcore punk. This genre developed during the early 1990s, in the Southern United States (particularly in the New Orleans metal scene). Some of the pioneering bands of sludge metal were: Eyehategod, Crowbar, Down, Buzzov*en, Acid Bath and Corrosion of Conformity. Later, bands such as Isis and Neurosis, with similar influences, created a style that relies mostly on ambience and atmosphere that would eventually be named atmospheric sludge metal or post-metal.
The later 1980s and early 1990s saw the development of post-hardcore, which took the hardcore style in a more artistic and complex direction, much as the bands of the post-punk era did for classic punk rock. Washington DC, in particular the community surrounding Dischord Records, became a hotbed for post-hardcore, producing bands such as Hoover, Nation of Ulysses, Jawbox and Fugazi, who helped define the post-hardcore scene and included Dischord founder and former Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye. Other notable post-hardcore bands from the United States include Chicago's Big Black, New York's Quicksand and Orange 9mm, Seattle's Pretty Girls Make Graves, Atlanta's Light Pupil Dilate and El Paso, Texas' At The Drive-In.
Post-hardcore included and influenced other styles, such as emo and math rock. Early emo bands were influenced by hardcore bands like Rites of Spring, Minor Threat, and Black Flag. Emo bands are heavily influenced by hardcore punk's powerful lyrics, song structure and emotion. Sunny Day Real Estate are sometimes called the "first true emo band.
The hardcore punk scene had an influence that spread beyond music. The straight edge philosophy of no smoking, drinking or doing drugs was rooted in a faction of hardcore particularly popular on the east coast of the United States. Hare Krishna bands like 108 and Shelter typified this movement, taking it even a step further. Hardcore also put a great emphasis on the DIY punk ethic, which inspired other types of bands to make their own records, flyers and other items, and to book their own tours through an informal network of like-minded people.
In the 2000s, some pop punk bands, often containing former members of metalcore or hardcore punk bands (such as New Found Glory's Chad Gilbert, a one-time member of Shai Hulud, and Fall Out Boy's Andrew Hurley, formerly of Racetraitor and Vegan Reich) have created a new style by mixing hardcore and pop punk. Another common, heavier sound is represented by bands such as From Ashes Rise and Tragedy who play a brand of melodic sound influenced by crustcore. Bands like Bleeding Through and Poison the Well have fused the aggression of traditional hardcore with the intensity of metal. Typical of this metalcore style are heavy breakdown parts and harshly delivered vocals, sometimes verging on death metal growl.