By Cody Kenner
Boston has always been pretty hardcore. From dumping overpriced British tea into a harbor to surviving catastrophic molasses disasters to belligerent baseball fans flipping cars, the city has proven itself to be one of action with a do-it-yourself mentality. Unsurprisingly, Boston is also home to a historic hardcore punk scene, which has birthed countless eclectic post-punk acts as well as a pervasive DIY mentality.
Boston owes its hardcore scene to the airwaves and student bodies of the city’s many universities. In the early eighties, college radio stations like Brandeis University’s WBRS, Tufts University’s WMFO, and Emerson College’s WERS provided a bastion for non-commercial music. Additionally, the considerable student population of Boston made it a prime location for youth countercultural concerts, gestating teen angst-driven punk bands like Siege, Negative FX, Deep Wound, and Defeater.
Of course, these Boston hardcore bands would be nonexistent without proper labels to sign them. In the world of Boston hardcore, each independent record label had its own humble roots in DIY culture. Taang! Records, for instance, owed much of its popularity to its use of the 45-rpm single format—the standard format for short length releases—which was popular with punk zines and college radio stations. Modern Method Records started out as an offshoot of the then-underground retailer Newbury Comics. Hydra Head Records was founded by School of the Museum of Fine Arts student Aaron Turner, who later became a musician. Boston hardcore was dependent on a network of independent figures working together to support each other, a far cry from the machinations of the corporate music industry.
Similarly, hardcore concerts very much depended on the piecemeal efforts of the youthful Boston DIY scene. Rowdy, sometimes violent shows—concertgoers at the infamous Rathskeller would often pack dog leashes, chains and even cinderblocks—were hosted in bars, punk houses, and basements. Members of the punk community would often get up on stage with the band, if a border between stage and audience even existed. However, given the ephemerality of the hardcore movement and the general lack of interest in profit, these venues were short-lived, and would disappear almost as soon as they popped up.
As the movement progressed, hardcore gave way to the raw, noisy experimentation of nineties bands like Polvo and Amherst-based Dinosaur Jr. These bands in turn birthed a revival of post-punk, seen in the music of contemporary local legends like Pile, Krill, and Guerilla Toss. Eschewing fame for unmitigated artistic freedom, these artists perform frequently and produce prolifically, all in the name of a simple love for music. In the vein of the DIY independent record labels of the past, these bands opt to self-release and post their music on Bandcamp, with little regard for promotion or sales.
In keeping with the tradition of punk concerts of the past, these modern post-punk performers play at small, sometimes permit-less venues, subject to covert police crackdowns. Local nonprofit bookers like Boston Hassle (which also functions as an independent arts newspaper) and Illegally Blind join together to create scene-supported events like Hasslefest and the Boston Fuzztival. All is done to support local artists and foster a creative community.
To say that Boston has a strong DIY scene would be an understatement. What Boston has is a DIY renaissance, a utopia for independent creatives uninterested in commercial forms of music. It’s true that Boston stands strong in many ways, but one of its most admirable strengths is its underground, “to hell with everyone else” music scene.