Ceremony ZOO Review Essay, part two

        Death Before Dishonor is a Boston band. They champion what I call “muscular hardcore,” more metal than punk, and utilize breakdowns and even verse-chorus song structures. Politically, the band, and others like them (Agnostic Front, Hatebreed, Terror, Palehorse, Lionheart, Death Threat, etc.) are hard to categorize in an American context. This is because their politics of masculine bonding, altruistic exclusivity, brotherhood of shared violent or dangerous experience, and distance from bourgeois comfort, are neither properly “conservative” nor “liberal” but instead linkable to the metapolitics of cultural fascism. Just like the arditi who formed the nucleus of fascist squadristi (paramilitary units), these hardcore brothers exist in a world where commitment is measured in valor and bloodshed. This is a rationale for collectivity that is found in the hardest, most extreme forms of group cohesion in the modern West. The Ultras of Italian and Mediterranean soccer, the hooligans of English soccer, skinheads, and neofascists all cohere in these terms. I include hardcore with these more infamous types, even if, as I demonstrate below, hardcore is less cohesive and ideologically consistent than these others.

         Based on my experiences with all of the groups listed above, it is possible to link them by a shared ethic of violence. While some, like Ultras and neofascists, use physical violence against enemy targets, it is an ethical orientation toward violence that separates them from the bourgeois form of life. Other than the FSU crews that grew out of the Boston straight edge scene, it is impossible to talk about true gang violence and hardcore – at least hardcore bands. Yet bourgeois consumers of music would consider the crowds at almost every hardcore show put on in a “hardcore” setting (i.e. basements, living rooms, small clubs) to be violent and intentionally harmful. The pushing, shoving, punching, and kicking of the pit is a type of violence that serves the ethic preached by the ‘muscular’ hardcore bands.

Hardcore violence serves no bourgeois purpose, speaking instead to sacrifice, controlling fear, dedication, and worthiness of beauty or art – themes often found in initiation into pre-modern warrior elites. It is the willingness to take part in violent acts that connects hardcore bands to their fans; so that when Agnostic Front’s Roger Miret shouts “hardcore motherfuckers” at a CBGC’s crowd, those comprising the crowd know exactly to whom he shouts and why. It is a bond that is not even conceivable to music acts and their merely consuming fans. New York hardcore is especially anti-bourgeois. While other hardcore scenes developed in the suburbs, with its practitioners reacting against their own conformity to the bourgeois regime (an adolescent form of what Amilcar Cabral called “class suicide”), hardcore in New York City was the product of Lower East Side poverty and downtown urban decay. The stories of the Cro-Mags’ Harley Flanagan and John Joseph, both of who squatted and lived in abandoned cars at various turns, fought their way in and out of life threatening situations, and formed a community of the streets, became the typical narrative of New York hardcore. More than any other hardcore community, New York was responsible for placing the violence that comes with a rejection of bourgeois norms at the center of hardcore music and ethics.

While I am unwilling to speak of hardcore violence as Sorel does proletariat violence, which in the inter-war context was truly revolutionary, his understanding of violence against the bourgeois state is applicable here. Violence, he explained, seems to operate from a different, mythological, vantage than the strict rationality (or myth of rationality) that unites the individual to the state. It seems, then, to undercut or circumvent the motivating narratives of the state, leaving a void of responsibility between the perpetrators and victims of violence. One gets the sense that Sorel speaks of victims of violence with tongue in cheek, as it is the bourgeoisie that is the only possible victim of proletariat violence; the same bourgeois whose own violence is normally a tool directed at strengthening, instead of undermining, the state.

As the state is the sole purveyor of legitimate violence in the liberal order, any violent individuals or groups are seen as a form of order breakdown. As Foucault demonstrated, the purpose of state violence is often coercive and is always dispersed throughout the institutions of the state. The most obvious institution of social coercion is the police, whose task he identifies with far more than mere “policing.” Simply put, the police “sees to the benefits that can be derived only from living in society”. The police are charged with caring for the good of the body, soul, and economy of the state. What the police are policing at hardcore shows is exactly this idea of order and the bourgeois “good” that comes from the liberal state.

The hardcore show operates as what Deleuze and Guattari call a “derelict space” within the liberal order. They propose that at the edges of modern states – if we momentarily conceive of their territoriality as a metaphor for zones of inclusion and exclusion – there are also marginal spaces or thinkers who offer cracks in the order and critiques of its functioning and systemic completeness. They call these “derelict spaces” because they are contiguous to every one of the state’s spatial coordinates; yet offer sites of such unorthodoxy that they cannot be brought within the state’s system of reality. Weber spoke of state domination by virtue of a general belief in the validity of legality and the obligations it presupposes in the liberal individual. He also understood that the warrior castes of pre-modern Europe, with their honor codes, restricted halls of brotherhood, and heroic form of violence, would have been, and were, out of step with the state’s technologies of dominance and institutionalization. Warrior coercion, as it was, became anathema to state coercion and its monopolization of violence and warfare, as did its codes of ethics.

Sorel distinguished between the violence of a revolutionary proletariat and violence in the name of the state. Interestingly, Sorel includes the capacity of intellectuals and bureaucrats to act violently in the state’s service. Given their feeble natures, they do so primarily through the wielding of morality and an ethic that condemns violence. What we find in Sorel, then, is an acknowledgment that morality is a tool used by the bourgeoisie against any eruptions that would seek to disturb the peace of the modern marketplace.

With this in mind, a song like Hatebreed’s “Destroy Everything” becomes informative of an ethic that is counter to the bourgeois. In it, and Agnostic Front’s “Peace,” we get the sense that hardcore is a war against the bourgeois form of life. As war promotes the idea of an organic community united by commitment, suffering, and sacrifice, it is a threat to the system of rights that legitimizes and normalizes the relationship between state and individual.

Hatebreed “Destroy Everything”

06 Destroy Everything

A new life begins

Destroy everything

Obliterate what makes us weak

Destroy everything

Decimate what threatens me

Cleanse this world with flame

End this cleanse this

Rebuild and start again

Obliterate what makes us weak

End this and embrace the destruction

And this and embrace new life


Even an empty threat deserves a response you won’t soon forget

I must destroy everything that tries to infect

Even an empty threat deserves a response you won’t soon forget

I must destroy everything that tries to infect

Agnostic Front “Peace”

07 Peace

A choice must be made!

In these times of war today

A choice must be made that no one wants to make

The result is inevitable

No one wins but a side must be taken

It’s them or us, we don’t want it this way

Death is certain and lives are at stake

Whose children must die? Whose buildings must fall?

No one can see eye to eye, all we see is hate

Our freedom fighters are their terrorists

Their heroes are our nemesis

Peace! Is! Not!

Peace is not an option!

Hardcore’s ethic of violence not only puts it at odds with the state’s system of law and order but with the guiding ethical components of Western liberalism. Hardcore places little value on safety, security, or peacefulness – in short, the values of the marketplace. Yet they are not mere hoodlums bent on destruction for its own sake, but are guided by reverence for a form of life that simply does not fear violent confrontation. And, while it is impossible to say that hardcore has a will to war against state legality, it certainly promotes an ethic at war with the obligations that legality imposes on the person. This is precisely because its ethics fall closer to the pre-modern warrior than the bourgeois individual.

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