Ceremony ZOO Review Essay, Part Three

Having discussed the hardcore scene’s ethic of violence that puts it at odds with the bourgeois prohibition against interpersonal violence, I must say that not all bands or fans adhere to such an ethic. In fact, the slightly rightist politics I presented above cannot even be assumed for the bands used as examples. None of them have racially conservative messages, nor openly discuss the radical right in any form. Yet it is undeniable that Nietzschean themes flow through their lyrics, and that celebrating violence already places one outside the comfortable bounds of liberal morality. Nor can it be denied that, since its inception in the early-1980s, hardcore’s do-it-yourself press and network of promoters have been of the extreme left and anarchist varieties. Many even blast Bad Brains, the black originators of hardcore, for having religious views hostile to homosexuality.

Similarly, Agnostic Front, one of the original skinhead hardcore bands, pleads for skinheads and punks, the opposing political and cultural extreme in hardcore, to unite against their common bourgeois enemy. Nonetheless, a cursory perusal of interviews with Agnostic Front demonstrates an overwhelming concern amongst the media with skinheads and the potentially rightist politics of the band. Finally, it must be said that many of those who write about hardcore act as liberal journalists in protecting the moral regime of the bourgeoisie. These writers, like Steven Blush, decry the violence and (non leftist) politics that hardcore seems to breed. It is only ignorance of the social right that keeps Blush and others from acknowledging the positive role this aspect of hardcore plays, as if, according to Blush a young “alienated” male has only one political philosophy (anarchy) to adopt in opposition to “American authority and the mainstream”.

Nonetheless, there are many leftist and apolitical bands in hardcore. Among these, bands representing straight edge and veganism are the most prominent. Interestingly, neither of these ideologies is necessarily leftist. Straight edge is a commitment to living free of drugs and alcohol, while veganism is a commitment to avoid the decorative use and consumption of animals. Of the two, only straight edge is a threat to bourgeois consumption, promoting as it does a sense of purity and ennoblement that is hard to commoditize. Veganism, on the other hand, is already an established “brand” in American life. Other than bands like Verse and Abolition, most with leftist positions generally remain lyrically apolitical. Instead they use their concerts, merchandising, and album liner notes to promote their agendas. This has been the approach of some of the best bands in hardcore, especially in the punk style. Whereas the muscular bands discussed above take their sound from metal, the punk bands offer a less cohesive sound; often being consciously sloppy, overly-fast, and sonically imperfect.

Straight edge and the uneasy attempts of hardcore to promote itself are the subjects of Carry On’s “X’s Always Win”. The song takes a non-nostalgic look back at the hardcore scene from the position of someone who found himself more devoted than those who marketed the scene. In the end, he says, what matters is the commitment to the values and beliefs that hardcore promotes; in this case straight edge.

Carry On, “X’s Always Win”

I believed in ‘zines and sounds from the stereo

They spit lies for years but it’s all I knew

Fast-forward the years these people don’t mean shit

They stole my heart jumped in the car and split

We’re fucked up kids with broken hearts

Put in your faith and we’ll tear it apart

But the hardest kids still put an “x” by their name.

Perhaps the best example of the politics of an apolitical band is Ceremony’s “You’re All The Same,” perhaps the most violent song on the band’s unrelenting debut EP, Ruined. In it, Ross Farrar screams against the bourgeois “life of trash” that sold to, and bought by, other hardcore bands. It is succinct, pitiless, and punk. In fact, its statement is bold enough to have Ceremony classified as an extremely political band.

Ceremony, “You’re All The Same”

Fuck your catchy one-liners

Fuck your dress to impress

You can go fuck yourself with that trendy shit

Fuck your bad attitudes

Fuck your weak high class

Fuck all you pretenders

Keep your life of trash

Even though Terror had the ingenuity to think of hardcore as a faith, it can be argued that a band like Ceremony is better positioned as its keepers. While Terror is firmly rooted in the muscular hardcore tradition that uses Nietzschean themes of using hardcore as a break on modern decadence, Ceremony is a punk band. As such, the band lives hardcore, even if in doing so it has very little in common with the orthodoxy preached by the “muscular” hardcore bands. The distance between Ceremony and Terror, for example, begs us to ask, “is it more hardcore to live by a code of honor or to reject all codes whatsoever?” Is hardcore better served by linking it with counter modern politics and Counter Enlightenment philosophy, or in allowing it to dwell in the furthest reaches of value rejection?  These are questions, if worded quite differently, that Ceremony has dealt with since its inception in 2004. By then hardcore had moved from its radical grassroots and become commoditized – something that one did by blueprint on a well-established foundation. The band seemed to look at hardcore and demand it acknowledge how impure it had become. The honor code and rightist politics, just as straight edge and veganism, had, indeed, become orthodoxy – highly ironic and problematic for an art/form of life that inherently rejected orthodoxy. One can respond, though, that, just as Nietzsche did not reject morality, instead understanding it as a distinguishing function of all forms of life, and thus only rejecting the morality that had created the bourgeois modern form of life, it is better to have an orthodoxy that strengthens and ennobles than one that only enriches monetarily while reducing life to an economic function. Argued thus, it could have only been a band like Terror to embrace the code of hardcore.

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