At the end of 2014, Bandwidth published its inaugural Best D.C. Music of the Year list. With only 25 spots, we had to leave a lot of nominees on the cutting room floor. That didn’t sit well with Sean Gray, who runs local record labels Accidental Guest and Fan Death.
Gray complained to me on Twitter that our list had overlooked D.C. hardcore. So I asked him to make a list of his favorite local hardcore songs of the year — and he delivered that and more. If our list inflicted a wound on the D.C. hardcore community, I hope Gray’s contribution, below, helps heal it. —Ally Schweitzer
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D.C. hardcore got a good bit of attention in 2014, especially from Bandwidth. I think that’s partly because of Damaged City Fest — the growing local festival of punk and hardcore scheduled to return in April — and also the scene’s quality: D.C. hardcore bands sounded excellent last year. But Bandwidth’s Best of 2014 list didn’t acknowledge any of it.
Before I get to my list of the year’s best D.C. hardcore, I want to say something first: It bums me out that the bands listed below are all-male. Right now DCHC seems stronger than it’s been in ages. Let’s hope in 2015 we see more women involved. This scene has the power to make a change for the better.
With that said, it’s hard to deny how many great releases came out of the local hardcore scene in 2014. That’s often how I’m hearing this music — through recordings, not live shows — because I have cerebral palsy and use a walker. Lots of hardcore shows happen in places that aren’t accessible to me.
That means I base my understanding and critique of new D.C. hardcore purely on the releases. Certainly, it makes for a different experience of the scene. But I can’t hear Misled Youth’s “Deadbeat” and “Waste” and not imagine how sick that band sounds live.
D.C. hardcore also sounds contemporary. Local scenester Pat Walsh recently tweeted at me that hardcore is “obsessed with 1980.” But I’m sure most people playing hardcore in D.C. now — regardless of this city’s storied hardcore scene — don’t care what happened in 1980, 1985 or 1995.
The urgency and energy of these bands seems as fresh to me as any hardcore I heard in my teens and 20s. This scene, right now, is as important as it ever was. I hope my list demonstrates that. — Sean Gray
Warning: Some of these songs contain explicit lyrics.
Pure Disgust, “Denied”
I finally happened to get a copy of this 7-inch a few weeks ago. Instead of listening online, I just waited until I was able to play it from start to finish. Right off the bat I hear tinges of oi, but this doesn’t just sound like The Oppressed if they started a hardcore band. “Denied” is completely tight and packs more dynamics into two minutes than most hardcore bands can do on a full LP.
Public Suicide, “No Pity”
Some people live for the breakdown, and those people would love the last 10 seconds of this song. “No Pity” pounds through until it completely falls apart in the best way. Its production sparkles, and for a lot of bands doing this, that could be a bad thing. (The vocals seem questionable at first, too.) But it works here, underscoring how much work was put into these songs.
Jävla, “Warped Ones”
Supposedly the brainchild of a teenager named Brendan Reichhardt, Jävla could come off as a tribute to bands like Anti Cimex (I hear some No Security in here, too), but this demo offers more than that. The drumming makes “Warped Ones” shine, and the guitar solo gets buried in the mix — a nice change for music in this style. It all adds up to a strong demo not just for D.C.’s scene, but for the genre overall.
Misled Youth, “Nothing Left”
“Nothing Left” solidifies Misled Youth as one of the most promising new hardcore acts in D.C. Mark Jubert has the strongest vocals of any band in DCHC right now; he’s aggressive without sounding overbearing. Closing the band’s debut 7-inch, “Nothing Left” seems to split midway through, revealing a sort of coda to everything else on this single.
Red Death, “Unholy Agony”
Red Death put out the best demo of the year, period. For some purists, this may be too metal, but for my money, the band found the perfect balance with its brand of metal-tinged hardcore. This demo comes out of the gate with a “take no prisoners” attitude: “Unholy Agony” feels as brutal as any Consumer Electronics dirge and as thrashy as the best of Death Angel, and it carries the energy of underrated New York hardcore band Misguided. But don’t let these comparisons seal the deal for you: Not many bands achieve this sound as confidently.
Collusion, “Don’t Care”
With members of Coke Bust, Public Suicide, Misled Youth and Pure Disgust, Collusion could be called a DCHC supergroup — and as expected, this demo represented a snapshot of where DCHC is right now. It’s angry and bitter, sure, but for some reason I find these songs catchy. “Don’t Care” has a slight sing-along vibe. Maybe that’s because of the simple lyrics, or the fact that this song boasts the best DCHC riff of 2014.
Protester, “Let You Forget”
If there’s a band that can recruit listeners to the new school of DCHC, it’s Protester. This single packs energy that most hardcore bands would envy, and wraps with one of the most intense song endings I’ve heard in a while — vocalist Connor Donegan screams, “Will you ever fight back?”, and the song cuts out. It’s one of those moments that makes fans remember why they started loving hardcore in the first place.