Ever wonder what Moby was up to before he became an electro-pop star?
At least that’s what I thought until I saw Paul Rachman’s new documentary, “American Hardcore.”
“Hardcore” music emerged as a consequence of the ’70s punk-rock
explosion. Disappointed that their musical heroes were trading in black
boots and militant politics for glamour and coke, down-and-out youth in
cities across America decided to bleed rock dry of decorative
Writing songs that rarely broke the two-minute mark, bands
like Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and the Minutemen carved out
a dirty, graceless, and violent subculture that didn’t so much thrive
as fester during the days of the Reagan administration.
But I almost forgot about Moby.
Turns out the bald herbivore was an active member of the
Hardcore scene in Connecticut, playing in a band called the Vatican
Commandos. He was kicked out after the group released their first EP.
It gets even better. When seminal band Flipper needed a
temporary stand-in singer to round out their hilarious and horrible
noise, they asked Moby to step in. So, for two days, Moby was the lead
singer of Flipper.
Unfortunately for Rachman and nostalgic 40-year-olds everywhere, that’s about as interesting as “American Hardcore” gets.
Rachman isn’t interested in shining any kind of analytical
light onto those six years of rock history. He just thinks Hardcore
rules, and he wants you to think it rules too.
So instead of hunting down the movement’s precursors,
examining the actual music with a critical eye, or constructing a
plausible narrative of the scene’s downfall, Rachman just lets former
band members talk about how much cooler they were twenty years ago.
And, unsurprisingly, musicians who screamed along to
no-more-than-three-chord guitar riffs aren’t the most self-aware or
As a result, there’s a lot of boring filler. We hear again and
again that work sucks, school is boring, and Reagan was a fascist. It’s
actually kind of like listening to a Hardcore song, except the music is
gone and the words are stammered rather than yelled.
There are a few exceptions. Ian MacKaye, who fronted Minor
Threat and is arguably the godfather of Hardcore, is an articulate (if
self-righteous) interview subject. Dr. Know of the Bad Brains, who is
charismatic and probably crazy, also entertains.
If only Rachman had bothered to let viewers hear an entire
song! In a documentary about music, there’s actually very little music
that does more than transition between scenes.
Bottom Line: “American Hardcore” isn’t a total waste, but if
you want a real feeling for the movement you’d do better to find
yourself a guitar and a garage.
—Reviewer Richard S. Beck can be reached at email@example.com.