By Amanda Punshon and Meagan Gill
Hardcore music is “a bunch of people screaming their heads off, playing fast. Screaming their heads off, playing fast and playing loud,” according to Joe (“Joey Shithead”) Keithley, founding member of legendary Vancouver hardcore band DOA. Hardcore has been one of Vancouver’s most vibrant music scenes for 33 years, and DOA has been there in one form or another for all of them. In fact, the band’s second album, Hardcore ’81, which was released in April 1981, is responsible for the use of the term “hardcore” as a description of their type of punk music.
Despite being an offshoot of punk, hardcore was influenced as much by folk and metal as punk itself. Keithley counts Iggy Pop, Lead Belly, Arlo Guthrie, Jimmy Hendrix and Black Sabbath as some of the musicians that most affected DOA’s music.
Perhaps the biggest, most important reason for the spread of hardcore was the conservatism of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Politicians such as Ronald Reagan in the States, Margaret Thatcher in England, Helmut Kohl in Germany and Brian Mulroney here in Canada formed “a quartet of idiots,” in Keithley’s words, that people reacted to strongly.
The political climate may be different now, but British Columbians still take social activism seriously, which, Keithley says, is one of the reasons that Vancouver’s hardcore scene continues to thrive.
“Let’s put it this way, if you’re not politically aware, you’re probably not really a punk band,” he says. “Some of the bands are into it, and they’ll play at rallies and protests and stuff like that. Not all of them…but I mean, it’s a part of activism within the punk rock scene.”
In addition to its politics, Vancouver is known for its arts scene.
“Vancouver is a happening place, arts-wise. It’s not surprising that you’d get kids who want to do something in music, they’d move out here. They probably don’t realize how tough it is or how expensive it is but they get out here and somehow they keep working on it,” Keithley says.
And it is tough. According to Keithley, it’s incredibly hard to get a record deal because major record labels no longer have the money or the sense of adventure that they did in the 1960s and ‘70s. They’re much less likely to take a risk on a band that’s not a sure thing.
In addition to that, big record store chains are increasingly less willing to stock albums by little-known bands, Keithley says. So many hardcore bands — DOA included — start their own record labels. Others turn to the Internet to distribute their material, which, for Keithley, is a mixed blessing.
“It’s hard to be heard, or what I say, get above the ‘noise floor.’ It’s kind of hard to get noticed because the most outrageous things have been done, the most screaming’s been done,” he says. But at the same time, “it’s good, the access is there, you can make an album a lot cheaper [than in the past.]”
When DOA was starting out, hardcore bands would play alongside new wave, reggae and pop punk bands. They had to in order to fill a room. But today, Vancouver hardcore has enough of a following that the lineups for most shows are filled by other hardcore bands.
Keithley is not sure what the future has in store for hardcore music in Vancouver. “It’ll just keep growing and morphing like it always does,” he says. “There’s always going to be a new bunch of kids coming along that make their own scene. I can’t predict that.”
But one thing is certain – “people are so passionate about [Vancouver hardcore],” Keithley says. “There’s a lot of support for it…there’s love there for it, and [at the same time] the support’s not there because there’s not a lot of money. It’s coming from the heart, and that’s a good thing.”
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