Ann Aptaker, Bert Queiroz (later of hardcore bands Youth Brigade, Double O, Second Wind), Mark Sullivan (Slinkees singer/Teen Idles roadie), Kari Winter at Bad Brains/Teen Idles show, Madams Organ, Wash, DC, Jan 1980. Photo by Lucian Perkins
In the second and third installments, presented here together, Ben Merlis and Daniel Weizmann track how the genre hidden between punk and hardcore smashed through the suburbs and spread across North America. And then how it was shoved out of the way by hardcore, but not before leaving a lasting legacy.
OLLIE IN THE WHALE BOWL: 1.5 TAKES OVER
It was no accident that the South Bay—home to the postwar West Coast jazz scene—signaled the next seismic 1.5 jolt. This liminal beach neighborhood with its hep music history set the stage for an unknown band called Panic, led by an electronics whiz who loved improvisational music and had a distinct distaste for rock. “When I was a kid,” Greg Ginn later wrote, “I thought rock was stupid. When Janis Joplin died, I didn’t know who she was.” This stands in stark contrast to the core base of early LA punks, many of whom were weaned on glitter, rock’s most immoderate phase. Ginn’s indifference to the musical demigods of yesteryear made him the perfect scout to pioneer 1.5 territory. “I just thought that, with what was going on with rock at that time, we had a lot to add to the spectrum.”
When Panic discovered that another band had the same name, they changed their moniker to Black Flag and self-released the debut EP Nervous Breakdown on their homemade SST label in 1979, allegedly over a year after it was recorded. A tiny ad in the Los Angeles Times offered copies for $2 cash, mailable to the suburb of Lawndale, CA. As Ginn later put it, “We were excited when we sold our first ten records.” In no time, both the title track and the impossibly catchy “Wasted” gained heavy rotation on the KROQ’s Rodney On the Roq—legendary host Rodney Bingenheimer was initially the only DJ in Southern California radio to go all-in on 1.5 without hesitation.
Even 40 years later, this curious EP is still a force of nature. On the surface, it’s a straight-enough punk proposition: Singer Keith Morris sings with a Johnny Rotten sneer and Ginn’s downpicked power chords on “I’ve Had It” could easily have been inspired by Johnny Ramone’s playing on “53rd & 3rd.” Under the surface though, Black Flag’s furious portraits of mental collapse just sound more intense, both tighter and yet more unhinged, more gnarly than anything the Southland had yet to commit to wax. The record never “goes jazz,” yet something in its combustible energy hints at an improv temperament—the willingness to lose it. In addition, “Wasted,” with its references to surfing, skating and living on the beachside walkway known as the Strand, as well as its frank admission of former hippiedom, turned punk posturing on its head. It was as if LA punk finally copped to its true nature—ferocious, oceanic, and suburban.
In its purest state, 1.5 possesses the best of both worlds: the humor and melody of punk and the mercury-quick untamed aggression of hardcore.
The aesthetic was anti-Hollywood and anti-Rock in ways that were more than just sonic. As Ian MacKaye told us, “I can remember reading in a Slash magazine…it was the first time I ever read about Black Flag, and they said, ‘These guys look like they’re just walking from a 7-11 parking lot.’ And I was like, ‘Wow! That’s us.’ That’s what I’m looking for. They’re not getting punkified, right? They’re not spending all this time getting dressed up. They’re just throwing down on stage.”
Black Flag on KROQ was like a foghorn sounding off across the basin, announcing this new thing, the thing we call 1.5. Sure enough, the suburbs took notice—for once their POV was being acknowledged. As “the punk idea” started spreading to peripheral neighborhoods, Southern California’s Anxiety of Influence intensified. For aspiring rebels in the South Bay and Orange County, the drive to differentiate was doubled, since they not only were not English and not from New York, they were also unwanted Visitors in their own hometown—the West Coast equivalent of Bridge & Tunnel. The tool they reached for to carve their unique space was the very force the Germs and Black Flag made good on—physicality.
Under the surface though, Black Flag’s furious portraits of mental collapse just sound more intense, both tighter and yet more unhinged, more gnarly than anything the Southland had yet to commit to wax.
One of the first true suburban inklings of 1.5 can be found in F-Word. Based in the faraway lands of Covina and Azusa east of Los Angeles and fronted by the charismatic, teenaged baritone Rik L Rik (Richard Elrick), young F-Word played in the Hollywood scene alongside bands whose members were usually considerably older. When, in 1978, their manager Robbie Fields launched his Posh Boy label by releasing a live F-Word record unbeknownst to the band, beating Black Flag to the pressing plant by several months, their leaner, uptempo sound caught the ears of future members of T.S.O.L., Adolescents, and others—an explicitly suburban and youthful sound and movement was born. As Tony “Cadena” Brandenburg of the Adolescents later wrote, “It doesn’t surprise me that I and some of the other Adolescents would be so influenced by this band. The energy and the fury can only come out of the suburbs; I can’t see something like this coming from the city.”
If 1.5 has its very own Phil Spector, it’s the controversial Robbie Fields. A British-educated publicist with a reputation for not paying royalties and some very specific ideas about what makes a SoCal record great, Fields is loved and hated by many, but nobody can deny that he has had a hand in producing and releasing more great 1.5 music than any other single figure. On compilations like Beach Blvd, The Siren and The Future Looks Bright, as well as records by Red Cross and T.S.O.L., U.X.A. and Agent Orange, Posh Boy’s surf + speed = sensibility came to define a sound and a culture. As Fields himself put it in We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, “In a time of New York black leather and London safety pins, I thought the beach remained a cultural icon that suburban teens could relate to.”
Under Fields’ patronage, a generation found its voice. In every aspect of his output, from the faux-Exotica Rodney on the Roq compilation album covers to the goof-out ads in Flipside (“Posh Boy Tells Cal Punk to Fuck Off,” “Music for Teenage Sex!”), Fields invested his projects with a spirit that the punk enterprise had never quite embraced before, at least not so explicitly: fun. So Western Civilization is supposedly in Decline, you say? Yeah, whatever. I’ll meet you at Foster’s Freeze, we’ll split a strawberry sundae to celebrate.
Fields recalled to us the fly-by-night nature of many of these productions. “Usually I’d see these bands live first, and, with the exception of Agent Orange, I’d always attend a garage or living room rehearsal to go over repertoire. So a band like the Circle Jerks might warm up doing ‘Wild In The Streets,’ not intending to record it. Most bands had recorded demos of varying quality, some of which were already on Rodney’s show. But when it came time to record, we didn’t have the resources to fight pitched battles over every song….We brought in so many groups to record just one song each, usually for one of the Rodney On The Roq albums…it became almost a blur.”
When Denny Cordell at Shelter Studios gave Fields some free studio time for October 1, 1979, he immediately booked Red Cross, featuring savvy young songwriter Jeff McDonald and his 12-year-old kid brother, Steven, on bass—two torch bearers from the bland working class suburb of Hawthorne, California, aka Liverpool of the West, home of the Beach Boys. The McDonalds were joined by future Black Flag singer Ron Reyes on drums and future Circle Jerks/Bad Religion dynamo Greg Hetson on guitar. Originally called the Tourists, surfer slang for outsiders, the Hawthorne kids had funded their first demo with money from Steven’s paper route.
If 1.5 has its very own Phil Spector, it’s the controversial Robbie Fields.
At Shelter, Fields turned the production reins over to Roger Harris who had engineered artists as diverse as Flora Purim, Dwight Twilley, and Tina Turner. Harris developed rapport with the junior players and, as Fields accurately describes it, the results were “brilliantly successful.” Smart, youthful, witty, and knowing, Red Cross set the template for their illustrious career as pop culture dissemblers in six quickie tracks that rocket with the delight of kids discovering the thrilling power of electrified music; you can practically feel the quarter-jack cables snapping into the humming amps as the opening bars of “Cover Band” kick in. All six songs are insta-classics, including “Annette’s Got the Hits,” a teenage surf ’n’ spy tribute to the hottest Mouseketeer, a track which just might be the sunshiney “beach flipside” to Black Flag’s “Wasted.” Is geography identity? Not sure, but the distance between Hawthorne and Hollywood seems to have allowed the McDonalds and Red Cross the freedom to reimagine not just punk but the very nature of rocking out from a vantage point that was neither central nor peripheral. It was 1.5.
Red Cross – S&M Party
To nobody’s surprise, some of the old guard L.A. punks bemoaned the appearance of all these young suburbanites, yet it could be argued that it was precisely the youngblood surf/skate animalism of those kids that forced the hands of Hollywood musicians like the Germs, inspiring them to stir the pot faster. The energy jack-up was not just about youth—being a suburban punk was inherently risky. As Jack Grisham put it in his essay “Descent” in Under the Big Black Sun (Da Capo Press, 2016), “The punks in Hollywood lived inside walls—a circle of human-trafficked miscreants who let them pogo around the neighborhood without too much static. At the beach we stood out like dirty diapers on the sand—displeasing trash that the police and the concerned citizenry tried their best to remove. We had to travel in packs. Have you ever been hated and chased, stumbling frantically over lush green lawns as you were hounded by a mob?”
The surf and skate culture of the mid-to-late ‘70s was already steeped in speed and daring, with full-throttle rock like “Communication Breakdown” and “Paranoid” as its motor, but 1.5 also has an earlier close cousin in instrumental surf music (it’s kismet that 1.5 heroes Agent Orange cover Dick Dale classic “Miserlou”). Surf music, like 1.5, is an athletic distillation that can be quickly mastered and banged out by amateurs—though, as with 1.5, it has its virtuosos. The playing itself is closely connected to the surf and skate ethic of “radness,” a state of maximum force and fearlessness. As early as 1964, Hawthorne’s grand poobahs, Brian Wilson and Mike Love penned “Don’t Back Down,” a message to their surf posse that “you got to be a little nuts . . . but show them now who’s got guts.”
Originally called “the worm” or “the HB strut,” the thing we now know as slam dancing or moshing presented real danger in the hands of Orange County teenagers.
For young punks trying to instigate a culture of their own in the ‘burbs, “a little nuts” was putting it mildly. Iconic daredevil skateboarders like Tony Alva, Duane Peters, Jay Adams, and Steve Olson all chopped off their locks and embraced the new high-speed music as their own. In fact, some have theorized that the dance style that beach punks invented is an approximation of the act of pool skating. Originally called “the worm” or “the HB strut,” the thing we now know as slam dancing or moshing presented real danger in the hands of Orange County teenagers. But the dance is important because it has a symbiotic relationship with the invention of 1.5. The faster the music, the wilder the pit, the more dangerous the proposition. As anyone in the pit at the Fleetwood in Redondo Beach or the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa during a 1.5 performance can tell you, you took your life into your own hands.
“The Fleetwood was just ridiculously violent and unpleasant to go to as far as I was concerned,” said Kira Roessler, who was raised on the pogoing of old guard Hollywood punk. “I’m just a small woman. You just couldn’t go there and watch the band. You’d have to get shoved out of the main part of the pit because people thought what punk rock was was to beat each other senseless.”
For some it was the end of an era, for others a beginning. Together, (GI), the Nervous Breakdown ep, and the Beach Blvd compilation (featuring Simpletones, the Rik L Rik-fronted Negative Trend, and The Crowd) redefined SoCal for all time and set the 1.5 era in full motion, even as LA punk bands like X were simultaneously producing their most important wax.
“Time-wise, there was a little tiny bit of crossover between the two [scenes],” says Lisa Fancher, founder of Frontier Records. Like Bingenheimer and Fields, Fancher is a critical figure—the 1.5 genre’s very existence is inconceivable without her. Running a daring record label out of her parents’ Sun Valley home, she had an almost supernatural instinct for where things were headed next, releasing one brilliant slab of vinyl after another during 1.5’s heyday and beyond. But she also experienced punk’s first generation firsthand, and she knew how to spot the difference. “It was just a different attitude than the LA bands, X or the Dangerhouse bands. The audience was far younger. I went to Cuckoo’s Nest a lot to see bands and they were very poorly behaved compared to the old people when I would go to the Masque. People at the Masque weren’t really hurting each other, making a target out of someone. There was no circle pit. It was just a completely different thing.”
Meanwhile, 381 miles north, San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys delivered Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables on September 2, 1980, another blockbuster moment in 1.5 history. Rodney played the LP in its entirety many months before it was available in the States, and cassette tapes were rollin’. Besides its categorical lyrical and musical brilliance, the sheer speed of every single track planted a sword in the sand—ye olde punk was the sound of yesterday. The LP rushes by, and as if to press the point, the fifth song, “Drug Me” was even faster—ridiculously fast—the lyrics an incomprehensible jumble.
At the very same time, 1.5 was beginning to take hold further up the coast, above the 49th Parallel. Much like Southern California, British Columbia’s 1.5 was a largely suburban phenomenon, with initial participants springing up out of Burnaby, a 30-minute drive east of downtown Vancouver. The Skulls (not to be confused with the LA band of the same name) were formed in 1977 by four hard rockers who had converted to punk after seeing the Ramones. When they split up the following year, singer Joey “Shithead” Keithley formed D.O.A. and bassist Brian “Wimpy” Roy Goble formed The Subhumans. Both bands began releasing singles right away, and although they had more in common musically with British outfits like the UK Subs (note Shithead’s affected English accent), they were kindred spirits of the California contingent. At a 1978 SF show, D.O.A. grabbed the attention of Dead Kennedys front person Jello Biafra when Shithead pissed off the side of the stage and was shut out of another gig for spitting beer in a bouncer’s face. Dead Kennedys refused to play until their friend was allowed back in the club. The allegiance grew, and by ‘81 D.O.A. had records out on Alternative Tentacles—a label founded by Biafra and DKs guitarist East Bay Ray. The Subhumans played raw sounding, hyper-political songs like “Oh Canaduh” and the pro-Red Brigades “Death To the Sickoids”; bassist Gerry “Useless” Hannah was ultimately convicted of conspiring to rob an armored truck in the early ‘80s to help fund Canadian revolutionary group Direct Action. Still, The Subhumans also found the time to play numbers such as “Slave To My Dick”—the kind of tune that would never be sung by a puritanical punk band like Crass. D.O.A. proved to be the longer-lasting of the two BC groups—they relentlessly toured North America spreading the gospel with medium-fast ragers like “World War 3” and “Fucked Up Ronnie” (about the newly-elected president of their southern neighbors), as well as timeless classics like “Let’s Fuck” and “Rich Bitch.”
Among D.O.A.’s many diehard fans is Ian MacKaye: “They were the true Johnny Appleseeds. They toured their brains out early on. In the end of October 1979, they played a fucking commune here [in Washington, DC]. They were the first ones that went out, and they had this network, and they would just do these shows at all these places. D.O.A. were fucking blazing.”
DOA – The Prisoner (1979) music video
WELCOME TO REALITY: 1.5 THE O.C. WAY
While D.O.A. beat down the jungle path, back in the Southland the scene had spread to include such far-flung suburbs as Anaheim, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Costa Mesa, Placentia, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach and beyond, producing an astonishing number of innovative 1.5 acts including Der Stab, the Blades, the Klan, Social Distortion, China White, T.S.O.L. and so many more. A proper history of this mini-revolution is overdue, but for our purposes, one song on one album reps a perfect distillation of the power of Orange County 1.5 in full flower: “Kids of the Black Hole” on the Adolescents’ legendary self-titled “Blue Album.”
A track as epic and as cinematic as any rock record ever made, “Kids” was originally written by guitarist Rikk Agnew for his band the Detours. “I would just sit there and I would make me a big bowl of kamakazis,” Agnew told us. “I had ice cubes, the green stuff, and vodka. I would sit there and take shots and I had a ghetto blaster sitting there. I would record the main riff and then I would write the other part, and then play it along with what I recorded on the ghetto blaster. The rest of it was just in my head. I can hear everything in my head, like I’m in a studio.”
This time the song he heard was all about the Fullerton apartment unit where Social Distortion’s Mike Ness lived next to his mother in 1979. “There’d be people there every night, every day, having outrageous parties, doing acid, drinking, sex sex sex. (One time) Mike Ness was all drunk and pissed off; he took this butcher knife and he went to stab it through the wall, but he hit a stud. When he did it, it stuck and his hand just kept going and sliced all the way through. He had to have this thing put through his finger to keep it on there. It permanently damaged him, but not enough to where he can’t have his own [guitar] style. By the time it was almost over, people were going over there and just yanking the cabinets off the walls and smashing them. The aquarium there had tons of trash and the fish were dead. When we first got there we would write stuff on the walls just with a felt pen. Then we started spray painting things on the walls, then we spray painted on the ceiling, on the carpet. Just destroyed the place.”
Rikk brought the song to the Adolescents when he and Detours drummer Casey Royer joined the lineup, after having both played in an early incarnation of Social Distortion together. The Adolescents also included ex-Agent Orange bassist Steve Soto and Rikk’s brother, Frank. With so much membership under their belts, they were practically a 1.5 supergroup on arrival, but the puzzle was made complete by lanky, googly-eyed singer Tony Brandenburg—the ultimate teenager in distress. If Peter Bagge’s cartoon Buddy Bradley had come to life, he wouldn’t have made a better frontman, but Tony was no cartoon. Just beneath the fresh-mown facade of suburban middle-class life was a darkness he understood all too well. Tony’s dad was a war veteran suffering from PTSD who had once attempted to murder his entire family with an axe as they hid in their Anaheim garage. The mom was an alcoholic whose parenting responsibilities were often passed off to Tony, who was the oldest of five.
Musically, “Kids of the Black Hole” is open, swift, blistering and passionate, with Rikk and brother Frank trading guitar leads and octave chords that soar over Steve Soto’s descending upper-register bass lines like dueling sirens. Casey’s feather-light surf beat rolls through like a relentlessly cresting wave and the wide-open pressure-build is insane. In fact, the sound of this record arguably owes as much to the sun-blinded spaciousness of the Byrds, late Hendrix, or even Santana as it does to the Ramones or the Pistols. (No surprise: it was engineered by Thom Wilson who only a few years before produced Seals and Crofts’ Takin’ it Easy.)
Lyrically, the song is equally moving…and just as unusual. Tony’s urgent delivery counterpoints a sweeping tale of destruction and demise, and the juxtaposition of teen energy, memory, and lament sends the music over the moon. The effect is at once ferocious and elegiac—youth and innocence lost way too fast, slipping through the hands of semi-homeless, disenfranchised children making one last grab at the heart of life.
Kids of the Black Hole
Between the violence at home from cops and constant harassment from hessian passersby that the OC punks dubbed “loadies”, as well as the increasingly brutal slam dancing, there was a maniacal edge to this new breed of suburban punk. It matched the times. Agnew remembers several police actions at shows that involved sending young people running back to their cars, with cops smashing out car windows to pull them out, beating them mercilessly. Media sensationalism fueled the fire.
“I think that they [the cops] partially feared us,” Agnew observes. “They read the press. The newspapers made us out to be these horrible criminals. We weren’t exactly good boys and girls, but nothing to merit that kind of reaction. It was just a hard, hot time. A friend of mine said, ‘Punks are like the hippies of the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s the same thing. It’s a rebellion.’ But whereas the hippies were all about peace and love and putting flowers into the military police’s guns, we turned around and said, ‘No, we gotta be violent and we gotta be aggressive, because the last time the peace thing did not work.’ So it was kind of a turn around.”
Cultural historian Jonathan Pontell posits that there is a middle generation between Boomers and Gen Xers which he calls Generation Jones, people born between 1957 and 1964. As religious Gen X website The Jennifer Chronicles puts it, Gen-Jones was “‘wide-eyed’ in the 1960s, not ‘tie-dyed’.” Gen-Jones came of age during the mass unemployment of the 1970s and “jonesed” for the “the prosperous days of freedom their elder siblings enjoyed; days before the collapse of American industries.”
‘Punks are like the hippies of the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s the same thing. It’s a rebellion.’
“Kids of the Black Hole”—written and performed by solid Gen-Jonesers—doubles down on this cutting sense of aftermath, the end of Bohemian hopes that percolated with the Beats and culminated in the Woodstock Nation before going sour. It’s a masterpiece, from a scene seldom considered for its artistic value. As bassist Soto put it in the 2012 documentary Clockwork Orange County, “So much history is painted of the violence and slam dancing and people getting hurt and people worming on glass and all that stuff. A lot of that stuff did happen, but there was guys in bands writing songs that still hold up today.”
It’s beyond our purview to enumerate every 1.5 triumph. However, one more suburban Southland group is worth examining because they provide a case that tests the boundaries of 1.5 and hardcore, the next zeitgeist in the pipeline. At a glance, True Sounds of Liberty seem like they could have been the ideal hardcore band: their acronymic “official office” name, their government-crushing anthems, their ultra-violence, and their blunt sonic attack all point that way. So why is it that T.S.O.L. are, in fact, 1.5 par excellence, one of the purest examples of the form? It could be their surf beat, their open strumming, or their unusual ear for sing-songy melody. But there’s also something else—a certain swagger in the feel that is rendered undeniable by their charismatic singer, Jack Grisham. He is neither a sneering city rat nor a bald wailer. His faux English crooner vocals, his demonic high school heartthrob stage presence, and his flashes of real lyrical brilliance all take the operation way outside the punk or hardcore comfort zones. Grisham plays droog sociopath for the cameras but he’s not merely violent. His songs sometimes unearth a curious sensitivity on tracks like “The Triangle,” “I’m Tired of Life,” “Sounds of Laughter” and “Silent Scream.” “No one seems to care too much for him,” he sings on “80 Times,” “you can see it in his eyes.” The chorus blasts off into a cry for help, and it’s never quite clear who the “he” in the song is—some random stranger, a victim of one of Grisham’s exploits, or Grisham himself. In the end, it doesn’t matter—in every lost soul beats a desperate human heart. Incidentally, the band’s acronym spelled backwards is LOST.
“I loved T.S.O.L. and I’m still super bitter that I never put out the black and white cover [the band’s debut 12” record, released by Posh Boy] because I think that EP is phenomenal,” says Frontier’s Lisa Fancher. During 1.5’s heyday, a funny pattern emerged whereby artists, dissatisfied with the treatment they received at the hands of Robbie Fields, would turn to Fancher. Unlike Posh Boy, she wasn’t a producer, and she gave her bands a wider berth to do their thing. Fancher got tipped off about T.S.O.L. in ‘80 or ‘81 by Frank Agnew of the Adolescents. “I met T.S.O.L. at Devonshire Downs in the Valley at Northridge College, and that was the famous one where he [Jack] was wearing the white face paint and some lady’s giant ass dress. There were all these gang troubles then, all these people hated Jack, so basically the entire audience beat Jack up, and then he’d get back on stage, and get pulled in the crowd and get hit some more. It was like the craziest shit and I was totally in. I was like 100% ‘Let’s do it!’”
T.S.O.L. – Sounds Of Laughter live Cuckoo’s Nest 1981
ADOLESCENTS ‘Rip It Up’ / ‘Word Attack’
TAKE THE GREYHOUND: 1.5 GOES NATIONAL
Once 1.5’s cyclonic fury was underway, it pushed towards the Midwest and East Coast, tearing up random cities and townships. The list of ‘zines alone could choke a horse. To name a few, there was Slash, Flipside, NoMag, Lobotomy, and We Got Power (L.A.), Damage, and Ripper (Bay Area); NY Rocker, Church of the Latter Day Punks, and Tribal Noize (NYC), Touch and Go (Lansing, MI), Smegma Journal (Maumee, Ohio), Wild Dog (Houston, TX) and Sluggo (Austin, TX), Forced Exposure (Boston), Coolest Retard (Chicago), Snot Rag (Vancouver, BC), and Tim Anstaett’s exhaustive The Offense (Columbus, OH), which didn’t just review every LP, EP, cassette, and 45; it reviewed all the other ‘zines too.
These ‘zines, often Xeroxed and hand-stapled, were passed hand-to-hand and mailed across state lines in manilas, like discrete contraband. In Indianapolis, Zero Boys had released their Livin’ In The 80’s EP in 1980 when the band had more in common musically with the Sex Pistols than anything from California. By the following year, however, Los Angeles fanzine Flipside and touring acts like Black Flag and D.O.A. inspired a shift in the quartet’s sound. With the addition of bassist David “Tufty” Clough, Zero Boys started writing far faster, shorter and more aggressive songs without sacrificing any of their melody or lyrical wit. Recorded in 1981 and released in ‘82 on the short-lived Nimrod Records, Vicious Circle is a perfect encapsulation of 1.5. Zero Boys presented the Germs LP to the recording engineer, requesting they sound like that. Barely clocking in at just over 22 minutes, songs like “Drug Free Youth,” “Forced Entry,” and the album’s title track whiz by, inspiring its listeners to slam with unforeseen abandon. In fact, Jello Biafra had befriended the Zero Boys and specifically advised that they leave off two songs recorded for Vicious Circle because the tunes sounded “too pop.” They smartly took his advice. There was a conscious communal effort to shed the punk skin of the past and represent the “New Generation,” one that “don’t wanna grow no long hair,” thinks “discotheques are really jive,” and declares “rockabilly is history.” What they didn’t quite say out loud but implied on every track: old school punk was history too.
By 1981, 1.5 could be heard coast to coast. In Austin, The Dicks and The Stains were making records with explicitly anti-police/queer-positive messages before both groups skipped town for San Francisco. The latter’s lyric “No war, no KKK, no fascist USA” was immortalized four decades later by protestors who incorporated Trump’s name into the chant. In Chicago, The Effigies and Naked Raygun were making waves along Lake Michigan, inspired just as much by UK bands like the Ruts and Stiff Little Fingers as anything from the U.S., while Necros bashed out juvenile anthems about hating school, peer pressure, and also police brutality in Maumee, OH. Working its way across the US map, it was inevitable that the little chickadee that left its New York home as “punk” would eventually come home to roost as 1.5.
Joji Tani immigrated from Japan to the U.S., eventually settling in Manhattan to attend the School of Visual Arts in the late ‘70s. Inspired by seeing the Dead Boys, he rechristened himself Screaming Mad George, fronting his own band The Mad, which released two 7”s— “Eyeball” b/w “I Hate Music” (1978) and the Fried Egg EP two years later. Part punk, part performance art, their live shows involved George committing faux castration, coprophilia and self-disembowelment over maniacal and intense music that took a clear step away from established CBGB bands like Television. The Mad often played with The Stimulators, (featuring a 12-year-old drummer named Harley Flanagan) who self-released the anthem “Loud Fast Rules” in 1980. Much like their LA counterparts, The Stimulators were inspired by The Damned and stood in stark contrast to the major label-funded Ramones, fellow New Yorkers and punk pioneers who tried and failed to generate a hit with Phil Spector himself that year; the legendary producer helmed an album that was neither loud nor fast, nor (for most Ramones fans) did it rule. Visual artist Sean Taggart said in Tony Rettman’s book NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 (Bazillion Points, 2014), “The Stimulators are definitely the bridging band for New York from punk to hardcore in the same way the Germs were the band from LA to do that.” With the formation of teenage bands Reagan Youth (from the Ramones’ own hood of Forest Hills, Queens) and Kraut in ‘81, the generational rift between punk and 1.5 was more apparent in the Big Apple than any other part of the country. The scene’s Rodney on the Roq equivalent was Noise the Show on WNYU, hosted by Tim Sommer and Jack Rabid; it only lasted from mid-’81 to mid-’82.
In Washington, D.C., a band of four African American ex-jazz fusion musicians had been trying their hand at punk since ‘78. Driven by the 1.5 zeitgeist, every time Bad Brains recorded, they pushed the speed and the ferocity up a notch. HR (“Hunting Rod,” born Paul Hudson)’s high-pitched vocals and his brother Earl Hudson’s breakneck tempos were reminiscent of The Dickies from Los Angeles, whom they cited as a primary influence; they even played the Dickies’ arrangement of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” at shows. Accomplishing the tightrope act of playing below their skill level without being bored by the relatively simple form of the genre, the brothers Hudson, guitarist Dr. Know (Gary Miller) and bassist Darryl Jennifer recorded a live demo in June of ‘79 at the home of recording engineer Don Zientara that showcased their speed, precision, and sense of “positive mental attitude” (a philosophy from Napoleon Hill’s 1937 self-improvement book Think and Grow Rich). Their songwriting owed a debt to the Sex Pistols (compare “Redbone in the City” to “God Save the Queen”), but also introduced occasional slowed down, heavy interludes with shredding lead guitar that sounded like a page out of the Sabbath songbook. Unfortunately, the 17-song recording, perfect in every way, took 17 years to be commercially released, as Black Dots on Caroline Records. By ‘80, Bad Brains had one self-released single to their name—the hyper-kinetic “Pay To Cum,” with one foot out the door to their new homebase of New York. Before leaving Washington, they had amassed a rabid following, due in part to their electrifying performances that usually involved HR, a former high school star athlete, backflipping and landing on his feet with ease. Two of these converts were teenagers Henry Garfield and Ian MacKaye.
“The 1980 Bad Brains were the greatest band of all time,” said MacKaye recently. That year, he was playing bass in Teen Idles—a group filled out by Wilson High classmates Nathan Strejcek, Geordie Grindle, and Jeff Nelson. Despite bowing at the altar of their hometown heroes and listening closely to anthems by UK bands like Sham 69 and the Ruts, all acquired from Rockville, MD’s Yesterday & Today record shop, Teen Idles looked West for inspiration. The Germs, Black Flag, Flipside Fanzine, and the entire Dangerhouse catalog formed a pathway pointing toward their future.
“California—that was a scene we related to,” MacKaye recalls. “Especially LA, because New York is an accepted cultural capital. And in the world of rock and roll, so is San Francisco. But LA was a ‘fucking joke,’ right? Did you ever hear the F-Word live record? [SF promoter] Dirk Dirksen does that thing. ‘Okay, well, here’s from LA some plastic punks! F-Word, whoopie!’ Whatever. And that’s how he introduces them. I knew the dismissiveness I heard in that, and it really resonated with me because I’m from Washington. People in New York used to make fun of people from Washington because we were just a provincial town. So I think I really felt a kinship with what was happening in LA. Because nobody took LA bands seriously, but I knew that they were the greatest bands in the world. I just knew. Except for the Bad Brains. We had an affinity and we thought like, ‘Let’s go to LA. We want to see the punk scene there.’”
“The 1980 Bad Brains were the greatest band of all time,” said MacKaye recently.
In the summer of 1980, Teen Idles did the unthinkable—all four of them plus roadies Henry Garfield and Mark Sullivan took a Greyhound bus to play just two shows—one at Hong Kong Cafe in LA and one at Mabuhay Gardens in SF—both 1.5 strongholds frequented by the Germs and Dead Kennedys respectively. They got the full Cali experience, befriending ex-Consumers member Paul Cutler (at this point playing in Vox Pop) who let Ian borrow his bass at their LA show. They also received a handwritten note from Darby Crash, scrawled on the back of a flyer: “Hey Teen Waddles—Mohicans rule.” In SF, Teen Idles were booted from their Mabuhay slot opening for the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, and Flipper by the condescending Dirk Dirksen for the unseemly reason that he didn’t like their promo photo. As a consolation, they were placed on a lame “new wave night” later in the week. However, they attended the DKs show where, for the first time, they met the frontrunners of the SoCal 1.5 vanguard—the diehard beach contingent had caravanned up to SF to show the snooty/arty SF punks how it’s done. These included Black Flag roadie Mugger, X-Head (an alleged sociopath made famous in the 1980 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization), and skate icon Tony Alva, already an idol to Ian and Henry. This singular, unforgettable experience lit a fire under some of the Teen Idles and their scene, which New Yorkers would soon mockingly call “Washifornians.” Teen Idles self-released their Minor Disturbance E.P. in December 1980, which skewered the UK punk scene (“Fleeting Fury”), hippie culture (“Deadhead”), clubs with age limits (“Too Young To Rock”), and also birthed Dischord Records at the moment the band imploded.
In the hands of impassioned forward-thinkers like MacKaye, even 1.5 was not quite far enough away from punk’s pretensions. Change was in the air, and hardcore—the next step in punk’s three dramatic acts—was on the horizon.
ZERO BOYS – New Generation LIVE 1981 (720p HD)
THE MAD – SCREAMIN MAD GEORGE
The Teen Idles – “Deadhead” – Live 1980
PART 3: HOW 1.5 WAS DECIMATED BY HARDCORE, BUT NOT BEFORE CREATING A LASTING LEGACY
FLEX YOUR HEAD: APOLLO AND THE AGE OF HARDCORE
At the very same time that 1.5 was beginning to expand punk’s vocabulary, the first beakers of what would come to be known as “hardcore” were being mixed in the lab. Hardcore was not the same as 1.5 in sound or spirit; it would ultimately build upon the aggression of 1.5, upping the speed on verses and choruses while simultaneously relying more on breakdowns—bridges with slower tempos and a heavy feel pioneered by Bad Brains—as a way to emphasize the muscularity of the songs. Singing became almost entirely replaced by shouting (with some notable exceptions) and most of the time, melody was de-emphasized too, leading to more uniformity between bands. Lyrically, humor also tended to be a scarcer commodity in hardcore music. This new genre, whose first generation lasted roughly between 1980 and 1984, was one step even further away from bands like the Pistols and Ramones than 1.5. From the start, hardcore hit the ground running with an Apollonian sense of conscious purpose unknown to its Dionysian predecessors.
“Evolution is a process too slow to save my soul,” snarled Darby Crash in “Manimal,” but the musical evolution that the Germs were a part of was so fast, so convoluted, and so complex that it can only be properly analyzed in retrospect. The first birth pains of hardcore came early—you can hear them in Santa Ana’s The Middle Class and their sublime Out of Vogue EP, recorded in 1978 and released at the dawn of ‘79—that is, just as 1.5 was coming into its own. The title track in particular feels like the shape of things to come as it captures the alienation of suburban life with a sound that’s as rigid as it is arty. In fact, Out of Vogue was so hard and so fast that, on reflection, it seems to have skipped entirely over 1.5—straight to hardcore. A prescient gig review in Slash’s September ‘79 issue noted, “Middle Class is rapidly gaining a reputation for trouble—their gigs are more often than not intense, teeth-gritting affairs that leave the participant dazed, stunned, even irritated. The incitable [sic] nature of their strange, assaulting music coupled with the growing number of their unpredictably rabid fans result in chaos and confusion. And it keeps getting more and more and more frantic, those affected bashing harder and faster as the set crushes on. The effect is not unlike kissing a semi at full speed.” The ambivalent review concludes, however, by saying, “This was how it should be: ALIVE.”
Singing became almost entirely replaced by shouting
Unfortunately, The Middle Class never toured, and they quickly grew out of the very sound they pioneered, making their national influence limited. The real national spearhead for hardcore was two-pronged, and tightly connected to the disruption of Black Flag’s original line-up and the creation of the Circle Jerks.
Just before the release and phenomenal success of Nervous Breakdown, Black Flag’s drummer Brian Migdol was replaced by Colombian army defector Julio Roberto Valverde Valencia, who was nicknamed Robo partially due to his stiff, robotic drumming style, which would slow down towards the end of eight-bar phrases and speed back up. Ginn began incorporating unruly micro-leads and, after Morris left the band at the end of ‘79, singer Ron Reyes brought with him an unparalleled rage on the stellar follow-up EP Jealous Again. Reyes still carried a snottiness in his voice hearkening back to punk’s past, but by the time vocalist #3 Dez Cadena stepped in, his own hoarse, monotone yell heard on the three-song Six Pack EP completed the band’s transition from 1.5ers to master engineers of hardcore. Fortified by a fanatical SoCal fanbase and three consecutive full-scale riots at the top of the 1980-’81 school year, Black Flag followed D.O.A.’s lead (and borrowed their booking contacts), becoming a touring cavalry, spreading the hardcore reality to cities large and small across the continent.
Just after Keith Morris’ departure from Black Flag, he pieced together a new group with ex-Red Cross guitarist Greg Hetson, classically trained guitarist Roger Rogerson on bass, and jazz-trained drummer Lucky Lehrer. In one light, Circle Jerks could be seen as the party band Ginn would never allow Black Flag to be, but it’s a mark of Morris’ singular personality and lyrical genius that the group can be taken as seriously as Black Flag or anybody else. If there’s one guy whose very attitude manages to overthrow punk’s cliché grandiosity and makes way for 1.5’s journey into hardcore, it’s Morris. A short, mouthy beach rat and former record store clerk, Morris is more Everyman than Revolutionist, spiritually fueled by quotidian SoCal traffic jam angst, railing about everything from Beverly Hills fashionistas, bad dates, and “bureaucracy and bourgeoisie” to sketchy apartment hallways, booze binges and vasectomies. “I’m just a spoke in the wheel, just a part of the puzzle, a part of the game,” he cries on “Deny Everything”—it’s a totally original mix of humility, frustration, and indignation. In Morris, SoCal found its hardcore hero.
From its album cover shot at Marina Skate Park to its seminal Shawn Kerri dance instruction drawings to the classic Ed Colver band photo—four “normal dudes” scoping the ‘fridge for beer—the Circle Jerks and their 1980 debut LP Group Sex on Fancher’s Frontier is a snapshot of a band already making the transition from 1.5 to hardcore. While they re-purposed music from their former bands to fill out their set (pieces of Red Cross’ “Cover Band,” “Rich Brat” and “Fun with Connie” became “Live Fast Die Young,” “What’s Your Problem” and “I Just Want Some Skank” respectively; “Gimme Sopor” by one-point-fivers Angry Samoans, who shared no members with Circle Jerks, became “World Up My Ass”), the band’s originals like the absurdly short aforementioned opener “Deny Everything” were solidly hardcore. Even the three Black Flag covers on Group Sex were jacked up several notches, including the manic, drum-centric closer “Red Tape.”
The clearest illustration of the dividing line between 1.5 and hardcore can be observed in the difference between the original 1979 version of “Wasted” by Black Flag (1.5) and the Circle Jerks’ 1980 “cover” (hardcore). Almost like a science experiment where the variables of chords, song structure, lyrics, and vocalist are kept constant, one can see that the fast-yet-smooth 51-second ride Black Flag takes the listener on is now choppy, jarring, full of stops and starts and even shorter (by eight seconds) in the hands of the Circle Jerks. By ‘81, the rival bands had become twin touring hardcore juggernauts, unintentionally helping to wipe the 1.5 sound off the map before it ever had a firm footing. In fact, the birth of hardcore was so closely associated with Black Flag and the Circle Jerks that, by May 1982, New England label Modern Method managed to release in protest the ridiculously titled compilation LP This Is Boston, Not L.A. Why not just call the album Oh How We Adore Black Flag and the Circle Jerks!? And yet the album itself is nothing to squawk at. Featuring Massachusetts bands Jerry’s Kids and The FU’s (both transitioning out of 1.5 and into hardcore), Gang Green (completely enveloped in the new hardcore sound), and The Freeze—a more established group whose subsequent releases held the 1.5 line—Modern Method and This is Boston showed the rest of the country that New England had one of the more vibrant scenes of the early ‘80s—another surprise outbreak in the rapid sweep toward hardcore.
Posh Boy’s Robbie Fields immediately saw a difference between the 1.5 sound he helped foster and this new, harder thing that was spreading like a grassfire. “Because of Red Cross,” he remembers, “I was invited to check out Panic (Black Flag) at the Church in Redondo Beach and it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Too loud. Later, I jumped at the chance to release Black Flag whenever I could…but my bias was always towards the melodic.”
This is Boston showed the rest of the country that New England had one of the more vibrant scenes of the early ‘80s—another surprise outbreak in the rapid sweep toward hardcore.
Melodic was not where things were headed. After Jealous Again and Group Sex, many of the movers and shakers of 1.5 followed down the path towards hardcore in quick succession. Released the year after Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, Dead Kennedys’ In God We Trust, Inc. is a strikingly brutal affair; standout track “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” leaves nothing to the imagination, contains absolutely no melody, namechecks the word “hardcore,” and hammers its point home in a directness that is the very hallmark of the genre.
By ‘82, Bad Brains were breaking the sound barrier with their fierce self-titled full-length cassette on ROIR. Also known as The Yellow Tape, this little piece of plastic dynamite appeared just as the cassette medium was coming into its own—the fastest thing to ever hit a Sony Walkman. The heavy “mosh” parts (a term originated from the audience’s misinterpretation of HR’s dance instruction to “mash it up”) on “Supertouch/Shitfit” and “Right Brigade” would be hugely influential on subsequent generations in their new hometown of New York.
Back in DC, Teen Idles members Jeff Nelson and Ian MacKaye formed Minor Threat in the fall of 1980, the latter moving from bass to vocals. Musically influenced by Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Sham 69, but also by witnessing the Circle Jerks play with the Dead Kennedys in SF (Group Sex hadn’t come out yet), Minor Threat’s undeniable hooks—many of which were written by MacKaye on the family piano—proved that tunefulness could still thrive within the tight parameters of hardcore. Right out the gate, Minor Threat had more speed, more aggression, more focus, more direction, more precision, and more instantly recognizable choruses than Teen Idles. Gradually the spiky hair, leather jackets and boots gave way to button downs, T-shirts, skate shoes, and Ian’s shaved head. As he put it, “We don’t need to fucking wear spikes ‘cause we are the spikes.” Teen Idles had hinted at their disapproval of substance abuse and their refusal to “grow up” on tracks like “I Drink Milk” and “Sneakers,” but Minor Threat songs like “Straight Edge” and “Bottled Violence” confronted the issue head on. Where Teen Idles had straddled the middle ground between punk and hardcore in every respect, Minor Threat was defining hardcore’s Platonic ideal by the release of their first EP in 1981.
The Mabuhay in SF had put Xs on the backs of underage patrons’ hands to keep them from being able to buy alcohol in the club. After Ian & co. returned to D.C., they convinced venues to host all ages shows using the same system; oftentimes the X was self-applied with pride. Although not by design, “Straight Edge” eventually spawned an entire sub-scene that shared the song’s namesake and swore by a strict life code of sobriety, using the Xed hand as its symbol. Ethical absolutism often seemed to go hand-in-hand with hardcore—extreme music matched by extreme (at least by the standards of a drug-addled society) views. In late ‘81, the Bad Brains returned from tour and HR informed Ian that the recently disbanded Minor Threat needed to reunite because hardcore’s SoCal Mecca was captivated by the music and the message of his band. Minor Threat gave it another run, touring North America in 1982 and ‘83, playing in Southern California to thousands of kids who screamed every lyric back at them in a chorus of vindication. Dirk Dirksen, New York snobbery, and “cultural capitals” be damned.
Teen Idles’ roadie Henry Garfield started State of Alert (S.O.A.)—his own hardcore band—on Dischord as well. Henry had a dark, brooding style quite different from the loquacious, kinetic energy of Darby Crash, who served as an early inspiration. S.O.A represented a sort of stone-hard approach to the budding genre, with basic, fast drumming, simple chord progressions, and many lyrics focused on physical confrontation. It proved to be a winning formula for Detroit’s Negative Approach, Boston’s Negative FX, and Agnostic Front from NYC, who pushed it even further into an unremitting distillation of speed and rage. By mid 1981, State of Alert had broken up when their singer was handpicked to be the fourth Black Flag vocalist. Henry Garfield became Henry Rollins and brought his engrossing strain of tortured masculinity back to hardcore’s Southern California birthplace. Rollins is now an affable public figure, crafting himself as an earnest and approachable spokesperson of the underground, but in his maiden voyage on Black Flag’s Damaged, tracks like “Room 13” and “Damaged II” revealed a seriousness of intent that matched Ginn’s PTSD nightmare visions and lent the songs undeniable force. On stage, he was something to see—a muscle-bound manimal prowling at the edge of the fourth wall. If Keith Morris was hardcore’s Everyman, Rollins made for a captivating larger-than-life Superman-Antihero.
“Straight Edge” eventually spawned an entire sub-scene that shared the song’s namesake and swore by a strict life code of sobriety, using the Xed hand as its symbol.
If it seems, once again, like we’re splitting hairs with these hyper-transitions, it’s important to note that hardcore has elements you simply can’t find anywhere in punk or 1.5. When you have a chord progression that, if played much slower, still sounds nothing like rock ‘n’ roll music, you’re well within the hardcore school of songwriting. Circle One, from the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, has a sound indicative of many others from hardcore’s first generation: shouted vocals with direct political messages, often accompanied by what is commonly referred to as the “scissor beat” (kick-snare-kick-snare). Not all hardcore songs use that beat, but all songs that use that beat are hardcore. The scissor beat was the ne plus ultra of hardcore Puritanism—a seemingly guileless, unbendable assault that’s anti-swing in a way that 1.5 never is and never was. Just as many 1.5 bands were raised on punk, hardcore bands were in turn raised on 1.5 (Circle One themselves were named after a Germs song). Each generation strayed further away from the original sound, moving the goalpost along with their ambitions.
By 1982, hardcore was the bee’s knees. Everywhere, it seemed, fast and intense was getting faster and intenser. The Stains (who changed their name to MDC to avoid being confused with the East LA hardcore band of the same name) and Necros ramped up the hardness with subsequent releases. Little Harley Flanagan from 1.5 exemplars the Stimulators started Cro-Mags in ‘82, which incorporated Motörhead rhythms into pummeling hardcore with Bad Brains-style breakdowns. D.O.A. continued down the 1.5 road; they named their second LP Hardcore 81, which only in retrospect can be seen as ironic since they were waving a flag for the very genre that moved past their own sound with each passing month. Like a dam bursting, hardcore flooded VFW halls across the nation, filling up the pages of hardcore’s new Bay Area bible, Maximum Rocknroll—Battalion of Saints in San Diego, Poison Idea in Portland, 7 Seconds in Reno, San Francisco’s Code of Honor, Deep Wound from Western Massachusetts, Corrosion of Conformity out of North Carolina. Almost as soon as it arrived, 1.5 was rendered darn near obsolete.
Minor Threat – Los Angeles/Chatsworth ’83
LATCH KEY KIDS: 1.5’s INFLUENCE ON FUTURE GENERATIONS
Two bands from the initial 1.5 run had perhaps a greater impact than any other on the generation that was being birthed, literally, alongside the genre and coming of age in the ‘90s. It is unlikely most scenesters circa 1982 would have pegged Descendents or Bad Religion as forebearers of any kind of future movement, but history throws a mean curveball.
Descendents sprang out of the same Hermosa scene as Black Flag and Circle Jerks. Founded by drummer/fishing fanatic Bill Stevenson and his Catholic high school classmate Frank Navetta on guitar, the two initially jammed with Dave Nolte of local psych rock band The Last before replacing him with bassist Tony Lombardo, an unlikely kindred spirit who was almost two decades their senior. Stevenson spoke about Navetta’s songwriting in the 2013 documentary Filmage: The Story of Descendents/ALL, “His songs were just filled with that envy of people that are better looking, that are more successful. It was really inspiring to just be around someone that hated everything that much. It was great!”
As a trio, Descendents self-released a Last-inspired single in 1980 before recruiting vocalist Milo Aukerman—a veritable poster child for nerd-dom whose charisma and melodic singing gave them the ability to alternate between short, caffeine-fueled, jokey hardcore songs about food and farting and heartfelt love songs driven by the 1.5 backbeat with angry Navetta strumming—the mixture helped to keep them far away from schmaltz territory. After unloading five bursts of pure joke-core on 1981’s “FAT” E.P., they returned the following year with a full-length front-to-back 1.5 masterpiece.
“His songs were just filled with that envy of people that are better looking, that are more successful. It was really inspiring to just be around someone that hated everything that much.
“By the time we recorded Milo Goes to College, the pendulum swung somewhere maybe in the middle,” said Stevenson. “There’s a lot of melodic and pop elements to it, but it also has that bitter resentment that I was talking about with Frank.” All four members wrote songs, but it was Aukerman’s “Hope”—an everyman’s plea to a love interest who is in another relationship with an uncaring partner (“My day will come / I know some day I’ll be the only one”)—that became the band’s calling card.
After breaking up and reuniting at several inopportune times, starting with Milo actually going to college in ‘82, the Descendents’ day finally came well into the ‘90s and beyond when an entire generation of commercially successful bands led by blink-182, Face to Face, and Rise Against cited them as a primary influence, pinning the Descendents as the godfathers of what became known as pop-punk. The pendulum never perfectly hit the middle again like it did on their first album; follow up Descendents records contained a hodgepodge of mellow love songs, off-kilter instrumentals and more tracks about food/farting. However, during their initial run, they proved that songs as timeless and perfect as anything by the Beatles or the Beach Boys could be forged within such a sonically explosive music format as 1.5.
Descendents – Hope Live 1985 – Bing video
Formed in the fall of 1980 by four high school kids in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills, Bad Religion created itself in the image of 1.5. Ironically, the band’s anti-religious message was an extension of the Germs song “No God,” due in part to their treatment of Germs singer Darby Crash as a demigod. “[Germs’ music] was distinctly separate from the punk I had been listening to,” stated guitarist Brett Gurewitz in the band’s 2020 autobiography Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion, co-written by Jim Ruland. “It was not the Buzzcocks or the Sex Pistols or the Ramones, who had this very accessible power pop sound, almost like it came from the Fifties. The Germs were dark and felt more dangerous.”
Henry Garfield became Henry Rollins and brought his engrossing strain of tortured masculinity back to hardcore’s Southern California birthplace.
Still wet behind the ears, Bad Religion played one of their first shows at a University of Southern California frat party with Darby Crash in attendance. Darby committed suicide a few weeks later, on December 7, 1980, but the Germs had only just begun to spread. Gurewitz self-released Bad Religion’s debut EP on Epitaph Records in early ‘81, followed by the How Could Hell Be Any Worse? LP in ‘82. If Black Flag had evolved to become a hardcore band with primarily 1.5 lyrics, Bad Religion are the best example of the opposite. Synthesizing the aggression of Black Flag, the melodic sensibility of the Adolescents, Darby Crash’s multisyllabic lexicon, and SAT exam study words, Bad Religion’s popularity grew in waves over the next decade and a half. After taming their sound a bit since the early days (with a surprisingly effective detour into pseudo-prog rock on sophomore LP Into the Unknown), Bad Religion became a worldwide touring phenomenon as Epitaph grew into one of the most successful labels in the history of recorded music. The Offspring from Orange County, CA released Smash on Epitaph in 1994; it sold 11 million copies, making it the best-selling album on an independent record company. With one spin, you can tell that the record’s most obvious influences are 1.5ers T.S.O.L. and Agent Orange.
In the 2012 documentary Clockwork Orange County, Jello Biafra encapsulates the secret power of 1.5’s influence. “These were hit records that didn’t become radio hits because they weren’t [on] corporate major labels, and if Rodney didn’t play it, nobody would, except the college stations. But in retrospect, it doesn’t surprise me that the OC sound was kind of the cradle of what made bands like Bad Religion and later much bigger [bands like] Green Day, and Offspring especially, openly trace their lineage to T.S.O.L. They got big because finally the masses heard that type of punk sound.”
OUTRO: MEMORIES OF TOMORROW
With 1.5 all but dead by 1983, Adolescents drummer Casey Royer soldiered on, fronting D.I.—a band that continued the tradition of the surfy sound of his previous group. Social Distortion shed their 1.5 skin by slowing their tempos down to basic rock with a western flavor and a rockabilly aesthetic by the beginning of the ‘90s, earning them two gold albums on Epic Records. With Bad Religion/Descendents-influenced California pop-punk being the prevailing mode of the ‘90s, there continued to be a reverence for the 1.5 sound, but almost no practitioners of it until Scandinavian bands Young Wasteners, No Hope For The Kids, and Regulations appeared in the mid-‘00s. This micro-scene made ripples, but not waves; the tide settled in the following decade, until there were only a handful of contemporary 1.5 bands, including Broken Patterns from Los Angeles, New Jersey’s Night Birds, and most recently Bloodstains from Orange County, who released a blistering demo at the end of 2020. Their crystal clear 1.5 sound is anomalous—they operate within the hardcore scene, because there isn’t enough of a scene to support the sound by itself.
Hardcore proved to be the gift that kept on giving, generation to generation, like lawn furniture. Outside of North America, Discharge from the UK and their brand of walloping, political cacophony, packaged with more spikes than a porcupine at a needle exchange, became hugely influential on the continental European and Japanese scenes. Strict adherence to this sound earns one a place in the d-beat (“d” for Discharge) category. In the US, the metal/hardcore crossover stylings of Suicidal Tendencies, Corrosion of Conformity, and The Accused dominated the mid-‘80s, along with an uptick in straight edge hardcore led by Youth of Today at the end of the decade. NYHC also got heavier and more metallic, with bands like Madball and 25 Ta Life, two posses who wouldn’t feel out of place on Rikers Island. Together, they took over the early ‘90s sound of the Northeast. This scene’s burlier offshoot, beatdown, was invented by N.Y.’s own Bulldoze. All the while, melodic hardcore carved out a lane for itself; Minor Threat guitarist/bassist Brian Baker’s band Dag Nasty led the charge in the mid-‘80s, and Verbal Assault helped carry their tuneful, octave-laced, mid-tempo vision into the the early ‘90s, where Lifetime from NJ picked up the torch. Also out of D.C., Dischord band Rites of Spring’s self-titled LP, released during the self-defined Revolution Summer of ‘85, inadvertently planted the seeds of emocore, which grew into a distinct scene in the ‘90s, that is, until “emo” became a dirty word in the ‘00s when radio pop bands began using it.
Hardcore proved to be the gift that kept on giving, generation to generation, like lawn furniture.
The hardcore branch of the punk family tree continued producing smaller and smaller branches: there was the speed-of-sound powerviolence micro-genre led by California bands Infest and Crossed Out, the back-to-rock vibe of post-hardcore and its leader Quicksand (fittingly consisting of former members of hardcore bands), metalcore (which can mean different things depending on the age and location of the person using the term and what kind of head injuries they might have suffered), the youth crew revival of the late ‘90s started by bands who were re-using Youth of Today’s sound a decade after Youth of Today were neither youths nor of today. The generations of crossover revivalism roll on. Contemporary hardcore is a nebulous monster with a thousand eyes, while 1.5 is naught but an unspoken footnote, a mere preface to HC’s massive, indigestible history.
At the end of the day, where you entered the fray usually defines how you see this chain of events. To an older person all these 1.5 bands may appear to be hardcore, and to a younger person many of these bands are likely considered punk. 1.5 can’t catch a break.
Still, 1.5 occupies an essence, an energy that is not merely “after punk” or “proto-hardcore.” Of the three genres, there are no “winners”—they tell a story together—but in its purest state, 1.5 possesses the best of both worlds: the humor and melody of punk and the mercury-quick untamed aggression of hardcore. In this way, 1.5 is neither the first inspiration nor the final destination—it’s the most surprising part of the adventure.
1.5 (the hidden genre between punk & hardcore) Spotify playlist: