“I kind of think somethings over by the time you’ve read about it”. So says Tommy of the Stupids fame as he opens a new documentary about the whirlwind ride that was UK hardcore in the mid to late 80’s. It’s a telling quote applicable to so many scenes that start off life underground, rapidly gain an expanding and increasingly mainstream audience before burning out in the space of a few short years. It’s true of the spasms in punk rock that preceded it such as the leather and studs UK82 bands and the activist Anarcho punk movement and also of those that followed in its wake such as the colossal waves of grunge and melodic pop punk.
UK hardcore started off life as a truly underground scene and this short film captures that spirit well. In 23 minutes it tells a story of music sharing via C90 cassette trading long before Napster and Spotify made it all so easy. It reveals cheap international communication networks using reusable ‘soaped’ stamps years prior to broadband and social media coming into existence. An entire subculture of bands and venues existed without the involvement of the mainstream music press. It relied on word of mouth, flyers stuffed into letters, photocopied zines and a trust in a handful of record labels to carry on putting out bands that had a similar appeal. For a while it couldn’t be heard on the radio but all that changed when John Peel of Radio 1 championed many of the bands on his late night show. That brought new fans and even the music papers belatedly and grudgingly took note calling it Britcore for a while before claiming it had gone into a cul-de-sac and returning to ignoring it.
It’s only possible to give a feel of those times in such a short programme. Punk chronicler Ian Glasper gives an overview of life’s bleak outlook for many young people growing up in the eighties, music writer James Sherry explains how tape trading worked, Beddis from Cowboy Killers tells of scaring a very young Green Day with a Samurai sword on their first UK tour. Band wise the Stupids, Heresy, Extreme Noise Terror, Chaos UK, Ripcord amongst others all feature. You can argue that this band or that label should have been featured but c’mon, this is the first nationally aired documentary on this scene since the late eighties. Enjoy it for what is is – an amazing snapshot of an incredible analog music network.
Watch it here: Soap The Stamps