[Part of a series focusing on seminal hardcore records]
Hardcore first started to creep into Texas in the late 70s. Punk had been present in the state for a couple of years before after the emergence of the Ramones and the CBGBs scene. Bands like The Skunks and The Violators (featuring Kathy Valentine who would later join the Go-Go’s) created the groundwork for what would later become one of the most prominent punk scenes in the country. Both bands went on to have influence on the city around them, forming a core base around the nightclub Raul’s. The venue kind of became a Mecca for Texas punk. Touring bands ranging from Devo to Elvis Costello would show up – and Patti Smith even dropped in specifically to play with The Skunks. It also became a kind of DIY-haven for the punks of Austin, giving a place for bands to play and even inspiring the zine Sluggo! to begin printing. As hardcore gained popularity and infect the state, tons of bands began to pop up around Austin and Houstin. The main three bands at the head of the Austin scene were The Stains (later MDC), Big Boys, and The Dicks – cultivating a new kind of hardcore with a distinct “Texas” sound, and inspiring tons of bands around them. In Houston there was Really Red, who had an ever-changing sound while maintaining the tough aggression of their peers, and DRI, who would later become one of the first crossover thrash-punk bands of the time. At some point there was a mass-exodus from Texas to San Francisco, but the bands would remain true to their Texan sound and continue to frequent Raul’s on tours and pilgrimages. Nowadays, bands like Glue and Impalers hold the torch for Texas hardcore. While there’s a definite progression towards a new sound, without the foundation laid by punk pioneers like MDC and the Dicks, it’s likely the scene wouldn’t be nearly what it is now.
MDC (as Stains) – John Wayne Was A Nazi/Born To Die 7” (1981, Austin)
Though the band would later relocate to San Francisco, MDC’s roots were in Austin. At the time, they were billed as Stains, but they maintained the high energy, socio-political mindset as they progressed. The Stains EP is raw, with less production quality than heard in MDC’s later records. Their abrasive sound adds power to the anti-fascist message present in both songs on the single. “John Wayne Was A Nazi” was written in the aftermath of the actor’s death, based on his white supremacy and homophobic beliefs. Dave Dictor, as a young kid, had read the racist, pro-white remarks Wayne had stood behind, and after witnessing his classmates distraught over his death, he and his friend began chanting “John Wayne was a Nazi.” The song’s lyrics are blunt, backed by pounding drums and cutting guitar. The anti-Nazi message continues with “Born To Die,” as Dictor chants “No war, no KKK, no fascist USA” – currently trending thanks to Green Day, who chanted “No Trump, No KKK, no fascist USA” at the AMAs this past week. Stains/MDC were up there with Dead Kennedys as far as politically charged bands go, and later played several Rock Against Reagan shows with them and other outspoken bands. MDC later re-recorded both songs for their Millions of Dead Cops LP, but the aggressive grittiness of Stains’ 7” qualifies as worthy competition.
Big Boys – Frat Cars 7” (1980, Austin)
Another pivotal band to the Texas hardcore scene, Big Boys fused aggressive punk with funk undertones. Their first few releases, including 1980’s Frat Cars, were definitely more guitar heavy than the horn-backed later tracks. The snotty title track on the EP is easily the fastest track. It has the stereotypical “us vs. the mainstream” vibe found in most punk of the time, and is in the same vein of the later Descendents song “I’m Not A Loser.” The scratchy vocals overdub buzzsaw guitar and speeding drums, with a melodic chorus sandwiched between aggressive verses. The other tracks on the record hint at Big Boys’ future sound, with jazz chords. “Heartbeat” is almost Minutemen-esque, while “Movies” relies more on staccato vocals and yowls. The final track, “Mutant Rock,” is a swampy, sped up anthem. The chorus is corrosive and loud, splitting in between steady verses with loud guitar and howling vocals. Big Boys were highly influential, not only for pioneering the funk-punk mashup, but because Randy “Biscuit” Turner was open about his sexuality in the face of the prevalent homophobia in the 80s. Rey Washam went on to play in bands like Scratch Acid and even Jerry’s Kids. While not stereotypically “hardcore,” Big Boys were crucial in the Texas hardcore scene.
The Dicks – Hate The Police 7″ (1980, Austin)
One of the most seminal bands in the Austin scene, The Dicks released one of the most important hardcore EPs of the early 80s. Another openly gay-fronted band, punk’s anti-cop, anti-system mentality was more pertinent than ever. Hate The Police clocks in at less than six minutes, but spits out three bangers in that time. The whole record is consistently energetic and antagonistic, with Gary Floyd’s vocals reverberating over splitting guitar and crashing rhythm. “Hate The Police” is an anthem for minorities, drawing attention to trigger-happy, hostile cops. It acknowledges the corrupt, racist system that is the police force, which faces little consequence to this day. With the past few years of police shootings finally garnering attention from the mainstream, the song is still incredibly apropos. The other tracks, “Lifetime Problems” and “All Night Fever” are just as dynamic, filled with catchy choruses and fast-paced powerchords. Kill From The Heart, the Dicks first LP, is just as credible, and maintains their tongue-in-cheek, anti-fascist gritty punk sound. The Dicks’ influence has held strong throughout the years, and tons of bands still acknowledge their impact on contemporary hardcore.
Really Red – Crowd Control 7” (1979, Houston)
Really Red, while less frequently cited than the aforementioned bands, were just as vital to the Texas punk scene. They were one of the first punk bands in Houston, with a sound that heavily drew from ‘77 punk, but had the same tough output as their peers. Their debut EP isn’t as aggro as, maybe, Hate The Police, but the attitude was there. They definitely ended up progressing into more of a traditional hardcore band, but this record is almost art-punk. It’s catchy, it’s raw, it’s political without sounding too much like Jello Biafra. Side A’s “Crowd Control” immediately grabs you and sucks you in with splitting vocals and heavily distorted powerchords. The chorus is infectious, with slamming drums. The bass-laden “Corporate Settings” delves more into the arty-aspect, almost sounding like UK’s Eater at times. It’s just as catchy as the title track, but has more drum build up during the chorus. The EP laid the cornerstone for the sound they’d end up building up as they assimilated more with the hardcore scene around them, though they never sounded generic or quite like anyone else.