Musicians and photographers tell the style story of a 1980s UK DIY underground
Soap the Stamps is the fourth documentary in our Music Nation series. Directed by Jim Demuth, it tells the tale of late 80s UK hardcore and the kids who kept the '82 spirit alive through fervent DIY culture. The doc premieres tonight at 12.05am on Channel 4, and to mark the occasion, we’re celebrating all things hardcore – from the melting pot of punk style to playlists.
In the gallery above, musicians, zine makers and photographers share their memories of a wholly underground scene – where knowledge was passed from fan to fan on homemade fanzines and scratchy tapes, posting everything via Royal Mail and 'soaping the stamps' to reuse them. First though, Nina Manandhar, founder of What We Wore, charts the style development of a scene that shared itself across the Atlantic and spawned many sub genres that still thrive today:
"One time Black Flag front man and Hardcore icon Henry Rollins summed up his attitude to style with the frankness he is notorious for 'Getting dressed up means wearing a black T-shirt and some really basic dark pants...Fuck clothes. The more time you spend worrying about clothes, the less time you have to grab life by the balls'. It would be fair to say that this attitude was shared many in the UK Hardcore scene, yet although clothes weren't of prime importance, this didn't mean to say that over the years the movement, like all music cultures, didn't have a uniform.
"Fuck clothes. The more time you spend worrying about clothes, the less time you have to grab life by the balls"
US Hardcore kids eschewed what they described as the 'posey punk' look they saw as archetypal of the (UK influenced) L.A punk scene, for an anti-fashion stance, jeans, and simple tees, and a contingent of UK '82 counterparts followed suit. However, many kept the hallmarks of early British punk, in 'soaped up' spiky hair and studs.
As the movement splintered, in some kind of Trans- Atlantic inverse, others aspired to looking like they worked in hardware stores in Missouri although in reality they lived in he middle of Ipswich.
The What We Wore selection shows looks from the early days of hardcore punk depicted in the film, through to the sub genres it spawned; Emo, Mathcore, post-hardcore of more recent times. Although the trends vary, what's consistent is that function defines form. Just as the Balearic crowd dressed to rave in comfort, hardcore-punk kids dressed-down to mosh, in this undeniably male dominated movement, sweaty band tee against tee."
James Sherry, star of Soap the Stamps, is co-founder of Division Promotions. With a life seeped in punk and hardcore from 1980s at the age of 7 listening to his Dad's records, to forming his band The Scum Children as a teen and now supporting emerging artists through PR, he gives the inside story on a very DIY underground scene:
How old were you when you first got into hardcore, and how did you discover it?
James Sherry: It was quite a slow process really. My Dad was in the music business, so there were always tonnes of records in the house. I grew up obsessed by music from a very early age. He had quite a lot of punk records in the house – though at 7 or 8 I didn’t really know what a punk record was, but I was listening to it. He had The Adverts and The Damned, and all these kind of early punk bands. Then as a teenager, about 11 or 12 I got really into heavy metal and rock music, as lots of teenage boys do. First wave, really fast, thrash metal bands – Venom, Metallica, Megadeath and Exodose. And all of those bands, were really influenced by the early 1980s hardcore punk from the UK and America. They’d all be wearing Discharge and GBH and Misfits, and I remember seeing the t-shirts and thinking ‘I want to hear all these bands. I want to know what they sound like. This looks cool’. I went on to find records by those bands and completely became obsessed with punk rock.
All the cheesy elements of heavy metal became amplified – punk was so much cooler. I was discovering a lot of things and getting a further understanding of bands like the Sex Pistols and all the stuff that had gone on before. This was all gateway stuff, it was entry level. Like kids today have Nirvana: they might be their gateway band, and they start discovering. Obviously this is such a different time because it’s pre-internet. It was difficult to learn about this music, it was a very slow process.
The fanzines helped?
James Sherry: Yeah: you see fanzines advertised and you write for that fanzine, and then you write about the bands who are featured in that fanzine, and send off for their tapes and their records. You’d find out about gigs through flyers and all that kind of stuff.
When did you form your band, The Scum Children?
James Sherry: I had two friends at school - Jeremy Rodel and Paul Grier - who were my rock friends. We were like the three kids into heavy metal whilst the rest of the school was into break dancing and electro. We just formed from a very early age, from 12/13 with my friend Jez, we would form imaginary bands, you know? I’d go round his house, and he’d have a beaten up guitar, and we’d just shout and scream and make noise, and we’d come up with names like ‘Tone Death’ and ‘Septic Discharge’. Then Paul joined and we’d go over to his house after school – this is 13/14 years old. We’d just go to his house after school and make a racket in his bedroom, making tapes, doing stupid songs. Really inspired by Napalm Death and The Stupids.
What was so incredible about that music, especially as a young kid, was that being in a band was an unreachable thing. But when you heard these bands, it was like ‘well actually, you can make a racket and people are actually appreciating it’. We were really inspired by that. We had a fanzine called Phobia.
How would you describe the style of the time?
James Sherry: At that time it was a real mish mash of all the punk styles. You have the initial punk look, very artful, around the time of Siouxsie and the Banshees and the art school Sex Pistols lot. And then the second wave of UK punk came, which is what people call UK 82, which is where the mohicans and leather jackets and studs and that look came. There was that combined with the early to mid 1980s anarchist bands, with an almost crusty, hippie look. Then in hardcore you had the American influenced look, which you would see Heresy dressing like, or The Stupids. A skateboarding influence, with the baseball caps, Converse and bandanas. All the elements mixed up for that era. And then you’d have also the rocker-metal look, because the [hardcore] music was fast and extreme, it still attracted a lot of metal fans who wore leather jackets, long hair and all of that. Me myself, I was very much black jeans, Converse, band t-shirt, leather jacket, short spikey hair kind of person.
"When you heard these bands, it was like ‘well actually, you can make a racket and people are actually appreciating it"
Were there any skate labels or brands that you had to have?
James Sherry: In the 1980s it was all Skull Skates, Slam City Skates, Zorlac, Vans.
Is it a scene that’s still going as a whole?
James Sherry: Like most music scenes, it’s very fractured in different places and different genres. But the core of it is very much still there. You can, any night of the week, go to a different punk gig, or go to something that’s been organised in the backroom of a pub, or a hostel or a community centre. It’s all very much there. There’s still tonnes of great new bands and labels and limited releases and fanzines. Obviously the internet has changed everything, it has allowed a whole different level of communication, which has sped everything up beyond belief.
It still runs on the same ethos, I would say. I think kids, especially now, are very inspired by what happened in the 1980s with punk. And the information about it is so easy to access now. Now kids can, with the flick of the internet, learn about all these bands, read about their messages and their thoughts and beliefs. Just dive in straight away and be inspired by what happened before, and use it now to create interesting things.
In the gallery, we feature images and stories from Nina Manandhar’s upcoming book ‘What We Wore’, a ‘People’s Style History’ of British Youth Style, to be published by Prestel in October 2014.
To submit your own photos to What We Wore, email firstname.lastname@example.org