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The Origin History of the term "Hardcore Punk Rock"

Cliff Varnell

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by Cliff "the Midwive of Hardcore" Varnell

According to Wikipedia:


Hardcore punk (usually referred to simply as hardcore) is a punk rock music genre and subculture that originated in the late 1970s. Hardcore music is generally faster, heavier, and more abrasive than regular punk rock. The origin of the term "hardcore punk" is uncertain.

The Origin History of the term "Hardcore Punk Rock" -- a timeline '79 to '81.

Fall of 1979:
Joey Shxtead (Joe Keithley), lead singer/guitarist for Vancouver BC punk rock band D.O.A., gave an interview in San Francisco fanzine CREEP wherein he said, "D.O.A. is one of only a half-dozen hardcore punk rock bands in North America." When asked about it decades later Joe admits he never remembered saying "hardcore punk rock" in that interview.

Also, Joe could have been referring to a lot more than a half-dozen bands who fit the bill in the fall of 1979: Black Flag, the Germs, Avengers, Dead Kennedys, Crime, Subhumans (Can.), the Middle Class, Fear, the Bags, Flesh Eaters, Weirdos, Angry Samoans, UXA, No Alternative, the Teen Idles, Misfits and Bad Brains -- as well as D.O.A. -- were established bands with the hardest sounds. By then the Dils were already turning country, and Negative Trend had broken into Flipper and the Toiling Midgets. X, Mutants, Social Distortion, Alley Cats, Offs, Plugz, Gears, Big Boys and the Zeros had more straight-ahead sounds with all the attitude. (& the Lewd, Versus, the VKTMs, Vicious Circle, Vom, the Klan...oh man!)

Oct. 31, 1979:
My fellow Reno record collector pal Tom Borghino introduces me to Jello Biafra, lead singer of the Dead Kennedys.

"Come play Reno," I said.

"Find us a place to play," Biafra said.

Dec. 1979:
Tom and I see Black Flag at the Mabuhay Gardens, opening for Madness and the Dead Kennedys. Black Flag were the most radical band I'd ever seen.

On that trip I picked up a small pile of punk zines, and in one (not sure which) I read a variation of the J.G. Ballard line: "If it wasn't recorded, it didn't happen."

I immediately knew I wanted to "do something that didn't happen."

Early January 1980:
Tom and I start hanging out with brothers Kevin and Steve Marvelli. Kevin sings and plays guitar and Steve plays bass. They had a band called X-Banned but no drummer.

January 13:
Tom and Kev help me spin disks at a New Wave Night in a local disco.

DJ 80/60 lasted about 6 months during which I first put out a bunch of lame flyers and lame "Alternative Top 10" lists.

During that time I radicalized Tom and Kev politically while they radicalized me musically culminating in DJ 80/60's best work -- 9-weeks of Reno Alternative Top Ten listings published on the album cover of the Crass double lp Stations of the Crass -- "90 in 80"

January 18:
Two non-musicians -- Tom Borghino and I -- formed a band with Kev and Steve which Kev would christen -- 7Seconds. Tom and I held an audition to see who'd be the drummer and who'd be the manager -- as per a conversation we had the night before -- and Tom was hands down the best drummer.

The next day Tom's brother Jimmy ("Dim Menace") joined on lead vocals with "Kevin Seconds," "Steve Youth," and "Tom Munist".

More background info here: "The Subversive History of the Original 7Seconds"


End of January 1980:
I read the D.O.A. interview in CREEP and was struck with the phrase "hardcore punk rock."

Louder-faster-shorter songs + DIY ethic + a subversive intent sharp and sincere.

I brought it up at the next band practice. "D.O.A. calls themselves 'hardcore punk', cool hunh?"

Kev: "Cool."

Steve: "Cool."

Tom: "Nah...I don't like 'hardcore'. I like 'punk rock', just as it is."

Tom didn't lose many battles in the band as I recall, but this was one of them.

March 2:
7Seconds debuted at the Townhouse, a sorta-rocker-sorta-country bar in Reno. Kev and Steve booked the show during a sit down with the owner while Tom and I were down in the Bay.

Bessie and Jone, a couple of Rocky Horror Show regulars and Reno High students, showed up dressed up, with a friend or two in tow, and stood in front of the stage cheering loud for 7Seconds.

Hardcore punk scene born.

March 4:
Kev and I put out a joint NWIN/Spunk #1 -- 2-page xerox sheet -- both of us referring to 7Seconds as "hardcore new wave." We thought "new wave" and "punk rock" were inter-changeable terms.

March 9:
The Zeros were the first out of town band we brought up, at the Townhouse with 7Seconds. The Zeros were managed by the former Dils manager and active communist Peter Urban. They told us "new wave" was xxxxed -- news to us. I immediately changed New Wave In Nevada Enterprises to New What? in Nevada Enterprises. Before the end of the year I'd trade in that wimpy company name for -- Hard Corp Productions.

May 4:
New What? put on a "Dance Party" at the local Pub 'N Sub with me, Tom, Kev, Steve, and Greg "Bad Otis" Link taking turns spinning disks. Link did the artwork for the flyer.

After the show Tom's other brother Richie introduced me to guitarist Sean Greaves, who drank every beer I bought him while I took notes on his observations of the thriving Reno scene his band the Outpatients (formed 1978) had going with house parties. Acting blase about punk rock in Reno, Greaves said he was working on a new band concept (the soon to be christened Thrusting Squirters), and he glibly made up some other punk band that didn't exist (Johnny Zipper).

I had been working on an article for CREEP magazine about 7Seconds, but I made it about the Reno scene, Johnny Zipper and all.

May 1980:
Finished the article for CREEP, entitled -- "Reno Breaking Out" -- under the by-line: N. Wine. Referred to 7Seconds as "hardcore punk rockers, thank you."

I felt confident at the time that I was the first journalist to use the term "hardcore." I pegged Joe xxxxhead as the musician who coined it, and I pegged myself as the first journalist/promoter of hardcore punk as a distinct musical sub-genre. This struck me as a perfectly adequate event I could make sure "didn't happen" by leaving out any reference to my own activities in Reno, a line of anonymity eventually held for 3 decades.

If the management of a "deep event" -- Anonymity-As-Art-Project -- is the foremost ambition, nothing beats serial incompetence as a tonic for deliberate obscurity.

June 2:
7Seconds played a biker bar north of Reno, Cindy's. The first Reno punk band, Belvue (formed 1977), also played. Belvue (Jim & Mark Diederichsen, Jon Bell) had an alt-pop look and edge years ahead of their time. At the Cindy's show we met the whole Sean Greaves-Lou Chavez-Bix Bigler crew -- the Thrusting Squirters -- a Dictators-style punk band now tearing up the rocknroller parties over by the high school.

7Seconds tapped into this house party scene and played them almost weekly going forward.

Summer of 1980:
Cocky punker graffitti-type slogan: RENO. THE ONLY TOWN THAT MATTERS.

7Seconds performs -- "Hardcore Rules"

Bessie (Oakley) Wrecks and Jone (Stebbins) Jetson form the Wrecks with Lynn (Perko) Lust and Helen (??) Keller, fellow Reno High students.

Cari Marvelli, Kevin and Steve's sister, forms G.I. Jane with members of 7Seconds.

Late Summer 1980:
Greaves' friend Tony Toxic opens the Rad House in a black neighborhood on the north side of town. The Rad House stayed open until late March 1981, hosting D.O.A. (twice), Black Flag, the Subhumans (Can.), Social Unrest, Impatient Youth, Young Canadians, The Lewd, as well as local bands 7Seconds, Section 8, Thrusting Squirters, the Wrecks, the Outpatients, G.I. Jane, Mike Niemi's Fair Warning, and any number of 'xxxx bands.'

Early Fall 1980:
Steve Youth and I agree to start writing scene reports for the top San Francisco punk rock publications -- Damage, and CREEP.

Steve picked Damage, I picked CREEP, for whom I'd already written a scene report.

Damage was a magazine with commercial aspirations; CREEP was a fanzine without.

Nothing came of it -- neither of us wrote any more scene reports. Several weeks later I got into a conversation with Brad Lapin, the publisher of Damage, at a Target Video after-hours party in San Francisco.

"What's the difference between punk and hardcore punk," Lapin asked.

"The difference between punk and hardcore punk is the difference between Damage and CREEP."


Oct. 17:
D.O.A and the Young Canadians play the Rad House, with most of the local bands except Belvue, who had unfortunately broken up by then.

Oct. 24:
7Seconds plays out of town for the first time, at the Western Front Festival at the FAB MAB in San Francisco with D.O.A., the Minutemen, the Feederz, and Tank.

Oct. 31:
7Seconds survives a drunken Halloween brawl between Dim, Tom and I. Dim Menace leaves the band, Belvue guitarist Jim Diederichsen joins.

December 1980:
D.O.A. invites 7 Seconds to play a Valentine's weekend festival in Vancouver, soon to be called "Hardcore '81" after DOA reads about "hardcore" in Damage magazine.

January 14, 1981:
7Seconds temporarily disbands. Kev fires me, Tom and Jim D.

Late January 1981:
Tom Borghino and I form Section 8 with Dim Menace on vocals, Jim Diederichsen on guitar, Lou Chavez on bass, Tom on drums, me as manager with double duty writing lyrics ("USSR Gone Too Far" and "Killer Stuff", co-write with Dim on "Nevada's Had it").

Feb 13 & 14:
Section 8 plays both nights of the "Hardcore '81" Festival. D.O.A.'s "Hardcore '81" album and tour in the Fall of '81 helped fuel a movement Joey Shxthead had unknowingly set off 2 years earlier in his CREEP mag interview.

March 1981:
After trying out a rocker drummer for 6 weeks or so, 7Seconds re-forms with Kev, Steve, and Tom Borghino -- the killer three-piece.

March 23:
Dead Kennedys, D.O.A. play the VFW Hall. I was unemployed and broke at the time so I borrowed $300 from my parents to put on the show, about the same amount of money that was in a briefcase stolen out of my car that night. The Santa Cruz kids kept going all Orange County on everyone in the pit. Bessie and G.I Jane (Cari Marvelli) got into a hell of a cat fight. In the middle of the Dead Kennedys set some local rocker jagoff started twisting knobs at the sound board, killing the show.

The next day one of the scene regulars, a 15 year old girl, jumped off the roof of the MGM Grand Casino.
That night Reno cops raided the Rad House on a noise complaint. Disappointed they found no drugs, the cops settled for jacking up the under-age Steve Youth.

Couple of days later the Rad House was ransacked and trashed, reputedly by relatives of the deceased.

Spring of 1981:
Kevin Seconds and Steve Youth of 7Seconds, Bessie Wrecks and Jone Jetson of The Wrecks, started talking on the phone to Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Tesco Vee of the Meatmen. As much as anything, these conversations were what laid the ground for "Hardcore Punk" to become a national phenomenon in the summer of 1981.

The Reno kids carried a lot of street cred with Lansing and DC.

"Tesco's really into the Reno scene," Steve Youth told me. And not above spreading Reno-scene xxxx-talk in the intro to "Tooling for Anus"??


Ian MacKaye remembers talking to the kids in DC about "hardcore punk" -- but does he remember talking to the Reno kids first, who'd already been "hardcore" almost a year and a half by then?

Ian talked up "straight edge" and Kev talked up "hardcore" and the rest is history. See Steven Blush's "American Hardcore" for the near-definitive history of Hardcore Punk Rock.

Steven Blush is one chapter short of writing THE definitive history of HC -- the 3rd Edition of "American Hardcore" will cinch it!

Suggested title for "missing" chapter: "Reno '80: The Only Town That Matters" Edited by Cliff Varnell
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Comment imported from the Deep Politics forum.

Is this from a website, Cliff? I love all those bands too. I was a little too young to see any of them back in the day, though I grew up in the Los Angeles area.

It's a not-quite-rough draft of a particular corner of music history, stuff I've been sitting on for 34 years.

Thing is, to romanticize this subject is to kill its' spirit in the marrow of its' bones.

Some of this info first appeared on a hijacked Nutter thread over at the Ed Forum -- John Simkins booted the Nutter and my little off-topic nuggets went out with the bath water.

It was as perfectly non-romantic as I can imagine -- two days before the 50th, off-hand, accidental, I revealed closely held historical information only under personal attack on my biography...

And then gone.

So I've felt the obligation to make a fuller accounting, and thus this timeline.


We loved Crass! Proto-hardcore to the max.

In the summer of 1980 I used a copy of the cover of Stations of the Crass to put out 10 weeks worth of my Alternative Top Ten -- it was a hundred of our fave songs listed on Stations' gray "wall".

I put a Go-Go's song at the top, just to keep a sense of humor about it...

Edited by Cliff Varnell
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  • 1 month later...
  • 1 year later...

I just made the first addition to the Hardcore Origin Timeline in 20 months.

The entry for "Early Fall 1980" is new. (I also can't give credit to Vale for the J. G. Ballard line, as he disputes writing it up.)

This is significant to complete the circle: Joey DOA's interview in CREEP inspired me and the original 7Seconds to adopt "hardcore" as the banner under which we marched. But Joey wasn't using the word "hardcore" in that sense, and forgot he even used the word in this interview.

In the fall of 1980 I told Damage magazine publisher Brad Lapin about "hardcore." Damage published an article on it. Inspired by that article in Damage, DOA decided to dub their February 1981 punk rock festival "Hardcore '81."

It wasn't until January of 2013 that Joey DOA told me he didn't remember using the word "hardcore" in that old CREEP interview.

I was thrilled with that news.

For more than 3 decades I thought 7Seconds and I were marching under DOA's banner-- "Hardcore."

Turned out they were marching under ours.

Edited by Cliff Varnell
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  • 3 years later...

On March 2, 2020 I'm going to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the debut of the Original 7 Seconds at the Townhouse in Reno.  There's an expanded version of my "The Only Town That Matters" timeline re-naming it The Birth of Hardcore.

This is one of the new entries:

January 18, 1980

The plan was for Tom and Kevin come over to my house and we’d all go down to Maytan’s Music to rent a drum kit.  The night before we left it off where Tom and I were going to form a band with Kevin and Steve but we needed to sort out who’d drum and who’d manage.  The audition for drummer was on!

Kevin came over at two and we stood out on the front lawn, spirits elevated and impatient, for an hour for Tom to pick us up when he rolled up with the bed of his white Toyota pickup full of drum cases.

He knew he was going to be the drummer so he went down to Maytan himself.  We both knew he was going to be the drummer the night before when I suggested we audition for it.

We loaded in down in the basement. Tom set up the kit and killed it.  I sat down and demonstrated my lack of hand-eye co-ordination.

“You’re the drummer, I’m the manager,” I said to a grinning Tom Munist.

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