Gallery East Network

Art / Performance / Education

Culture Codes: Charting the Rise of Boston’s Hardcore Punk Scene

Gallery East Productions recently teamed up with Stone Films director Drew Stone and Highsnobiety in a short film Culture Codes: Charting the Rise of Boston’s Hardcore Punk Scene. Outtakes from ALL AGES: The Boston Hardcore Film, classic images from punk photo documentarian Phil In Phlash, and early 1980s video footage from upstart Red Shark Productions (Fredrick Hough). Read more

Boston’s hardcore punk scene has a rich, if not complicated, history. In the 1980s some characterized the growing movement with violence and extreme straight edge fanaticism.

The region was a gold mine for hardcore and punk innovation, initially reaching the outer suburbs of Beantown and then throughout the entire Northeast.

But as the literal birthplace of American rebellion, it’s fitting that this emerging counterculture sought to reject the excesses of traditional punk rock while championing the straight edge and DIY attitude that swept the east coast at the time.

As its name implies, adherents to straight edge abstained from consuming drugs, tobacco, and alcohol, and generally believed in living a health-conscious life.

But this is Boston we’re talking about, and with it comes its very own brand of attitude: brash, unwaveringly honest, and insanely proud of where they come from. OGs from the hardcore era always knew who their fellow brethren were just by looking at what they wore. Just ask Mike Gitter, founder of the influential hardcore xXx Fanzine and music industry veteran who signed numerous hardcore acts, including the notorious Bad Religion who served as role models for many second generation punk bands and Boston-based Killswitch Engine.

“You knew just from looking at somebody that they belonged where they belonged,” Gitter explained.

“The whole hoodie, sneakers, cuffed jeans sort of thing—that was us!”

But during the ‘80s, Boston clubs and venues had no desire to cater to this particular audience, largely because they couldn’t make money off kids who were under the legal drinking age. This in turn gave way to huge swaths of teens forming their own bands like SS Decontrol, Gang Green, Jerry’s Kids, and The F.U.’s, who’d secure their own venues where they controlled the entire experience.

One of the spots where the scene began taking root was an art and performance space in Boston’s leather district called Gallery East, and unlike the usual clubs, this nascent scene created by its youth was all-inclusive. As more acts poured in, the venue quickly became a refuge for teens looking to discover a world beyond their suburban neighborhoods.

Watch our mini-documentary above featuring major players from the Boston hardcore era for a more nuanced account of how the scene influenced a generation of youth.