In the 1980’s, while the U.S. was under Reagan’s reigns, bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys helped form a generation that is now old enough to be in the forefronts of the political sphere.
A prime example is Texas Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke. A die-hard fan of this music, O’Rourke was once a member of the El Paso DIY scene of the early ‘90s with his band Foss, where he played alongside current members of the seminal hardcore outfit At The Drive-In.
While the Bayou City has never gotten a band on the scale of Black Flag, that does not negate from the geographical and historical context that Houston has played for hardcore punk in the slightest.
Derek Rathbun, a member of the bands Substance, Tears on Tape and Ligma, is a prominent member of the hardcore scene. He believes that in its essence, there isn’t really a message in hardcore music, that it is meant to be fun and played fast.
“People thought punk would get cooler when Trump got elected but it just stayed the same. Punk will get cooler when more young people pick up guitars,” Rathbun said.
Cultivating a Community
The first time I saw Rathbun live, it was at a “Free Punk Night,” or something in that ilk, at the now-defunct venue Walter’s a few years back. What I saw was this band, all members around my age, get lost in the music. Rathbun was on stage for five minutes before hopping into the crowd, moshing alongside the extremely interactive audience.
He said that for many people, the hardcore music scene is a place for them to grow up, and that the focus has shifted from tackling political issues to social ones.
“It’s barely a political style of music anymore,” Rathbun said. “Punk 2018 is definitely a LGBT+ positive place which is why a lot of people flock to it. It’s one where they aren’t marginalized.”
Jacob Duarte has been involved in the music scene here in Houston for just about half of his life at this point. He is currently on tour with his band Narrow Head, but he also plays in a band Bugg, as well as filling in for sets with other bands when needed.
“I went to a Trapped Under Ice show and that’s when I really started getting into the style of hardcore. I ended up meeting this community that was also into hardcore, and they’ve all become some of my best friends. It’s had a huge impact on my life,” Duarte said.
The Uncertain Future
Other local bands have embarked on extensive tours, including my friends in bands such as the shoegaze-punk fusion band Narrow Head and the post-punk sounds of Lace. Another group, though now defunct, that garnered praise was the overtly-political Giant Kitty, who, among many things, had a pretty newsworthy show when the current administration first issued the infamous “travel ban,” where GK, along other bands that include members of the Muslim faith, curated an event called “We Belong.”
According to the Houston Press, all proceeds went to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, sending a message that hate and discrimination will not be accepted; that truly is punk in its truest, most beautiful form.
The future of humanity, democracy, and morality as whole is yet to be determined, but in terms of hardcore and punk music here in Houston, well, that’s a different one.
“As for the future, I have no clue,” Rathbun said. “It’s been a good few months and, with the introduction of the Summer Breeze festival, it’s only going to bring more attention to Houston’s (hardcore) scene.”
Venues have come and gone, leaving only a legacy behind, bands and artists have played sets in the most unlikely of places and most importantly, people have, and I can say this with certainty, been inspired, such as William Menjivar of Narrow Head.
“I won’t say that the scene was more violent or ignorant back in the day, but straight up, it was. Hardcore is aggressive music and people express themselves in a violent way where it’s all good if everyone is down for the same thing. If you were coming up as a kid back then, you don’t get the same support you do now. Now, everyone is really friendly and supportive, there aren’t any dividing lines,” Menjivar said.