Oi Polloi

Youth Crew 2020

Published: Fri Feb 21 2020

Hardcore music stands for purpose, community, expression. And playing every single second like it’s your last. The aggressive spawn of late-70’s punk rock, hardcore has evolved and mutated through the decades, spitting out countless subgenres and identities.

But what has always remained true, is hardcore’s sense of confidence. Confidence to speak your mind, confidence to Do It Yourself, confidence to be who you are.

And with that confidence comes styles to match. Styles that, like the music, have something to prove, a statement to make.

Almost 40 years before hypebeasts were pairing their Balenciaga with Salomon trail sneakers, or the New Balance 990 became a fashionista staple at Fashion Week, the NYC hardcore movement youth crew had appropriated functional sports attire for their straight-edge crusade.

New Balance in particular offered a point of difference from the Dr Martens boot-stomping, bottle-smashing punk predecessors, but also signified youth crew’s dedication to clean living, positivity and control. Literally a “new balance”.

Performance, comfort and minimal aesthetic defined the late 80’s / early 90’s hardcore wardrobe with brands like Nike, Champion and Converse satisfying the requirements. All the better to stage-dive in and an identity for the new breed. Ever since, hardcore’s affinity with casual streetwear has permeated alternative music and streetstyle culture.

Skip forward to the early 2000’s, Long Island post-hardcore OGs Glassjaw were shrieking their way across the Vans Warped Tour stages of America. Although they carved their own hardcore niche with jazz and hip hop influences, animated front man Daryl Palumbo scissor-kicked higher than ever. No Vans on his stage, but a pair of Clarks Wallabies laced firmly to his feet.  

Although the likes of New Balance, Nike and even Clarks have credible cultural roots with earlier hardcore movements, the cross-over nature of the genre witnessed a fairly dismal demise in style over recent years. The onset of “metalcore” diluted the hardcore ethos, favouring technical style over substance. With it came skinny jeans, ear plugs, hair straighteners and autotune...

However, a new decade welcomes a new generation of (dare I say it) "woke" hardcore-influenced bands, reigniting the passion for authentic music and a discerning sense of style that deserves a bit of attention.

UK hardcore punk upstarts SickOnes are purists, both in sound and style. This particular ditty is a stripped-back cry for motivation in uncertain times. Chugging along for less than two minutes, they pack in so much addictive energy that it’s easy to miss the 101 on how to effortlessly rock Dickies slacks with classic plimsolls. (Worth noting that a tambourine also has a home in hardcore.)

On the other side of the pond, Kentucky’s Knocked Loose are evolving the more guttural side of the hardcore spectrum. To the extent where screaming is no longer sufficient, singer Bryan Garris literally barks in the minute-long punch to the face, “Counting Worms”. Barking aside, Knocked Loose uphold the infamous varsity aesthetic of hardcore, further intensifying the juxtaposition of extreme music and preppy brands like Ralph Lauren Polo Sport. In this case, to the extent of their merch line...

This penchant for Polo Sport in the new wave of US hardcore bands can be attributed to the overlap of the NYC hip-hop and hardcore scenes in the early days. 

However, for bands like Turnstile who regularly drape their amps with Polo Sport towels (see below), does this fashion statement represent a sense of positivity and fun? A desire to crush the cliché that hardcore is still widely associated with anger and confrontation?

Back in Blighty, as the 90s fashion trends takes over the high-street, our new wave of bands are making damn sure the music of the era is being revived to its original glory. Dressing the part isn’t a problem for these artists – they actually grew up in these garms the first time around. The beauty of still living and breathing the music you grew up on, is that styles from the old and new school can be pulled off effortlessly.

The adrenalin surge alone that hardcore music delivers will keep it simmering away below the mainstream for years to come. Occasionally it will erupt through the cracks to disrupt pop culture, at which point new fists will flail, new voices will be heard, and yet another confident style move will be made.

I’ll leave you with Liverpool’s very own Loathe. They’re making powerful waves with their experimental-metal-progressive-hardcore. The point is the man is wearing white Birkenstocks. With socks. Could this be the look for Youth Crew 2020?