Powerviolence

What is Powerviolence?

Powerviolence is a ridiculously sounding name given to a niche scene of hardcore punk bands who originated from California in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Powerviolence bands played extremely fast, spastic type of hardcore with rapid tempo changes characterized by short, intense bursts of blast beat frenzy often followed by slower sludge breakdowns and sound bites or noise.

A Brief History of Powerviolence

neanderthal-west-coast-power-violence

The term “power violence” (initially two words) was coined in 1989 by Matt Domino, then member of the short-lived band Neanderthal. DIY Conspiracy contacted Eric Wood, the other member of Neanderthal at the time, to comment on the origins of the term:

Neanderthal was only two people (Matt Domino and I), rehearsing at two different locations, with Joe [Denunzio] of Infest guesting on vocals on two songs but he was not a member of the band. We rehearsed bass and drums in Pomona, CA close to my home at the time and we would rehearse strings, bass and guitar, at Domino’s parents house in Valencia, CA.

When we were first starting to write material, we were attempting to figure out our own sound’s description. We were talking about it and just started throwing some tears of words together. He first came up with the term “Power Violence” (two words). We were sharing words back-and-forth verbatim but he came up with that and then talked about the East and West Coast rivalry, I guess you would call it, of hardcore and other genres of music, and he simply added West Coast in front of Power Violence. And so it’s really West Coast Power Violence not Powerviolence.

We only did that to describe our sound for us. You know, it was on the couple of records we did. When Charred Remains aka Man Is The Bastard had the song “HSMP” [Hispanic Small Man Power], to be honest, I told Aaron Kenyon it was a misrepresentation of those early bands to label it that way when it was only something Neanderthal did for us. It wasn’t meant to be taken and used for any other band. It was just our thing but it got out of control and everyone basically used it.

So even in Man Is The Bastard that song “HSMP” (from the split 7″ with Aunt Mary), it’s really not correct but I didn’t write those lyrics, Aaron did. It’s gotten completely out of hand and it’s really depressing. It just makes me shake my head like no one has their own ideas for their own sound, they can’t just think a little bit and figure out a description for their own sounding songs or body of work. It’s just a drag.

In my humble opinion, power violence started and stopped with Neanderthal. I mean we used it to describe our own sound and that said we didn’t want it to be some stupid scene. 

Though Eric Wood gets upset by the term and has only negative things to say about it, the term powerviolence took on a life of its own and is widely used for decades now. The first bands who are generally considered as its originators are Infest, formed in September 1986 by Joe Denunzio, Matt Domino, Dave Ring and Chris Clift, and Pissed Happy Children, between 1987-1990, with Eric Wood, Joel Connell and Shawn Connell. 

infest-demo

Infest’s 1987 demo and their debut Slave LP released in 1988 are probably the most important records to establish the sound and scope known (for better or worse) as powerviolence. An article from Decibel Magazine in 1997 about powerviolence describes Infest’s sound as fusing the early youth crew hardcore of 1986 with the proto-grind fastcore of Massachusetts’ Siege, Netherland’s Pandemonium and Vancouver’s Neos into “short, undeniably violent-sounding bursts.”

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Pissed Happy Children

Style and Influences

While sharing a lot of musical similarities with grindcore, the so-called powerviolence “scene” rejected the death metal direction some of the grind bands were heading in favor of a pure DIY hardcore punk attitude. Musically, early so-called powerviolence bands were inspired by the cross-pollination between punk and thrash of bands like DRI, Cryptic Slaughter, and Suicidal Tendencies, as well as the emerging fast hardcore scene with Dutch bands Lärm and Pandemonium, UK bands Ripcord, Voorhees, Heresy, Japanese SOB, Lip Cream, Gauze, and American proto-grind bands like Siege, along with the classic Boston hardcore sound and the early straight edge/youth crew scenes. California was also a place where skateboarding, hip-hop and graffiti culture were booming, and these influences are especially evident in the mid-’90s powerviolence.

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Spazz

Lyrically, dark humour and sarcastic commentary ran amok within the powerviolence “scene”. Some of the bands took antisocial, nihilist and misanthropic tendencies (Man Is The Bastard, Despise You, Crossed Out, No Comment), while others were mocking the tough-guy attitude, militancy and seriousness of the broader hardcore scene (Spazz, Charles Bronson, Hellnation). Others like Capitalist Casualties were more aligned with the the lyrical themes of the political hardcore punk and crust bands of the time. Some bands used samples from action movies, TV shows and video games as postmodern meta-commentary within the structure of their music.

Emoviolence

Chris Bickel of the early screamo band In/Humanity (active from 1991-1998) jokingly coined the term “emo-violence”, later used to group together hundreds of screamo adjacent bands with powerviolence, grindcore and thrash influences (Palatka, Usurp Synapse, Jenny Piccolo, Hassan I Sabbah, Joshua Fit For Battle, etc.)

Development

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Chris Dodge, 📸 Corey Zazzy

The so-called powerviolence “scene” exploded in the early to mid-1990s with the band Spazz and especially the influence of their bassist/vocalist Chris Dodge, who ran the seminal San Francisco-based label Slap-a-Ham Records (established in 1989), releasing most of the West Coast Powerviolence bands at the time. The label’s Fiesta Grande was an annual powerviolence festival held at 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley, CA.

Spazz’s drummer Max Ward created another important label called 625 Thrashcore in 1993. The imprint put out records of different genres, including fast hardcore, grindcore, thrashcore, powerviolence and others, mainly bands from the US and Japan. He also started a similarly themed festival, called Super Sabado Gigante.

North Carolina’s native Will Butler released most of the important records for the powerviolence revival in the 2000s through the label To Live A Lie Records.

fiesta-grande-1

Powerviolence Bands

Power violence is dead. Anyone claiming the “power violence” description for their own is cancer. — Eric Wood

Various influential hardcore punk, thrash, grindcore and crossover bands: Electro Hippies, Sore Throat, Lärm, Ripcord, Voorhees, Heresy, Youth Korps, Septic Death, Negative Approach, MDC, Negative FX, Neos, Siege, DRI, Deep Wound, Suicidal Tendencies, Napalm Death, Straight Ahead, Impact Unit, Chain of Strength, Cryptic Slaughter, SOB, Gauze, Lip Cream, Assück, Dropdead.

Classic “Powerviolence” Bands: Infest, Pissed Happy Children, Neanderthal, Crossed Out, No Comment, Spazz, Man Is The Bastard, Slave State, Manpig, Despise You, Lack of Interest, No Comply, Assholeparade, Capitalist Casualties, Charles Bronson, MK-Ultra, Plutocracy, Hellnation, No Le$$, Black Army Jacket, Apartament 213, Insult, Godstomper, Romantic Gorilla, Shitstorm, Uzi Suicide, Kungfu Rick, Agents of Satan, Slight Slappers, etc. The style was also played by bands across the ocean like Conga Fury (Japan) and Yacøpsæ (Germany).

Post-2000 & Current Bands: Hatred Surge, Mind Eraser, The Endless Blockade, Magrudergrind, Extortion, xBrainiax, Final Draft, Vile Intent, Iron Lung, ACxDC, Sex Prisoner, Warzone Womyn, Kent Brockman, Endless Swarm, Swallowing Shit, Short Hate Temper, Fatal Nunchaku, Öpstand, Sylvester Staline, Sidetracked, Manhunt, Slapendenhonden, Bare Hands, Peter R. De Vries, xKATE MOSHx, The Seeker, Ultimate Blowup, The +HIRS+ Collective, Goolagoon, Sordo, Choke, Merked, and tons more.

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