Review: California hardcore explosion captured in ‘Suburban Annihilation’

The new album, co-curated by Henry Rollins, is packed with classic, inspirational tracks by Circle Jerks, Adolescents, Middle Class, Dead Kennedys, T.S.O.L and more.

Galvanised by the first wave of punk but denied the major label support given to CBGB denizens like the Ramones, hardcore was faster, harder and angrier than anything that had come before it.

The bands knew they would have to do-it-themselves, and local hardcore scenes provided crucial support to the bands that emerged from garages and practice spaces with their ‘anti-parent’ music.

Hugely important contributions to North American hardcore were made in places like Vancouver, whose D.O.A. popularised the term with their 1981 album ‘Hardcore ‘81’, and Washington DC, home to Bad Brains and Minor Threat. But one of the largest and most influential scenes sprung up on the West Coast.

A new double LP compilation captures much California’s early history of hardcore punk and ‘Suburban Annihilation‘ features almost all the key bands making waves in the sunshine state from 1978 to 1983.

Documenting the explosion of uncompromisingly aggressive music that emerged almost simultaneously from the region’s major cities and beach areas, the album has been co-curated by Henry Rollins, who experienced the California hardcore scene first hand when he joined Black Flag as its fourth singer in 1981.

Black Flag themselves – and indeed any SST Records bands – may be one notable omission from the set, but it does showcase many of the West Coast’s key hardcore bands with acts like Circle Jerks, Adolescents, Middle Class, Dead Kennedys and T.S.O.L.

Jello Biafra Dead Kennedys by Michael Grecco
Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra

It heads out of the gate with a 1-2 punch from the Adolescents snarling ‘I Hate Children’ and the year zero of Middle Class’s minute-long ‘Out Of Vogue’, the latter arguably the first hardcore release, predating Black Flag’s ‘Nervous Breakdown’ by a year when it was released in January 1978.

There’s more foundational hardcore from Dead Kennedys, represented by ‘Chemical Warfare’ and ‘California Über Alles’, and Circle Jerks, who also contribute two tracks – ‘Beverley Hills’ and ‘Live Fast Die Young’.

But the album’s tight geographical focus really pays off when it digs deep into the California scene. There’s the surf punk of Agent Orange’s ‘Bloodstains’ as well as lesser-known gems from The Simpletones, who bring bone-headed vocal chants to ‘I Like Drugs’, and Eddie and the Subtitles’ chugging ‘American Society’.

The deep cuts continue with the blues-tinged outlaw of The Gun Club’s ‘She’s Like Heroin to Me’ and ‘Helium Bar’ from Weirdos, who can’t help showing their ‘50s rock and roll inspirations amid the clatter.

It’s the first in the Futurismo label’s new ‘Altered Vision‘ anthology series and ‘Suburban Annihilation‘ is a vital document of a vibrant scene that’s packed with classic tracks. It’s music that would lay the ground for many of the roads punk rock would take after those heady early years of hardcore.

  1. Adolescents – I Hate Children
  2. Middle Class – Out Of Vogue
  3. Agent Orange – Bloodstains
  4. Dead Kennedys – Chemical Warfare
  5. Simpletones – I Like Drugs
  6. Suicidal Tendencies – Fascist Pig
  7. S.O.L. – Abolish Government/silent Majority
  8. Circle Jerks – Beverly Hills
  9. Wasted Youth – Fuck Authority
  10. The Gun Club – She’s Like Heroin To Me
  11. Redd Kross – Burn Out
  12. China White – Live In Your Eyes
  13. Circle Jerks – Live Fast Die Young
  14. Negative Trend – How Ya Feeling?
  15. Eddie And The Subtitles – American Society
  16. Channel 3 – Manzanar
  17. Flipper – Ha Ha Ha
  18. Rikk Agnew O.c. – Life
  19. Social Distortion – Playpen
  20. Dead Kennedys – California Über Alles
  21. Shattered Faith – I Love America
  22. The Weirdos – Helium Bar
  23. Middle Class – Insurgence
  24. Germs – Communist Eyes
  25.  Adolescents – Kids Of The Black Hole
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