Hardcore Spirituality

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Written for an Argentinian zine circa 2010


Hardcore music has always been about the pursuit of something beyond the mundane. Beyond the consumerism of modern society, beyond the 9 to 5 daily grind, beyond the mass appeal style of music and culture which is simply another packaged commodity to be bought and sold. Although hardcore as a style of music and fashion has certainly been marketed and exploited by businessmen with no understanding or respect for it’s roots, the true spirit of the scene worldwide is something which cannot be tainted by the masses of so-called ‘hardcore’ and ’emo’ bands that line the shelves of today’s mainstream music stores. The true mentality of hardcore lives safely in the hearts of sincere people, untouchable by the corporate profit machine, and unbroken by the attempt to bring it into the mainstream.

Hardcore is a way of life and the pursuit of truth. In a world built on lies, it is not an escape, but the antidote for a type of programming that Western society has for so long bombarded us with. Buy this, consume that. You’ll surely be happy, at least for a moment, until the next big thing comes along… Sure, many people are still sucked into the trap of owning and consuming products in the name of ‘punk’ or ‘hardcore’ – but the message carried is something which is above and beyond the packaging of records, CD’s and t-shirts. The integrity and sincerity of what is labelled the hardcore scene, will never be captured and packaged. Only the outer shell can be used in that way by unscrupulous people, but the real treasure will continually elude the superficial who are looking only for a quick high, and thus the spirit of the youth movement lives underground and fights against attempts to destroy it’s heart.

“What might seem dumb to you, is pounding in my heart!”

Gorilla Biscuits – New Direction


Straight-edge was one of the first main subcultures within hardcore. Started almost accidentally in Washington DC in the early 80’s, what was a personal statement of abstinence, soon became a motto for thousands of people to live their lives by.

Ian MacKaye and his band the Teen Idles famously sported the X’s on the backs of their hands, which establishments in America used as a way to distinguish minors where liquor was sold. Taking this stamp and turning it on it’s head, it soon became a mark for kids that refused to drink alcohol or take other intoxicating substances as a means of pleasure. Soon afterwards the seminal band Minor Threat coined the term ‘Straight Edge’ in a song of the same title, which pointed out the stupidity of ingesting such substances and suffering their consequences.

Although meant initially to be a personal choice, many bands and individuals took it up as a vow of how to live their lives and as a message to others to live an alternative lifestyle to the masses who would simply work all day and all week and use their money to drown their sorrows with their drink of choice. As more and more of America’s youth felt inspired to take this positive step in their lifestyles, the message soon spread worldwide, and was taken around the globe by bands such as Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Sick of it All, and countless others. What had started as a small subculture soon spiralled almost out of control, much to the dismay of venues in which the bar profits plummeted at straight edge shows!

The dirtier image of punk got cleaned up a fair bit in the late 80’s with hardcore and straight-edge

The straight edge lifestyle soon became a viable alternative not only to mainstream society, but even to the norm within the punk scene which was to live most of your life almost unconscious by some form of intoxication. As the 80’s progressed the term ‘punk’ soon became replaced with the term ‘hardcore’, which although hard to define, really drew the line between the more unconscious rebellion of dirty and uneducated people and the more free thinking and clean living of those who wanted to make a positive improvement to their lives rather than escape into oblivion.

As the effect of abstaining from alcohol and drugs produced a clearer mindset, soon other vices were recognised more as being oppressive to both themselves and other living beings, and the next step was the turn towards vegetarianism and veganism. When Ray Cappo of New York’s Youth of Today penned the song ‘No More’ in protest of animal killing and meat consumption, practically the whole straight edge scene took heed and meat was added to the list of “no’s” in a practitioners lifestyle. Though not all followed suit, the majority of people easily saw the evils of the meat industry on a par with those who pushed intoxication, if not far worse. So the choice was not only one of self improvement, but one of compassion for other beings which would help their lives also. Also seen was the link between addiction to drinking and smoking and the habit of eating meat, and it became almost a contradiction to follow one without the other.

Taking one step further, veganism was recognised as a logical progression, since the modern dairy industry was closely linked with the slaughter of cows for their flesh. Although there were people who were straight edge and not vegetarian, they were much fewer, and bands like Earth Crisis gained a huge following of people who shunned all intoxication as well as meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce. And of course there were people who were on the side of animal rights but not necessarily free of intoxication, seeing it as a personal choice which didn’t directly encroach upon the rights of others. One band vocal about this was Canada’s Propagandhi. With lyrics like ‘Meat is still murder, dairy is still rape. I’m still as stupid as anyone but I know my mistakes’, a humble message was conveyed that although nobody’s perfect we can try to reduce the suffering of others by our own lifestyle choices.

In March 2005 a gang killing was reported on the news, attributed to straight-edge. Click the image to watch the video

Though the sub genres within the hardcore scene didn’t always see eye to eye on the issue of straight edge, in general there was respect for people who chose to avoid either intoxication or animal products, or both. Thus some of the evils of the world were put to rights at least by a few who cared enough to make a difference. Perhaps what tarnished the image of straight edge more than anything, was the extremism some fundamentalist people brought to the movement. Not recognising others free will to partake in alcohol or cigarettes, some would forcibly stop people in the midst of their habits, to the great dismay and often violent reaction of people who didn’t take well to not only being TOLD what not to do, but by actions taking away their freedom of choice to drink or smoke. Such extremism didn’t go down well at all, and national news coverage in America where things especially got out of hand with gangs of youth didn’t help the public image of straight edge people, whose majority condemned such behaviour and wanted only to create a positive example for others without forcing their views.

Another angle which was labelled ‘hardline’ also took a militant approach to issues related to straight edge, and included the condemnation of abortion alongside the killing of animals. Although noble in it’s views of all life being sacred, their actions similarly created fear and hatred from people who thought their extreme stance encroached on people’s right to choose, especially a woman’s right to choose abortion. Their numbers were much fewer, and generally their opinion was greatly outnumbered in hardcore circles by people who were much more liberal, and who viewed such extremism almost on a par with fascism which they were completely opposed to.

Hardline was the record label of Sean Muttaqi of Vegan Reich and released vegan straight-edge hardcore music. The label started the hardline vegan straight-edge movement during the 1990s and was criticized for having violent and militant ideologies.

“I’m a person just like you but I’ve got better things to do, than sit around and fuck my head, hang out with the living dead… I’ve got the straight edge.”

Minor Threat – Straight Edge


All the while, another angle was being pursued by a slowly growing number of people within the hardcore and straight edge scene, and that was the quest for spirituality. Having always been averse to organised religion of any kind, the hardcore scene had started to lend itself to the wisdom of Eastern spiritual traditions. Actually, this wasn’t a new thing, having been more than touched upon in the early 1980’s by people from the bands Antidote, the Cro-Mags, and Cause for Alarm, but it wasn’t really until the end of the decade that things really started taking off in that direction.

One of the first bands to introduce Eastern spirituality into hardcore, with the song ‘Satyagraha’, though the music was sadly compromised

Previously Kevin of the seminal band 7 Seconds had pursued Indian spirituality which had shown through in their later album ‘Soulforce Revolution’, although the watering down of the music and image of the band wasn’t inspiring for most who saw it as a diversion from the heart of hardcore rather than a progression of it.

In the late 1980’s a turning point came about, when Youth of Today vocalist and straight edge role model Ray Cappo started to study the ancient texts of India, in an attempt to find the same sincerity and truth within hardcore, but what had degenerated into almost the same kind of superficiality of mainstream society. After Youth of Today’s 2nd European tour he expressed his distaste with the straight edge scene, which had become obsessed with the external aspects as another kind of drug rather than become free from material addictions. While the band was still together, the influence of his new path could be seen in their lyrics, which before had dealt with moral issues and now were becoming even more introspective in the search for meaning to life. Youth of Today disbanded, and Ray pursued his spiritual path with increased intensity.

Ray’s progressive leaning towards Eastern spirituality, from the last Youth of Today tour (pictured reading a book on Caitanya), to the Ray and Porcell ep and the MMR interview before starting Shelter. Click the image to read Vic DiCara’s blog on the MRR Cappo interview: ‘The day punk rock learned the dark side of Hare Krishna’ (!)

In the summer of 1989 Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, one of the scenes most loved publications or ‘zines’, ran a cover story entitled ‘Ray Cappo and the Krishnas’. Although quite critical of his newfound inspiration, the interview sparked an interest for many in what Ray described as the real alternative to a materialistic and consumeristic lifestyle, that of Krishna consciousness – an ancient Indian form of yoga that incorporates into everyday life without having to leave behind the world and run to some holy land. He certainly brought out some important points in the debate with editor Tim Yohannan, and made mention of his soon to be realised project – ‘Shelter’.

Ray recorded 2 songs for an ep with fellow band member Porcell, which was released by Revelation Records (the main label for New York hardcore releases), simply titled ‘Ray and Porcell’. Having a drum machine for percussion tracks, and Ray singing more melodiously than his signature screams of before, the record took time to sink in to many hardcore enthusiasts, but certainly left it’s mark, especially with it’s lyrics. Soon afterwards Ray recorded the first Shelter album ‘Perfection of Desire’, in his mum’s attic! With help from friends the album, although somewhat muddy in it’s production, showcased a very unique angle on hardcore and took the timeless wisdom of an Indian tradition perfectly into the context of modern America.

With songs like ‘Society Based on Bodies’, it became a seminal album in hardcore history for perfectly pointing out the predicament of modern living, and perhaps for the first time laying out an real alternative which was tangible and not simply theoretically presenting some far off utopia. It was a landmark for people who really wanted to know the truth, and subsequent ep’s and albums solidified what was laid as a foundation. Songs like ‘In Defense of Reality’ andSaranagati became well known classics for many, and the band went from strength to strength both musically and lyrically, although not without a large turnover of band members!

“Your hypocrisy, suave brutality
Your empty religion
Your proud hollow philosophy, consumerism
Thrice daily, cannibalism
Your tv, your constant sexuality
I oppose, vehemently, I vow” 

– 108 ‘Opposition’

One such ex guitarist of Shelter was Vic De Cara, who was the brains behind bands like Beyond, Burn and Inside Out. The latter’s ep ‘No Spiritual Surrender’ had been one of many such records that paved the way for Shelter’s success in fusing hardcore with spiritual messages, and though they were a little more covert in their presentation, Vic’s next band 108 took the philosophy of the ancient and timeless Vedic texts to new heights, and together with ex Ressurection singer Rob the band became possibly more liked and respected even than Shelter, who were seen as more mainstream and less grass-roots than 108 who were loved by those ‘in the know’.

Porcell (Paramananda das) of Shelter, and Rob Fish (Rasaraja das) of 108

Joining Shelter on guitar was Porcell again, who had come to the conclusion that the philosophy of Krishna consciousness was the best thing he’d discovered after being similarly dissatisfied with life even as a success story within the hardcore scene. His skill propelled Shelter even further towards being recognised as one the greatest bands of the 1990’s, and even people who remained averse to the message, which they shunned along with the religion they were familar with, couldn’t help but love the energy of the music and the topics of the songs at least became a talking point if not the impetus to read more into the culture from which it had come.

In the mid 90’s the genre really peaked, as Shelter released their 4th album ‘Mantra’. A perfect combination of metal-influenced New York hardcore (which had been quite traditional of the east coast sound, to veer more towards metal than the poppy melody of the west coast), the album was almost the perfect rendition of spiritual hardcore yet to have been heard, and topped many people’s playlists both within the scene and outside. Now on a major label, though still uncompromising, the message was being heard far and wide.

Bands started cropping up in other parts of the US like Prema, Refuse to Fall, World’s Collide, and others. This had paved the way for bands like Cause for Alarm to present direct expositions of Krishna consciousness whereas before they had been hidden, and bands appeared in other parts of the world like Italian favourites Govinda Hardcore Project, South America’s Sudarshana, Sweden’s Abhinanda, German band Veil, Poland’s Agni-Hotra, France’s Seekers of the Truth. These are just some of the bands that spawned across the globe, each with their own unique angle but with the same inspiration of Vedic culture which had been borrowed from the ancients of the East and transplanted into Western civilisation to great effect.

Spin magazine’s article on ‘Krishnacore’

Having sold Revelation Records, Ray Cappo started another label called Equal Vision, which was a principle of the Bhagavad-gita in which all living beings were seen equally from the spiritual platform.

The label released some of Shelter’s earlier works and other ‘Krishnacore’ bands as the subgenre loosely became known, then Ray (now know as Raghunath – his initiated name) sold the label to fellow Krishna follower Steve Reddy, whose to-be wife Kate played a guitar in 108 for a stint.

“So I searched for sincerity, and lost popularity. What do they want from me? If I lost friends they never were my friends at all! To find the real me, through introspection and austerity, is my life’s mission, my ambition, I’ve got a vision to change my destiny.”

Shelter – Metamorphosis


Punk/hardcore drawing from other spiritual traditions…

Meanwhile, people in the hardcore scene had been also taking inspiration from traditions like Buddhism, Ba’Hai, Christianity and Islam, which also lended themselves well to particular bands who wanted to spread their respective teachings. Probably none were so many though as those who took the Vedic culture of India into their hearts and stood up on stage to tell of the timeless message that would help relieve the increasing degradation and suffering in modern society by returning to a more purposeful and simpler way of life. The fast pace which society had accelerated to had taken it’s toll on the minds and bodies of most people, especially those living in inner cities, and an alternative was needed desperately by those unwilling to bury their heads in drugs, money and the pursuit of casual sex.

The ancient Vedic scriptures, written in Sanskrit on palm leaves

Perhaps why the principles Vedas struck a chord in many people growing up in the hardcore scene, was the parallel of values which was quite similar, in particular those of the straight edge culture. The tenets of Krishna-bhakti were to avoid intoxication, meat eating, illicit sex and gambling. Apart from gambling which wasn’t a great vice for people following the other restrictions, the other three were addressed by straight edge followers and thus many were already following quite closely the process of spirituality delineated in the Vedas.

The only clarity needed was that of sexual conduct, which had been addressed as early as the early 1980’s with Minor Threat’s ‘Out of Step’ with it’s anthem “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t f**k, at least I can f***ing think!”. The straight edge scene had a quite blurry idea of what constituted ‘casual sex’, and Ray Cappo once commented that in the Youth of Today times their views on sex were ‘quite ambiguous’, meaning that it was mostly left up to individual interpretation what it meant not to have casual sexual relationships while labelling yourself as straight edge. Without a clearer goal or body of knowledge on this and other subjects, opinion became divided on whether it was against the principles to have any kind of sexual relationship – whether in a committed relationship or not. Thus the topic wasn’t dealt with so commonly by most, and remained a kind of hypocrisy for people that claimed to be free of addictions and vices yet couldn’t possibly foresee themselves practicing celibacy to any degree.

What the injection of Vedic knowledge and practice of bhakti-yoga did within the scene, was to clearly delineate what was proper human conduct, the reasons why beyond mere dogma that sex was somehow evil and wrong, and a practical process for achieiving a higher level of consciousness, deeper and enduring platform of pleasure and happiness, and the sensual and mental control needed to be free from remaining a slave to our sensual desires.

The practice of Krishna consciousness revolves around mantra meditation primarily, which focusses the mind on sound vibration which naturally awakens the dormant spiritual nature which is calling within us. We each want to be free of external influences and to be be free and happy without pandering to the dictates of our mind and senses which perpetually drag us around like task masters. When our natural spiritual awareness is awakened, then our attraction for material things that previously gave us temporary satisfaction fades, and being freed from the prison of our own desires that cause us misery in the end, we experience more and more the bliss and happiness that is deep within us and which always eludes us as long as we continue to act only on the bodily and mental platform. The practice is simple and doesn’t require any drastic change in lifestyle, location in the world, or any kind of belief at all, and the effects are immediate and increase with continued practice.

“Images of sex confused with love. Society has turned it into a drug. And I’ve fallen victim time and time again, I just wish it would end. Are we just objects of desire?”

Worlds Collide – Objects of Desire


One may ask how do we reconcile the practice of ancient Eastern spirituality with such activities as playing and hearing modern loud Western music? The answer is that just as everything used for it’s proper purpose is beneficial, and inanimate objects are neither good nor evil but simply instruments we can use to create good or do harm, utilising music or anything to further the goal of becoming perfectly spiritually aware is in line with the tradition. If our attraction is to a particular type of music or activity, rather than try to artificially give that up as being harmful, better is to redirect that propensity towards that which is ultimately beneficial for us.

To first understand what we are, to know that we are not these bodily machines but living spiritual beings animated them, is of primary importance. This foundation which is greatly lacking in Western society today, lays a path that we can progress in the right direction which is understanding our true nature as parts in this huge creation, which each have a role to play in relation to the whole. Separate from that harmonius relationship with nature, the universe and all it’s inhabitants, all our endeavours lead to frustration. Yet acting in accordance with natures laws and understanding the source of existence and our place in the grand scheme of things, even what may seem to be mundane and ‘material’ from our perspective, can in fact be spiritualised like connecting a plug into a power supply.

Thus standing on stage singing a message from the heart that inspires others, is equal and non-different to someone meditating in the mountains for the peace of mankind. And writing and distributing a zine which leads many to the realisation that this is the direction they want to be heading, not being another cog in a system that is ever grinding you down, is equal to the sages thousands of years ago writing sutras of Sanskrit wisdom on palm leaves.

Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the Hare Krishna movement in the West set this precedent with the Mantra Rock Dance, a counterculture music event held in 1967 in San Francisco, where Prabhupada spoke on stage alongside bands such as The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin and Moby Grape. The bands agreed to appear with Prabhupada and to perform for free and the proceeds were donated to the local Hare Krishna temple. The participation of countercultural leaders considerably boosted the event’s popularity, among them were the poet Allen Ginsberg, who led the singing of the Hare Krishna mantra onstage along with Prabhupada, and LSD promoters Timothy Leary and Augustus Owsley Stanley III.

The Mantra-Rock Dance concert was later called “the ultimate high” and “the major spiritual event of the San Francisco hippie era.” It led to favourable media exposures for Prabhupada and his followers, and brought the Hare Krishna movement to the wider attention of the American public.

“Truth has been spoken for all mankind, and it’s a sad mad world when you can find, man confined to the grind and they don’t even mind, to be working for some jerk and leave their life behind.
In illusion in confusion, and don’t think there won’t be any retribution.
Expand our bold stand, there can be hope for modern man.”

Shelter – Message of the Bhagavat


The future for the spiritual seeker is very bright indeed, as he or she uncovers increasingly deeper truths and levels of reality which bring an unending pleasure, as opposed to the ephemeral pleasures of the senses and of the flesh which grow increasingly stale. So for those unfortunately stuck in the rut of materialism and consumerism, even in the name of somehow living an ‘alternative’ lifestyle (which is really just a slightly different flavour of the gratifying pleasures that have been rejected as the norm), the future is increasingly bleak. Time has shown again and again that political solutions don’t end up solving the problems of life at all, but simply shift the burden from one shoulder to the other, while our souls inside yearn for satisfaction beyond the mind-body tabernacle yet are offered nothing of lasting value by blind political leaders who can’t help even themselves as they are consumed by their own uncontrollable desires.

Without denigrating the sincere efforts of others in this mess of a planet, suffice to say here is that without creating a peaceful situation first in our own lives, how can we successfully extend much wanted peace to the scene we’re part of and ultimately the world in general? Understanding this, many bands and individuals continue to push the spiritual aspect to our existence as the ultimate solution to all problems. This is not as some think merely a simplistic remedy and actually just a way to escape so-called reality, but as the only means to bring people to the actual spiritual reality beyond the ‘virtual-reality’ that is this world. This dreamworld we live in, made up of our illusory bodily identification, continues to push us to exploit matter in the struggle to satisfy our senses, and as we do so we sink further and further into suffering.

So the bands and individuals who are dedicating their lives to furthering the teachings, which have been received as timeless wisdom from ancient sages only thinking for the ultimate benefit of all beings, are doing the greatest welfare work for all humanity, which includes in it animals and all other beings who are equally citizens of the planet with every right to leave in peace and harmony.

We extend our respect and thanks to everyone on this path. This is the pursuit of truth, and only that truth shall set us free…

“This is the weapon of the real revolution.
Unlock the coils around your spiritual frame, by crying out the holy name.”

108 – Holy Name

108 – Songs of Separation booklet with articles and interviews. Click the image to download.

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