By Jay Connors.
Ian McFarland’s ‘The Godfathers of Hardcore’ follows the lives of the leading two members of the New York band ‘Agnostic Front‘, now in their 4th decade of existence as a group that the mainstream world has never heard of. This isn’t to say the title of the movie isn’t accurate, it is in fact genuinely apt, simply that hardcore as a punk sub-genre has remained underground since it’s inception, staying true to it’s roots as a self made ‘do it yourself’ movement. To those who have either been involved in the scene for years, or even just coming up into it now, Agnostic Front are commended as being at the forefront of a lifestyle that is still going strong, while remaining invisible to society at large.
The Godfathers in question are singer Roger Miret and guitarist Vinnie Stigma, now in their 50s and 60s respectively, the two long time members of a band that has consisted of over 20 people in its long history. Miret and Stigma’s passion for the scene show a band that haven’t just reformed for a few shows to cash in, but a group that never went away. The film shows their current day lives, while splicing in archive footage from local TV as well as video and photographs of the band to guide along viewers who are unaware of where they came from. While hardcore bands can be found all over the world today, a lot of this can be traced back to the violent streets of New York City in the 1980s, full of kids who were fully of anger and needing a way to express it.
Being involved in hardcore has always been more than listening to the latest CDs, or wearing a t-shit of your favorite bands. The aforementioned DIY lifestyle is promoted widely by those in the scene, encouraging as much participation as possible from those who follow it. Can’t play guitar? Find a venue and book a show. Can’t design flyers? Find a place for the bands to crash. Write for fanzines. Take photos. Find something that the community is lacking, and fill that gap. This level of dedication is far greater than you might see going in, meaning the general demographic generally swings to younger people in their late teens and early 20s, who can keep up. The people who have time and energy to be involved with something that can eat up all your free time, as well as money. Most will start slipping out as they settle down with families and work ‘real jobs’, but an enthusiastic group will follow behind them. Like the rotating doors of high school, the scene never dies – the faces just change.
Vinnie Stigma, however, definitely doesn’t show signs of slowing down. Full of vigor and sporting a personality that could be the most genuine New York City tour guide ever, Vinnie knows his station in life and is absolutely 100% content with it. Still living in the same building his whole family grew up in, he eats, breathes, and sleeps hardcore to this day. This is in contrast to Roger’s circumstances, having moved out to Arizona with his growing family and leading a more regular life. It’s apparent that the scene still has it’s grips on him, though. Despite a health scare he knows he isn’t out and is soon organizing live gigs as usual, with nobody really showing any signs of surprise. Compared to how his first daughter was brought up, Roger has found the balance needed to keep Agnostic Front an important, but not overwhelming, part of his life.
The one thing that exudes from the film is a general feeling of positivity. While more difficult subjects of growing up in a turbulent 1980s New York City and familial issues aren’t glossed over, they are used to frame how the music scene of the time took a group of young kids and forged them into something greater. While Roger and Vinnie are both on different paths outside of the band, they’re both shown as being in a good place surrounded by love. While Roger looks through his trunk of memorabilia and flyers from the 80s he’s hit with nostalgia rather than remorse, safe in the knowledge that both sides of his life are fulfilling. Vinnie on the other hand strives on knowing everyone in town, and being the center of attention. While some other stories might show this to be simply a facade, revealing a sadder portrait within, when it comes to Vinnie you’re completely sold on how much he enjoys life. It’s impossible to watch along without liking both of them.
Being a member of a prominent hardcore act in ‘Blood For Blood’ himself, Ian McFarland’s friendship with the band provides an intimate atmosphere throughout, treating the viewer like an insider to the proceedings through the lens. For those familiar with the band and their ilk, this is a world known and loved, while others are introduced to something that is totally new, but welcoming. While knowledge of the music and it’s growth is beneficial, it’s not essential as the movie carefully rides a line to ensure nobody is alienated. Interviews and establishing shots are filmed with care, while live footage is varied and exciting, ensuring an enjoyable visual experience that surpasses your generic band documentaries of the past.
Due to the close knit nature of the scene, the film is relatable to anyone who has been involved in underground music.
While most don’t get to play the open air festivals we see footage of, the dark and small clubs also shown will ring familiar to anyone who’s been to, or played, gigs. You might be at a show with a legendary act who’ve traveled halfway across the world to be in your club, but at that time and moment you might just be a foot or two away from each other. With no security or barrier you’re almost on stage with them, and in that moment a connection is formed between performer and audience that isn’t possible elsewhere. The close up experience of these performances is brought into the home effectively, providing a familiarity of venues we’ve never been in as an audience. For those of us less active these days, the film provides a sentimental look back and an understanding the changes Roger has had to make, while those still regularly heading to small venues each week know exactly what keeps Vinnie going.
‘The Godfathers of Hardcore’ is absent from rock star personas, betrayals, breakups, and twists. There’s no mansions, or swathes of handlers and executives rushing around. It’s a story of how two guys formed a band that many hold very dear, and despite their lives taking different turns it’s evident that the bond between the two of them will never be broken. It’s never a bad thing to have a happy ending.
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