Angst and ire were punk’s stock in trade when it first detonated in the 1970s, but that initial blazing fury quickly cooled and hardened into a stifling orthodoxy. Like every other subculture under the sun, punk drew its slavish adherents. The people who humourlessly policed the ‘scene’ were completely self-appointed, but set about castigating ‘poseurs’ and accepting no less than complete ‘authenticity’ with fanatical zeal.
Come the early ‘80s, America had developed its own angrier, angstier offshoot – the choleric sound that resulted duly earning the label ‘harcore’ for its thrashing tempo and uncompromising ideologies. Some of it was politically-charged and lacerating – see Bem favourite the sublimely sardonic Dead Kennedys – and a lot more was crushingly, crushingly dull, made painfully generic by its intolerance to innovation and anything not ‘authentic’.
Tellingly, then, one of hardcore’s best, most original manifestations came with a group who were willing to be flexible. DC’s Bad Brains started out as high-octane jazz fusionists in the fret-melting mould of Mahavishnu Orchestra, made a radical swerve into hardcore, before slaloming off into something managing to combine punk, funk, soul, thrash metal, and, most notably, reggae. The Brains were always boundary-straining punks, with a rhythmic complexity above and beyond the three chord trudge of their peers. But as its all-African-American membership immersed themselves in Rastafarianism, reggae grew more and more prominent in their sound. ‘I And I Survive’, taken from the band’s second record Rock For Light (1983), is a loping reggae groover nestled among the LP’s abundance of skull-rattling punk, and is very nice indeed.