Re-Issue Review: UNIFORM CHOICE Screaming For Change
1986 was a pivotal year in extreme music, particularly in the hardcore scene. When we examine the records that came out in the mid-1980's, we can hear the subtle but important changes that marked the shift from "hardcore punk" to just…well, "hardcore." Punk had always been made up of three strands, one artsy, another with a pop energy, and another dedicated to straightforward aggression. While the artsy and pop sides brought us indie and new-wave (respectively), the aggressive side gave us hardcore punk. From around 1980 to 1986, hardcore punk made its mark on the American underground. But by 1986, many key bands had broken up (e.g. Minor Threat, Black Flag) or changed styles (e.g. Corrosion of Conformity). As this happened, what remained of the loyal hardcore audiences began to shed the remaining melodic sensibility of punk and focus on the world at large. The music became even more aggressive (the New York scene had a lot to do with this), and within the now well-established straight-edge scene, the lyrics became more personal and inward focused.
The mid-to-late 80's line-up of straight-edge and youth crew bands is now well-known to hardcore fans: Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Chain of Strength, Judge, Bold, Side by Side. The sound bears some resemblance to first-wave hardcore, but is less raw and more streamlined. Breakdowns start to emerge as a theme and some of the riffs start to get heavier. The emphasis on "heavy" would accelerate with the influence of the crossover scene: Suicidal Tendencies, S.O.D, D.R.I and others. This would bring us to the sound we think of today when people say "hardcore": Earth Crisis, Integrity, Hatebreed, Strife. And here we are.
So what is one record we can point to that signals that crucial mid-80's shift? Turns out Southern Lord has just re-issued that record with Uniform Choice's Screaming For Change. The band and their excellent 1986 release are a perfect bridge between two eras. Yes, they sound a lot like Minor Threat. But there's something more pointed about their sound that doesn't point to the Fugazi-era of Ian McKay and Company. For instance, check out "Straight and Alert," and it's alternating approach of fast parts and crunching beatdowns. You an almost see people punching the floor in front of you as the song begins.
Another consistent theme is "gang vocals." Again, yes, these were not new to hardcore ("Ready to Fight" anyone? yes? "A Choice" sounds very similar, by the way), but this is certainly an early example of their use in a formal, regimented sense- "We scream to say, (gang: YOU BETTER LISTEN)."
For me, the definitive song is the title track, with it's positive message of: "Some, is better than none, some just isn't enough, I hope, the best is yet to come." The song is aggressive, in-your-face, and has the feeling any great anthem should. It gets you moving, cheering and ready for anything. This is what was meant by the old straight-edge movement, not so much a morally pedantic rule of abstention, but more a desire to rise above modern society's vices and social diseases and show the power of the will to overcome.