Tuesday, 6 May 2014

To the Core of Queer Music

At the beginning of March I looked at Riot Grrrl music. I mentioned how that movement developed out of Queercore. But where did Queercore come from?

The name of the genre tells you a little about its original concept. “Queer” was chosen above “Homo” because of its more inclusive sexual and gender definition. Homocore was a term used very early on but it didn’t reflect the genre’s attempts to rebel within the “mainstream” gay community. That’s where “core” comes in. Being influenced by the hardcore punk scene of the 1980s Queercore was seen as a rebellious, anarchistic alternative to Gay Pride, political activism and gay dance music.

Punk rock was a rebellion against the ubiquitous glam rock of the 1970s. As such it rejected the gender ambiguity of most of the glam rock bands. It seemed that no gay or effeminate straight man would be interested in such aggressive rebellion, but they were.

If there is a point and place where Queercore is said to have been born it is in Toronto, Canada, in 1985 with the first edition of a homo-punk fanzine called “J D’s”. Its producers were G. B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce (more well-known as a film-maker). They coined both “Homocore” and “Queercore”, and created an imaginary community based on the small underground queer-punk scene. As the fanzine became distributed across America, Jones and LaBruce received letters from people who were living their own isolated queer-punk lives. Realising there were many fans of the Queercore and queerpunk scene other fanzines found an audience and were produced in other cities.

That’s how it all started. How it developed from there is the same old story of new people coming along with their own ideas and the genre beginning to split. Jones and LaBruce went their separate ways after more anarchic Queercore elements took hold, with direct personal attacks on Queercore leaders and fanzines offering free condoms with holes in them during the early days of the AIDS crisis.

During the 1980s many Queercore bands were established in major American cities and the new musical genre emerged to dominate Queercore which, up until then, was essentially based on fanzines and their message of rebellion against the mainstream lgbt community. The point which brought them together on an equal standing was the first meeting of the major players in Queercore and the bands and their fans at an event called SPEW in Chicago in 1991.

The growth of Queercore and the emergence of new leading figures saw San Francisco develop into the major centre. It was there that the term “Homocore” re-emerged as a sub-culture that was less anarchic and more music centred. Homocore events and concerts were arranged by many Queercore communities across America.

It was also crossing international borders. In 1990 the then editors of “J D’s” produced a compilation cassette of international Queercore music, including tracks by Canada’s Fifth Column, the UK’s The Apostles, and New Zealand’s Gorse, beside many US bands.

The next “generation” of Queercore performers were discovering the music in high school. Performers I mentioned in the Riot Grrrl article, such as Donna Dresch, were moving into the Queercore scene while still at school and eventually forming their own bands, leading to the emergence of sub-genres including Riot Grrrl and synth-punk.

Perhaps the most well-known of the early Queercore bands to reach international recognition was Pansy Division. Formed in 1991 by Jon Ginoli, the band’s style appealed to both the Queercore and emerging Pop-punk communities. There was less anger and rebellion in Pansy Division’s music which also found a market in mainstream music. With the band Green Day (soon to eclipse them in both popularity and mainstream appeal) Pansy Division was one of the bands signed up to the first Queercore record label, Outpunk.

The decline of punk in general found Queercore just about hanging on after its first blast of energy, and it survives today in various styles.  Band members of the pioneer Queercore bands continue to play in new bands as well as reunited line-ups. New bands continue to form as new performers find their Queercore voice, which has been shifting against rebellion within the lgbt community to challenging homophobia in the wider community in general.

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