Mar 16, 2024

How A Religious Movement Infiltrated An Atheist Hardcore Scene

Alan Busch
The Pit
March 16, 2024

When it comes to punk and hardcore, a nearly palpable disdain for high-handed theology has long been the party line of the scene.

More than music, these bands are traditionally known to espouse a full-throated rejection of the dogma that many had force-fed to them during their formative years. Even those who weren’t raised with religion and therefore dodged the personal indoctrination bullet can’t turn a blind eye to Bible-thumpers influencing policies that clamp down on reproductive rights, gut social services, and fan the flames of international conflicts.

Of course, there’s been a Christian hardcore scene smashing it out since the late ‘80s, parading their faith around right in the heart of a community that’s built on giving the proverbial middle finger to tradition. And then there’s hardline zealots like Vegan Reich, who somehow married the teachings of fundamentalist Islam with hardline fury. These groups have always lingered on the fringes, tolerated rather than embraced.

In the early ‘90s, a different kind of religious fervor began to snake its way into the scene, gaining a level of acceptance that was without parallel or precedent.

Invoking the serenity and communal ethos of the peace and love flower children of the 1960s, the Hare Krishnas represented a significant cultural and spiritual extension of the hippie movement. Disillusioned by the Western religious traditions they were raised in, these seekers pivoted towards the East in their quest for a form of enlightenment that promised a more profound connection with the divine and an escape from the materialistic trappings of modern society.

Easily identifiable by their distinctive shaved heads and saffron robes, Krishna devotees became a familiar sight in cities across the U.S. and Europe in decades past. They were often seen selling flowers, stickers, and spiritual literature or engaging passersby with their melodic chanting. Although walking a fine line between being labeled a cult and embraced as a legitimate religion, their peaceful, rhythmic voices and acts of kindness echoed the flower-power ethos, appealing to those seeking spirituality beyond the confines of the conventional.

In the 1980s, a unique convergence occurred as groups of straightedge hardcore kids from New York City and surrounding areas began to show an interest in the path towards enlightenment espoused by the movement. This road emphasized self-realization over sensory gratification—a principle that resonated deeply with the willful abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and casual sex that many were already practicing.

Disillusioned by the hedonism and nihilism that often surrounded people in the hardcore scene, the discipline and purpose offered by the Hare Krishna faith provided a means of personal improvement and greater meaning in life.

The origins of the Krishnacore can be traced back to New York hardcore bands like Antidote and Cause For Alarm, whose members were known to frequent Temples and openly utilized Krishna imagery in their visual art. The movement saw its ideas propelled into the wider punk consciousness with the release of Cro-Mags’ debut, The Age Of Quarrel. This seminal album drew its title from Vedic scriptures, referencing a time of widespread conflict and sin referred to as the Kali Yuga.

As the legendary hardcore band Youth of Today began to wind down in the late ‘80s, frontman Ray Cappo found himself increasingly drawn to Krishna Consciousness. This spiritual gravitation was fueled by his in-depth study of religions that embraced his vegetarian lifestyle and resonated with his straight-edge ideals. Becoming a devotee, Cappo turned into an outspoken proponent of the ideologies found within prominent Krishna texts, particularly the Bhagavad Gita.

Inspired by his newfound faith, Cappo envisioned creating a final Youth of Today album that would express his deep-seated beliefs. However, this project marked a significant departure from the band’s established aesthetic. Recognizing the distinctive nature of his latest work, Revelation Records decided to release it under a new name. This marked the birth of Shelter, a band that carried forward the established tenets of hardcore while openly infusing it with the spiritual teachings of Krishna Consciousness.

Building on his spiritual dedication and recognizing the need for a platform to promote music infused with its teachings, Ray Cappo initiated an offshoot of Revelation Records called Equal Vision. Initially envisioned as a vehicle to release Shelter’s music, this new label quickly became synonymous with the burgeoning Krishnacore scene, providing a home for bands eager to meld hardcore’s intensity with a divine message. This strategic move solidified the link between hardcore music and Krishna Consciousness while fostering a unique community within the overarching punk scene.

The rise of Shelter, under the auspices of Equal Vision Records, acted as a catalyst for a new subgenre in the early 1990s that caught the attention of both the hardcore scene and spiritual seekers. Prominent bands like 108, Inside Out, Prema, and Refuse To Fall emerged as key proponents of this movement, each contributing their distinct sounds and lyrical themes that revolved around spiritual awareness, unity, and personal enlightenment.

It… was a weird time.

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