In their guises as 2manydjs and Soulwax, Belgian brothers and prolific audio/visual bricoleurs David and Stephen Dewaele set the standard for this century’s digital cut-up pop media scene. Nowhere is this more evident than in Hardcore or Die, their impressive visual take on that most unruly of 20th-century analog pop genres, ’80s American and European hardcore punk.
The main MO for the Dewaeles’ Radio Soulwax project has been to produce hour-long videos synched to their mixes that involve the album covers in some way, mostly by animating aspects of them in an adorably jerky cut-out style. They’ve done this for Modern Brazilian Pop, mediocre hip-hop, European prog, Chicago house, space disco, commercial soundtrack (or “library”) music, and the proto-techno New Beat craze that engulfed their Belgian homeland during the late-‘80s. (You can view all these and more on their Vimeo page.)
But Hardcore or Die raises the bar on many levels. In the aftermath of disco burn-out, punk bands proffered hardcore’s grinding, guitar-centered hard-fast-rules credo in direct contrast to commercial R&B pop’s groove-centered predictability. And there seemed no earthly chance of mixing the stuff in club sets—that would come in the ‘90s during exceptionally rare moments at mostly goth clubs.
Although groups like Atari Teenage Riot and scenes like Dutch gabber have absorbed the hardcore aesthetic in the digital age, Soulwax do an amazing job of beat-mixing this most ornery of 180-200 beats-per-minute pop subgenres. While they give certain influential bands like Crass and the Bad Brains some extra shine–which evokes the surprising amount of groove in their tunes–the pair apply a distinctly anti-hierarchical approach to their mix. Many unknowns (Screaming Holocaust, DYS, Totalitar) get extended spotlights, while some rather consensually significant songs appear for a second or two as fills. Occasionally, you hear the whirr of granular beat-repeat applied to some of the songs, which reinforces the digital context of the mix nicely.
There are of course some hilarious moments in the dizzyingly fast-paced vid, including the dancing Jesus on the dollar cross on the cover of the Dead Kennedys’ In God We Trust Inc., a frenzied collage of “1-2-3-4” count-offs, and a recurring motif of stage-divers occasionally swarming a cover. The Dewaeles expand on their irreverent approach to the vaunted genre in their accompanying note on their Vimeo post:
We can’t pretend to have been huge hardcore punk fans at the time, but have grown to love it now[… ]Some people might feel it’s not very respectful, but listen, those guys take themselves way too seriously and by cutting it up the way we did, we feel we have kept to the original spirit and energy of the music.
Much more than a punk Stars on 45, Hardcore or Die offers an adoring vision of the hardcore legacy.