Written by A. Iwasa
If there's one subgenre of hardcore that deserves more attention with the younger generation -- it's Krishnacore. Regardless of personal spiritual beliefs, the music itself warrants its place in hxc history beyond what little attention it seems to have gained. In this article, A. Iwasa describes his relationship with Krishnacore, from his start in the Clevo hardcore scene to new bands he's discovered today.
As a washed up, middle aged, ex-'90s hardcore kid turned oogle, I used to think everyone even slightly punk, or enough of a fellow traveler to be mistaken for being a punk, knew at least one random devotee to Lord Krishna at any given point. A vegetarian religion that bans drug use up to and including caffeine, and similarly prohibits sex without intent to reproduce? Basically, the most extreme interpretation of straight edge by religious conviction! Also, if you live in a town with a Krishna temple, and you play your cards right, you might be able to access a place to hangout inside as early as 4:30AM, with three free vegetarian meals a day when the devotees aren't fasting! This is great for homeless punx and fellow travelers since free vegetarian food can be hard to come by outside of radical Left hubs like the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland, Oregon.
Recently, I was listening to the Trial and Error Collective's podcast episode on music and cults and was stunned when they mentioned Krishna Consciousness, but didn't mention Krishnacore! (For clarification, I do not consider the International Society for Krishna Consciousness [ISKCON] a cult, but I like to joke about and research cults a great deal.) But what even is Krishnacore? Krishnacore, a sub-genre of hardcore punk, is similarly made up of bands that run the spectrum from positive, youth crew to blistering, metallic, tough guy; basically as hardcore has developed over the years, so has Krishnacore, for better and for worse!
Because of the popularity of straight edge within hardcore, it frequently attracts religious folks who don't fit in to the more conventional Western interpretations of other Eastern religions such as Christianity and Islam. Again, I think because of the strict prohibitions of drugs, eating meat and eggs, alcohol and sex without intent to reproduce, Krishna Consciousness, a Hindu denomination, can seem attractive to people with a strict interpretation of straight edge. The Krishnacore bands I like regularly ask questions and criticize society in ways I find easy to relate to, much like what attracts me to many other kinds of hardcore bands that frequently ask many hard questions, and shout "fuck you" to all the right people!
To me, Krishna Consciousness offers the sort of community I had hoped to find in a 12 step program in my young adulthood, around when I went my first year sober. Secular straight edge music and the youth crew movement in general did help me a great deal, but the art of, music, food, literature and general community around Krishna temples has been fulfilling to me as I continue to navigate sobriety and haven't been steadily part of a hardcore scene since my youth.
About the time I was getting into hardcore in the early 1990s, Shelter was the only Krishnacore band I knew of. The only things I thought I knew about Hare Krishnas was they shaved their heads except a little bit of a ponytail, wore robes and handed out flowers; and since I didn't like the first Shelter album I heard, I didn't bother following up for years. But there always seemed to be someone around in the '90s, rockin' one of those sweet beaded tulsi chokers most of them wear, more than the snazzy haircuts even.
Backtracking momentarily, the first hardcore band I ever heard was a local super group called The Spudmonsters. I was about 12, a seventh grader in the west suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio (Clevo), in the 1992-'93 school year. I had just started playing guitar, inspired largely by The Doors and The Beatles. But one of the few other rockers at my school gave me The Spuds' 1988 demo, which included songs about food and featured cover art of a potato shooting Spuds MacKenzie to death, and I was hooked! Songs like "Pizza" and "Peach" grabbed my attention in a way the more serious songs like "I'm Not Guilty" and "Death Sucks" couldn't. The band's sense of humor, mixed with the fact that they were local and newish opened a major thought process in my head, and nothing has been the same for me since.
Fast forward a couple years, and I'm finally regularly jamming with other guys and going to shows. The Spuds are still around and a huge deal, getting played on MTV, touring the US and Europe, the real deal. They had a new front man since their 1988 demo days, Don Foose. He came from a predecessor band called The Bagmen, so his musical roots are shared with one of my other all time favorite bands! Also, their guitarist, Chris Andrews, owned a phenomenal record store, Chris' Warped Records, in another suburb, so I really thought these guys were the coolest. They had it all!
Foose had quite a reputation as a party animal, a major reason why it never occurred to me he hadn't written their song, "Beer." In a brief phone interview, he told me he had a pretty free range youth, since his father was a union electrician and frequently out of town for work, and his mother drank quite a bit. I did only get to see The Spuds once (after Andrews left the band to focus on his record store and other small business ventures) when they opened for The Misfits and Megadeth at the World Series of Metal in 1997. (I didn't know it at the time, but The Misfits actually had a Krishnacore connection: former Misfit, Arthur Googy, was later in Antidote, something I only learned while reading This Music Leaves Stains.)
A couple years later I got some strange news: Foose also left The Spuds, and had gone straight edge?! Even more interesting, he was now fronting another super group, Run Devil Run, made up of Hare Krishnas from other hardcore bands such as The Meatmen, Brothers' Keeper and In Cold Blood; who was also a sort of all star band, featuring members of Mushroomhead, Ringworm, One Life Crew, State of Conviction and Integrity.
I also got into a Shelter predecessor band, Youth of Today (YoT), and another band of lead vocalist Ray Cappo of YoT's, Better Than A Thousand. To me then, YoT was the quintessential youth crew band. Lyrically positive and anthemic, with abrasive vocals and musically fierce. If YoT and Better Than A Thousand were so good, why wasn't Shelter?! I blamed the religious aspect at the time. On one hand, I wonder if this is why perhaps Krishnacore gets passed on by a lot of young punx. Then again, many younger people simply don't seem to know these bands exists. Compared to the seeming omnipresence of devotees in '90s hardcore, you could hate them, but if you were a scenester, you were at least dimly aware of their existence.
I went to go see Run Devil Run play with a couple metal bands in Clevo's Flats, but this was 1999 and I was wrapping up my time in northeast Ohio and in turn fading out of the scene. (The Flats are a bar district on the edge of downtown, and at the time already mostly sports bars and dance clubs.) In a lot of ways, seeing them was a non-event for me at the time. Other local hardcore bands I liked more, such as Ringworm, were becoming more and more metal, but Run Devil Run still sounded like The Spuds to me. It was cool to listen to Foose talk between songs, and refreshing for a show lacking senseless violence and other scene drama, but like I wrote, my time in the scene was on its decline.
Oddly though, as I began to branch out of the scene I essentially grew up in, I realized there were Krishna Temples all over the world, and I frequently stumbled across them or their devotees from Berkeley, California to New Orleans, Louisiana, Rogers Park, Chicago and on and on. All the time I was eager to chat it up with next to anyone about legendary Krishnnacore bands like Run Devil Run, Cro-Mags, and even Shelter as I grew on some more of their music (such as the album When 20 Summers Pass). For years, Krishnacore was my only exposure to Krishna Consciousness, and I've come to appreciate it more as my life and tastes have changed.
Far more times than not, no one seemed to know what I was carrying on about! I was shocked, disappointed and frustrated. Some of the greatest music ever, and none of these folks, even punx at the temples, knew who I was chattering about?! I think this is a generation gap thing, and I hope to get younger people to at least give these records a listen since you can find most of them for free on the YouTube anyway.
Don Foose is still around, and had actually been converted by Cro-Magnon vocalist John Joseph (I write Cro-Magnon here as a nod to his autobiography, and skirting the drama around the debate about the name Cro-Mags belonging to the other vocalist, Harley Flanagan.) Foose, like John Joseph, is also an athlete and writer. Unlike John Joseph, you can say the name of Foose's book about diet without being embarrassed!
Also, there have been at least a couple Krishnacore fan websites. But when they are let go, how are new folks supposed to find them?
There's at least one new Krishnacore band Safe, that's old-school sounding but fresher in many ways, that's currently making music and playing shows. Or at least when everything isn't basically shut down for COVID! They have a melodic yet still hardcore guitar sound, with anthemic vocals. Their accents make it charming in a way I'm not used to with these other Krishnacore/hardcore bands. Predecessor bands include Fumbles In Life and Half My Time:
Also, I found out Ray Cappo of YoT Today goes by Raghunath and teaches yoga. I went to a kirtan event where he also spoke in Tucson to give him a 'zine and ask him about YoT's relationship with old school Clevo hardcore bands, he seemed startled but receptive. I went to go hear him preach again the next night at the local temple, but he never replied to my attempt to follow up online.
I literally have no idea why Krishnacore isn't more popular among younger punx, even just as an old school, throwback thing when so many worse trends are well remembered. No matter what your personal beliefs are, I think the music warrants a listen to and deserves a place in hxc history beyond what little it seems to have gained.