Hardcore bands began forming as many early punk rock bands turned to the poppier sounds of new wave. In response, younger, still angry kids took the energy of the original punks in a crazier, faster direction, forming hardcore bands who played faster, harder, and louder than anyone before. While there have been many hardcore bands, and it is still a viable musical form to this day, here are some of the best early hardcore bands who defined what hardcore punk sounded like and stood for at the beginning.
- Bad Brains. Forming in the late 1970s in Washington, DC, Bad Brains were a band out of time, four black youths with extremely adept musical skill and stage presence who moved from jazz-fusion to punk rock. Because they were so good at their instruments, they took the speed of punk to new heights and, as a result, helped to create hardcore. One of the first hardcore bands, their classic self-titled ROIR cassette produced classics of the genre like "The Big Takeover," "Right Brigade," and the first honest-to-God DC hardcore anthem, the lightning-quick "Pay to Cum."
- Black Flag. On the opposite coast, in the beach towns near Los Angeles, surf kids were angered by their inability to play with the "cool" punk bands in LA like the Germs and X, forming their own suburban hardcore scene. Foremost among these California skate-and-surf freak hardcore bands was Black Flag, led by guitarist Greg Ginn and future Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris. They recorded the classic "Nervous Breakdown" EP with Morris, cycled through several other singers, then made some more iconic hardcore with muscle-man Henry Rollins singing on "Damaged." Black Flag is the best of all the California hardcore bands.
- The Cro-Mags. The Bad Brains moved to New York and were influential on the hardcore bands there. One of these was the Cro-Mags, who combined Bad Brains style hardcore with a Motorhead-like rock and roll edge for music high on energy and violence. The Cro-Mags also brought Krishna consciousness into hardcore, one of the first hardcore bands to sing about religion, on their seminal "Age of Quarrel" album.
- Minor Threat. As the Bad Brains left, Washington, DC needed a new leader among their hardcore bands and that was Minor Threat. Minor Threat lived a lifestyle in opposition to the drug and alcohol and sex fueled excess of the kids at school they felt made them outcasts, and their song "Straight Edge" helped to spur the movement of the same name, though frontman and lyric writer Ian MacKaye never intended it as anything more than a personal statement of sobriety. Their music was hard, fast, and to the point, and catchy enough that major labels sought to sign them. They broke up rather than this happening, and MacKaye went on to form Fugazi, another fiercely independent leading light among hardcore bands and fans.
- Agnostic Front. AF was the hardest, toughest hardcore band to date, young kids having grown up on nothing but hardcore. This NYC band played the legendary CBGB's matinee shows, some of the most violent, rough punk rock shows in history, and produced two classic EPs, "United Blood" and "Victim in Pain," while still in their teens. Agnostic Front still play some shows to this day, the young upstarts becoming elder statesmen among hardcore bands. Their influence on violent, hard-fast-rules punk rock is undeniable.