While outsiders of Cleveland think of the city as the Mistake on the Lake, or bring up reminders of the fifty year sports championship drought, those who are native to Cleveland possess a fervent pride in promoting the city for all the great things it has brought to the table over the years: Superman, Harvey Pekar, and Rock ‘n Roll. For Matthew Greenfield, the hardcore punk scene that established itself in the 1980s, and thrived throughout the 1990s and into the present plays a just as significant role in shaping the city’s history and music history. On Friday, July 24, he will premiere his full-length documentary, Destroy Cleveland to the public at the Cleveland Masonic Auditorium.
Since he was 16, the Youngstown born-and-bred filmmaker started going to shows in Cleveland, some at the now shuttered Speaks in Tongues on the city’s west side which hosted many of the underground hardcore shows featured in the documentary. “I’ve always been drawn towards aggressive, fast-paced, angry music. I started going to Cleveland hardcore shows when I was 16. I’m 32 now. The first bands I saw were 9 Shocks Terror and Gordon Solie Motherfuckers. I was strictly a fan,” said Greenfield.
Although Greenfield moved onto the warmer pastures of Austin, Texas as a freelance journalist, his interest in Cleveland and the Rust Belt music scene has not waned. A self-proclaimed huge supporter of Ohio, but from afar, his website, Rust Belt Hammer documents music from the region from hardcore, to punk rock and even, as Greenfield calls it, “weird rap from the 90s.” It was from this general interest in compiling interviews and artifacts that sparked the idea to create his first documentary. “I always liked documentaries. I was just digging for facts about Cleveland hardcore, and I figured someone should do a documentary on it,” Greenfield said. “I like to document things for my own amusement. I collect fliers, stickers, records. That definitely helps when making a documentary, so it’s nice to put it all on film.”
When it came time to start filming, Greenfield knew who to reach out to. “I have some friends from Kent, Ohio, and they had been making films already, so I proposed the idea. By that point, I had contacted some people from the scene and they liked the idea, they wanted to help out, so we sort of just went from there,” said Greenfield. With the team now consisting of Jorge Matthew Delarosa (of The Slow Mutants production company), and Colby Grimes, Greenfield set out filming Destroy Cleveland. Throughout production, Greenfield found resounding themes in the Cleveland hardcore scene that made it unique compared to other cities like Austin. “Austin is a very transient city. People aren’t necessarily from Austin, and it’s hard to pinpoint what the scene is about. The modern hardcore scene in Austin is a lot different. People are laid back and have a lot less frustration,” said Greenfield. “In Cleveland, it has this cloud over the top of it, and you can hear it in the music. People were definitely frustrated and looking for something cathartic.”
Greenfield goes on to say, “I didn’t go to a lot of shows in the 90s, but it was definitely a violent era. The music sounds violent, it wasn’t just the crowd. It was a soundtrack of violence. Whether you’re fighting to that music or fighting an inner battle, Cleveland hardcore has a unique sound; it’s darker, more metallic.” While bands like Integrity were deeply influenced by a metal influence in their art and music and have been touted as the inventors of metallic hardcore, but many bands were influenced by the industrial decay and economic struggle of the city. “I hear bands from Cleveland and whether it’s 9 Shocks Terror or Integrity, I hear the sound of industrial collapse. It makes me think of black and gray. That’s how it sounds if it could be described by colors. A lot of these guys worked in factories and played in bands. It’s a very working class, blue collar and hard-working. These things come out of the music. It’s not about flashiness or politics, Ronald Reagan, Batman or George Bush. It was more personal and about internal struggle; yourself and your surroundings.
Digging through the archives of the hardcore scene brought about some interesting, long-forgotten stories. One in particular Greenfield mentions occurred at Speak in Tongues. Although no video exists, a lone image has survived the passage of time. “It was a Boulder and Schnauzer show and these guys came on stage and started doing the Nazi salute. At least half of the Cleveland hardcore band members are Jewish. It definitely didn’t go over too well. […] It was a chaotic thing. It’s sad and comedic at the same time.”
Now that the production of Destroy Cleveland is completed and the premiere is just around the corner, Greenfield has a lot of plans. For the next year, he’s going to take time to promote Destroy Cleveland for a year, taking the documentary across seas to Europe and possibly Australia and New Zealand. Greenfield will continue to document music and culturally important artifacts from the Rust Belt region on his website, Rust Belt Hammer.
By showing his film to the world, Greenfield hopes that the Cleveland hardcore scene lives on forever. “I just think that it’s such a great and underrated, overlooked scene. It needs to be solidified in history. The music couldn’t exist anywhere else,” Greenfield says. “I want people to know about it whether it’s 3 people interested or 3 million. In 100 years people are going to be like ‘Wow this is what Cleveland hardcore was about. Look at this guy James from Ringworm and Tony Erba from 9 Shocks Terror and H 100. They had these crazy stories and lived crazy lives.’”
Destroy Cleveland premieres at the Cleveland Masonic Auditorium, Friday, July 24 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be bought online or at the door.
An after party will commence at The Foundry Concert Club with local hardcore bands Splat, cruelster, and Bad Noids at 9:30 p.m. including special reunion with the Gordon Solie Motherfuckers. Tickets are $10.00.
The Destroy Cleveland DVD can also be pre-ordered for $16.00.