Agnostic Front Doc Shows a Band of Hardcore Brothers Who Never Gave Up

Agnostic Front were born in a war zone, and their music sounded like it. From its early-Eighties inception, the band embodied the violence, drugs and tragedy surrounding the New York hardcore scene it helped spawn on the city’s derelict Lower East Side. It was unclear if the band would survive to play another show – let alone evolve into one of the most unexpectedly influential groups of their era, still playing packed shows around the world to this day. That paradox lies at the heart of a visceral new documentary about the group, The Godfathers of Hardcore

Directed by Ian McFarland – and receiving its theatrical premiere Saturday in New York as part of the 2017 DOC NYC film festival – Godfathers trains an unflinching lens on this band’s rise, fall, and unlikely rebirth. The doc acts as a dynamic, crucial companion piece to American HardcoreThe Decline of Western Civilization and other films chronicling the evolution of Eighties punk. 

The New York hardcore scene provided a home for the innovative thrash of the Bad Brains and even the young, loud, and snotty punk of the Beastie Boys. But with their leather-and-spikes tough-guy vibe, provocative embrace of skinhead Oi! music and political U.K. acts like Discharge, and the incendiary presence of frontman Roger Miret, Agnostic Front carved out their own lane. The band would become forefathers to the Nineties “street punk” explosion led by Rancid and the Casualties, and Miret & Co.’s forward-thinking (and controversial) embrace of heavy-metal aesthetics would also prove inspirational to bands like Hatebreed, Killswitch Engage and Metallica. 

But as captured in McFarland’s film, what’s most impressive about the band is their surprising longevity and relevance. “I’m 60 years old and I got a mohawk,” exclaims Agnostic Front’s original guitarist Vinnie Stigma, primping before a recent concert, in one of the film’s many hilarious yet heartfelt moments.

At the center of The Godfathers of Hardcore is the perennial bond between the band’s co-founders Stigma and Miret. “There’s nothin’ that could ever come between us,” Stigma states to the camera, and that’s clear from how McFarland depicts the primal relationship between the pair. Stigma was born and raised on a mafia-infested street in New York’s East Village, and still lives in the same apartment. Miret, on the other hand, escaped Castro’s Cuba to emigrate to the Eastern Seaboard, where he was raised in an abusive and broken home.