Layers of meaning 

Witch Hunt: defining crust

No print dictionary, regardless of how frequently it’s updated or how broad its lexical reach, can keep pace with an online version.

“Crust,” a term used generally and often improperly to describe one of hardcore punk’s many stylistic alleys and cul-de-sacs, is the kind of word that would probably never past Webster’s muster, but the online dictionary wordiQ defines it with surprising confidence (cross-references shown here in italics):

“In music, crust is an underground hardcore genre related to noisecore and resembling death metal. Its chief original exponents were the band Doom. It derives its name from the term crusty, British slang for a member of a subculture in which people would typically wear their hair in dreadlocks, use drugs and eschew traditional lifestyle choices in employment and housing (i.e. by being unemployed and squatting.)”

As it’s used in Great Britain, the term connotes the lifestyle more than the music; fans of hardcore punk and/or British indie pop of a late ’80s/early ’90s vintage might be surprised to learn that indie bands like New Model Army, the Levellers, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and Swervedriver were considered crusty alongside punk bands mining the same preachy political vein as Crass and Conflict.

In the United States, the term has more to do with a certain style of hardcore (“political in nature, and typically violent in expression,” wordiQ notes helpfully) and subculture members who dress a certain way, the most curious feature of standard crust garb being a free-floating denim or leather flap hanging over the seat of one’s trousers. One of these days maybe the definition of crust will be cross-referenced to an entry about the flap to explain its purpose. Even crusties don’t seem to know why it’s there.

Crust as a style of hardcore is evergreen, and the Minneapolis record label/distribution/zine collective Profane Existence has been its axis since the late ’80s. The label’s most recent signing is the female-fronted (hardcore is a mostly male phenomenon, although there are dozens of crust bands with female members from Portland to Poland, many of them on the Profane Existence label) New Jersey trio Witch Hunt. Their new LP …As Priorities Decay is hot off the PE presses; it is, the label assures us, way crust.

Witch Hunt and Ass-End Offend play Area 5 on Thursday, Sept. 2. Show starts at 8 PM. $5.

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