Hardcore taking itself a little less seriously is something I really value. Yeah, I like the heavy, political stuff that has something to say, but I think it’s important to remember that hardcore is made up of people with lives too. Not everything has to be a statement. Happy hardcore has a different musical connotation nowadays, but I’m still gonna use it loosely to describe Buggin because it’s exactly how they sound to me. Don’t get me wrong – the Chicago band has tons of fierce moments and smoke for those they deem worthy, but the overall vibes are so fun, I can’t help but smile. Their MO can be summed up as such:
‘The album pretty much shows our growth as a band while still sticking true to our roots and why we started everything: having fun with the homies and not taking yourself too seriously. We’re not concerned with following any type of trends, just sticking in our own lane.’
Buggin caught my attention with a cover of Beastie Boys‘ “Gratitude” years ago – probably the best I’ve ever heard as a big, big fan of Beastie Boys – and ever since then I’ve wondered when the next LP’s gonna drop. Well, today! Concrete Cowboys is here and its mixture of light-heartedness and hardcore grit make it something well worth checking out. I’m not very familiar with the Chicago scene of hardcore so you’ll have to excuse my ignorance, but this album has moments where it has that bouncy, East Coast-ish feel that I really love and don’t hear very often from that region. “Hard 2 Kill” stands out among this album’s tracklist as an example of what I’m talking about – catchy, trailing melodies form the guitars and a neat groove to the rhythm section to make it all move like butter.
Over the whole album though, the star is Bryanna Bennett, Buggin‘s vocalist. They’re very charismatic and has a distinct raspy quality to her delivery, like if Rico Nasty committed to the hardcore/metal intensity we all know she’s very capable of. “Hard 2 Kill” has Bennett empower us all with rallying cries of ‘if you’re scared, become dangerous‘, and how each day is the ultimate test of survivability – for some, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Likewise, “Not Yours” is a hands-off anthem where Bennett makes their intention clear as a Black femme in a space that often tokenizes or is outright hostile toward people like them: ‘I’m not your girl/yeah, you don’t know me/won’t be your fool/let me live in peace‘.
There’s more vitriol from the band with tracks like “The Customer Is Always Wrong (TCIAW)” which is a working-class anthem for anyone who’s had to work in retail or food service with loud, entitled-ass boomers and Karens who live to wreck havoc on their days off of defending cops on Facebook or whatever they do. This song is mean instrumentally – an agile bass line builds the foundation for one of the quicker tracks on Concrete Cowboys and you can tell each member is venting their frustrations in their own ways as the song’s narrative plays out. I swear, waiters and store cashiers are braver than the troops.
“Snack Run” is a fun-ass song about… going on a snack run! Those moments you are your pals link up and head to a store of your choice (‘corner store, bodega – whatever you call it‘) to get your faves so you can feel something again. As a big dude with a sweet (and savory) tooth, I can very much relate to this, capturing the simplicity of something we may take for granted. To top it off, it ends with a big burp and laughs from the band. “Kick Rocks” is dedicated to anyone who has ever hopped a turnstile to catch a subway train or sauntered onto the lightrail knowing damn well you forgot your fare or straight up didn’t pay. Fuck it, and fuck people who try to act like cops and enforce those rules – people need to get to where they need to get to, who gives a fuck if you forgot or couldn’t pay a few bucks? This minute-long burner goes out to y’all.
Very fittingly, Concrete Cowboys ends with “Youth”, a very upbeat song about the future of our world and how the next generation will have their time to lead, confidently and securely. It’s a great song to close out the album and really brings the ethos of the group full circle. While all of their work has a point to it, however light-hearted or not, it all comes down to one thing: community. This world won’t be led by octogenarians forever and tyrants will be replaced by leaders who have done the hard work, grown as a person, and have way more emotional intelligence than whatever new AI bot they’ll announce next week. It’s up to us to make sure the youth ends up where they need to be and can live their lives in the ways they want to. Buggin‘s energy goes far to remind us of that priority we should all keep in mind.
So yes, Buggin is happy hardcore – hardcore that makes me happy, that makes me smile, and reinforces the fact that maybe things will be all right. It’s hard to keep that faith and hope alive sometimes, but the reason why this type of music matters is not just because it sounds awesome – it does – but because it’s purposeful and direct, a distillation of real human experience and thought. While I would never recommend people wholesale form their entire social and political identity around bands, their members, or their music, you could do much, much worse for jumping off points. There’s a lot of heart in hardcore and bands like Buggin are exactly why.
Band photo by Farrah Skeiky