At first it seems like deluded bullshit: the idea that Toronto’s laughably lame first-wave punk scene laid the groundwork for a continent-wide revolution. Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution not only argues this but—especially in its first half—completely and somewhat pompously labours the point.
The thesis is this: that a small group of Centre of the Universe protoscenesters (including long-time underground filmmaker Bruce LaBruce) blazed the way for some of the most iconic bands to ever come out of the American underground. If you’re a fan of, in no particular order, Bikini Kill, L7, Babes in Toyland, Pansy Division, Peaches, and even Nirvana, Queercore contends you have Toronto to thank. Suck on that West Coast punk fans.
Marked by endless strangely humourless and self-important philosophizing, the beginning of the doc drags. Director Yony Leyser lays out how, through fanzines and films, LaBruce and fellow malcontent GB Jones invented and propagated the idea that the TO punk scene contained a radical queer splinter faction. And that the manifestos spread by that group eventually led to riot grrrl and grunge, not to mention balls-out, tits-in-your-face torchbearers like Tribe 8 and Extra Fancy.
That the Toronto queercore movement didn’t actually exist didn’t stop it from laying the groundwork for future like-minded scenes across America.
When Queercore finally gets to interviews with the likes of Kathleen Hanna and members of the late great Tribe 8, something crazy happens. It becomes irrefutably clear that—impossibly—Toronto's first-wave punk scene actually has a legacy that goes beyond cartoon also-rans like the Viletones and Diodes.
As much as it hurts, sometimes you have to admit that your bullshit detector gets things wrong.