In the 1980s, the Hated pushed hardcore punk to its emotional limits — and may have helped invent emo along the way. Decades later, the band’s legacy feels as singular as its sound.

ABOVE: Legendary Annapolis punk band the Hated reunited on stage in January. Daniel Littleton (center), with Miggy Littleton (back left) and Jason Fisher. (Photo by Farrah Skeiky for The Washington Post)

W hat was the Hated? A punk band for sure, but also a community, a clique, a refuge, a reverie, a sound, a style, a spore, a spiritual practice, a conjoined double-consciousness, a neighborhood teen revolt, a radical expression of vulnerability during the most dehumanizing years of the Reagan era, the start of something far bigger than itself, and now, because that bigness won’t stop expanding, a form of time travel.

Daniel Littleton is sensitive to these multitudes. “Step through the wormhole,” the Hated co-founder says with a half-smile, “into the birthplace of emo.” Then he ambles down the stairs, into the basement of his late parents’ Annapolis home. This is where the Hated rehearsed when Littleton was a teenager, and where, on this cloudy Saturday afternoon more than three decades after the group quietly dissolved, its members have reconvened at full volume. The “wormhole” is a nod to the freakiness of the nostalgia trip. The “birthplace of emo” is a joke on the band’s uneasy relationship with its legacy — a confusion over how their singular journey through adolescence foretold a genre they struggle to identify with.

They assembled in Annapolis in 1984, writing songs in the overlapping shadows of the Naval Academy, state government, leisure-class sailboat culture and everything else Orwell had warned them about. Highly attuned to the atmosphere, Littleton and co-singer-guitarist Erik Fisher funneled their subsequent anxieties into denunciations of cruelty and injustice, saturating their songs with melody and delivering them like they were in flames. Their music felt hostile and magnetic — like perfume wafting through a barbed wire fence.

Somehow, it set off an unbelievable chain of events. The Hated left a relatively tiny dent in the ’80s hardcore underground, but their sense of extremity and catharsis inspired a broadening network of hardcore-adjacent bands throughout the ’90s — bands that would go on to influence an exponentially vast swath of 21st-century rock groups, rappers and pop stars who still have zero awareness of the Hated’s existence. The only way to get your head around it is to know that oak leaves bear no resemblance to acorns.

Now, with their lost recordings finally back in circulation, the Hated have regrouped for a pair of reunion shows in an expanded configuration that includes the group’s four founders — Fisher, Littleton, bassist Colin Meeder and drummer Mike Bonner. Littleton’s younger brother, Miggy, is also on hand, sitting in on drums whenever he isn’t adjusting the mattresses propped against the basement walls. Hoping the neighbors won’t call the cops, he secures his makeshift soundproofing and smiles: “This is where the Hated happened.”

Other places where the Hated happened: on the brick sidewalks of colonial Annapolis where Fisher and Littleton would march around with their guitars, declaring their existence to frightened tourists and unamused midshipmen. In the booths of Chick and Ruth’s deli on Main Street where Fisher would camp out all night, writing lyrics about South African apartheid. In the graffitied downtown alleyways where their friends tried to reclaim their hometown by spray-painting punky runes on the walls — a habit that got them labeled as anonymous “hooligans” in an op-ed that ran in the Capital newspaper.

In a way, Fisher and Littleton were grieving the Annapolis of their childhood, an enchanted play-space where they could burn through their afternoons listening to the clinking sailboat masts at City Dock, or contemplating jellyfish in the brackish water of Spa Creek, or goofing around on the grassy slopes of St. John’s College where their fathers both taught. They were family friends who met before their brains were old enough to form memories of the event.

A vivid memory, then: Fisher walking home from Bates Junior High and spotting an electric guitar in the window of the Goodwill on West Street. When he showed his new prize to Littleton, their world changed. “Next thing I know, [Daniel’s] got a guitar, too, and he’s better than me,” Fisher says. “So we were instantly helping each other level up and get weird.”

Even with their age gap — Fisher is nearly three years older — their headspaces quickly intertwined. They shared journals. They meditated together. They swapped books. And they wrote songs. “We became really exclusive really fast,” Fisher says. “We had our own little secret club with these monastic practices that were really intense. We were bonding over our sense of the deeper meaning of the world, and it was very hard for anyone else to break into it or keep up with it.”

That telepathic force field also protected them from the ambient antagonism of Annapolis. Fisher and Littleton both describe unhappy school days spent under the threat of corporal punishment and racist beat-downs that frequently spilled out into the streets. Fisher remembers being assaulted en route to Littleton’s house after being spotted talking to a Black friend on the corner. Littleton, whose mother was Filipino, says he felt especially targeted by peers whose parents had their worldview warped by the war in Vietnam. “The kids who were beating me up?” Littleton says. “They were traumatized. They didn’t have this inherent racist genetic mutation. They were taught.”

Furious and self-aware, the duo wanted to write songs about what they’d experienced — punk songs that, in hindsight, would eventually stretch our typical ideas about American hardcore as a soundtrack for disaffected youths into a kind of postwar music by and for a generation processing the domestic fallout of the catastrophe in Vietnam. But they still needed a band.

T he first one, the Geek Patrol, quickly morphed into the second one, Fit of Rage, which, after blitzing their 1984 high school talent show, recorded a demo, opened for California skate-punks the Faction in a random field in Glen Burnie, then evaporated. Fisher graduated from high school that spring, moved to a kibbutz in Israel for the summer, and conceptualized the Hated in his homesickness. The logo — distressed letters on an American flag — could be a wink to the Who. The name — declarative and counterintuitive — could be a genuflection to Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Colin Meeder was totally onboard. He’d been Littleton’s ally years earlier at Bates Junior High where the two bonded over prog rock and shielded each other from bullying. “This was pre-nerd-as-an-identity-to-be-chased-after,” Meeder says. “A nerd was something you ended up as. You had to battle your way out of it.” For Meeder, joining the Hated on bass felt like stepping out of adolescent misery and onto a higher spiritual path: “Fully open, fully on.”

So with drummer Mike Bonner in tow, the Hated recorded its searing debut demo, “The Best Piece of S— Vol. 3,” adhering to breakneck hardcore tempos, but rejecting narrow hardcore dogma. Instead, the band took its cues from Bad Brains and Bob Dylan, Void and Joni Mitchell, Husker Du and Santana. “We were drinking deep from these different cultural traditions” — classic rock and hardcore punk — “because they both had this sacredness about them, this thing that we revered,” Fisher says. Littleton echoes the idea: “It was all coming from a similar intention — to uplift, to liberate, to unmask malevolent forces.”

The uplift spread. By the end of 1985, Kenny Hill — drummer of Annapolis hardcore originators Spastic Rats and founder of Vermin Scum Records — had found his way into the Hated, and in turn, the Hated found their way onto Vermin Scum. Hill’s attic bedroom on Summerfield Drive had already been a scene nucleus where friends congregated to swap cassettes and get their minds blown. Now it was home to a DIY punk label committed to putting Annapolis on the hardcore map.

Monica DiGialleonardo, soon-to-be bassist of the legendary Vermin Scum band Moss Icon, says she found her way into the circle through a cassette — the Fit of Rage demo — and that she remembers the closeness of the scene coalescing almost effortlessly. “We were all just starting to find ourselves and express ourselves as young people through music,” she says. “We had an instant connection – a common understanding – that enabled us to quickly move forward together and create this new sound.”

Littleton is on the same page. “The music was that redemptive, powerful, galvanizing thing that gave us a sense of community with each other,” he says. “Finding Moss Icon was like, ‘Yes! Our people!’ We knew the second we all saw each other that we were totally down.”

His psychic bond with Fisher, however, remained sealed. “If we weren’t together making songs, we’d sometimes refer to it as ‘exile,’” Littleton says. “We also had this one period where we had beards,” Fisher says, “and we would twist our beards and tell each other, ‘We’re making ourselves look ugly so people will leave us alone!’”

Perfume and barbed wire. Their charisma drew people close. Their insularity kept people away. “Anyone who was not Erik and Dan could have felt like they were on the outside,” says Miggy Littleton. They were “like a single-cell organism. And that could be infectious, or overpowering, or obnoxious.” It also made the Hated inherently volatile. So much so, that the band’s acoustic songs often resulted from having temporarily lost — or ditched — their bandmates.

But those songs were crucial. The first time Tonie Joy saw the Hated in the summer of 1986, they were playing a relatively feral acoustic set on the floor of the Super Skate roller rink off Route 50. The flier for the show read: no boots. “I remember thinking, ‘This is like hardcore thrash meets Richie Havens.’ How were they strumming so fast?” Joy says. “I think that night jump-started the idea of us doing a band.” Joy had ventured to the Super Skate that night with his friend Jonathan Vance. They’d form Moss Icon with DiGialleonardo before the end of the year.

T here was a sense of occasion when the Hated embarked on its first coast-to-coast tour on Aug. 8, 1988. For starters, the date. 8/8/88. Four infinities. What kind of omen was that? To find out, they drove off in Hill’s black Dodge Ram, which lacked air conditioning; the heat ruined untold hundreds of vinyl LPs and cassettes during a drive across Arizona, instantly creating a scarcity in Hated recordings that would inflate the band’s mystique in years to come. But in real time, the Hated were playing with greater zeal than ever before, even if their collective devotion was beginning to erode. “I think the ’88 tour was the death of the gang and the birth of the band,” says Meeder.

They hit some kind of pinnacle halfway through the trip during a performance in Chula Vista, Calif. Fisher recalls the ceiling dripping with sweat, the crowd having to leave the room between songs for fresh air. It all felt like affirmation. “By the end of it, everyone in the room was as tranced out as we were,” Fisher says. “In the best of situations, bands and audiences mirror each other. The audience tells you you’re not crazy.”

A few nights later, the opposite feeling. “I was singing my soul out, trying to deliver this message and I felt like it wasn’t happening,” Fisher says. “After the show, someone told me they made a soundboard recording, so I grabbed it out of their hand, threw it into my Walkman, and walked out into the night, into these cow pastures” — the band was crashing at a squatted farm near Petaluma — “and I’m listening to this tape, wondering, ‘What is this? Who am I?’”

In the Hated, commitment was total. The band had no interest in (or path to) money or fame. Their only concern was the moment. One shaky set and someone’s heart could fall right out of it. Fisher decided he would resume his college education, so the Hated returned home to make its final album, 1989’s “Every Song,” knowing that the end was close. “We were in the studio and Les Lentz” — the band’s longtime producer — “was saying, ‘Wow, you guys sound better than you’ve ever sounded before,’” Fisher says. “And Daniel was like, ‘Yeah, too bad Erik’s more interested in his brain.’” Excellent razz, but the choice of words surfaced a deeper hurt. Not their brain. His.

Littleton wouldn’t exit the mindshare until the quartet’s final show at the Crofton fire hall in the summer of 1989. The band was playing “Knocking on Your Door,” a song that surges and gusts like some ancient weather system, “and the place is just levitating,” Littleton remembers. “Then I saw Erik across the stage, and I felt this immense sadness. This was it. We weren’t going to do this anymore. And I suddenly felt like I couldn’t sing it. I couldn’t play it. So I stopped. And I’d never stopped. I’d never given up on a moment with the Hated. … Erik got on the mic and sang my words. He just started singing. For me. I had this total crisis of faith, this existential blackout, but my best friends showed up. Erik had my back. Ken had my back. Colin held it down the whole time. We got through it. And that was the last time we played.”

F isher calls this reunited iteration of the Hated “the Magnificent Seven,” and here they are, back in their basement, making their magnificent noise — Fisher, 56, Daniel Littleton, days shy of 54, Meeder, 53, and Bonner, 55, plus bassist-guitarists John Irvine, 57, and Jason Fisher, 52 (Erik’s brother), as well as Miggy Littleton, 51, filling in for Kenny Hill, who died in 2020. Everyone in the room is headed to Los Angeles in February to play Numero 20, a festival organized by the Numero Group, the archival record label at the start of a meticulous, years-long campaign to release every sound the Hated ever recorded. But the band wanted to play a hometown show first, and at this point, they only have 27 more hours to get it together.

Where have the original members been since they last walked down these stairs? Littleton went on to form the band Ida with his now-wife Elizabeth Mitchell, currently a fabulous and popular children’s singer. (You can also hear Littleton and Mitchell in the background of Lisa Loeb’s 1994 hit “Stay (I Missed You).”) Fisher made good on his plans, earning multiple degrees. He’s a professor in Arizona now, and his bond with Littleton remains tight. Meeder moved to Germany and works as a classical concert organizer. Bonner fell out of touch with the Hated not long after his time in the group, and his bandmates were unable to locate him until November. He can’t believe this is happening and he doesn’t really know what emo is.

Neither does Littleton, really. “The notion that music — the most immediate, palpable, organic technology that humans have created — can get us to the complexity of our internal life is just inherent to the art form,” he says. “‘Oh, this is emotional music? As opposed to when Otis Redding makes you cry?’”

Friends and collaborators agree that the Hated not only resist reflexive muso taxonomy, but also those too-tidy creation myths where an entire musical idiom can allegedly spring from a lone source. “Bands that are as good as the Hated come out of scenes,” says Jenny Toomey, the D.C. punk vet who played in various bands with Littleton post-Hated. “When you’re inside one, someone outside is naming you.”

That’s all true. The Otis Redding teardrops, the outsider labeling, all of it. But if you think of emo as an inheritance, as something that flows through the Hated’s feral singularity in the ’80s, into Sunny Day Real Estate’s cathartic mewling in the ’90s, and out into every tacky and beautiful emo-thing conceived ever since, a narrow word begins to stand for a multidirectional continuity. Right? Maybe. Either way, the Magnificent Seven don’t have time to think about it right now, because, as Littleton puts it, “hell froze over and we’re playing Severna Park on Sunday night.”

If the Hated was a band forged by a particular set of circumstances, why not organize a reunion show that aims to re-create some of those circumstances? Instead of playing a nightclub, why not a room with tile floors and harsh lighting whose primary function is bingo? Why not make it the Earleigh Heights fire hall in Severna Park, a 15-minute drive up Ritchie Highway from the Littletons’ house? Why not get friends to handle the sound? Why not have them bring the PA system?

The verisimilitude is truly inspired, and it all goes off a little too well. The speakers glitch and crackle throughout the opening sets (including a valiant one by Max Ochs, the legendary folk guitarist who met Littleton’s parents in the civil rights movement), and the Hated end up taking the stage 90 minutes late. From there, everything else that goes wrong feels right. Like whenever their guitar cables get accidentally unplugged. Or whenever Fisher and Littleton have to sing at the edge of their voices because the vocal monitors aren’t working. It all sounds so real. Because it is.

And when the band tears into “Words Come Back,” an indomitable guide to surviving a world that wants you erased, Littleton screams like he did in 1985, veering off the lyric sheet while his bandmates burn: “In torn down buildings and alleyways, you’ll see our name.” He’s singing about long-faded kid graffiti, but the words come back through clenched middle-aged teeth like teenage prophecy. Tonight, this song is about something metaphysical — about leaving permanent marks in liminal spaces, about committing to the present moment with an intensity that refracts into every moment thereafter, about stamping your place in the eternal return.

Rolling those ideas around in your mind as the Hated continue to wash the room with noise and memories becomes its own once-in-this-lifetime reverie — until the band blasts through the fire hall’s midnight curfew, the lights turn on and everyone has to go home.

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