This Is Hardcore 2017
From the moment the movement exploded into life in basements and community halls across America in the early 1980s, hardcore has been one of the most vibrant and compelling scenes on the planet. Founded from the ground up by like-minded people looking for something harder, faster and angrier than punk rock was offering at the time, hardcore exists to unite an exciting level of danger with an unrivalled sense of community. And it has never been more exciting than it is right now.
Across the world, some of the most interesting, challenging and outright brilliant albums being released are coming from bands drenched in blood, sweat and spit from hardcore shows. Knocked Loose recently took everything great about metal and bent it to their own brutal will on Laugh Tracks; Cursed Earth are tearing their native Australia a new one; Gouge Away and Krimewatch are whipping up a frenzy in hardcore’s U.S. underground; and Code Orange… Well, Code Orange might just have stolen the year with their hyper-intense, deeply menacing third album, Forever, released this January on Roadrunner.
And that’s not even half of it. We are, quite simply, in the midst of a hardcore resurgence that is changing the face of heavy music as we know it.
Code Orange being incredible live
Those chances, slowly but surely, are coming. The sheer quality of what’s happening in hardcore makes it impossible to ignore. Aside from Code Orange themselves recently being taken into arenas and stadiums by Deftones and System Of A Down, Baltimore outfit Turnstile’s street-smart mosh also caught the attention of the legendary Roadrunner Records, while Knocked Loose are currently raising hell across America on Warped Tour before Every Time I Die bring them and Higher Power to some of the UK’s best venues later in the year. Knocked Loose frontman Bryan Garris is in awe of it all.
“Nobody starts a hardcore band to play a stadium,” he says. “I saw a picture of Code Orange playing to tens of thousands of people and it was just like, ‘Holy shit!’ It’s so exciting to see this happening.”
“It’s crazy to think that hardcore is as popular as it is right now,” agrees Higher Power vocalist Jimmy Wizard, whose band recently impressed on a UK tour with Basement. “I’ve never seen it getting this much interest. I think that’s to do with the diversity of bands coming out of hardcore, too. There is no exact sound or formula. It’s more of an attitude than anything else.”
Genre boundaries are being pushed, norms are being challenged and homogeny disassembled. As well as unparalleled diversity in sound, there’s a heartening amount of diversity in the people that make up the hardcore scene. A look at its top tier will show a greater variety of race, gender and sexuality than in any other subsection of rock music.
One of the fiercest new voices in hardcore belongs to Cursed Earth’s Jazmine Luders. Her band made a name for themselves opening for Code Orange when they toured her native Australia, and recently signed to UNFD ahead of a new EP next month. She’s excited about the diversity in hardcore, but is wary of tokenisation.
“That should never be the only reason bands get attention,” Jazmine says. “Bands should be held to their own merit and that should always be the case regardless of who is in the band. It just so happens that at the moment a lot of great bands have females in them. And that’s sick.”
Of course, this hasn’t happened by accident. By its nature, this is a scene set up to put everyone at the same tier. At grassroots level, fans book the shows, and those shows literally and figuratively exist without barriers, allowing for mic-grabs and stage-dives mid-set, while the bands stick around after the show to meet those whose shirts inevitably end up bearing their sweat. It’s a community that expects the same degree of devotion and respect from each and every one of its members.
“To really be a part of hardcore, you have to give as much as you get,” states Bryan of Knocked Loose. “You pay in, you buy merch, you try to help the bands you like to come through your city, you put on the shows yourself, you’re giving bands a place to stay… Everybody is all-in. Everybody helps out because we know how fragile a scene like this can be so we know we have to put the work in to make sure that it keeps existing no matter what.”
Graft, it would seem, is the great equaliser.
“The fact you can put it all together yourself makes it so special,” Jami Morgan continues. “I booked our first show when I was 14. I just called up an art gallery in Pittsburgh, I made all the flyers, I contacted all the bands… I did everything. You can just go and do everything.
“A lot of bands don’t know how to do that. Without the machine, they can’t operate. They don’t know what it’s like to do 20-odd U.S. tours in a row where you’re in a tiny vehicle together, no-one’s at the shows and it’s all on you because you booked it all yourself purely because you love it. They don’t understand that mentality.
“That’s what draws me to hardcore. You’ve gotta earn your place and earn your respect, and I appreciate that about it. There’s not a ton of that in the music world.”
Even with all the excitement and fury present, hardcore isn’t without its challenges. When discussing the bands that ethically and creatively paved the way for this new wave, it becomes clear that each and every suggestion has something troubling in common. Every Time I Die, Trapped Under Ice, letlive., Trash Talk, Cold World, Comeback Kid… Great bands one and all, each of which stretched the limits of what hardcore was and is supposed to be, while raising the bar for quality. But when was the last time you saw one of them headline somewhere like London’s O2 Academy Brixton?
It seems as though there’s a glass ceiling over hardcore, with barely a crack in it on show. According to Justice Tripp, a man who can speak with authority given that he’s the vocalist of both the legendary Trapped Under Ice and one of the genre’s most exciting newer bands, Angel Du$t, the solution comes from within.
“I think people create their own glass ceilings,” Justice reasons. “A lot of bands go into it saying, ‘I just wanna achieve what Hatebreed did,’ or whatever. I think it’s important that you set your sights higher than what’s come before you. You’ve gotta carve your own path.
“Not to kiss Code Orange’s ass,” he continues, “but that’s something I always appreciated about them. They’re always gonna keep doing their own thing. People might not understand it, but they’re gonna do it regardless and they’re gonna take that path.”
Arse kissed or not, Code Orange’s Jami Morgan has his own views on it.
“It’s very hard to break that ceiling,” he admits. “You basically have to suck to do that, based on what I’ve seen. There are a lot of great bands and artists in other genres that get to do it, but they’re from an era where you could be great and fill those venues. It’s hard to break in that way now unless you’re something that’s real fly-by-night and ‘of the time’ in a very specific way. And those bands are going to be forgotten just as fast.
“I can’t even think of many bands that can fill those rooms. It’s a real small list, especially in hardcore, and there are a lot of reasons for that. If there’s no spotlight shone on it by the mainstream, even within rock, then it’s never gonna fucking happen. That’s just how it goes. All hardcore needs is the spotlight. We can do the music and the art and everything else ourselves, just give us the spotlight and let us fulfil our potential.”
At this year’s Download, Code Orange laid down a gauntlet. The Pittsburgh outfit took to the stage at mid-afternoon on the opening day and levelled the place with a set that became the talking point of the weekend. And while festival crowds are asking each other if they saw Code Orange play, Code Orange are asking everyone to take a harder look at the festivals.
“There’s a lot more stagnant shit in ‘real music’, the rock and metal world, than there is in hardcore,” declares Jami Morgan, drummer, vocalist and mouthpiece of the band spearheading this movement. “Having played the big rock festivals now, I can see that clearly. But you look at hardcore show line-ups and the records those bands are putting out and it’s some of the best shit around right now.
“It’s the same shit everywhere,” he continues. “It’s the same headliners being regurgitated, it’s the same bands on the covers of magazines. There are a lot of bands coming out of the hardcore world that I think would have a big impact on music if they were given the chance. There’s Power Trip, Incendiary, Nails… They’re doing some really great shit. They should be getting those chances.”
“When Gouge Away started just four years ago, I felt lonely all the time, as there were so few women visible in bands,” says the Florida group’s vocalist, Christina Stijy. “But now there are women everywhere, more people of colour and trans people… The fire that hardcore has right now comes from there being different types of people demanding to be heard.”
New York’s Krimewatch are a prime example of that. One of the most-buzzed about bands in hardcore’s underground, Japanese-American vocalist Rhylli Ogiura writes and yells in both English and her native tongue as a means of subverting the submissive, repressed stereotype imposed upon Japanese women.
“There are inequalities that had rarely been verbalised at large by the hardcore scene, and those who verbalised dissatisfaction with said inequalities were previously ignored,” says Krimewatch drummer Shayne Benz. “But now there’s more attention and positive energy being placed on overcoming these inequalities. That gives new energy to the scene.”
Angel Du$t’s video for Headstone
Even with that attention given, though, as it is now starting to be, there’s a worry that a long-prevalent ‘punk rock sell-out’ mentality, which sees fans turning their back on bands once they attain a certain degree of success, limits the scope of the genre.
“That’s one of the things that annoys me the most,” says Cursed Earth vocalist Jazmine. “The idea that if your band becomes successful in any way, you become a sell-out. I don’t like that at all. You should always take every chance you’re given in music, ’cause you don’t know if you’re ever going to get them again.”
“Yeah, I get really excited when bands like Code Orange get picked up,” continues Gouge Away’s Christina. “You go from seeing them in your tiny local venues a few years ago to now playing stadiums in front of people. It’s amazing. People should see that as a positive thing because they’re helping to pave the way for the next band.”
“People are starting to realise that hardcore isn’t just about doing things a certain way,” Higher Power’s Jimmy continues. “You can go out and do things and aim for things and still be a hardcore band. Hardcore is something in you and how you live your life, not whether you’re playing Warped Tour or with System Of A Down. I think a lot of people are starting to realise that now.”
Bryan agrees: “And every band that isn’t afraid to do the big tours and every band who makes sure that they don’t sound the same as everyone else is raising the ceiling.”
So it begs the question: how far can this all go? Characteristically, Jami Morgan has an opinion on that.
“I don’t think that the hardcore scene is just going to become this giant thing,” he starts. “That’s against the nature of hardcore in a lot of ways, and I don’t think it should strive to do that because it’ll suck the creativity and the realness out of it. Do I think there are bands like us who can break that glass ceiling? One hundred per cent. And we’re fucking gonna.
“As long as the records are good and the live shows are good, there are a lot of avenues. And if the metal world doesn’t want it, hardcore will find a way elsewhere. I don’t care if the rest of the world sees this stuff, I see it and hardcore sees it. It’ll happen. We’re gonna keep climbing.”
If hardcore can keep doing exactly that, if it can keep setting the pace for all that’s exciting about heavy music, that glass ceiling will lay shattered at the feet of Code Orange and their cohorts soon enough. Until then, its underground will rage on and its torchbearers will keep leading the way. They believe their time is coming, and it would be foolish to bet against them.
“We were given absolutely nothing and we made something great out of it,” Jami concludes. “So just wait ’til we’re going into it in the future and we actually have something. It’ll be on a whole new fucking level then.”
Words: Ryan De Freitas