The Month In Hardcore: July 2021
Someone took a kayak to the show. In Richmond, the first big punk show since the pandemic happened in a space that isn’t really a space at all. It’s an outdoor area underneath a bridge, next to a river. Between bands, my friend and I were sitting on a log down by the water, and we looked over to see someone strapping on a helmet and sliding his kayak into the river. We couldn’t tell whether he’d planned to kayak to the punk show or whether he just happened to be riding by and thought he’d check out whatever was going on over there. Either way, what a cool guy. We should all be taking kayaks to shows.
Surreal things always happen at hardcore shows; it’s one of the reasons that hardcore shows are the best shows. Even when these shows are a part of your routine, there’s never anything routine about them. They’re heightened atmospheres, places where you’ll see things that don’t entirely make sense. In Richmond, a city where punk and hardcore are part of the air, the first show back was an especially heightened atmosphere. People had been waiting for this shit. It didn’t disappoint.
Over the next few months, a whole lot of punk and hardcore and metal shows are coming to Richmond, and plenty of them are coming to legit venues. But it feels appropriate that the first large-scale show since the beginning of the pandemic happened on a dusty river embankment under a highway, with the noise of the cars overhead muffling whatever noise pollution the show itself might’ve caused. The area itself is breathtaking — the whole river and city skyline laid out in front of you, at sunset, like a postcard. And when hundreds of punks converge on a spot like that to mosh and drink and set off fireworks, it makes for a life-affirming sight.
There are complications to playing a punk show next to a river. Someone had to bring a generator out. Someone almost certainly lost money. (The show was supposed to cost five bucks, but I didn’t see anyone collecting.) Once the moshing started up, facemasks came back out — not because everyone was suddenly scared of the delta variant but because there was so much kicked-up dust in the air that it got hard to breathe. Also, on a sloping surface, it’s a whole lot easier to fall over. I saw people in the pit falling over other fallen people in the pit. I saw someone looking around frantically for his glasses and someone else holding up a shattered and dust-trampled pair. But those glasses weren’t that guy’s glasses; they were someone else’s shattered and dust-trampled glasses. All of those complications made for a better vibe, and the whole spectacle — fireworks in the pit and all — felt like a family reunion, a community coming back together. It was weird how not-weird it felt.
Because I’m a dummy who doesn’t plan ahead, I got to the gig late, missing Kontaminate entirely and only catching the end of the set from Richmond metal-punk warriars Left Cross. But what I did see was nasty. Destruct, the first band I saw in full, are a brimstone-gargling D-beat attack squad who fit the euphoric-apocalyptic environment perfectly. (Someone duct-taped a Destruct banner up to one of the columns holding up the bridge, which was cool.) I couldn’t hum one Destruct song for you, and every track on their 2020 album Echoes Of Life sounds like Motörhead playing inside a dumpster while a crane dumps spoiled meat on their heads. This is not a complaint. When you’re getting back to running around and banging into people, it’s great to have something so fast and focused and single-minded. Destruct work in the grand tradition of crusty punk bands who roar out warnings about humanity inevitably destroying itself. For bands like that, the past year-plus has been a true validation. They were right all along, and now they get to celebrate in the decay.
Before the North Carolina scuzz-punk band Public Acid started playing, inveterate daredevil photographer Michael D. Thorn cautioned me that there was “blood everywhere” the last time he saw the band play. (This was because singer busted himself in the mouth with the mic, not because they were running around and stabbing people in the crowd. Still, though.) This time, nothing too crazy happened when Public Acid played, though people did start throwing beer cans the instant their first sludgy guitar note rang out. Public Acid were a perfect band for this kind of thing — a wild-eyed and chaotic frenzy of guttural grunts and off-the-rails riffs. The usual rituals of the hardcore show didn’t really apply to this Public Acid set. There was no stage, so nobody could stagedive. Public Acid don’t write songs with discernible words, so nobody could sing along. There aren’t really breakdowns on Public Acid songs; there are just fast lurches and slow lurches, so all anyone could do was run around and act crazy. That’s what people did. It was fun as hell.
Look: I’m an interloper in this shit. I’m not really a part of the community. I’m not in a band, and I never have been. I don’t have a zine. I write for a relatively mainstream music website, and I only really started writing this column to force myself to get out to these shows more — something that became an impossibility just a couple of months after I started the damn column up. But at this first show back, I felt like I was home. I would encourage anyone reading this to start going to whatever shows are local to you, now that shows are happening again. It feels good. You’ve earned it.
Chain Whip – “Two Step To Hell”
This Vancouver band plays so fast and grimy that nobody could actually two-step to “Two Step To Hell”; you’d have to be some kind of deranged freak athlete to even attempt it. But this kind of feverish old-school speed-punk scramble definitely demands some mind of motion. One suggested dance move: Impaling a Fortune 500 CEO’s face on a flaming javelin. [From Two Step To Hell EP, out now on Neon Taste Records.]
Chubby And The Gang – “Coming Up Tough”
The intro riff sounds so much like Pulp’s “Disco 2000” that I do a mental double-take every time it starts up. But Pulp’s “Disco 2000” never made me feel like smashing a pint glass over my own face, so beyond that riff, the two songs really don’t have that much in common. Also, if Chubby And The Gang had replaced a just-broken-up Stone Roses as last-minute Glastonbury headliners, then Worthy Farm would still be a gouged-out lunar landscape, like a World War I battlefield. [From The Mutt’s Nuts, out 8/27 on Partisan Records.]
Direct Threat – “Direct Threat”
This Denver band makes ’81-style hardcore punk so scuzzy and scrambled that it almost sounds experimental. Negative Approach sound like Negative Approach because they only ever knew how to sound like Negative Approach. Direct Threat sound like scientists attempting to study the effect of Negative Approach on lab mice by replicating their simplistic ferocity as closely as possible, and coming up with something avant-garde in the process. Both work. [From Direct Threat EP, out now on Iron Lung Records.]
Ingrown – “Waste”
This Boise trio would sound terrifying even if the “Waste” video didn’t confirm that they’re the type of guys who jump dirtbikes and own multiple guns. It’s almost refreshing to learn that they look the way they sound. The cover of their last EP was a picture of a straight-edge muscleman beating up a cop, so I am relieved to report that the members of ingrown are not some Blue Lives Matter-ass motherfuckers. For a second there, I was concerned. This is ignorant enough that I’m almost drunk on it. [From Gun, out 8/20 on Alternatives Label.]
Jalang – “Cops N Klan”
Jalang come from Melbourne and make guttural, feverish D-beat anthems. The guitarist from Sheer Mag, who now lives in Australia, is their drummer, which is both random and cool. Jalang are the kind of band who use their Bandcamp page to write long essays, complete with history-book citations, about exactly why they’re pissed off. But the anger on “Cops N Klan” is pure and instinctive: “Abolish the police! Blood on their badge! Abolish the police! Curse on their blood!” Listen to them. They mean that shit. [From Santau, out 7/23 on Heavy Machinery Records.]
Koyo – “Diamond One”
The members of Koyo all play in heavy hardcore bands of one stripe or another, but their new project is a tribute to the often-whiny emo and melodic hardcore of their Long Island home. “Diamond One” is sticky and hooky and at least a little bit hokey, but it works. Life’s Question singer Abby Rhine truly nails her guest vocal, and the little bits of heaviness that peek through make the sugar-rush hooks all the more desperate and immediate. [From Drives Out East EP, out now on Triple B Records.]
One Step Closer – “Pringle Street”
Wilkes-Barre’s One Step Closer make loud, strong music about fragility and desperation, and “Pringle Street” is the heaviest, fiercest, saddest thing they’ve done yet: “I never thought I’d feel so lost/ I’m waiting for your call.” A lot of hardcore bands play around with emo and shoegaze and pop-punk, but very few manage to conjure this level of ferocity or this level of wounded introspection. One Step Closer sound like swamp monsters who might ask you for a hug and then start crying on your shoulder. The breakdown here hits like cinderblocks with anvils inside the holes, and then One Step Closer follow it up with a truly pretty chiming-guitar outro. They contain multitudes. [From This Place You Know, out 9/24 on Run For Cover Records.]
Section H8 – “Nightmare”
LA’s Section H8 have already released three singles from their forthcoming debut album, and all of them will rip out your larynx and stomp it in the dirt. One of them features Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, maybe my favorite musician on the planet, sounding utterly insane, and I am delighted that it exists. But “Nightmare” has to get the nod here because the mid-song breakdown — the quick pause, the “welcome to the nightmare” gang-chant, the riff that comes bulldozing in — sends me into a murderous fugue state. I hear that shit, and I want to jump out of the ocean and eat a seal. Don’t be around me when that hits. [From Welcome To The Nightmare, out 7/30 on Flatspot Records.]
Soul Glo – “B.O.M.B.S.”
“We came in the game, made a lane and a name, and a lot of these lames can’t say they did the same.” You probably won’t be able to discern those lyrics in the moment, since Pierce Jordan squeak-screams them like he’s trying to ascend to a whole new level of anti-language, but it doesn’t make those lyrics any less real. Soul Glo are now signed to the biggest punk-identified label in history, and if anything, their music has only become more frantic and severe. That’s an inspiration. [From DisNigga, Vol. 2 EP, out now on Epitaph Records.]
Turnstile – “Holiday”
By now, you know that Turnstile have a new album coming out and that its new single is a bugged-out all-vibes experiment of a Blood Orange collab. Turnstile have been venturing further and further out into the ether ever since they first showed up. That confidence, I would imagine, is the kind of thing that you can only truly find if you go off unbelievably hard, and Turnstile still do that. “Holiday” has ideas flying in every directions — the melodic interludes, the weird-sounding synth-beats — but it still has about five different moments where stagedivers are going to look like Edge doing that flying spear on Jeff Hardy at Wrestlemania 17. I can’t wait to see people go off to this, just like I can’t wait for the rest of the world to hear this utterly wild Turnstile album. You have been warned. [From Turnstile Love Connection EP, out now on Roadrunner Records.]