On the morning of this strange, but fine day at the 2014 This Is Hardcore Festival I used public transport in the United States for the first time on my own. This was an enlightening experience if nothing else, exposing me to the strange realities of a land where this sort of thing isn’t taken for granted. At this point I felt no sense of the inevitable freakout, instead I felt a strange sort of calm, a weird link with my fellow passengers who all seemed very kind and helpful. Surely this had to be some sort of ruse right? American’s can’t be this nice can they? Perhaps this is what I was supposed to learn from this festival, this might be my first real exposure in years to the American way of life.
Upon arriving, I didn’t yet feel like watching any groups, the first one I had planned on seeing anyway was Twitching Tongues, so I went out to the stands and treid to find some friends. I was overjoyed to bump into my good friend Michael Arellano of M.O.D who was here to place with Die Young (Who were in fact set to go on the day after) I started to get a very real sense of that wonderful bonding that makes the underground extreme music community so much fun, brothers in blood, fire, and steel, young people who just want to find another way to live in a dark world. As I prepared to go see Twitching Tongues I wondered if This Is Hardcore was pointing me towards enlightenment.
To be honest, Twitching Tongues were a tad disappointing. While I had heard of them before (Mostly in the form of praise from hardcore dudes) I had hoped for something a little more well put together than this. The fact of the matter is while their riffs were heavy (Sometimes frighteningly so) the melodic vocal lines just didn’t do it for me. Maybe it was because there wasn’t enough rage, or maybe because the guy couldn’t really sing as well as he seemed to think he could, but Twitching Tongues simply left a lot to be desired. I doubt I would go to seem them again, it just didn’t sit right with me, and I don’t really get the appeal of that brand of ‘melodic’ hardcore music.
I stepped outside then for a brief break in between groups to do an interview with Mike Arellano on his music, life and just about everything in between. We bonded and chatted, some of my friends were thrilled to meet someone from the vaunted M.O.D, which, to be fair, made me feel pretty cool, simply by association. It felt strange to be standing there, with my buddy Mike as people wearing S.O.D shirts walked by us. This is the surreal world of music journalism, you can stand with someone who plays in a fairly legendary band fronted by a true legend, and throngs of fans can pass by without ever recognizing him. I’m still not sure what to make of that strange reality.
I know I saw a band before Slapshot, but I can’t remember which one, which proves they probably don’t merit a review. So on to Slapshot! They were one of the groups I had most looked forward to seeing, especially since I had missed them at Hellfest. They were every bit as awesome as I had hoped. Very early on in the set, the bands charismatic frontman, Jack Kelly, sustained a cut above his eye which bled for the entire show, adding to the magic of the performance. There is a beautiful and primal punk rock energy to this band. Sure, they only have one original member left, but fundamentally, that’s not what matters, what matters is that these guys will still rip your face off and beat you into a pulp. Slapshot knows what’s up, they are vicious and unholy, masters of a genre which rightfully glorifies downtrodden and forgotten Boston boys.
After a short break it was time for Agnostic Front. Now, I wasn’t sure how to feel about these guys, I’ve heard some of their records and was more or less familiar with the controversy that surrounded their new sound. Yet, honestly, I was impressed with their energy and charisma. The songs were powerful and filled with the sort of rock and roll anarchy that makes punk rock so glorious. One thing I found especially fun was the bands longtime guitarist Vinnie Stigma’s reactions to the crowd. He was constantly waving and high-fiving fans. I think due to the nature of the festival the group went a bit more hardcore punk than usual, encouraging the madness of stagediving and skull cracking fun, as opposed to their more thrash side. Regardless, they were one of my favorite bands of the festival, seeing them was an absolute pleasure.
Finally it was time for the band who were perhaps destined to be the highlight of my night, Converge. Again, I’m not really a hardcore guy, I knew a little bit about this band and I’ve heard a few of their records, but I’ve never really had a chance to really dig in to what Converge is all about. Jake Bannon is a beast of a frontman, the way he brings the entire crowd together is unreal. Billy from Old Habits perhaps but it best when he said that Bannon has an incredible ability to write a hardcore song about any emotion. It makes the Converge live experience almost overwhelming, a glorious sensory blast that leaves you feeling more powerful than ever before.
The mix of fast and slow, destructive and ambient, these things define Converge’s set. I wish they could have played for two hours to give us a full sense of what the band is all about. Yet, even as is, these guys can rage forward in a way that none of their contemporaries would dare. Few bands that have been around for almost 25 years still have this level of creativity and passion behind their music. I now understand why Jake Bannon has been vaunted as one of the best frontmen of all time, he lives and breathes on stage, reflecting humanity and our struggles with every movement.
As soon as the bands set ended, me and my friends Jake and Will headed off to get to Drexel where I was to sleep. In the car we talked about the strange world that Converge had opened up before us in their set. Sure, it was a lot shorter than any of us would have liked, but it showed us a strange new world of hardcore madness. There was something wonderfully pure and beautiful about the crushing magic of this band that touched all of us. As we excitedly planned our trip to New York for the following weekend, I think we had a group realization that this is the kind of thing that makes our youths so beautiful. Madcap adventures and eye opening concerts. Exposure to art that will preserve our souls.
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