YOU ALREADY KNOW DOE | death of punk, pt. a million in bushwick

#POIDH is not a viable life philosophy.  You only live once, that’s the motto / make it yolo.

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“Don’t get caught up in the ‘genre’ game.  It doesn’t matter what band sounds like what or who plays with who.  I see these kids online arguing about ‘what’ a particular band is: metalcore, hardcore, fartcore, who gives a shit.  Listen to what you like and don’t worry about if it’s cool or not.”

That’s Brendan Garone of Incendiary in an interview with DFA Records.  It’s a very punk rock opinion in the classic sense – categories are the man, fuck the man, etc.  It’s interesting that this still needs to be said, and that after nearly 40 years punk rock, a genre that started out as the rawest possible form of rock n roll, has turned into perhaps the most sub-categorized form of pop music.  Fartcore may not be a real genre, but goregrind, pornogrind, and Nintendocore are; for a subculture that supposedly hates being appropriated into a conventional framework, punk rock kids sure enjoy playing within the lines.

Incendiary get labeled as a metal-infused punk band, but to me they sound like meat-and-potatoes hardcore.  More than anything they sound like a more straightforward version of Rage Against The Machine if Zack de la Rocha had a Long Island accent, which he actually sort of does (why is that?).  Garone and co. have been stalwarts of the NYHC scene for a long time now, a consistent, underground feature at warehouse shows and VFW clubs.  So I’ve been told at least – I am not a stalwart of the NYHC scene and, like a majority of people writing about music on the internet, have no idea what I’m talking about.  What I do know about are Incendiary fans, or at least what I assume to be Incendiary fans since they were at an Incendiary concert last Friday wearing Incendiary beanies and screaming along to Incendiary lyrics.  And what I can say about Incendiary fans is that they are definitely not punk rock.

I would probably get beaten up for saying that.  Actually, I would definitely get beaten up for saying that, and probably slammed against a bench, kicked in the face, and gang stomped for good measure.  This is what happened to some poor kid in the front row this weekend about halfway through Incendiary’s co-headlined show with Xibalba last Friday at the semi-defunct Morgan club in Bushwick.  I didn’t catch who the kid was or what he was doing.  In all likelihood he probably deserved it.  But in the system of ethics I was raised under, it is only cool to attack someone ten to one if they are the villain at the end of a Disney movie and need to be disposed of off-camera by someone who isn’t a morally impeccable main character.  Fights are alright, but watching someone get curb stomped by a punch of kids in LONG ISLAND STRAIGHT EDGE jackets is kind of not cool.

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Incendiary seemed to disagree.  They kept playing as the asshole got beaten unconscious, and at the end of the song Garone shouted, “If you’ve never seen a fight before I feel fucking sorry for you” and jumped into the next one.  After the set everyone was all abuzz.  There were grins all around and gleeful repetitions of the stomping gesture.  It felt like a public school cafeteria.  Which, given the age demographic of most of the audience, I guess it sort of was.

I wish I could say that this was the most disturbing part of my Friday night, but what really upset me wasn’t the violence (I have seen a fucking fight before, thanks) but the consensual lack thereof.  At a real live hardcore show I expected a real live hardcore pit, and what I got was something that looked like a the punk version of a breakdance circle.  The best way to describe this sort of behavior is to look up videos of “hardcore dancing.”  The best one is called “Hardcore Dancing at Warped Tour,” posted by HipNihilist.  The majority of the audience stands back about forty feet from the stage while a few meathead guys take the center and perform spin kicks for thirty minutes straight.  It’s sort of impressive and kind of spiritually beautiful.  It’s also annoying and extremely dangerous.  For example, when one of them got kicked in the face and twenty minutes later was still bleeding all over the floor in the backroom.

Getting kicked in the face is sort of the epitome of hardcore experience, but it’s only fun when there’s a crowded mosh pit where you can’t tell whose blood you’re covered in and pain is just a general overall feeling.  When there’s no real pit and the floor is dominated by the five biggest guys in the room running in circles and flailing their seven-foot wingspan, facial contact becomes a thing to be avoided.  Which is why everyone in the crowd was crushed against the back entrance with their fists up.

Garone had sage advice for the audience: “Move the fuck up.  If somebody’s bothering you, who gives a fuck, punch someone in the face.”  Of course, no one did, because everyone knew what would happen if you went up and punched one of these guys in the face.  People aren’t stupid: they aren’t going to stand in the path of someone’s sixty-miles-per-hour fists and they aren’t going to pick a fight with a six-foot-five kid from Queens who looks like Pauly D in a Napalm Death shirt.  So everyone stayed the fuck back for the entire show, too scared to have fun and too smart to get hurt.

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I don’t mean to step in and judge something I don’t understand.  Maybe this is how things have been for years on Long Island, and that’s how everyone wants it to be.  But in my experience, punk rock is about community through disorder and deindividuation through violence.  Punk shows are fun because you jump in, get hurt,  and for a few minutes feel like you’re a part of something.  It’s about contact without tension, and it creates a relationship with the crowd that you can’t  get from any other form of music.  Hardcore dancing (does it really deserve a title like that?), on the other hand, creates an environment where no one is able to touch anyone.  Joy doesn’t come from losing perspective of yourself in the music – it comes from looking up and seeing that you as one person have successfully managed to push a crowd of three hundred working-class tough guys to the back of the room.  There’s no chance that the kids in the front weren’t proud of their achievements – it must make you feel incredibly powerful to exert that much control based purely on the speed of your high kicks.  It’s not participatory; it’s imperial.  It creates a spirit where ganging up ten to one on a non-Disney villain and beating him unconscious is completely okay.  It has nothing to do with punk rock.

Xibalba, bless their California-based hearts, spoke out against all of it, starting of their set by saying, “Let’s have some fun tonight, but above all, we ask all of you to do one thing: respect each other.”  They ended with a second PSA: “Remember, November and December have the highest rates of suicide.  Reach out to your loved ones.”  It made them seem like sweethearts.  But no one listened, and the Straight Edge kids kept on spinning.

This is tough-guy hardcore, and it sucks.  It creates an environment where you can’t participate unless you work out.  It feels like seventh grade gym class.  It’s not new at all – early 2000s “Boston Beatdown” clips (the punk rock WorldStar) are still floating around the internet – but it seems like it’s getting worse as hardcore veers more and more over the center on the punk/metal spectrum.  Genre may not be important, but spirit does, and gang stomping, flexing, and space creation are not in the spirit of punk.  Or, at the very least, they make punk shows a whole lot less fun, and whether that’s “cool” or not, it’s definitely not cool.

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“Interview with Incendiary.”  DFA Records.  2013.

“Hardcore Dancing at Warped Tour.”  HipNihilist.  2010.

“Dervish Rituals – Iran.”  Journeyman Pictures.  2001 (video).

Incendiary Bandcamp.

Xibalba Bandcamp.


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