YOU ALREADY KNOW DOE | i hate summer in pdx

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

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AUGUST 2014 Music festivals and I usually don’t get along.  I find them to be sweaty, tiring affairs where bands play to tired, sweaty audiences and most of the music sounds okay at best.  My skepticism was high for Music Fest Northwest (MFNW) in Portland, Oregon.  Previously, the festival had been held as a string of shows that took place in various venues across Portland.  This year, MFNW changed its format and was held outside on the waterfront with two stages that alternated performances.  While it was nice to be able to see all the performances (and for the price of a wristband, you really should) I thought the change might take away one of the festival’s strengths.  In previous years, bands played to audiences that were, essentially, only their to see them.  Basically, every band kind of had its own show.[1]  This isn’t a big deal for groups like the festival headliners Spoon and Girl Talk that have wide appeal, but for the band I wanted to see most – Fucked Up – I was worried.  Would people know how to take in a hardcore show, or where we all going to stand around awkwardly as a large hairy guy yelled things unintelligibly at us?

 When the show first started I feared the worst.  Fucked Up’s lead singer, Damian Abraham, was at his best early, ripping off his shirt and climbing onto some of the towering PA speakers.  Predictably, the audience responded with little to no motion.  A few weirdish, sort-of-punk kids were trying to at least jump around and mosh a little, but the vast majority of the crowd was milling around, drinking their Heinken and trying to understand what it was that they were experiencing because it sure as hell wasn’t a punk show.  It’s a strange experience, knowing what a show should feel like, and seeing that feeling wither away in front of you.  No one felt like they belonged.  It was like everyone had shown up by accident  to ruin punk-kid Christmas.

 What happened next was damn near perfect.

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Instead of banging the microphone into his forehead, or trying to break shit on stage, or any other sort of standard punk thing to do, Abraham did what absolutely needed to be done – he went into the crowd and forced them into the community.  It was odd at first, but what else do you expect when an enormous man with an enormous beard who has been hitherto incomprehensibly yelling at you moves into the crowd to give out sweaty hugs, put a flower in his beard, whisper “I love you” into strangers ears and, for good measure, provide a “legalize weed” argument in between songs?  People smiled.  People laughed.  People finally loosened the fuck up.

The effect was pretty incredible.  Suddenly the weird pseudo-mosh/dance-pit (of which I was occasionally part) stopped being an object of derision and annoyance (one particular young man looked absolutely furious that someone had the balls to lightly bump into him) and became something almost to aspire to.  You could see people standing at the edges wishing that they could express themselves that way but knowing that they didn’t need to in order to be part of the show.  People stopped feeling awkward and started having fun.

Fucked Up affirmed what everyone was starting to feel by segueing into “I Hate Summer.”  Abraham introduced the song as such: “this song is for anyone who’s ever been called too fat, or ugly, or stupid, or too skinny, or any of that—because fuck those people. They’re fucking terrible.”  Just like that, everyone knew that Fucked Up wasn’t going judge you for just standing around and shaking your head.  And, if anyone in the audience was judging you for it, you knew that the band was with you and not them – which is exactly what a punk band should stand for.

Within the space of about fifteen minutes, the entire audience went from painfully awkward to awkward but fun and even fulfilling.  In a weird way Fucked Up provided a “punk education” during their show, and it made me think that this kind of “education” is what needs to happen when bands like Fucked Up actually make it to a (relatively) mainstream audience.  Fucked Up no longer solely perform to audiences that immediately “get it” – that is, to audiences that are already part of the community.  I suspect that most of the people at MFNW were not there to see Fucked Up, and I also suspect that a decent number of Fucked Up shows have a relatively high number of newcomers to the genre.  Fucked Up’s cross-genre appeal has supplied them this “problem” and they are lucky that they have the right front man to solve it.

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Rather than simply put out the “art-product” of hardcore, expecting people to understand its ontology and the application of said ontology, Fucked Up basically incorporated an explanation of hardcore into their art.  Abraham wading into the crowd and giving out hugs is simply the other side of his screaming persona.  In theory, you should feel punk’s camaraderie when Abraham is screaming at you and you’re in the middle of a giant mosh pit, but for most of the people at MFNW that wasn’t going to happen.  Abraham’s foray was the punk equivalent of the little placards that you read in an art museum that help you understand what you’re experiencing – except imagine the piece of art actually explaining itself while you looked at it.  Like if, while looking at a Picasso, you understood—intellectually and emotionally – how cubism works.

You could argue that even people who are supposedly steeped in the pathos of punk could use a better explanation of its real virtues. Punk’s strongest virtue – the creation of a community for those who feel belittled or otherwise oppressed – is too frequently destroyed by violence that is selfish and actually serves as a form of oppression. [2]  You  can get as theoretical as you want (and 1%J has), but the beautiful thing about punk is that it’s relatively simple to explain on an emotional level – this is what allows it to be so effective, even when that effect is explained in real time. [3]

Which is why Damian Abraham was able to open the last song of the set by saying – “This song is about those times in your life when everything is going fine and you convince yourself that it’s not. If you want to join in just sing ‘dying on the inside.’”  Even if you’re not a hardcore fan, everyone can understand that sentiment – and that creates a community, even if it’s just for one song.

To say it was a strange experience would be an understatement.  It was strange to mosh with the same ten people for an hour, and strange to feel like you were a bit out of place for doing so, but whatever worries I had drained away when the show ended and I was walking toward the other stage.  Just behind me a sixty-something man crooned: “dying on the inside, dying on the inside.”

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


[1] This isn’t entirely true, but the festival did have a feeling like a who’s-who of Pitchfork all came to Portland to play a show at once.

[2] We wrote about this once.

[3] Think of this point in opposition to, say, complicated jazz structures. No one wants to hear about the effects of a twelve-tone scale while the sax player is in the middle of playing, even if the explanation might enhance the artistic experience.

All photos from The People’s Museum in Herat, Afghanistan – via “The Atlantic.”

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