There are select moments in history when the entire world is engaged in one singular conversation. We are living in one of those moments.
I showed up at Boontunes, a music venue/record shop in Boonton, NJ on Saturday night November the 12th, 2016, one night after I had engaged in a love rally that marched from Washington Square Park to Trump Tower in New York City. It was just supposed to be another night on the local band circuit, hanging with friends, doing my job as a journalist, and supporting the vinyl release of local hardcore act Hell Mary. What I got was so much more.
Anything can make you a better person if you let it. Scratch that. Rephrase: Anything can make you a better person if you work with it. Being the best “you” takes effort. Hardcore, as far as music genres go, is uniquely capable of aiding in that process.
Hardcore doesn’t initially sound pleasant or happy or pretty to anyone who hears it for the first time, and that’s not by accident. It’s abrasive and grating and loud for a purpose: To confront the things in life that aren’t necessarily pleasant or happy or pretty. To talk about issues other genres don’t talk about. Let yourself listen to it for a little while, allow the rough sounds to sink in and become familiar, and you start to understand. You begin to tap your fingers, to bang your head and to feel something–the reasons behind the screams. It becomes more and more clear that form, as it always does, reflects content, and that the sounds of raw emotion coupled with the meaning of thoughtful lyrics create music that is more than music. Hardcore—the songs, the lifestyle, and the code of ethics—is a powerful guide if you pay attention to what it has to say.
Look in the basement of your heart There is a light that just went dark Look through the wreckage to find reverie There is a truth that we all must see — “The Path,” Senses Fail (Renacer, 2013)
It’s no secret that hardcore deals with some of the more “negative” emotions. For this reason, it also tends to sound pretty harsh. These very characteristics that draw people to hardcore are what repel others from it. Usually, it’s a matter of how naturally comfortable or willing you are to sort through those kinds of emotions. And this is the first way hardcore can help you become a better person.
Hardcore provides a space for you to confront and work through suffering. Life is messy and troubling. Everyone has problems with it. It’s hard. Sometimes, though what you may want most is to forget about what bothers you, what you need most is to go through the pain; to “look in the basement of your heart,” as Senses Fail phrase it in their song, “The Path.” Hardcore music helps you realize the things that may feel bad or negative are just part of life. In a way, they’re not really negative at all. Hardcore not only sympathizes with you, but reminds you that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes. At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie: From suffering comes strength, from self-reflection comes wisdom.
In these goddamn dark nights I start to realize This is war. I’m gonna have to fight tooth and nail, Tooth and nail just to stay alive.
Look at me, I’m living proof. You’re not alone, we have each other and we’ll pull through. This chapter’s called “you’re alive.” You’ve been writing it this whole time. So come back to life.
Not only can hardcore help you realize that the tough times are worth going through, but also that you’re not alone in going through them. Hardcore is as much about the individual as it is about a community; a community of outcasts, of misfits, of weirdos. If you’re having trouble, this is the place for you. We know what it’s like and we’ll help you through it. As Vanna say in their anthem “Digging,” “You’re not alone, we have each other and we’ll pull through.” Keep going, keep pushing, and you’ll find something worth sticking around for, even if you have to fight “tooth and nail.”
Just as important as accepting others is the ability to accept yourself for who you are. This genre is perfect for wrestling with that, too. Again, I use Senses Fail as an example:
Being vulnerable is scary. Leaving yourself open to getting hurt by opening up to others is difficult to do, and for that reason most people avoid it as much as possible. Hardcore itself offers conflicting messages about this. The “fuck this” or “fuck you” attitude is a huge part of hardcore and its progenitor, punk. Although it may seem contradictory, you can say “fuck this” or “fuck you” and at the same time be open-minded and vulnerable and strong. How? By realizing that these words aren’t all antonyms for each other. Stand up for what you think is right, and stand against what you think is wrong, and don’t let people tear you down, but at the end of the day, don’t shut everything and everyone out either.“Love with the courage of an open heart.”
Speaking of sticking up for your beliefs, traditional hardcore has a very strong code of ethics concerning staying true to who you are. One of the biggest hardcore bands in the modern age, Terror, dedicates an album to it–2013’s Live By The Code. The title track’s lyrics elaborate on just what that means:
Convictions you built in me /A sense of purpose, firm standing beliefs / We’ve kept traditions, held with clear aims / Respect the roots, but we live for today / Fighting against the grain / Live by the code, the diehard remain / The ethics, traditions kept / Live by the code, the freedom to live / Live by the code / Foundation, you are my strength / You are my rock, the anchor I need / Keep me honest, you keep me tight/ The freedom to live, I remain positive / Fighting against the grain / Live by the code, the die hard remain / The ethics, traditions kept /Live by the code, the freedom to live / Desperation, the broken, we found honor / Live by the code, the music and our culture / Live by the code, the roots and the ethics they have taught us / I believe in now, the new breed / LIVE BY THE CODE! — “Live by The Code,” Terror (Live By The Code, 2013)
While we hardcore kids may put up a middle finger to many things in this world, there is a strong sense of morality behind the gesture. In this way, hardcore music can give you the strength to be yourself against all odds as well as the encouragement to get up and take action. The music video for “Live By The Code” is also a great example of why this scene is as much a culture as it is a collection of records. Sure, it can be super aggressive and even somewhat dangerous, but shows provide a communal space for people to let out their aggression in a positive way that doesn’t end up in destructive, mass violence like you see on primetime news channels. It’s a positive outlet for negative things, and I guarantee you that most of the time after you see people slamming into each other at shows, you’ll see them hugging it out and smiling moments later.
The importance of self-reflection, understanding, acceptance, suffering, individualism, community, empowerment, identity, compassion, self-sufficiency, hard work, dedication, creativity–these are just some of the lessons hardcore has to teach those who are willing to listen and learn. It’s a place to turn to; a home. There are countless other lyrics from countless other bands that could keep illustrating my point, but at the end of the day, what you need to know is this:
Hardcore is burning through my veins Without you who the fuck would I be? Gave me a place to call my own This will forever be my home. — “The New Blood,” Terror (Keepers of the Faith, 2010)
Now I’ll flat out say it: I wasn’t around for the hype period of Aiden. I am 18. I remember being younger, though, and having older friends who were into Aiden. I remember being in my friend’s room, during the time when the band was on hiatus, and falling in love so fast with their 2006 Rain In Hell EP, especially the song “We Sleep Forever.” I kept hoping Aiden would return one day, but settled on seeing their former vocalist and frontman Wil Francis (a.k.a. William Control) do his solo act.
Finally, the day I wished for came. The show was a small basement show on November 7th at Backroom Studios in Rockaway, New Jersey. I know most of my friends had seen Aiden before this tour and just wanted this one last time. For me, it was going to be the first and the last.
I was packed in a small room filled with people. There was a 70 person cap at the venue, and there were no less than 70 people there for Aiden. There was no barricade, no stage. I was offered nicely to stand up in the front by a girl who I wish now I could find again. When the stage was being set up for Aiden, I realized the mic stand had been placed at my feet. “If this is how I’m going to see Aiden one last, first time,” I thought, “then this is perfect.”
Finally, with no other way to enter, the members came in through the crowd, with Wil being the only original member. I looked to him and saw William Control become Wil Francis of Aiden one final time. He came in front of me, grabbed the mic and screamed, “This is Aiden!” All of a sudden, my face was in the chest of leather and smoke.
“What a beautiful way to see the last Aiden show. This is the reason I started a band, to play basement shows,” William screamed out to us. It made me feel like he didn’t want this to end ever; he wanted Aiden to still be a part of his life. Due to bitter ties and bad behavior, it had been ended. But that was in the past now. This tour was about making the fans happy. No matter when it was that you discovered Aiden, this show was about making all 70 people in the room feel special.
I had many friends who went to Aiden shows before the hiatus. They used to say that Wil didn’t treat them right and that he just never looked interested to meet fans. It left a bitter taste in some people’s mouths. I knew people who met him later as William Control and said he seemed different; more open. This was the Wil that appeared that night, and for a lot of people, it was personal and lovely.
At the beginning of the set, before they played Nightmare, Wil fell on top of me by mistake. He looked at me, pulled me in for a hug, and kissed my cheek. I couldn’t stop smiling at him that whole night. He took a break to drink and a girl jokingly asked him if she could have some, too. “Please, I’m dying,” she said. He came to her, laughing, and poured water down on her. He screamed, “We’re all dying, darling.” I never saw a woman more happy in her life.
When the last song of the set came (“World By Storm”), Wil thanked us all while the crowd poured him all their love, physically and emotionally. What I saw next was the most powerful thing. Wil pressed his hands against people’s heads and kissed their foreheads. When he walked off the stage, he hugged every single human being in that room. This included myself, upon which he told me, “Thank you for coming and loving me, darling.”
While it sucked–really, still does–to see a band like Aiden go away, I know this was the best way of seeing them. And as a fan, I wanted to leave a small open letter of my own to end this:
Thank you. For making that whole room feel something. For letting that whole room wish you goodbye in one good fashion. I hope this made you realize we do care. You treated us like we were your friends. You let us become really personal with you in that hour. I met some new friends and became closer with my old ones during that show. Thank you for letting Aiden touch my life once again and the lives of the 70 people in that small room. You were right. It was the most beautiful place to see Aiden for the last time.
There has been increasing talk of the lack of women in the hardcore scene lately. Yet for all the talk, there doesn’t seem to be adequate exploration of why this is so or of what’s truly going on here. Relative to other rock genres like metal and alternative, hardcore seems to be the most homogenous and male-dominated of all. The reasons for this phenomenon may be far and wide, but I’d like to point to one particular issue that I’ve noticed in my years of listening to post-hardcore–the lyrics.
YouTuber Jared Dines hilariously sums it up in one of his satirical videos of the scene, “10 Styles of Metal.” A few seconds into the video, when the genre title “POST HARDCORE” holds above his head, Dines elucidates in unclean vocals: “My girlfriend broke up with me/ I’m really upset about it/ It’s really my own fault/ But I’m gonna blame her.” While saying that all post-hardcore bands sport the same lyrical content is an overgeneralization, any fan can laugh at how common and, for the most part, accurate Dines’ criticism actually is. Women tend to be given a certain symbolic status of vixen or betrayer or, like in a recent Ice Nine Kills music video, succubus.
Personally, I love the music metalcore band Ice Nine Kills make, but I’ve got to admit that the video for “The Fastest Way To A Girl’s Heart Is Through Her Ribcage” is troubling. It’s become so commonplace now that we no longer realize it, or if we do, we let it pass by us as mere fact–the idea that woman is the downfall of man. In this particular case, a (sexually) voracious female demon that we watch vocalist Spencer Charnas brutally kill is the subject matter. Coupled with lyrics like “You’d be just as sexy bleeding,” this visual takes the trope to a more obvious extreme. While some of you out there may argue “it’s just a music video” or “you’re taking this too seriously,” I’d like to suggest that sometimes the effects outweigh the intent. Do most guys approach their actions or the art they make with the explicit idea that they’re going to villainize women? I’d like to guess not. But the unconscious ideas are there and they keep getting nonchalantly perpetuated, and in this instance, as an INK fan, become alienating to me.
Perhaps the very icon for this kind of behavior is British powerhouse Asking Alexandria; or, to get right down to it, ex-frontman Danny Worsnop. The cover art for the band’s latest album From Death To Destiny is a prime example of the female figure being reduced to a purely sexual and symbolic role for the male frontman. In the image (above), the woman is placed naked in a vending machine at the male rock star’s disposal should he have a few bucks on him to spare. She is a resource of pleasure for him, an object. In short, she is dehumanized. Take virtually any strand of lyrics from Asking Alexandria over the years and you’ll find something similar. Again, AA is a band I’ve enjoyed listening to musically for a while, but lyrically it’s hard to escape “I knew when I first saw you/You’d fuck like a whore” (“Not The American Average“).
On the more pop-oriented side of the post-hardcore spectrum, Falling In Reverse‘s music video for “Good Girls Bad Guys” gives us yet another example. In the video, a car pulls up and lets attractive women out of the trunk, parading them around on a kind of catwalk for the men on the set. Their only value in the space of the video is as beautiful objects; commodities that give the men their successful, masculine status. These women are only here for the purpose of reflecting the male ego back on itself in a positive light.
This editorial isn’t here to call out anyone specifically, or even to call out men in general. “Men = bad, women = good” isn’t the idea here, and hardcore/post-hardcore/metalcore aren’t the only genres that have issues with representation of women. Rather, the purpose of this article is to call out a prevailing attitude that I think needs some reevaluation; the attitude that, to quote Laura Mulvey, “Women are bearers of meaning, not makers of meaning.”
For me, this is the link to creating a “Women of Hardcore” serial. There needs to be a shift in perspective. By collecting interviews with various female talents in the scene, we want to emphasize these people as active contributors to music and music culture, and hopefully, show other fans of hardcore–female and male–that there is a place for them, too. So let’s go make some meaning, regardless of your sexy parts.