FYA Fest Goes Back To Brutality

FYA Fest Goes Back To Brutality

An underrated thing about hardcore: You can sometimes identify a venue just by YouTube thumbnail — not even the video itself, but just the still image of a screengrab. I can’t think of any other genre of music where that’s the case. Most genres happen in the same clubs or arenas or festivals. Hardcore bands sometimes play in those spaces, but hardcore itself tends to happen in buildings that have character — DIY spaces that serve as refuges because for-profit entertainment venue’s can’t or won’t support everything that comes along with hardcore. Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church is one of those spaces. So is LA’s 1720 Warehouse. And you can always recognize Tampa’s Bryan Glazer FCC at a glance, even if it hosts only one weekend of hardcore bands per year. If your social-media feed is suddenly full of images of huge crowds acting reckless in a cavernous and unforgivingly lit community center, that means FYA Fest is happening.

For the past decade, FYA has happened in early January, marking the unofficial beginning of the hardcore year. In the week or so after FYA, there’s usually a goofy online conversation about whether it’s cool to have a show where the lights are on, evidently at their brightest-possible setting, for an entire show. This doesn’t actually matter, but neither do most of the things that we tend to talk about online. I’m sympathetic to the argument that shows should happen in the dark, that the absence of light lends a little mystique to an occasion. Still, as someone who’s never been to an FYA Fest, I like the lights-on thing. It harkens back to plenty of VFW and church-hall shows that I saw when I was a teenager, and it also seems fully practical in this context. If I’m likely to catch a stray elbow to the solar plexus, I’d like to be able to see it coming.

Every hardcore festival has its own personality, and from what I can tell, FYA is the festival where people go to really fuck shit up and lose their minds. That’s true, to one degree or another, of every hardcore fest. If you’re down for multiple consecutive days of chugga-lugga breakdowns, then you should be advised that the people around you are going to get rambunctious. But FYA footage tends to be especially nuts — pile-ons, windmills, bodies flying in every direction. Maybe the difference is simply that you can see all that happening more clearly at FYA, but my impression is that people go to FYA to prove, to themselves and the world, that they can mosh.

Living on the East Coast, FYA season is always a good time. During a particularly dead and miserable stretch of the year, you can usually count on a couple of big shows in your hometown, as bands get together to tour their way down to Tampa. But I didn’t go to any of those pre-FYA shows this year, or to any other shows in the past month. My schedule was a victim of too many boring things to discuss here (family stuff, holiday stuff, illness, a funeral). I started writing this column specifically to talk about the live hardcore experience, since that’s where the action really happens in the genre, and I’m now describing the events of a festival that I only experienced through screens. This is not ideal. Sometimes, that’s just the way shit goes.

FYA Fest footage is always crazy, so it doesn’t make too much sense to use that festival as any kind of barometer for hardcore in general. But if you’re looking for evidence of a vibe shift, you can see it in those videos. On a recent episode of the great Axe To Grind podcast, the three hosts, all embedded in the culture way more than me, talked about how hardcore could be moving in a much less friendly direction. In the past few years, especially with the wild and unprecedented success of Turnstile and the spread of telegenic TikTok mosh videos, hardcore has become more of a welcoming place — an exciting genre of music, full of bands playing around with catchier and more accessible sounds. But the cyclical nature of things being what they are, that era might be coming to a close. Hardcore itself might be turning in a grimier, nastier, more violent direction. It’s the kind of change that can’t really be charted or documented, and you could argue all day over whether it’s happening, but it’s worth thinking about.

Turnstile frontman Brendan Yates was on hand at FYA. He was back behind the drum kit, playing for Trapped Under Ice, the harder-than-fuck Baltimore band who recently returned for a run of triumphant festival-headliner sets. (Yates also played for TUI at last year’s Sound And Fury, but every other 2023 set had Never Ending Game’s Derrick Daniel filling in for him, since Turnstile were busy touring.) In December, I saw Trapped Under Ice frontman Justice Tripp leading Angel Du$t, his other band, in Richmond. That night, he was in a cast. I talked to Justice after the show, and he apparently broke his foot, or maybe his ankle, while stagediving earlier in the tour. He didn’t cancel any shows, and he ignored the doctors who told him he might need reconstructive surgery when the tour was over. (He told me something like “I think they were just trying to scare me.”) Even with that cast on, he still jumped off the stage in Richmond. I was genuinely concerned about how TUI’s FYA set would go, but Justice isn’t even wearing the cast anymore in those videos. He must be Wolverine.

Trapped Under Ice’s FYA set looked beautiful, but the most-discussed band of the weekend, at least from what I could see online, wasn’t even a hardcore band. It was Dying Fetus, the long-running Maryland death metal trio. There’s lately been a ton of crossover between hardcore and death metal, and hardcore heads have embraced Dying Fetus, a band that has long employed the hardcore tactic of fuck-shit-up breakdowns. Dying Fetus don’t generally play hardcore shows, but they evidently felt right at home at FYA. Their music works for stagediving and two-stepping, and they reached across the aisle by bringing out Colin Young, of Twitching Tongues and God’s Hate, to cover Integrity.

The recent proliferation of hardcore bands playing death metal could be a sign that hardcore in general is rediscovering its love of spiky, ugly sounds. There’s also been a lot of raw, brain-scrambling lo-fi basement punk in the ether lately, too. “Taco Bell hardcore” is starting to become a derisive term, even though the actual hardcore bands who have had songs in Taco Bell commercials — Turnstile, Militarie Gun, Scowl — are all fucking awesome. FYA Fest made the step of bringing back a few reunited bands, like Everyone Gets Hurt and Suburban Scum, who were once notorious for wild, violent shows. One of the defining images from this year’s FYA will probably be Suburban Scum sending ladders into the pit at a preshow. The people who had their phones out that night were not safe.

I don’t really know whether hardcore is becoming less safe these days. Even at the friendliest of hardcore shows, pits could still get crazy. About 15 years ago, Trash Talk crossed over to a non-hardcore audience specifically because their shows were insane. If there really is a shift happening, it’s not really up for me to say whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m invested either way. I love hardcore, and I don’t go to hardcore shows to feel safe. I go to feel alive. I would encourage anyone who’s curious to do the same. I’d also advise you to be aware of your surroundings and to know what you’re getting into.

Bib – “Two Faced Planet”

The members of Omaha’s Bib rock tie-dye and long hair, and they talk about how much they loved the Grateful Dead. They also make the scummiest, crustiest basement punk you ever heard in your life. People, man. They’ll surprise you every time. This song sounds like a transmission from a planet that’s made entirely out of feces, and that’s somehow a good thing. [From Biblical EP, out 1/26 on Quality Control HQ.]

The Chisel – “Fuck ‘Em”

“Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em fuck ’em fuck ’em fuck ’em fuck ’em!” That’s what I’m talking about! One thing that I didn’t mention in the column above is the recent lovefest between hardcore and oi. Oi doesn’t really fit into the welcoming/not-welcoming schematic. It’s often extremely catchy and anthemic — the OG British bands were on Top Of The Pops all the time — but it’s also insular skinhead music that’s often about fighting. Fine! Good! I like it! The Chisel, from London, are as responsible for the oi moment as anyone, and on this song, they bring hardcore speed and intention to the genre. It works so well. Great scrambling-rat-feet guitar solo, too. [From What A Fucking Nightmare, out 2/9 on Pure Noise.]

Civilian – “No Choice”

After that Home Front album from last year, I am absolutely ready for more hardcore bands who explore the strange link between oi and post-punk. I don’t know anything about Baltimore’s Civilian, but there are moments on this song where they sound like a version of Joy Division who would beat you up. This intrigues me. [From Demo, out now on Convulse Records.]

Cosmic Joke – “Kamikaze”

When I say that this sounds like Pennywise or Guttermouth, I want you to know that I mean it with the utmost respect. Snotty/melodic ’90s SoCal skate-punk is not a genre that’s gotten any kind of critical reexamination lately, but I love that shit. Some of that love is pure nostalgia; those bands were formative for me, but I hope that combination of speed and catchiness touches something even in the souls of people who have never owned any items of NOFX merch. Cosmic Joke aren’t a purely retro band, and they combine Tony Hawk-soundtrack hooks and hardcore dynamics with a sense of physical immediacy. The breakdown on this song reminds me of the part from the “Homesick” video where the guy comes flying off the scaffolding in slow motion. [From Cosmic Joke, out now on Hardlore Records/Triple B Records.]

Death Ridge Boys – “Turn The Tide”

Portland’s Death Ridge Boys make explicitly leftist oi anthems, and they share at least one member with crust cult heroes Tragedy. That combination of factors seems contradictory, ar maybe gimmicky — revolutionary types messing around with an inherently conservative genre for shits and giggles. But that’s not how it comes off. “Turn The Tide” might be my favorite song of 2024 thus far, in any genre, and it’s as full-throated as it gets. It’s a massive singalong — hard and lo-fi, but with stadium-sized dynamics — about doing everything in your power to make human life less miserable, even if you’re acting in defiance of powerful and historical forces. That’s fucking inspiring. [From “Society Overdose” b/w “Turn The Tide” single, out now on Black Water Records.]

Flower – “Heel Of The Next”

You can hear five seconds of this song and immediately, instinctively know exactly how the pit smells at a Flower show. It does not smell like a flower. [From “Heel Of The Next” b/w “Physical God” single, out now on Peace Of Mind/Fight For Your Mind Records.]

Gouge Away – “Stuck In A Dream”

It’s been five and a half years since the last Gouge Away album. The songs from their forthcoming album have been around for a while. They planned to record their upcoming LP in 2020, and when the pandemic fucked up their plans, the Florida band’s members all moved to different parts of the country. But now that they’re back, Gouge Away, once one of the most indie-compatible bands on the hardcore landscape, have gone in a blustery, urgent noise-rock direction. I don’t know whether the rest of the record will sound like this, but “Stuck In A Dream” sounds like someone packed the entire aesthetic of the 1994 Amphetamine Reptile roster into one feverish burst. It’s so good to have them back. [From Deep Sage, out 3/15 on Deathwish Inc.]

Gray State – “The Death Of True Love”

The mere existence of a six-minute hardcore song feels like a provocation, a willful contradiction of the genre’s aesthetic tenets. But there’s nothing self-conscious about what the Finnish metalcore band Gray State do here. They earn every second of this vast, anthemic motherfucker of a track. This thing takes you on a journey — clothes-rending screaming-at-the-sky roars, Kirk Hammett-style neoclassical guitar-shredding flourishes, enough breakdowns to keep your local mechanic in business for months. I love that some band who’s probably playing basements out in Finland is making something this vast and ambitious and beautiful. It gives me hope. [From Under The Wheels Of Progress, out now on Genet Records/The Coming Strife Records.]

Open Kasket – “Putrid Existence”

Anytime a band intentionally misspells a word like “casket,” you know you’re in for some shit. Little Rock, Arkansas has maybe the single heaviest hardcore scene in all of America right now, with Terminal Nation running things and the Bangin In The Rock festival making its home at the intersection of hardcore and death metal. On this song, the relatively new Little Rock band Open Kasket sound like they’re trying to out-heavy everyone else in the entire Southeast. They also sound like they might be succeeding. [From Torn In Half/Open Kasket split EP Prayers Returned With Pain, out now on Isolated Incidents Inc.]

Xibalba – “Death And Revenge”

The many hardcore bands who fuck around with the sound and imagery of death metal all owe something to Pomona OGs Xibalba, who continue to do extreme heaviness better than just about anyone else. Xibalba’s new EP snuck out without much fanfare at the end of last year, but its brutality should not be underestimated. This song came on when I was at the gym the other day, and my elliptical suddenly turned into a flaming steed that shot lightning out of its eyes. Nobody else noticed. It was weird. [From Aztl​á​n EP, out now on Closed Casket Activities.]

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