This is Hardcore: Joe McKay's Passion For Hardcore Keeps the Fest Alive

(Photo credit: Kyle Bergfors)

It’s hard to imagine This is Hardcore without its dedicated founder, Joe McKay - more widely known as Joe Hardcore. Every year, he brings together an impossibly long list of nearly every hardcore band that’s currently active and killing it, respected veterans, and  reunion bands that many attendees never imagined they’d see live. Hardcore kids old and new come from all over the world to witness the 4-day fest in all its glory.

Simply put, Joe’s attention is in several different places on a day-to-day basis. At this fest in particular, he’ll be playing with both Punishment and Shattered Realm. When he’s not working as a cement mason, he’s touring with one of his bands, booking shows in Philadelphia, or running the This is Hardcore Podcast. He lives the kind of life that would’ve caused many to give up a project this big a long time ago. Despite this, with help from countless trusted friends and associates, he still expends a massive amount of energy towards putting together the biggest hardcore fest of the year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

After his performance with Shattered Realm at the 2018 Chicago Rumble, I interviewed Joe a couple years ago for the first issue of the physical zine. I’ve brought him back on to talk about This is Hardcore’s 2022 comeback - the first in 3 years due to the pandemic. We talked about the fest’s inception, how he chooses the bands, and which ones he’s most excited to see - as well as some of the changes he’s seen across his near-lifetime of being involved in hardcore. Settle in and give it a read!

AA: Introduce yourself with your name, what you do with This is Hardcore,  and a fact about yourself.

JH: You’re talking to Joe Hardcore, who has been booking This is Hardcore since 2006. Aside from booking the bands and being the overall organizer, I manage to keep a full-time day job as a Union Cement Mason, which makes This is Hardcore announcements and taking time off work to be at the fest pretty interesting.  Over the years, I’ve had some funny stories about having to hide in the bathroom to book a band, as well as just doing some things to make sure they both work, but… Still here doing it, and I love it!

AA: I always ask everyone what their first show was, however, I did interview you a few years ago, so I’ll change it up. What was the first show you booked?

JH: I actually just covered this on a podcast, so I do remember! The first show that was totally mine and not a conglomeration of our friends’ bands jumping on was March 17th, 1997 - so, 25 years ago this year. None of the bands were good, at all. [laughs] I mean, they’re our friends' bands, and some of ‘em would go on to do other things, but it was more about time and place for our neighborhood, and much less the prestige of the first show. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, too, so I was 16 turning 17.

AA: Do you remember the first show you booked that you were really proud of?

JH: I would say the first one came with a lot of relief. 5 weeks before that, I became a father, and there was a time when I was told, because I was 15-turning-16, “Hey, you’re gonna quit school and get a job, and you’re gonna forget about hardcore,” and I was kinda like… [laughs] “Nah. That’s not how it’s gonna happen.” … When my daughter was born, it was a lot of chaos in my home life. There was always chaos in my home life, nothing was different. A lot of what goes on in my personal life isn’t easy to deal with, so from the very first show that I put on, having a project or something to focus on, a task at hand to kind of push away from the shit that’s in your real life, is something that was seeded early.

Just getting that first one out of the way was huge, because to me… I was so in love with hardcore, and I was so scared of what becoming a normal person is. You know, I was 16 when I had my daughter, I wasn’t ready for that, and latching onto hardcore became… I have a presence here, I can do stuff, I did the show in my neighborhood - I was very happy to do something like that. It gave me the strength to continue doing shows, and I haven’t stopped in 25 years since.

AA: And now I see your daughter at shows all the time, so… I don’t know if she would’ve wanted you to stop either. [laughs]

JH: Exactly! [laughs]

AA: Could you tell us a bit about how the idea for This is Hardcore in general came about? 

JH: In 2005, Hellfest New Jersey fell apart. It was supposed to be in Trenton. My mentor at the time, Sean Agnew, ran R5 Productions. He’s now part-owner of Union Transfer. He, along with a couple of other promoters, took as many of the bands that needed shows when Hellfest fell apart, and  he put them in Philadelphia. So, on a Friday night, a Saturday morning, and a Saturday night, I saw so many people in Philly. It was kind of an epiphany, like… So many people are here, why don’t we just do our own hardcore fest? Like, fuck Hellfest! And by the end of that year, there was no more Posi Numbers, there was no more Hellfest, and it was a different time, because the posi-er stuff was breaking away, getting less popular. 

Hellfest ending eliminated any kind of, “Aw, fuck, they’re not gonna want to play [our fest] because they’ll be playing that,” thing, and syncing up with that was a California thing, which was a little bit more DIY. We were all kind of coming to the same conclusion about starting fests, so I did This is Hardcore, and Sean Agnew kinda held my hand, guided me, and taught me the 102 level of booking. Like, “Alright, kid, you wanna book a fest? I’ll show you how we do it.” Ty Jones and Riley from 1917 Records started Sound & Fury the following year. The year after that was United Blood, so there was kind of a collective shift to bring hardcore fests back to smaller places. I’m really happy to be a part of that kind of thing; that it wasn’t just Philly, but Richmond and the Sound & Fury guys as well.

AA: For sure. And, when it came to This is Hardcore, was there anything you were every hoping to accomplish with it, other than just filling that void from Hellfest?

JH: If you read the manifesto that was sort of the intro to why we did it, it was like, “No longer are we gonna deal with the big name reunions, and the big ticket prices!” And here we are, 16 years later… We ended up with reunions and higher ticket prices! [laughs] So, in the outset, it was about returning hardcore to a very realistic state, because hardcore shows, no matter what… I could go off on a tangent here. In the early 80’s, the Olympic Auditorium in California had 3,000 people at some shows. That’s unprecedented anywhere else. Hardcore at any given time could be 150, a big show could be 2 or 300, maybe 500 - but it ebbs and flows in popularity. 

Anyway, when we started, we were in a 1,200 person room, and the first 3 years, we were filling it to maybe 800-900 people a night. Then we started selling out every year, so there was a growth of the entire scene. This is Hardcore… We had some influence with bills, some of the bands, and the reactions people would get. The buzz that would come from those shows built up some bands, but, organically, the fest has grown with the scene. I think ultimately my goal was then, and is now, to have a balance. Let’s support the new bands that represent what hardcore really is, which I’ve never derailed from, but hey -  when you get a chance to do Sheer Terror, and they haven’t played in a while, and that’s one of your favorite bands, you’re gonna book them. Then, in that same year, when Ink & Dagger gets Geoff [Rickly] from Thursday to sing so they can do a benefit, and then Kid Dynamite wants to play… You’re gonna do it! The hard work put in to make the early This is Hardcores happen became a breeding ground to bring these awesome bills to Philadelphia. Then it got to the point where we were selling out in under 24 hours, people were getting bummed, so we had the opportunity to go bigger. 

But, despite the size of our venue, if you look at how the show is run - it’s a hall show! Like, a 101 promoter might get a little confused about some of the small nuances, but it’s booked like my first hall show when I was 16 years old. We’ve never benefited from having a big room with a corporate sponsor. We’ve never had anything besides the bands playing, the people in record labels and different things apart of our scene who buy tables and subsidize some of the stuff we do, and we’ve never been given these big money opportunities that other fests like South By So What?! and some of these other things like Hellfest had. We’ve never had that. We’ve always been a DIY hardcore fest, and I think that rings true, even though the venue got nicer and we got better air conditioning.

AA: Which, you know, is still important. [laughs]

JH: Yeah, absolutely. [laughs]

(Photo credit: Kyle Bergfors)

AA: But, on a serious note - it’s definitely interesting from an outsider’s perspective, because I’ve noticed some of the corporate entities starting to realize that hardcore is, in some way, profitable, as of late. And I think it’s awesome that This is Hardcore, at the end of the day, is still run by people who love it, people who are in tune with what’s actually going on within the genre, and are actually care to see these bands play.

JH: Exactly. Well, it’s like… If tomorrow, Limp Bizkit said “can we jump on?” I’d say no. [laughs] Get the fuck out of here, you’re not part of our world. You weren’t then, and you weren’t now. The thing is, youth culture has been monetized and homogenized. So, before, you’d have these niche cultures - and they kind of did intermix - [but] Spotify, YouTube, TikTok, social media has allowed people to kind of cross over easily and cherry-pick in a buffet style. And, for me, I don’t begrudge people on how they found hardcore, but I’ll ardently defend and say that we don’t need Limp Bizkit, Limp Bizkit needs young people to give a fuck about them again. And I can never relate to the idea jumping for joy to see a band like Limp Bizkit play, when Terror just put out the best record they’ve possibly ever put out, and there’s new bands popping up every year and killing it. 

By nature, the internet and social media lends people to project opinions that they will not exactly adhere to in their real life, so some of this is just internet posturing that’s gone bad, like a bad joke taken too far. And you’ll see that with a lot of bad nü-metal and 90’s grunge worship, but that’s their business, I don’t begrudge people for it. I listen to a lot of wild heavy metal and a lot of weird stuff, but I would never defray the goal of This is Hardcore to have somebody like that on there. 

We’ve been blessed to have Refused stand on stage at the fest, but have to play the aftershow. We’ve had famous members of bands be at the fest but not play - and that’s because they respect the culture. There’s nobody from Deftones being like, “We want to play This is Hardcore,” because they understand it’s two different worlds, even though they’ve been to the fest. And that’s the difference - I know where my ceiling limit is, and I’m happy to stay the size that we are. If you see the lineup this year, we’re still celebrating the kids who are in the pit for every band, who are starting to make their way, and we’re still helping the bands as they put new records out, as well as bringing back the old favorites. There’s not really a place for some schticky rapper or some silly nonsense when they’ve never really had a place in our scene, you know?

AA: Being that it’s been a few years since the last fest, did that change how the booking process went? 

JH: The hardest thing to do was try to make something happen in 2020. There was a window when Pittsburgh went green, and Shattered Realm actually played in Pittsburgh legally - there was no problem. They were allowed to. So, Philadelphia was green - we were setting something for an outside location, something smaller, and then the city went, “Nope, we’re going back to red,” and it threw things off. When I was peeking around in 2021, we didn’t have access to venues - the only thing we had access to was Underground Arts, they were good with it because it was a smaller capacity. And, off of the success of the Year of the Knife release show… I didn’t know how that was gonna turn out, and it was so great. In hindsight, knowing what I know, I should’ve just did a 2-3 day thing there, but there were still bands who were uncomfortable or weren’t ready to play, so who knows what the outcome would’ve been. 

Either way, Bob [Wilson] had an amazing Philadelphia barbecue show, I had the show with Year of the Knife, and then we really started rolling on a good foot. I’m glad we had shows back before the fest. The hardest thing was for me to get my head wrapped around, “Okay, we’re doing [the fest] again” - and then, also, emotionally. Brian Dilworth, who was the guy that supported us and got us at the Electric Factory… When he passed in 2020, it was a little weird to not have his presence and input in booking 2022. But, in the way that it turned out, I think I did him proud by bringing Thursday and Hatebreed to the fest. I hope he is.

(Hatebreed - photographed by Gabe Becerra)

AA: I would definitely imagine so. … And, because it had been so long, do you think bands were more eager to immediately say yes to your offer to play this year?

JH: Absolutely. The difference is this bill was booked around Hatebreed, and we asked a bunch of bands who were still in Europe, because even Europe shifted. Usually, we’re later in the year because we don’t want to conflict with bands going to Europe, but with the timing, there’s a shit-ton of bands that are going to be going to Europe in early June and won’t be back till mid-July. So, there’s bands that were eager to tour that couldn’t play, but ultimately, that’s the way the dice rolls, and the bands we got, we got, but very few bands gave me the notion that they were waiting.

AA: Obviously, getting bands like Hatebreed and Thursday was no easy feat, especially with them playing such iconic records as Perseverance and Full Collapse. How did you go about choosing the headliners for this year’s fest?

JH: I always have the same principle in mind - you gotta look at what’s active, what’s around. In 2020, we were shooting for the first Circle Jerks show back on the East Coast. I was thinking about doing Thursday, and I was chasing a headliner that was a reunion band, but none of it came to be. So, luckily, Hatebreed had been thinking about a US tour in the summer, and that’s what we built everything around. Thinking about the way that we do This is Hardcore now - I like ending Sunday on a feel-good band. The Gorilla Biscuits, Turning Point, Saves the Day… Let’s end things on a happy note, you know? Let’s kill everybody in the pit on Friday and Saturday, and let’s have everybody walking out on a good note. 

Geoff Rickly has lended himself to being a headliner in Ink & Dagger in 2010, and he sang songs with Turning Point in 2016, so I felt it important to have him be a part of the fest. I was happy Thursday was willing to do it. And, now, with the addition of Norm Brannon from Texas is the Reason, I’m even more excited to see them. I think people from the East Coast, especially those born who were around in the 90’s to early 2000’s, are especially excited about seeing Thursday play that record.

AA: By the way, I thought this was cool… While I was doing research on your past interviews, I saw in 2015 that you told Noisey you always wanted Hatebreed on! And look where we’re at now.

JH: Yeah! It was something I always wanted to be a part of the fest, and having the opportunity to book them with [bands like] Fury of Five, Madball, like… You give me Hatebreed, and you give me a little bit of time and money - I’m gonna make everybody who wants to see Hatebreed, see Hatebreed, with the kind of bill we always hope to see them with.

AA: How do you typically decide who you want to play each year?

JH: What I did that was a little bit of a refinement from previous years, is this… There’s bands I know I want, and then… I have this brain that’s always thinking of of lineups and flyers and combinations, so the whole time, I start racking my brain, you know? So, Fury of Five being back, knowing they were gonna sell out House of Independents, it was a no-brainer to go for them, and I was so happy to have them. Madball is an all-time great, so who better than them? Killing Time and All Out War are two of my favorite bands of all time, along with Ringworm and Wisdom in Chains, and they’re all friends, so…

I envisioned the young bands, the big young turks, bands like Drain and Never Ending Game, Pain of Truth, all these young bands who are killing it right now. In lieu of staggering them against older bands and having kids be like, “Fuck, I just killed myself for Pain of Truth and now Fury of Five is next?” … This time, I set up  blocks. Young guy blocks, old guy blocks, in a way that everybody has a pace that can be kept, you know? And adding to it, we had some tours coming through, like Comeback Kid, Misery Signals, and End, and that serendipitously worked to have a bit more diversity in our bill. 

Some of what I do is think about shit that would be cool, like, “Oh, people would like this.” Obviously, you’re always gonna ask the popular bands, that’s no question, but sometimes it’s not about the most popular bands. It's the next bands, the bands that are going to be popular in two years, you know? End It, Age of Apocalypse, there’s all these bands on the way up, and they need to be celebrated. 

Another thing I did differently… Sometimes I show Bob Wilson when the lineup’s done. This year, Greg Falchetto, from The Mongoloids and Hold My Own - he’s been the stage manager for This is Hardcore for 6 years. Before I just go booking bands willy-nilly, I do have to make sure he can make them get on and off stage on time. [laughs] The combination of him being like, “Oh, yeah, this is how much we can do for changeovers,” so I knew what I could work with timewise. Eventually, we would get on a Zoom call, me, Bob, and Greg, and I would go over lineups and we would go back and forth. Input’s important, ‘cause the closer you work to something, the less your perspective is. So I was lucky to have people to rely on, whose opinions I trust, that also differ than mine. Bob had some strong opinions and thoughts, like, “I wouldn’t have booked that band, I would’ve put that one,” and it’s like, “Well, bitch, that’s why you do FYA.” [laughs] 

But, more importantly, a lot of these younger bands, Bob had to remind me, “Make sure you don’t forget about them.” And I’d be like, “Fuck! I would’ve forgot!” It’s important, because I sometimes get stuck [in the details] with bands. I spend more time booking 12 or 13 bands who have booking agents and managers than the other 40 bands. There’s a lot of business stuff, a lot of haranguing over, “Well, are they playing at this time?” and that takes so much more time than the rest of the bill. So, sometimes, I get a myopic viewpoint where my face is too close to the screen. I work on an Excel sheet all the time, and though it keeps me organized, some things slip my head, so it’s important that I have these other viewpoints to back me up or counter my opinion and say, “Hey, this band should be higher. Don’t forget about this band.” You know?

(Seeyouspacecowboy - photographed by Joe Calixto)

AA: What are some bands on the 2022 roster that you were really set on having on the lineup?

JH: Killing Time, I would have play every year. [laughs] Headliners aside, it’s important to celebrate bands as they’re moving forward, so the juxtaposition of making sure bands like Gridiron and Shackled are on the bill, but also, hey, Powerhouse - they have a new record, they just started playing shows again. I toured with them 20 years ago, I think that what they’ll play at the fest is gonna reignite people and get them excited for the band. Also, with young kids really being all about Merauder and them not having played the fest since 2018, and us having a smaller room for the Friday show… I couldn’t think of anybody better than Merauder to headline the first real night. But, the hardest thing to do is make sure there’s balance.

I used to call the more metallic hardcore stuff the “Upside Down” of hardcore, like from Stranger Things. [laughs] And, when we had it at Voltage, that was the Upside Down where there’d be bands where it’s not really hardcore, it’s sorta hardcore… They wanna be hardcore, they don’t… And, to that, the kings of that in Philadelphia was Varials. I was happy we were able to get Varials on the bill, because the previous singer turned it down years ago, like, “Nah, it’s not really for us.” My friend who now works with them said, “Yo, we really want them on.” And, you know what, they’re from Philly, I always want to cap for Philly stuff. Let’s do it.

Personally, I did a show for Seeyouspacecowboy. Connie [Sgarbossa, vocals] had spent probably an hour and fifteen minutes after her set was over talking to every single fan of hers. And, especially because of the demographic of the people that were talking to her, she uniquely understood her presence in her scene, and what she means to those people. The fucked up thing is, I have friends in bands who have popularity like that, and they’re too busy hanging with their friends backstage to really engage with the fans whose emotions are based upon this music, the people who have this relationship to it. That really endeared me to her to see her specifically take the time. I mean, the show was hot as hell, it was running late, they played 40 minutes straight - no hanging backstage, just, “Hey, I gotta talk to the people that love my band.” 

I think, sometimes, in this internet hero worship shit, people forget that your fans and the people that love your music are the ones bolstering you to continue on, and it takes nothing to spend a couple minutes talking to people who’ve sometimes traveled a few hours. These are people who came from Maryland, Virginia, to see this band… So when we had the opportunity to get Seeyouspacecowboy, it was really cool, because their presence is different than a lot of bands - not just sonically, but because of what Connie stands for in hardcore in this time. I wanna make sure that someone who gives a fuck about thier fans that much gets that kind of platform. That was really something. She and I were talking about this in 2020, before the pandemic, so I’m really happy we were able to make this happen.

[we trail off talking about trying not to “hog” our friends at shows, as well as how cool the connection people make to newer hardcore bands can be]

JH: I think everybody who gets on stage does it for their own reasons. Me, I was angry, I wanted to get out of Philadelphia, I wanted to scream and yell, kick people. [laughs] And Punishment was a vehicle to do that. Though, lyrically, at times, I think in my 19 to 20-something-year-old mind was writing stuff that was important to me [at the time]. Sometimes, some bands are an outlet to aggression, a means to an end, and for fun. 

But there are bands sociopolitically, sometimes because of their persona, of the people in the band, be it George from Blacklisted, Wes from American Nightmare… Even bands with less articulate lyrics have big impacts on people. And it’s easy to get lost in the “hanging out with your friends” part, not realizing that there’s some kid listening to your music where you’ve changed their day for the better by making it, you know?

(Shackled - photographed by Kyle Bergfors)

AA: Anyway,  just making sure I didn’t cut you off - was there anyone else you wanted to include for that question?

JH: We’re excited to see End It, we’re excited to see the young bands like Shackled come back on, and also, you know… It is always gonna be from our area. So yeah, 25 years is a big deal, Strength For a Reason is trying to celebrate - I want them on! I want to see Mushmouth again, because people keep talking about them. Well, don’t just buy the shirt, I wanna see you go off! There’s a ton of bands like that. The first time we had Raw Brigade, people didn’t really know what they were about, they were coming from Colombia - now when they play this year, they’re gonna be on fuckin’ fire. There’s so many bands like that with this 3-year gap, a lot of these bands have grown in popularity, and I’m excited to see what they’re about and what they could do. The biggest thing, I think, is that senedipitously, we got Terror to come straight from Europe and play to celebrate the record that just came out, which we just released a podcast about. Terror never played the Electric Factory yet! They’ve headlined the Starlight Ballroom, Union Transfer, but they’ve never actually played the big fest - so how awesome is it gonna be to see Terror play the big room? There’s gonna be so many exciting moments, and I think every band, more or less, I’m excited to see what happens, but there’s definitely some bands that I’m really excited for. 

And I should make a mention - there’s a special band we’re not allowed to announce right now… That band is actually taking the place of Vein. Matt [Wood, drums] from Vein injured himself, so he was unable to play. When we did that quicker announcement to let people know we were getting ready, Vein was on that, and a couple hours before we dropped it, we had to take them off.

AA: Ahh, that sucks. The good news is it looks like he’s doing okay!

JH: Yeah! Drummers shouldn’t skateboard, though! [laughs] Don’t let ‘em do it!

AA: What are some bands that you’re excited to see a reaction to?

JH: Always the earliest bands. The hardest thing to do is to put a new band on the bill [and not know what to expect as a reaction]… Some bands just want to be able to say they played This is Hardcore, but that room’s big, you know? A 250-person room is a big room, and this is 10 times that size. This year, they’re selling it to 2,500 people. So an early band on Saturday like Reaching Out or Hostilities, or Live it Down, and also seeing bands like Simulakra and End It start really bringing up the heat. Same thing with the day before, Foreign Hands, Struck Nerve. 

To see the younger bands who carved their way and built up in our regional area, to see them getting celebrated by hundreds, if not thousands of kids, is important, because of how hard they put on for our scene. And then, obviously, as it goes on, there’s band after band, moment after moment, and I’ve gotta balance a little bit of administrative stuff while still making sure I have my eyes on the stage from time to time… I always get bummed because there’s moments I’m missing as I have to do my part in the fest, but the better reaction an earlier band gets, the happier I am, always.

AA: For sure. If it’s anything like FYA, you won’t have to worry. Not sure which day, but the way people were talking after the first band each day -  Contention and Domain, I believe… They were holding their limbs and shit like wounded soldiers after a single band, it was crazy. [laughs]

JH: I’m hoping so! [laughs] Now, it’s no joke. Kids start out early, they’re ready.

AA: Has anything changed over time when booking the fest since its inception?

JH: A lot. Personally, and just the way that I deal with the fest. There always has to be a reality that I can’t always… There’s always a band who wants more money than they’re worth. It’s unfortunate, and it’s hurt my feelings, because I’m still a fan of these bands, you know? There’s moments where I get frustrated and try to make things happen, and it’s not always the band, but sometimes it is, where money ends up being the end result of us not getting them. Which is so bizarre, because there’s bands we can get because we have the money. It’s a frustrating difference. Some of the bands are completely worth it, and others, it’s like - we’ll give you this, but what you’re asking for is ridiculous. [laughs] I’ve gotten better with tempering myself, even with being quietly aggravated. 

Also, I have to let some things just happen, I can’t just force it. This is the first time I really went hard, but this is the second year of me being cognizant of that fact that, like, I still need to go to bed. No matter what email I send at 2 in the morning, it’s not going to change what’s going to happen, I need to get some sleep. So, this has been a much more cognitively squared-up and focused mindset for me booking the show. I think I was less emotional.

(Age of Apocalypse - photographed by Gabe Becerra)

AA: If someone asked you for a handful of bands on the lineup they absolutely had to check out before the fest, what would be your picks?

JH: Ooh. I’m gonna go to the cards so we don’t leave anybody out here… [shuffling through] I definitely think bands - that I haven’t mentioned already, ‘cause I’ve mentioned quite a few… I really think Live It Down from Cleveland has embodied the best resurgence of a Cleveland sound, and I can’t wait. I think people need to check them out. I wanna see people go crazy for Seed of Pain from Florida. They do so well at FYA, they’ve killed it when they’ve come up, I think they’re gonna have an amazing set. I’m biased in this one, but I love Age of Apocalypse, and, again, the bands like Fool’s Game, even Foreign Hands, Risk, Chemical Fix - these guys all come to these shows, all over the place. It’s cool to see bands that have these people in them that travel and see other shows and support other scenes, having it returned to them. That’s important for me. Also, Reaching Out… I want to see Hangman have a great set Friday, because I know with Michael doing Pain of Truth, for a minute, they might’ve thought people didn’t care as much, but no. Hangman’s awesome, I think they’ve gonna have a great set.

AA: Absolutely. It’s so interesting to see kids who know Pain of Truth first, and not Hangman, because that’s a band that used to play Chicago all the time - I feel like they’ve been so universally loved the whole time I’ve been involved in hardcore. They’re awesome.

Anyway, I know that we can all say a lot of jaded things about hardcore, myself included, but I’d like to ask… What is a positive change you’ve seen in hardcore over the course of the time you’ve been involved with it?

JH: There’s significantly more women involved these days. I used to make this joke, and it would come off kinda fucked up - but I’d say there was, like, 12 girls in all of hardcore. And they were scattered, and we were friends with all of ‘em, but really, what I’m seeing is… 10 years ago, I booked this band Oathbreaker, who’s on Deathwish. They’re a European band. They went under the radar, and a year later, it was, “How come you don’t book women-fronted bands, you fucking piece of shit?!” [laughs] And it’s, like, what about the bands I have booked that you guys didn’t pay any attention to? Like, there wasn’t that many options back then, but I tried…

What I’m seeing in the modern era, 10 years later, is a hardcore scene where it would be weird if there wasn’t so many women actively involved in the different worlds of hardcore. I say that because This is Hardcore and Philly Hardcore Shows has them, but also because that kind of conversation… Madi Watkins from Year of the Knife works with This is Hardcore. She did a really good job at telling everybody, “Hey, it’s not a genre.” Female-fronted isn’t a genre, women in hardcore aren't a genre. I think that people are really starting to understand. I mean, you’re gonna see every kind of person out at a hardcore show. Regardless, the things that people can nitpick on social media, and how they have their little internet groups where they come in and they gang up on a topic and they don’t debate, they just scream louder than everybody else… That kind of stuff won’t be defeated. 

I’m starting to see so many young people start bands, 16-17-18 years old - that’s absolutely fucking fantastic. I’m seeing small scenes put out some amazing bands. Not that Chicago was ever not a good scene, but, you know, you have MH Chaos, you have Kharma, you’ve got Hold My Own - you have a good group of bands from the Midwest. There’s a slew of people in almost every part of the country doing something and getting recognized, because of the connectivity and the way that the internet works. Some of the things that used to be an argument on the B9 Boards or on Facebook - now, it’s more of a reality. Nowadays, I don’t think it’s as tokenized when a woman’s on stage. I don’t think that seeing a young kid at a show is like, “Wow, look at that young kid!” [in a negative way].

There’s so many more of them now, and it’s a good thing. I started going to shows when I was very young, I’ve always supported young people getting into bands and starting early, and I like that it’s getting back to that.

AA: It’s definitely hard, because, like you said, you don’t want to tokenize any groups, such as women - but we should also be able to acknowledge how awesome it is to see them represented in hardcore. I feel like the lineup this year is a pretty decent representation of that. Because, you know, women specifically - there’s a good handful of them on the fest and working behind the scenes, but it doesn’t give the impression that they’re only around to fill some kind of diversity quota.

JH: Well, the argument often ends up being, “Hey! You didn’t book these bands.” It’s not people that say, “We want to see more women represented in hardcore,” it’s often a laundry list of their own friends. 

In the end, I can’t control how many women come to hardcore shows. We support them in our scene. Alex Bradley is a promoter, there’s plenty of women helping out and being a part of This is Hardcore and Philly Hardcore Shows, and women who raised me in hardcore in the early 90’s… It’s always been a thing. But it’s growing, and that’s a good thing. I’ve got a 25-year-old daughter in hardcore, I want women to be supported in hardcore. And the same thing goes for diversity. 

I do what I think is best on the merits of the band. We have a band from the Northwest, Hostilities… We have the band Reaching Out… People on the East Coast know Reaching Out because Kaiden and the girls come out to so many fucking shows, they’re ubiqutous. If there’s a show, they’re there. We also have to support Fool’s Game, Hesitate, and these bands that are supporting our scene. So, I’m in a bad spot - if I don’t book an X amount of bands, there’s someone who’s gonna call me out and say, “Joe didn’t make the effort to make this diverse,” but I don’t go with a percentage of, “Did I meet a quota?” I go with, “Do people like this?”

I just gotta do what I gotta do. In Philadelphia, there’s a fest called Break Free, and they do a really good job of representing POC - it’s an almost all-POC festival. That’s an important thing for their culture to push that. And, so, if someone’s looking for a fest like that, there’s someone doing that, someone specifically doing those things. But, again, at This is Hardcore, we’ve always had diversity where it makes sense. 

Unfortunately, someone’s always gonna go through the checklist and say, “You should do more,” and I just have to look forward and realize that, when I look at hardcore now, there is a much bigger diversity because of the window the internet provides to people. I don’t want to tokenize and list my friends and say, “We have this many!” because it’s not important. What’s important is that hardcore naturally, over time, is becoming more diverse, and I think that’s the more important thing to say. And… [laughs] Thankfully, it’s only been a week, people could start saying crazier shit, but I haven’t gotten bullied for that yet. And, unfortunately, diversity is never gonna be the first priority, because at the end of the day, I have to pay the bill for every band on the show, I have to make sure people want to fly across the country and travel from other countries, and therefore, I have to first have bands that are gonna sell tickets. I’m not the one that’s ultimately in charge of if one specific band draws somebody or not.

(Photo credit: Kyle Bergfors)

AA: As a promoter and someone who plays in bands, if you could give any young hardcore band a piece of advice, what would it be?

JH: Do not get a booking agent until you’re at the point where you cannot physically handle the amount of emails and phone calls that you get. Even though a booking agent may be able to get you money or something that you couldn’t get on your own… Learning how things work, making mistakes, is the only true way to do things. A lot of new bands are as fucking lazy as other bands in other eras. We had a couple years where bands were doing it on their own, and now we’re back to booking agent shit. And, the truth is, a promoter like myself - I’m gonna pay you fair regardless. Asking for more money than what you need, if you’re a small band, might get you turned off to people who just naturally wanna help you. If your band is gonna get paid at least $250, and you come into the city going, “If I don’t get $500, we’re not playing” - go play somewhere else then, my man! ‘Cause that’s not how it works. 

I think it’s integral that everyone in a band these days understands the work that goes into this shit, and understands that there’s times when a young band just needs to be out on the road, and it’s not just to play the coolest shows. You’re not always going to play with Pain of Truth, you’re not always going to play with Gridiron. The way that you’re gonna get people to really like your band isn’t [focusing on] Twitter or Spotify numbers, it’s to get in front of new people. So, if you can’t do long tours, do weekends. If you’re blessed and you live on the East Coast or even as far down as Virginia, you can make East Coast runs all summer and winter, and you can do so much work. I think young bands have to get back to promoting themselves. I love seeing that newer, smaller labels are coming from newer people in hardcore. We need to return to where there are more people doing more shit, independently of the handful of people that are just looking to make money off young bands. 

AA: For sure. In terms of labels… There needs to be more From Withins, you know? [laughs]

JH: Yeah. Absolutely. 

[we trail off talking about DIY ethics, tour managers, booking agents, and hiring people to help with your band in general]

The best tour managers in hardcore punk are 40-something year old dudes who are punk rock as fuck, like John Numbskull from the Northwest, who handles bands like The Casualties and Leftöver Crack… And my bro Greg Daly, who was a big part of This is Hardcore, who now works with bands like Napalm Death, but has tour managed everybody. This guy has 5 feet of dreadlocks and doesn’t look anything professional, but the motherfucker’s professional. Looks can be deceiving. And there’s a little bit of detracting statements for some bands for having tour managers, like, “Look at these guys.” [laughs] The older bands just wanna know - where are we going, where’s our dressing room, when do we sound check - because those guys are really acclimated to tour life with a hard schedule. And, so, you have to learn to have a balance between all three.

I’ve worked with some really awesome tour managers, and I’ve seen the value in them being able to keep things in order so you don’t have questions. And I think a young promoter, as a hardcore promoter, has to look at things from all angles. If the band comes and has a good experience, they’re gonna come back, or they’ll tell other people. It’s like a real-life Yelp review, you know? It’s important.

AA: Any future plans you want to discuss, aside from the fest?

JH: We are gonna be the busiest we’ve ever been in a long time as of Thursday. Philadelphia hardcore is really doing well. Bob, Alex Bradley, myself - we’ve been really killing it, it’s been a busy year. Having the fest early on has actually been a whole lot easier, because we have a whole summer of other activities and things we’re gonna do. We’re very blessed with the amount of shows, we’re very blessed that so many different bands - and like you brought up, From Within Records, they’re a big part of Philly hardcore… This is a great time for us, and I think This is Hardcore 2022 is just gonna continue to energize that moment.

Punishment playing in February was amazing. We’re very happy that we’re gonna play with Merauder and Hoods and all these bands we’re friends with. It’s crazy, the first show was for fun with Dennis, and we’re just laughing because this’ll be the fanciest venue Punishment’s every played in the city of Philadelphia. [laughs] We were goons, we were never allowed to play nice clubs, so this’ll be the nicest club we’ve ever got to play!

I’m gonna be active with Shattered Realm, we’ve got so much comin’ up. It’s crazy, I have shows in November and December already booked… It’s gonna be a crazy year for hardcore, and I just appreciate everybody who came from the minute shows opened up and never stopped supporting. I love the fact that there’s all these new bands blossoming, and I appreciate people like you, that take the time to interact with the scene and do stuff like the Resonating blog, and also just being a promoter and being active. The more younger people that are active, the more this is gonna continue to grow, so thank you Ang, for being a part of this and being excited about it.

AA: Of course, thank you! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JH: That’s it! Thank you to everybody who loves hardcore and is ready for This is Hardcore in 2022.

I’d like to thank Joe once again for this extremely in-depth look at what went into this year’s This is Hardcore Fest. If you want to follow along with what Joe and Philly Hardcore are up to, you can check out the links below:

This is Hardcore:

Podcast | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Philly Hardcore:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Lastly, check out the playlist below for a preview of every band that’ll be playing This is Hardcore this year!


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