Sound, Fury, and Change
Talk to enough surfers who have been at it for a bit and you can hear them talk about being able to "read" the waves. They look up, out on the horizon, and seem to know exactly what shape something is going to be, where its going to break, if it can hold them--all from shadows on the horizon. Waves of change, on the other hand are much harder to read. Some people may have an inkling, some a suspicion, but until a change is really upon us its tough to get prepared. Hardcore is currently in beautiful flux, yet there are people who not only seem to be able to read this change, but are trying to reinforce and guide it.
At this juncture it goes without saying that Sound and Fury is far and away one of the best festivals out there in the current festival glut we are experiencing. For years it has been consistently one of the best organized, stacked, and run festivals around, particularly within the hardcore and extreme music scenes. The last several years it has, too, acted along with DC's Damaged City as a catalyst the hardcore genre's growing pains, reinforcing waves of change that are rippling through the current scene.
Punk and hardcore have always been white, middle-class, boys clubs...mostly for the worse...(and despite the genre's arguable origination by four DC/Jamaican rastafarians) but that is changing with alacrity. The last years have shown an exponential increase in female and minority representation that, broadly, has been largely accepted, reinforced, and protected. Its festivals like Sound and Fury that actually make me feel pride for even being on the fringes of a scene that attempts to not only where its heart on its sleeve, but puts its money where it's mouth is. Largely with little fanfare. There is no great clamor made about bands being good BECAUSE they have a member that fits such-and-such a slot, instead bands are simply good and space is quietly made for them. S&F has become an integral part of that process, providing a platform for these acts while simultaneously reinforcing their legitimacy by lending each the full weight of the history the scene itself.
This year was no different--up and comers like DARE, Initiate, Nosebleed, Gouge Away, Red Death and more were complimented with stalwarts like Ceremony, Cold World, Negative Approach, and Backtrack or contemporary legends like Rotting Out.
But it was this year, more than previously, where a split not in representation or morality but in approach became really apparent, exemplified by the fest's headliners.
The return of Rotting Out, while not surprising given their appearance at this year's TIHC, actually sums up amazingly well the current state of aggressive hardcore. The band became known for its reverence for the genre's roots while playing directly within the confine's of the genre's sound. During their most active years they bounced around tours playing their aggressive, fun live shows while throwing their weight behind "old school" style acts. Their shows, like the bands they emulate (Terror, Bane, etc) are aggressive, sweaty pile-ons. Largely rough but well-meaning.
Ceremony, on the other hand, have made a career of never quite doing either whats expected of them or the same thing twice while deliberately eschewing typical masculinity within the hardcore scene (or in general). At S&F '16, Ceremony's guitarist challenged the scene to grow, and while philosophically the scene has done its best, sonically it is still far behind the bay-area band.
And S&F showed what could be the beginnings of this divide or the start of a new wave of change. More traditional acts were, of course, plentiful and received warmly. But it was those bands who's influences are not so easily discernable or typical, I found the most interesting like Spiritual Cramp (who's sound owes more to the Cramps than to Minor Threat), or Sabertooth Zombie (who's set looked more like self-imposed stations of the cross for their vocalist than an rock show).
Wherever it goes, though, pretty stoked S&F is going to be on the front of it and reading where its going to break next.