28 August 2012
It’s no great revelation that the popularity of hardcore has risen in the last few years. The deep roar of the nation’s discontent has boiled up in the bellies of our pugnacious males for almost 30 years now; but thanks to the likes of Triple J, the growing plethora of home-grown promoters and Byron band Parkway Drive, the acceptance and lauding of the genre has reached an epoch where heavy music has found a place in our airwaves, our music television programmes, our genre-agnostic festivals and even at the ARIA Awards.
Stu Harvey, Triple J’s short.fast.loud radio host and co-founder of Shock Records’ new heavy music imprint Halfcut Records, has been advocating the genre on air for over 14 years. Since launching the Triple J show in 2004, Harvey has closely watched the genre’s ascent.
“I’ve been doing this for quite a while now, I’ve seen the popularity of this genre just absolutely skyrocket,” he says over the phone from Melbourne. “The fact Parkway Drive can sell out a Hordern Pavilion or a Festival Hall, this is a huge deal. There are not many Australian artists who can sell out a venue of that size. It’s a massive, massive audience now and I’ve just seen that from the people that listen to my programme.”
While Parkway Drive have ultimately raised the bar to an almost impossible level for their predecessors–with international accolades and an ARIA in 2010–mateship has been another factor in hardcore’s currency. Luke Logemann of The Staple Group helped launch full-service heavy music collective UNFD (We Are Unified) in January 2011, and has sold over 100,000 records since. His proudest release is The Amity Affliction’s sophomore album Youngbloods, which debuted at #6 on the ARIA chart in 2010 (under UNFD’s previous incarnation as Boomtown Records). Numerical boasting aside, Logemann says it’s the sense of community that has kept the culture alive.
“Bands work hard and help each other out, while the fans and artists have effectively stopped more mainstream/corporate people from influencing or effecting what happens. It’s a ‘for the kids, by the kids’ scene and it always works better when it stays that way.”
A band whose music most ARIA board members would turn their noses up at or consider a detriment to business, found itself accepting an ARIA for Best Hard Rock / Heavy Metal Album (Deep Blue) with their ideologue intact at the nation’s most prestigious annual awards. While those working for and in Australian hardcore know it is longevity that prevails, there has been more local enthusiasm for it than ever before. On Parkway Drive’s last album tour in 2010, the band sold 27,089 tickets to the nine national shows, accumulating over $948,000 - an impressive figure considering most bands who place themselves under the same umbrella would be lucky to draw more than 200 in their home town. Over the phone, Parkway’s frontman Winston McCall is self-effacing about his own achievements but awed by the country’s.
“It’s definitely something that’s grown from a base of individuality here in Australia. Other genres–I wouldn’t say mimick–but do look overseas for inspiration, while Australia can definitely hold that as its core.”
Tailing close behind Parkway Drive are acts like the aforementioned Brisbane band and UNFD signing The Amity Affliction and Melbourne’s Dream On Dreamer who signed to US label Rise Records in 2009. Vastly fan-supported and outside of corporate control, these acts have established themselves over the past decade through consistent touring and an unwavering social media presence. Resist Records founder, Parkway advocate and respected player in the Australian scene, Graham Nixon feels that while these methods are distinctly different to the time when he was becoming aware of the culture, it’s a dichotomous predicament.
“I remember when I first started getting into music, very few Australian hardcore bands had releases out. There weren’t many studios around and they were charging premium rates… Nowadays kids can probably do that at home for free on their computer with Garageband, which is great for the kid, but you’re not helping the talent of the musician.”
Since founding Resist Records in 1998 and signing Parkway Drive in 2004, Graham and his assistant Dani Chalmers can count 110 releases under their name. In July the label released sophomore album Point Of No Return from Perth band Blkout, and are set to release Parkway Drive’s fourth album in the coming months. Mainstream success has never been an endeavour of Nixon’s, nor of any of the scene’s major players; the end game has never been to hold their artists above the fans or about monetary gain. In fact, keeping its severance from the commercial world has always been the core stratagem.
To those who have only listened to the music on a shallow level, the genre’s message matches its music: aggressive, warring and equated with heavily tattooed, dark-clothed nonconformists. And while most of the musicians fit this description, Stu Harvey says the ideologies coming through of late couldn’t be more disparate. “At the moment there’s a lot of what I would call positive hardcore coming through, positive messages that are not about doom and gloom. The music is so raw and angry; it’s a great release from everyday frustration but at the same time it’s shouting about living a good lifestyle.
“It’s intriguing, the hardcore scene probably has a much higher level of people that live that clean lifestyle than probably any other genre of music.”
Unsurprisingly, hardcore music is now a part of mainstream culture, it’s now just as accepted as other subgenres like dubstep or grime. Without the genre seeming extreme or negative, it poses the question: without the associated subversion, has something been taken away from the genre’s core values and ethics? A culture that promotes respect, family and self-preservation. Nixon would say ‘yes’.
“The talented younger bands, I don’t think they have a history of what hardcore is… A lot of bands nowadays are just too caught up with success,” Nixon says during an interview at a Newtown café. “[Parkway] are massively responsible because they’re successful, I think of all the bands that I deal with they’re probably the least concerned, they honestly couldn’t care if they played to 200 people or 20,000 people.”
Many bands now making their way to the forefront seem to be either uneducated on the culture or just blatantly ignoring it. “Some bands submit [to the label] for absolutely everything and that’s their downfall, they don’t know what they’re right for,” continues Nixon. “If you’re a band that sounds like Parkway, don’t submit for a Toy Boats tour. They have no idea about who the band is and that to me says they haven’t done their research.”
Along with social media’s many advantages in gaining direct contact with a band’s fans, heroes and influential label-heads, comes the many enthusiasts who also want a piece of the pie. Nixon receives countless emails, letters and Facebook requests per week, some from aspiring bands, and some from self-professed booking agents, tour and band managers - emails which have a reverse effect on the artist the person is trying to promote.
“They have friends who think they’re booking agents, that’s unfortunately a downfall. They’ll have friends who’ll try and act all professional which I find silly because at the end of the day we’re just doing music, we’re not doing law degrees.”
It could be argued that underground hardcore reached the point of adversity with Byron Bay five-piece Parkway Drive. Stu Harvey suggests that from his seat behind the mic at Triple J, the band are the one off-cut in Australia at this time who have carried the culture’s integrity into 2012.
“What do they do when they’re not onstage? They surf, they jump off bridges, they play video games and they work on being a band; because of that you can see how well they’re doing… As opposed to a band that goes out to party all the time, who put a bit of a use-by-date on being a band.”
The Sydney and Melbourne scenes are particularly tendentious; dedicated weekly heavy music events like Hot Damn! and SFX in Sydney’s city and Next and Bang! in Melbourne create delusions of grandeur for local acts. Some aspiring bands play to a full house of punters who are predominantly at the club for the $5 drinks and the scene credit, and expect to get a big-name support tour the following month.
“I would dare say that 90% of those bands that are on that list would play a headline show and no one would turn up… They’re probably good bands, but there’s something about them that doesn’t have an interest to me… they might think they’re doing a lot but I don’t think they’re doing a lot.
“Unfortunately too many bands will barely have a set list full of songs and they will think, ‘we want to be the next Parkway’. No band has patience.”
Parkway Drive were born out of small town ennui and the desire to revolt against the grunge and American-adopted sounds that had shaped the early ‘90s. Along with acts like I Killed The Prom Queen and Behind Crimson Eyes, the band lead the charge for a new wave of community conscious flag bearers, standing vigil on the outskirts of mainstream consumerism. McCall feels this was their point of difference when they made a name for themselves in rural NSW in 2002.
“We went after our own identity and steered away from the cookie cutter image of the generation before, and I guess that’s where the strength lies.”
For a band who has watched the genre’s popularity cumbersomely seep into national consciousness, McCall has seen every trick in the book used by those chasing rays of limelight. “The sound itself has become so popular to the point where the history of it, the culture of it is literally just about the sound for a lot of people,” he explains. “There’s a lot of it that sounds a hell of a lot like us and a hell of a lot like hardcore bands or whatever, but you’ll find the closest thing they’ve gotten to that kind of music originated a year ago and was influenced by Linkin Park. It’s a world away from the stuff that I was brought up on and the ethics that I hold on to. Hardcore in Australia is to have a strong sense of community and culture and a strong ethical standpoint.”
Interestingly, the bands who do claim to mimic Parkway Drive’s core values are the acts currently associated with up and coming hardcore. House Vs. Hurricane are undoubtedly a part of the genre’s uprising in recent memory; the Melbourne band have undergone multiple lineup revisions since forming in 2006 and released their second record with new frontman Dan Casey and new label UNFD last July. Crooked Teeth debuted at #20 on the ARIA Albums chart but as vocalist Ryan McLerie explains, that was never the main goal.
“We were never like ‘let’s try and get signed’, he says down the phone after a music video shoot. “I don’t think any one of us sat down and said that to one another. It sort of happened on its own. We just started playing shows and people started coming to our shows… It was just ‘let’s play shows with our friends and go crazy’.”
McLerie isn’t completely callow, he does seem to harbour the same ideals as his lionised forefathers but feels it was their sound that first caught our attention. “We were on the front end of that whole keyboard, synthy stuff that’s now its own genre. We were one of the first bands to do that here and I think that got us a lot of attention when we were first starting out.”
Brett Anderson, frontman of Sydney six-piece Buried In Verona knows first-hand how difficult it once was to get Australia’s attention in a predominantly DIY genre. “I think the more weekend warrior bands and the people who aren’t really committed to having a career in it, they’re figuring out early that it’s not really going to work,” he says in an interview at the TMN offices. “We were shit too when we first got into it… It was really difficult to get people to shows and now if they are good, people will spend the twenty bucks and go and watch them, they’ll buy their album, they’ll buy the shirt. People are way more supportive.”
Now on their third album cycle, Buried In Verona have found chart success with this year’s record Notorious. Released on June 1 through UNFD, the album saw them take influences from technical metal, and become the second hardcore act to hit the ARIA top 20 this year, but with upcoming releases from Amity and Parkway, they certainly won’t be the last. “The other two albums just didn’t stand out enough, they were good albums but there was 50,000 other people doing the same thing all around the world,” Anderson simpers. “There wasn’t enough of a difference to set us apart.” Although Anderson admits to the band’s orectic value of notoriety (pun intended), their tenacity since 2007 despite lineup, label and sound changes, has only now paid off with each member quitting their day job just months ago.
This is one of the consistent factors for these bands; they aren’t privy to the reactionary attitude of Australia’s mainstream where an artist can go from studying their HSC to selling out national tours after starring in sixteen episodes of a televised talent show. As Luke Logemann says, infamy only comes to those willing to persevere. “Those bands (Amity Affliction and Parkway Drive) weren’t overnight successes. They just stuck to their guns and toured their arses off until people took notice.”
“The bands from the mid-2000s that jumped on the American emo kinda bandwagon didn’t last very long, but that was a scene that relied on radio and TV. So as soon as they all turned into dance/pop focused stations, the whole thing fell apart really.”
While some radio stations do have dedicated shows that support heavy music and both MTV and Channel [V] do abet it with late-night specials, most media refuse to acknowledge its existence. Publicist Bec Reato has done much to champion the culture throughout her career, leaving her job at major label EMI to work at Shock Records where she contributed to the label’s first #1 album in 2010 with UK metalcore band Bring Me The Horizon. Last year Reato and fellow Shock employee Emily Kelly both left the independent to form their own agency, Deathproof PR. Working closely with record labels and promoters, Reato understands better than most the disadvantage these bands have with popular media.
“Heavy music scares people off and I think a lot of people in the media aren’t really fans of it,” she says during an interview at the Triple J offices. “Traditional media are not going to care about your band unless you’ve got someone going in and telling them why they need to care about it.”
Conversely, it’s been the vision of hardcore as a passion for the culture rather than a commercial portal that has driven independent labels. The majority of bands within the lifestyle opt to sign with an indie for many reasons, some for artistic freedom, or the close-knit family that defines each label, but most acts sign the dotted line with the assurance that they won’t be put to the wayside while the more commercially appealing take priority. With the rise of social media in the last few years, big marketing machines, the 360 major label deal and the manufacturing of bands is now irrelevant. Reato says that when it comes to heavy music in Australia, the four majors are slow-moving beasts who don’t know how to adapt.
“It really surprises me how major labels don’t even realise the potential of some bands they have on their roster just because it falls into this heavy music category, they don’t get it… That was proven with the success of Bring Me The Horizon, it showed there is money to be made there, there is a legitimate genre.”
This hostility has created a double-edged sword situation, where the stigma attached to a major is helping bands find their way toward profit on their own. Stu Harvey, who worked alongside Reato at Shock says bands can have the upper hand if they’re willing to work for it.
“What can a major label give them that they can’t achieve by themselves through hard work, good songs and being good to their fans?”
Be that as it may, McLerie and Anderson have quite conflicting views about major labels. McLerie views the big four as cookie cutting factories who put bands through turning cogs with hopes they’ll come out the other end just as profitable as their last project. “I don’t hear much originality in bands that are getting signed, it’s mostly the bands that don’t get signed that have an original sound,” he scorns. “It’s pretty clear, the record label industry is dying and no one’s making money anymore, they’re signing bands that are safe and that they know they’ll make money from... I don’t think it’ll get any better to be honest.”
Anderson on the other hand, sees nothing wrong in piggybacking through open doors to new opportunities - he feels if Buried In Verona were given the chance to sign a major label deal, they would consider it.
“You’re not going to go far in this industry unless you have someone to get you there,” he says pragmatically. “Who’s going to say no to someone who can take their career to the next level?”
It has to be suggested that perhaps this is one of the chief differences between hardcore culture ten years ago and what’s left of it now. Anderson is in no way wrong or alone in thinking a wider reach is a positive thing, nor is it his fault that many bands are less concerned with the same principles as others. But for a veteran like Graham Nixon, the fact is a little disconcerting.
“Music shouldn’t be about living a rock star lifestyle,” he stresses. “You should wanna play music with your mates. You don’t even have to be talented, you can be the world’s worst guitarist, the guy who plays bass for Parkway can’t play bass, he’s a friend of theirs’ and they said ‘well let’s just give them a go’ and that’s basically what Parkway is about.”
Even though Nixon rarely has to cross paths with the commercial realm, he shares every interviewee’s ire that his life’s work is never put on par. “Guy Sebastian and all that stuff is just lame,” he smiles, “and that’s what’s on the radio right now… There’s been more support on iTunes for The Voice than any Australian act, these kids are just doing covers, they’re people off the street. It doesn’t affect me but it’s sad that that’s reality.”
Reato’s hopes to change all that have never wavered. “What Deathproof are trying to push is more recognition; in an ideal world House Vs. Hurricane would be making as much money as Guy Sebastian.
“Channel [V] have a heavy music show called [V] Loud, it’s on at eleven o’clock on a school night so I’d like to see them get behind it more. MTV don’t even have a heavy music show, they’ve got Headbanger’s Ball but that’s metal only. I’d like to see time slots like that move forward so that it’s in people’s faces a little bit more and,” she laughs, “stop hiding it!”
Logemann’s wish-list is almost identical; with UNFD he foresees an aristocratic attitude towards his roster and while Australia may not happily look upon his acts as ‘the next big thing,’ they’ll at least consider them ‘the next best thing.’
“We do whatever we can to give bands the exposure they deserve, and hopefully, put money in their pockets to keep doing what they do for as long as possible,” he says. “We hope that just means Australian hardcore will continue to thrive the way it has. Later this year with The Amity Affliction, we will likely have our first #1 ARIA record, and Parkway soon after that will probably do the same. It’s only a matter of time before Dream On Dreamer, House Vs Hurricane and [Sydney band] Northlane are filling massive rooms like those two bands. Things are only getting bigger.”
Conversely, if these bands do attract the wider audience that their adherents think they deserve, the effects could just as easily turn sour. With every multi-Platinum record and sold-out arena, the core ethics and educational value of the culture could evanesce.
In fact, it’s possible we’re already halfway there.
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