Who Cares? American Hardcore Punk Hits Middle Age

A snapshot of a sublimely stagnant subculture by a roadie on a West Coast tour.

| Summer 2015

  • Gas Chamber
    Photo courtesy Justin Kern
  • Terveet Kadet
    Photo courtesy Justin Kern
  • A punk show
    Photo courtesy Justin Kern
  • A theft report
    Photo courtesy Justin Kern

In retaliation for the theft of my underwear and French literature, I am assisting in the spread of broken glass across Oakland’s interstate system.

It is a silly form of rebellion but it’s the one I’m left with after the superficial robbery of the tour van that shuttled myself and the members of Buffalo’s least cheery and most musically progressive hardcore band, Gas Chamber. Half-looted and tasked to persevere in the face of uncaring punk rock peers, unknown thugs and indifferent cops, I laughed like a maniac as each bump in the highway sprinkled smashed window glass.

At 34, I set out on tour as an unnecessary roadie for my friends’ band to see how hardcore punk rock, itself around the middle-age mark, had kept relevant, changed and run in circles. Hardcore punk has been packaged with a promise of blunt political and social expectations, something only seen with great musical force in the overly celebrated hippies of the ‘60s or the under-empowered rappers of the ‘80s. It is a genre with a multiverse of subgenres, all which will propel hundreds of unrecognizable bands to play your town and every other in the U.S. throughout the summer. It is music that eats its old and primarily rewards staid templates. And it can be a backdrop for lifelong friendships and a few remaining, daring challenges.



Seattle

The Seattle show is held at a quasi-legal music loft where a half-dozen people also live. It seemed a measure of defiance in one of the wealthier cities of America’s New Gilded Age, where people are pushed to visible encampments under highways and other locals are worried whether any fringe artists and creators can afford to stay. This show loft is carefully run by its residents, as so many of their contemporaries have moved to the sticks if they are at all still involved.

By proxy of being present at hardcore shows in your mid-30s, you’re able to quickly spot your diminishing pool of peers. Gas Chamber features four friends of mine, men in their 30s: Patrick, the bassist and vocalist who helped arrange this tour; David, a prolific guitarist; Jerry, the pounding drummer; and Craig, who screams and makes noise from homemade electronics. They are on tour to support Terveet Kadet, a good-natured fast punk band from Finland with members and roadies well older than our posse. A show with international bands and other sonic pioneers like Iron Lung means I will not be the oldest person at this show. There are more of the 30-plus crowd at these shows now than I remember 10 or 15 years ago, when my 30-year-old friends seemed old.