Hardcore, punk and the resulting DIY culture it spawned has been defined in a million ways over the years. Everyone with even a vague involvement in this area of music seems to have an opinion on what’s right and wrong, what should and shouldn’t be done. I personally subscribe to the outlook that as long as you conduct yourself with a modicum of integrity and stay true to what you know you love, then fuck everyone else and what they think of you.
Holy Roar Records largely isn’t a hardcore label in the musical sense, but our choices in what we release and how release it follow no model or prescribed path. I like to think that our approach is rooted in a hardcore philosophy developed by labels as disparate as Robotic Empire, Hydrahead, Deathwish Inc and Bridge 9. I honestly believe that the fact that we haven’t followed any predisposed thought of how a record label should release music, is pivotal to us still being here and to our growth …and there really shouldn’t be any models or paradigms for bands or labels to subscribe to any more.
Hydrahead Records' Pelican rocking out like the overlords they are
I think the majority of people within hardcore would agree on this, if nothing else. Look at the number of bands on big indies (aka mini-majors?) or major labels who put out a few singles, and an album if they are lucky, and then implode under the pressure (financial or otherwise) or get dropped. The beauty and, crucially, SUSTAINABILITY of so many bands from a hardcore background, is that they use any means necessary to continue moving forward and releasing material. Split five-inches, split tapes, albums, floppy discs, CDRs – you name it, it’s been done. These formats will never appeal to the masses – let us not forget the masses want everything as quickly and as easily as possible – but more releases and innovation, even if just catering for 100 fans, is more revenue streams, more frequently for the band and the innovative label. A continuing, frequent relationship with fans is established. Voila!
It’s an obvious case study for me but look at Rolo Tomassi – they are now on Hassle Records, a label that has released music by Alexisonfire, Juliette Lewis, Four Year Strong and many more. Prior to signing with Hassle, Rolo Tomassi were on Holy Roar Records. During (and before) their tenure on Holy Roar Records, the band released a split seven-inch, a split tape, their own tape, a three-inch demo CD, a remix tape, a handscreened CD-EP, spraypainted seven-inches and more, before transposing this mindset into Hassle, who realized that continuing this type of operation for the band was exciting to the existing fanbase and made them feel special, while also giving new fans the chance to dig deeper.
This way of operating is similar to the way of thinking about releasing music in this digital age of “release early, release often” , but has embellished it with interesting, limited physical product. The band's history (and some might even say mystique) has been enriched tenfold by this approach. There is literally nothing I find more exciting as a music geek than discovering rare or old recordings by my favourite bands or for said band to surprise me with new recordings out of the blue.
Of course this creativity with musical formats, release ideas and schedules isn’t, or shouldn’t be limited to the music itself. I know a bunch of bands on big labels who spend loads of money on soundmen, merch people, huge vans and who sometimes don’t even have T-shirts for sales, never mind any other merch. Then these bands moan about having no money, end up in financial ruin and split up. Which obviously isn’t good for anyone. Too many bands splitting up due to lack of creative thinking with how they tour and their merchandise sounds ridiculous, but its unfortunately true.
Unless you are a massive band there isn’t going to be huge royalty cheques waiting for you at home at the end of the tour. Self-organisation and a high-level of artistic presentation and implementation has been vital to hardcore for a long time. I would perhaps even go so far as to say that there are hardcore bands out there who drive themselves on tour, tour-manage themselves and sell their own (huge) range of t-shirts, hoodies and bags who make more money than a bunch of better known indie/pop bands. I honestly feel that due to the label culture (that now drastically has to change quickly) that a lot of indie, pop and singer-songwriters grew up in, where it was the norm to hand over as much responsibility as possible to the labels and management, many of these musicians have poor artwork on their cds/merchandise (if they have any at all), a roadcrew that costs more than the band can afford and are therefore fucked before they have started. None of this is in anyway a slight upon indie, pop or any other style of music that has relied upon big labels and cash or their resulting culture – I love Passion Pit as much as I do Agoraphobic Nosebleed, its purely an observation on where I believe hardcore is increasingly getting a one-up over other styles of guitar music.
Of course, none of these opinions can essentially be proved over such a wide net of bands and artists, I am purely commentating on what I have seen and experienced. I’m sure there are major label bands who are operating thriftily who have incredible merchandise, who have been going for years. However, hopefully, some of the above information can act as food for thought as to how I believe hardcore and the way it runs itself could act as a small beacon of light in these troubled times for the music industry.