The hardcore event brought homegrown highlights and international big names to a packed-out Leeds warehouse, for one of the most thrilling weekenders of the year
It’s often stated that subculture is in decline. As the internet democratises culture, and ‘pop’ no longer comes off like a dirty word, the idea of bedding yourself in an underground scene just isn’t on most teenagers’ bucket lists. Why limit yourself to one genre of music or fashion trend, after all – it’s all at your fingertips these days, and you can pick ‘n’ mix to your heart’s content. Ask most social academics and they’ll likely point to the late 00s’ emo explosion as subculture’s last hurrah; before then, it was probably drum ‘n’ bass heads who held the crown. We’re a long way from the mods vs. punks vs. skinheads vs. goths turf wars that dominated teenage years in the ’80s.
The hardcore scene bucks that trend. An all-encompassing world all of its own, the punk offshoot thrives on its underground credentials. It’s a community and a personal statement as much as it is a music genre, with its politics and social attitudes woven throughout. Outbreak Fest, held every year in the north of England, is one of a handful of DIY festivals that provide congregation for the scene – Philadelphia’s This Is Hardcore is another. Here you’ll find swarms of people moshing, stagediving and generally hurling themselves about the place to the music – a rhythm-heavy evolution of rock which amplifies all of that genre’s most brutal moments, to provide as cathartic a release as you’re ever likely to find in any venue, at home or abroad.
“Outbreak’s tenth edition, held last month in Leeds warehouse venue Canal Mills, came at the end of a year that’s seen hardcore take more dives towards mainstream acceptance than ever before.”
Outbreak’s tenth edition, held last month in Leeds warehouse venue Canal Mills, came at the end of a year that’s seen hardcore take more dives towards mainstream acceptance than ever before. Co-headliners Code Orange and Turnstile are undoubtedly pivotal to that upswing in attention – the former became the first ever Grammy-nominated hardcore band with their 2017 record ‘Forever’, while the latter warped the genre’s boundaries more than ever before with their Diplo-featuring ‘Time & Space’ LP, a stunning collection of anything-goes heavy alt-rock that paves the way for countless more hardcore innovators in the future.
Before we get to that, though, there’s a packed line-up on each day to get through. The British contingent is out in force across the weekend, with Higher Power its latest flagbearers. Last year’s ‘Soul Structure’ LP saw the hometown heroes cement their melodic ambitions, fusing the heavy hitting, low-slung attitude of classic New York hardcore with frontman Jimmy Wizard’s crooning, grunge-esque vocal. It’s a concoction that’s met with pandemonium on Saturday afternoon, as Jimmy calls for “all the mosh-pit freaks” to let loose. His wish is quickly granted, limbs and bodies flying from the first note, while ‘Can’t Relate’ sees bodies pile forward to scream back every word. The joint, limber-legged swagger of Wizard, bassist Ethan Wilkinson and guitarist Louis Hardy exudes the kind of confidence usually reserved for a hip-hop collective, while fellow six-stringer Max Harper even manages to keep his energy up while pinned to the spot, with only one working foot – the other got busted up a few weeks back, after he dropped something quite heavy on it; his crutches become a frequent source of entertainment for all the bands backstage as the weekend progresses.
Sonically different UK showings also come from the one-two of Chamber and Renounced on the Sunday. The former, fresh from the release of their crushing ‘Dissaffect’ EP, go straight for the jugular. Emerging from a swirl of distorted feedback, screw-faced frontman Ross Rickers stalks the stage like a man possessed, inciting violence in the pit as his band churn out the kind of grisly noise that could melt steel. Renounced take to the stage after with a notably softer-edged take on metallic hardcore. Each melodic passage hits like a wave, before dipping into gloomy breakdowns and the alternating sing-screamed vocals of vocalist Daniel Gray, drawing to mind the likes of metalcore veterans Poison The Well in its fascinatingly technical fusion of angst and aggression.
It’s a scene which thrives on community and inclusivity. Straight edge and vegan politics are tightly wound into hardcore’s culture – every food stall in the courtyard outside is vegan, for one. Both xServitudex’s compassionate-yet-chaotic metallic hardcore (which comes complete with a speech on the importance of the vegan movement) and the straight-edge brutality of Year Of The Knife (which sees frontman Tyler Mullen sporting a delightful shirt which reads ‘save the planet – kill yourself’) hammer home the importance of those movements, and the supportive community around them.
“It’s a scene which thrives on community and inclusivity”
Year Of The Knife’s crazed catharsis segues almost straight into Jesus Piece’s appearance – a hotly anticipated marker of how brutal U.S. hardcore is becoming. “I fuck with you, UK, because everybody’s got rhythm,” bellows ripped frontman Aaron Heard. As they tear through highlights from their upcoming first album ‘Only Self’ – and an explosive ‘Oppressor’ finds countless bodies piled up on top of each other, everyone reaching to grab the mic from Heard’s grip – it quickly establishes itself as one of the weekend’s most chaotic offerings.
It’s not all serious business and snarling attitude, though – there’s a sense of fun that prevails through all the heaviness. Fury‘s solo-heavy, party-starting hardcore almost steals the show on Saturday afternoon, the next level riff to closer ‘The Feeling’ ringing around heads for the remainder of the evening, while an early Sunday slot from German genre-benders Slope sees jazzy chords and finger-picked bass solos added to their swaggering punk.
As each evening comes to a close, there’s a nod to the scene’s heroes. Angel Du$t frontman Justice Tripp might be as fresh-faced as most of the frontmen on stage, but in certain circles, he’s legendary. Fronting both Du$t and modern hardcore heroes Trapped Under Ice, as well as co-running Pop Wig Records, he’s as close as hardcore has to a poster-boy, and Angel Du$t’s set tonight is proof of that status, the huge crowd pogoing and front-flipping before him. “Life’s short and it sucks,” he announces as the set reaches its riotous conclusion. “Find something you love and hold it tight. Find somebody you love and treat them well. Call your mother – and catch somebody when they jump off the stage.” As they close on ‘Stepping Stone’, his final wish is granted for a track which perfectly melds the melodic and the mosh, the singalongs and the stagedivers.
Hardcore pioneers Cro-Mags are Sunday’s legendary entrant, running through a set of their old-school NYHC which acts as a perfect recap of the scene’s 1980s emergence, and its 30-plus year importance. “What always makes me happy is when people come up to me and say this movement helped them out of a dark time,” says frontman John Joseph as the set reaches its mid-point. “People like to say, ‘Oh, I’m the old generation, we invented hardcore’ – fuck that. Without the new, young generation, the seed dies.”
With that in mind, it’s the weekend’s two headliners who once again prove that the seed couldn’t be further from perishing. They each occupy separate strands of the hardcore spectrum – Turnstile’s bouncy, party-starting hardcore sits sonically separate to Code Orange’s grisly, blackened take on the genre’s more industrial side – but they both thrive within Outbreak’s four walls. After the rocket on stage to ‘Canned Heat’, Turnstile’s recent ‘Time & Space’ LP dominates their Saturday set. Frontman Brendan Yates is a cannonball of energy, bounding about the stage like an errant spring, and swinging from the rafters for the entirety of ‘Moon’ as bassist Franz Lyons takes vocal duties. It’s a fun-first approach that sees crowdsurfers and stagedivers galore – one that looks set to garner hardcore’s most seamless crossover yet into the wider world of rock.
“Hardcore is the last true bastion of underground subculture”
Code Orange, on the other hand, dim the lights and opt for pure sonic assault, their audible horror show daring you to look away. A seamless ten-song set sees brick shithouse bassist Joe Goldman leaping into the crowd during ‘Spy’, and guitarist Dominic Landolina prowling the stage and leaping onto the scaffolds at the side of the stage, bellowing into the front rows during ‘New Reality’. A minute-long explosion of feedback distorts ‘Slowburn’s already punishing end, with drummer and lead vocalist Jami Morgan turning his back to the audience, holding his mic stand aloft and bellowing into the heavens, as guitarist and electronics whizz Eric ‘Shade’ Balderose clips and distorts his vocal until it resembles a Terminator’s battle cry. By the time ‘Forever’ closes out proceedings, it’s a wonder Leeds isn’t levelled.
The pairing of those two headliners would steal the show on most weekends, but Outbreak 2018 has one final surpise up its sleeve – Vein. Taking to the stage on Sunday afternoon, they bring forth a set like no other – one that’s quickly and shockingly compared to the likes of scene icons Converge in its sheer intensity. Rocketing through an opening ‘Virus://Vibrance’ and focussing predominantly on their mind-melting debut LP ‘Errorzone’, it’s one of the summer’s most incredible live offerings. Frontman Anthony DiDio shows little regard for his own wellbeing, hurling himself into the pillars at the side of the stage and thrashing out at the throng in front of him, as the pit reaches stretches near wall-to-wall. It’s an incomparably brilliant offering from Vein, but furthermore it’s a marker of just how incredible hardcore’s health truly is, three decades in. With bands like Vein to lead the way, and a cultural and political identity most youth movements could only dream of, hardcore is the last true bastion of underground subculture, and it’s here to stay – breakthrough or otherwise.