I Survived Powerviolence And So Can You: What I Learned About This Extreme Genre
  • WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 01, 2017

  • Posted by: Jack Labbe

A photo posted by 1FEST USA (@1fest1family) on



Before recounting my experience at 1Fest I think I should make it clear that I've never been a follower of hardcore or, grindcore, or powerviolence, or thrashcore, or whatever you choose to call it. Like many, upon first introduction to this genre I thought it was ridiculous. The unintelligible lyrics, "blast beats," and wall of noise coming from the bass and guitar combo seemed like it was a joke. If you choose to sit down and listen to a band like ACxDC (which stands for Anti-Christ Demon Core) it's hard not to laugh at first. Their sound is startling and the easiest way to process this is first taking it as a joke. But powerviolence is taken relatively serious by those who follow it and rightfully so.

I first heard about 1Fest from a friend whose band, Goolagoon, had just signed on to play, as the festival made its way from New York City to Syracuse and then finished up in Boston. Over the past two years, his band has gained a cult following in the online grindcore community because of their combination of Spongebob references and jarring, less than a minute songs. I thought it would be a good excuse to see some friends and maybe see an interesting show.



The festival was put together by Nonzerosum Presents, a booking company that sets up DIY festivals all over the country. The only other band I'd heard of on the bill was ACxDC. They are about as big as you can get in this scene. They're from Los Angeles and 1Fest was billed as their last shows in the northeast. My friend briefed me about the other internet sensation that was on the bill, Grindmother, whose lead singer is a 68 year old Canadian grandmother.



Grindmother is an interesting story. They formed after the guitarist posted a video that went viral of his mother doing grindcore vocals for his band Corrupt Leaders. After the success of the video, they decide to put an album out, landed themselves on a canadian news program, and were even tweeted about by Ozzy Osbourne. This soon became the band I felt most excited to see and when I first arrived at the Silent Barn in Bushwick, there she was, dozing off in the front seat of their tour van.



Thankfully I had my ticket since December, because believe it or not, the show had almost sold out. There were probably 200 or more people at the show, which is considerably large for such an extreme genre of music. Everyone was decked out in black denim, spikes and patches. I had a patch on the back of my jacket, but it said "Cowboy Up!" so I made sure to wear something black over the top. The punk scene, like many music scenes, is notoriously homogenous, consisting of mostly young white males. 1Fest wasn't exempt from this problem, but it was much better than the shows I'd been too in the past. The only group that had no representation at this show was conservatives.

This was one of the most progressive crowds I've ever been apart of, and I grew up going to Bluegrass Festivals. Every time one of the performers said anything about Donald Trump, the crowd started chanting "Fuck Donald Trump." Every band had at least something to say. Even the Canadian Grindmother made a point of firing shots at the President. Punk is an inherently political genre and the same way that grindcore is like punk on steroids, the politics are also on steroids. For example: ACxDC's lead vocalist is vegan straight edge satanist. Most of the crowd would probably refer to themselves as anarchist, but their progressive politics are mostly centered around absolute devotion to inclusion and awareness for threatened communities. I had a conversation at one point with a few people who marched with Black Bloc during the Women's March, if you're not familiar this is the anarchist anti-fascist group who's responsible for punching white nationalist Richard Spencer. There was a sense that this music was an outlet for everyones anger towards the current state of affairs.

The music at 1Fest echoed the harsh politics of the crowd and performers. The guitars and bass were just about indistinguishable throughout the night. The drums were fast and the screams were intense, this really drove the music. The Silent Barn in Bushwick is a venue worth exploring. The room is kinda small and very loud, it's essentially a tunnel of sound. Then to top it off, I forgot ear plugs, so I ended up taking in the full sound field.

That much sound at once can lead you into a trance state. A person can only take so much, which is why the songs are under a minute and the sets are between 15 and 20 minutes long. This is surprisingly long enough. The brevity was something I didn't understand before I went to the show. I was amazed that a band could release a full album, which would only come out to 7 minutes in overall length. But I guess you can only drum that hard, strum that hard, and scream that hard for so long. The pit at 1Fest was impressive but surprisingly not that threatening. There weren't too many big jock guys at the show. There's a type that comes to hardcore show, who just go into the pit and have the opportunity to hit someone. The crowd seemed like they were there for the bands.

Each band had it's own characteristics, whether it was high pitched vs. low pitched vocals or the addition/subtraction of an instrument, I started to pick up on what made each band different as the show went on. Grindcore can be one of those music forms that blends together and ends up sounding the same. But you don't really go to one of these shows to hear your favorite song. If so you'd be buying a ticket for about 30 seconds. From what I saw, it was more about the large scale feeling you get when you go. It's about being around like minded people, submerging yourself into the adrenaline of the crowd, and submitting to the sound. It's therapeutic in a way to experience a music that is pure anger and aggression. It helps you purge these feelings and walk away. It's just music that demands a different involvement from the listener. After seeing this music live, I have the utmost respect for the musicians and what they do. It's not a relaxed, easy music to play. You have to be all about it or you'll fall flat.

Looking back I don't really have much to say about any one individual band, (except that the Grindmother is a new hero of mine), all I have to say about the experience is that it should be on your bucket list. Going to a grindcore/powerviolence show is something that really needs to be experienced to be understood. If you're open enough to give it a chance, it may even surprise you. If grindcore or powerviolence or whatever it's called is too extreme, support your DIY music scene. These scenes foster music in the absence of money, everyone is there because they want to and have a passion for the ideas that are being exchanged. There's something utopian about it all.
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