Blood Brothers

Fans and promoters of hardcore shows examine the genre's distinctive styles

The bathroom sink is bathed in blood, the splatter extending up onto the mirror above it. Near the stalls there's a guy holding his tee shirt to his previously gushing nose.

That's just what you'd expect to see at a Madball show -- tonight I'm at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe to see the legendary New York band, a star of the national hardcore scene -- but not for the reasons you'd expect, necessarily.

Particularly in the Valley, the hardcore scene has not (at least so far) emerged as very bloody -- except by accident. Apparently this bloody nose is no big deal. Another guy tells me the kid was looking the wrong way in the pit and caught a fist accidentally. It's a recreational hazard in the context of hardcore shows -- if you don't want to get hit, stay away from the pit. The next time I'm in the bathroom the sink is wiped clean; the only traces are droplets of blood on the floor and urinals.

Tough love: Testosterone rages at  the Madball show.
Denise Elfenbein
Tough love: Testosterone rages at the Madball show.
Core business: From left, 4HATE0's Derek Burford, Tyler King, "Boston" Eric Matthews, and Mike Stevenson.
Jeff Newton
Core business: From left, 4HATE0's Derek Burford, Tyler King, "Boston" Eric Matthews, and Mike Stevenson.

Outside the bathroom, fists are flying as Madball growls its way through the set. The punches are swinging through empty air, though; in the pit in front of the stage, the security staff (two Tempe police officers are nearby, as well) is watching carefully as the fans of the band flail about, launching roundhouses and spinning kicks.

For hardcore kids, this is what constitutes dancing. And tee shirts with inflammatory messages pass as high fashion.

Among the crowd here to see Madball, there's a grip of kids wearing several different tees. A few sport the message "X24X" on the front in bold collegiate-style lettering, with "THIS IS FAMILY" on the back. Other kids are wearing various designs of shirts that say "FSU" and "Friends Stand United" on them. Those shirts belong to members of "crews" -- loose associations of friends who look out for one another. I'd be asking for an ass-kicking if I showed up sporting 24 or FSU gear. 24 and FSU, which stands for "Friends Stand United," (or "Fuck Shit Up" depending on who you ask) are both crews of friends that stick up for one another, with an "all for one" philosophy. 24 is a "straight-edge" crew, meaning the members don't drink or take drugs. (I know, "crew" sounds a lot like "gang." But unlike gangs, crews don't conduct business like drug sales or engage in turf wars. And the gang squad at the Phoenix Police Department has never heard of 24 or FSU.)

Even more ubiquitous tonight are the black tee shirts that say "4HATE0." And those, anyone can buy -- at a booth next to Madball's merchandise vendors or online at www.4HATE0.com.

The shirts are filled with vitriol -- along with 4HATE0, they have silk-screened messages including "CHIN CHECKERS," a girl shirt that says "BITCHES GIVE STITCHES," and an upcoming design featuring brass knuckles with the caption "DONATE BLOOD." But their creators insist that, in a way, they're all about the love, or at least the pride, for the East Valley. Hence the play on 480.

Despite hardcore punk's profusion of offshoots over the last 20 or so years -- post-hardcore, emo-core, metalcore, mathcore, and the list goes on -- the sort of pummeling, aggro, in-your-face hardcore that originated with bands like Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Minor Threat (whose song "Straight Edge" spawned the anti-alcohol, anti-drug movement of the same name) still thrives all around the country. Now the torchbearers are bands like Hatebreed, Blood for Blood, Death Before Dishonor, and Madball.

Hardcore isn't for pansies, and if you don't know the scene, with its unwritten protocols and rules of engagement, you're best advised to keep a low profile. This is exacerbated by the fact that hardcore is a scene that's conducive to crews who look out for one another and who will fight in packs. In recent years there's been a resurgence in hardcore's popularity locally and around the country, including here. (Rigg Ross, the drummer of Madball, lives in the Valley.) Many of these new fans are teenagers, eager to prove how hard they are to the elders of the scene.

Hardcore's association with violence stems greatly from the hardcore dancing style employed in the pit. It's a montage of flying fists, martial-arts-style kicks, and fight-inspired choreography, and it's obviously conducive to injury, whether accidental or intentional.

But some of the violent reputation is well-earned, for sure. And the presence of crews like 24 and FSU sporting their gear at shows does little to dispel the perception that the Valley's hardcore microcosm is a powder keg. The reputation isn't necessarily undeserved; just last year at the now-defunct Mason Jar, a middle-aged man got a massive beatdown at the hands of some young, hardcore hooligans. You might have heard about it. The guy's eye was popped out of his head. The Phoenix Police Department says it has no record of the incident. True to form, the members of the hardcore scene like to police themselves.

In fact, the Phoenix cops say they have no record of any violence at any hardcore shows in the recent past. Ditto for Tempe. Which says to me that the violence associated with hardcore here in the Valley is hyperbole, maybe even wishful thinking on the part of some tough youngsters. If anything, I've learned, the hardcore scene's reputation for violence has made the fans -- including the crews -- more fastidious about policing their own and dispelling the brutal mythology.

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