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Within These Walls Festival Celebrates Hardcore

That last Bon Iver record was all right, you know?

I mean, it's not going to blow the mind of anyone familiar with their mom's record collection, as it simply recycles the best stuff from Phil Collins and Bruce Hornsby records and kind of makes it sound Radiohead-y. But there are some fine songs; it's a good thing to put on when you've got friends over for cookies and microbrews. It's a good record to sit around listening to.

Point is — people like Bon Iver (some fan-fic writers really like Bon Iver), but they don't live Bon Iver. Bon Iver isn't a creed. Bon Iver isn't an ethos. Sure, indie rock's rooted in DIY gumption and damn-the-man sincerity, and that kind of indie rock still exists, but it's not what you think of when you hear the term, is it? You think Urban Outfitters. Upwardly mobile 20-somethings. Tote bags. "Hipster," if you can still stomach saying the word while wondering whether it's worn out its use entirely. But you can still find the "our band could be your life" mentality in other forms of music — namely, the sweaty, black-T-shirted underbelly of American hardcore.

Within These Walls, the second annual two-day festival at Nile Theater in Mesa, organized by the resident promoters there, Mantooth Group, is a monument to this lifestyle. The weekend finds 31 hardcore bands hitting the stages at the venue, with a lineup that speaks to the enduring nature of the sound, including lifers like Youth of Today, H20, Sick of It All, Indecision, and more.

"There's a lot of hardcore festivals that go on throughout the year, and Arizona kids always travel to them," Michelle Donovan of Mantooth/Nile says. "We figured we could do something where they have their own fest. It's kind of like a big thank-you card for the kids that support the rest of our shows during the year. It's a celebration of what we do."

The "World Famous Nile Theater" has been a strong force in Valley hardcore since the Mantooth Group, led by Erin Peters, Donovan, and a host of others, took the reins in 2010, re-opening the venue after it has been shut down in 2002 due to entanglements with Mesa PD stemming from a triple shooting in 2001 that left one person dead. The building itself has served many purposes: originally a silent movie theater opened in the 1920s, it's also housed a ministry and Christian bookstore.

The venue is a "dry" one, and though the lack of booze might make certain upcoming shows scheduled there seem strange (a beer garden is being promised at the upcoming Monday, October 15, performance by doom metal pioneers St. Vitus), it mostly works for the all-ages venue, which often features straight-edge bands.

Donovan says the festival is a labor of love, but with a genre like hardcore, whose fans live and die by label allegiances and aren't afraid to voice strong opinions, the task sometimes takes on a darker tone.

"It's kind of a weird dynamic," Donovan says. "We're just trying to do something positive and give back."

Mantooth Group addressed some of the strife on Friday, September 14, with a Facebook status update: "So, there are a lot of people who are upset because they think we suck as company or we do not book the bands they like or even maybe the bands on their label. That is fine. You are entitled to your opinions. However, at the end of the day, when grown men and women are running their mouths on the Internet trying to discount the hard work of a few, it gets pretty tired . . . There are certain things that are out of our control: vans breaking down, tours falling apart, family emergencies, internal band communication errors . . .  things happen. However, issues where we put our foot down because we do not agree with bands talking shit on each other or being disrespectful to each other or the kids at the shows . . . We will go to bat every time for what we think is right."

The status update also included contact information, because when it comes down to it, the promoters do want the input of the kids that go to their shows. Hardcore is, after all, a community sound.

"We're the kids that used to go to Nile [before it closed down]," she says, noting that without the Nile in place, hardcore and punk shows still thrived in Phoenix. "We were still doing shows at Modified, the Bash on Ash, The Phix downtown. I don't feel like there was a void because we always found a room to do the shows in. But [having a home base like the Nile] makes it a lot easier and a lot more welcoming to have a home base for those types of shows. We don't want to be labeled as a hardcore/punk rock venue, because we do a little bit of everything and other promoters rent out from us, but it does build a stronger sense of community when you have a home base for those types of shows."

Though the term hardcore is typically malleable, as far as genre tags go (it's hard to put the thrashing punk of Drop Dead in the same box as locals Kyds vs Columbus (reuniting for a string of dates in 2012, including Within These Walls), the bands playing the festival are united more by a shared work ethic than dedication to any particular sound.

"It's definitely the common thread," Donovan says. "It ties everyone together. We have a little bit of everything [on display]. Hardcore changes and the definition is so broad anymore. There's new sub-genres of it, and everybody has a place within it, but it's all the same kids listening to variations of the music. We'll have Sick of It All [which formed in New York City in 1986] on there, which is one of the bands that paved the way for a lot of hardcore bands, and you have bands like Vinnie Caruana of I Am the Avalanche and The Movielife, who's someone who grew up listening to Sick of It All. It's lighter, it's poppier, but everybody [shares the] mentality and eagerness to see those shows."

There's a decidedly non-trendy bent to the festival's lineup. Though bands like Fucked Up and Ceremony have broken to more indie-centric audiences (thanks to a prominent label, Matador, which has roots in the DIY/hardcore scene), hardcore remains an underground force.

"We could do a metalcore festival and have 800 kids show up without us having to break a sweat, because that's what's popular, but there's also a huge community who loves this music, and even though it's harder to sell the tickets, there should still be something for them to go to. Parkway Drive and Dance Gavin Dance come through three times a year, and there's a place for those kids, there's great shows, but you don't really see, at least here in Arizona, a place where Sick of It All is headlining."

With fans as vocal with their opinions as the bands they triumph, it gets to be a lot to handle. "There's definitely times where you're like, 'What the heck is going on?' This kid's calling us names because we won't put Touche Amore on, but they're playing the Marquee [next month]. It doesn't make any sense."

But it's genuine care that fuels the constant commentary, passionate interest in preserving and fighting for a thriving community, and that beats sitting around wondering if the last track on that Bon Iver record is supposed to be ironic, right?