The heart of hardcore
Sacramento’s hardcore-music scene is tight-knit, yet divided. So how can the genre move forward?
Muffled drum noise and aggressive guitars emanate from the lower quarters of an aged house on the outskirts of Midtown. Inside its basement, the rafters are low, obscuring any view of the band performing in a corner to a group of 20-somethings, mostly males. A warm blanket of sweaty musk envelops the shoulder-to-shoulder packed crowd, while an abundance of limbs thrash about, resembling dozens of windmills forming a mass of organized chaos.
The concrete walls of this dingy basement are one of few legit, albeit illegal, venues for Sacramento’s waning hardcore-music scene. And for those who call this fiercely loyal community “home,” the smells, the confined basements and the occasional blow to the face while dancing are all embraced out of love for hardcore music.
The hardcore community may be tight-knit, but the factions within the Sacramento scene are at odds when it comes to why it’s become stagnant and what it will take to bring hardcore music out of the basements and into the hands of a newer generation.
For instance, don’t get Mike Hood started on the work ethic of the younger generation.
“If the people of Sacramento gave a fuck, they would realize they have one of the best hardcore scenes in the world,” says Hood, born Mike Mraz, regarding the current decline. “But since nobody around here seems to give a shit anymore, hardcore’s becoming almost a fog.”
Sacramento’s hardcore music flourished in the mid- to late ’90s, with bands like Hoods, Red Tape and Will Haven—and before them, groups such as Inner Strength, who formed and disbanded in the early ’90s—claiming the scene.
If hardcore music was personified, it would take on the more intimidating qualities of Henry Rollins, but with a community-based ethos at its core, a real softy on the inside. And the sound of hardcore music itself is simple: pounding bass lines and distorted yet driving guitars conjoin with the frenetic, blasting drum beats. But hardcore music just wouldn’t be hardcore without the occasional slower-paced, heavy-on-the-toms breakdowns—because hardcore kids enjoy a good breakdown.
If you ask Red Tape guitarist Jesse Mitchell if hardcore has evolved for the better since the mid-’90s, he’ll answer—but he won’t sugarcoat it. “A lot of kids are leaning toward the emo side of hardcore. Where they’re hardcore for a minute, and [then] they sing about love and birds and shit. Then they go back to hardcore; then they throw in some Dance Dance Revolution breakdown techno shit,” Mitchell explains.
According to Mitchell, the Sacramento hardcore scene has always been a small community. He remembers how Westcoast Worldwide, a former hardcore venue owned and operated by Hood, once offered a safe haven for local youth. The venue was located on 16th and S streets and also doubled as a common ground where both generations, new and old, could interact. Mitchell says that Westcoast Worldwide was the epicenter for Sacramento hardcore, bringing in bands from all over the world.
But the venue eventually closed its doors in 2006, followed by another prime location for hardcore shows, the Orangevale VFW Hall, which also shut down a few years later. The lack of venues catering to the local hardcore community soon crippled the growing scene.
“[Westcoast Worldwide] was basically promoting positive vibes and fun shows. And these shows were all-ages; kids of any age could go there and have fun,” Mitchell says. “I wish there was a place like that again, because that was a good place where kids could go and learn where hardcore is and where it was and where it’s going.
“There’s nowhere for kids to go to see older bands in a cool environment like that.”
A few bands, Killing the Dream and current hardcore icons Trash Talk, who started playing shows locally in 2005 before leaving town, still found success despite the decline. Both bands went on to sign with prominent hardcore record labels, later playing to crowds around the country and the world.
“I don’t know if you can find it anywhere else,” says Elijah Horner, Killing the Dream’s vocalist, about the community hardcore creates. “I think it’s super important that [the scene] stays alive. I feel like it’s definitely evolved; it just goes in cycles, and hopefully it’ll come back again soon. It’s a community, it really is, and hopefully that’s something that never goes away.”
High-pitched guitar feedback slowly amplifies from an ominously lit stage surrounded by the boisterous tempo of drums, creating a noisy symphony of sounds. A few curious patio dwellers trickle into the Fire Escape Bar and Grill, welcomed just in time by the bellowing roar of Boundaries’ singer Trevor Baxter’s screams, his knuckles white from his death grip around the microphone. Rocking back and forth, guitarist Andy Garcia lays down the foundation.
Behind the attitudes and aggressive facade of the small Sacramento hardcore scene lies an environment rich with community. There’s heart. There’s as much respect for each other as there is for the music. In spite of a scene that many call dead, Sacramento hardcore still has a pulse.
The slumping scene hasn’t discouraged newer bands like Sacramento natives Boundaries from playing any hardcore show they can, injecting the suffering scene with a refreshing mix of talented musicians from former bands such as Five Victims Four Graves and U.S. Roughnecks.
“Hardcore right now has kind of fallen off the map in Sacramento,” says Boundaries’ Baxter. “It falls off every couple of years, but it comes back. It always does. It’s the only music I love doing. It’ll be my favorite music until the day I die.”
As for Hoods, the music, the community and the lifestyle hardcore offers has been Mike Hood’s home for three decades.
“Hoods will never stop. We’re the Willie Nelson of hardcore. That’s fucking straight-up fucking real talk,” Hood says, candidly, of his band’s history and future.
“I love music, man. This shit makes me feel alive. It’s like it’s therapy. … The music, the people—I’ve had friends that I’ve met and known for 25-plus years, and it’s something you can’t explain in words. It’s a feeling. It’s very important. I’m never going to stop Hoods. I’m going to do it until I die.”