I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s. I was a skater kid and when I wasn’t skateboarding I was playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on my Playstation. That scene introduced me to punk music, which eventually led me to hardcore music. By my early teens I was going to shows nearly every week with my friends.
Aside from exposing me to passionate music that I still love today, the punk and hardcore scenes introduced me to radical politics, new ways of thinking about the fucked up world we live in, and gave me a warm sense of community and belonging. Hardcore helped me through some very rough years back then. This counterculture is still thriving today, and I go to shows regularly in the Bay Area.
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If you aren’t familiar with hardcore, you can watch anything on @hate5six’s YouTube channel. But I’d recommend these recent sets by End It, Terror, Zulu, and Trapped Under Ice to get a good taste of this scene and community. (And if you like it, go to a show!) In hardcore, the stage belongs to everyone (if there is a stage at all). So you’ll see kids running across it to stage dive, and jumping for the mic to sing along. And then there’s the mosh pit, with kids two-stepping and slam dancing, throwing elbows and spin kicks. Only at a hardcore show will you see a person in a wheelchair crowd surf and stage dive, with loving assistance from the crowd and the vocalist of the band. Everyone is so alive. The energy, excitement, and enthusiasm for the music is palpable. It is truly a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of.
Despite the displays of aggression in the pit, an important part of this community’s social contract is that no one gets hurt on purpose. You can dance in the pit as much as you want, as long as you aren’t deliberately trying to hurt people. Whenever people get knocked down or fall, especially in the pit, everyone around picks them up as quickly as possible. If you are standing at the edge of the pit, you might get hit accidentally. If you are up front, you’ll likely have to catch someone jumping off the stage. There’s an implicit consent if you are standing in these “accidents might happen here” zones. If you aren’t up for that, there are safe places you can enjoy the show and opt-out of potential accidents.
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Most of the time, hardcore is a healthy outlet for kids trying to navigate our predatory, oppressive, and excessively violent surveillance state. Hardcore was the best thing that ever happen to me in my youth. Without such a positive influence at a young age, I’m not sure where I’d be now. But unfortunately, like every diverse interest-based subculture, there are bros.
In the tech industry, there are lots of rad, unique folks. But then, there are tech bros. I wish it weren’t true, but there are hardcore bros, too. It’s hard to define a “bro”, it’s often a situation where “you know it when you see it”. But generally, I think a good working definition is a dude who is insecure with his own masculinity, who is oblivious to the lived experience of folks with other identities, and who acts with a reckless disregard for the needs and safety of those around him.
Regrettably, hardcore bros are sometimes too aggressive when dancing and do try to hurt people on purpose. They enter “the accident zone” and then take personal offense to getting nicked by a fist or spin kick from someone minding their own business dancing in the pit. Instead of brushing it off like the benign accident it is (like everyone else), they try to start a fight like a child. Their insecurities prevent them from adhering to the social contract that keeps everyone safe at shows. At a good show, they’ll be confronted and told to stop. Sometimes they’ll be asked to leave or escorted out. At some shows, sadly, the only option is to avoid them. But it’s important to emphasize that these kinds of men — the ones trying to hurt people on purpose — are usually the exception at shows, not the norm. They do not belong here.
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I was at a show a few weeks ago at a small bar/venue in SF and a few bros were acting like assholes. One in particular — literally the biggest guy in the room — was being way too aggressive for how tight the venue space was. He wasn’t just trying to dance, he was trying to hurt people. Unfortunately, his toxic behavior went unchecked. There simply weren’t enough non-toxic large dudes to confront him. Long story short, I left that show with a black eye.
Sure, I was in “the accident zone” at the edge of the pit (where I love to be), but this “accident” was more than the usual small scuff, which I can handle. Most folks, when they are moshing and realize they are approaching the edge of the pit, they back off. But hardcore bros hit harder. They don’t know who they’re hitting and they don’t care, and it all happens so fast. After nearly two decades of going to shows, always close to the pit and sometimes moshing and stage diving, this was the first time I had ever been truly injured. I wanted to confront him after the show, but I knew it wouldn’t lead to anything productive. So I didn’t. But I reminded myself that you get what you put out in this world.
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Flash forward to last night. My black eye is healed. I was at a hardcore show in Oakland. There was great energy in the crowd. Kids were dancing — respectfully — and having fun. The pit was aggressive, but no one was trying to hurt people. They kept it tight and safe for those who wanted to opt-out. There was no toxic bullshit. And then, I saw the guy that gave me a black eye weeks earlier. He, of course, had no idea who I was. I watched him start dancing, again excessively aggressive like before. It was obvious to everyone in the room that this guy was acting like an asshole. He shifted the entire vibe from safety and fun to guarded and concerned.
After a few songs, I suddenly saw this bro leave the pit, urgently walking through the crowd toward the back. His eye was totally busted, blood was pouring down his face. The weakness of his fragile ego manifested in his expression of disbelief. We glanced at each other as he passed me, still having no clue who I was. And I smiled with pure delight as I basked in the sweet taste of retribution. The show continued, and in his absence the positive energy returned like the flick of a light switch. And no one else got hurt, only him.
Karma is a bitch, isn’t it.