Velocity Louisville Hardcore Article 2005
Hardcore music burned out but never really faded away. Now a whole new legion of Louisville punks are louder and angrier than ever. By Joshua Hammann
Photos by Matt Stone
The crowd of about 300 has milled about for a few hours — talking in small groups on the bleachers under proudly colored Operation Iraqi Freedom banners, scanning the spines of hundreds of CDs for sale — while 10 or so bands (mostly) stomp and fumble through jittery half-hour sets.
There is a comfortable, congenial blend of tattooed hardcore soldiers, stone-faced veterans of the never-ending, never-funded punk rock touring circuit, mixing with giggling schools of MTV-bred, Hot Topic-garbed punks du jour who look like refugees from Ashlee Simpson's backing band.
Most are here to see Breather Resist, a pummeling, punishing band that buries driving grooves under countless layers of guitars screaming bloody murder. Although the promoter of the show put them on the bill without their knowledge, they kindly obliged to play. Others are here because it's Saturday night in Elizabethtown, and, well, the mall's already closed.
When the house lights finally go down around 10:30, about 100 kids press the band hard into the rear wall of the gym. There is no stage and not even a line of demarcation between band and fan. The music flips to life in a tight charge, and Breather Resist's singer Steve Sindoni is quickly engulfed by the crowd, often disappearing into the churning swell of screaming youth.
This is not passive music to be enjoyed with hands in pockets and head bobbing rhythmically. This is wholly interactive.
Breather Resist, along with Lords, Coliseum, Black Cross and a handful of other diligent punk bands, is reclaiming a part of Louisville's storied hardcore past. It is a renaissance to those whose eyes have just now been opened to this heavy, often politically and socially charged, rock music. But to the guitar-slinging practitioners of this sonic thunder, there can be no revival, because, to them, it never went away.
"I hate terms like 'revival,'" says Ryan Patterson, guitarist for Black Cross and guitarist/singer for Coliseum. "It's different now than it was for me a couple years ago, but it's never a revival because, for us, we've always been doing it. For the first time in 10 years, there are a handful of bands that are all working hard and doing stuff instead of just one flagship band."
Louisville's last unarguably great hardcore band hasn't played a note in more than a decade. Since that final Endpoint show at the Brewery's Thunderdome (now Have A Nice Day Café) on Dec. 30, 1994, there has been such a seismic shift in local music that even the mention of the band's legacy is as likely to be met with casual dismissal as earnest nostalgia.
From the spiraling dance rhythms of VHS or Beta to the Southern sweetness of My Morning Jacket, the bands that carry Louisville today are so far removed from Endpoint, Kinghorse, Erchint, Enkindel, Sunspring, Malignant Growth, Sancred and other former greats that geography may be the only tie that binds.
In a story previewing Endpoint's farewell show, the Courier-Journal predicted a "gaping hole" in the hardcore scene. Two years later, the hole got even bigger when Endpoint guitarist Duncan Barlow's post-punk side project, Guilt, released its final album, and Falling Forward, a melodic and driving outfit featuring Chris Higdon's angelic vocals, shed much of its hardcore skin and changed its name to Elliott. Even Kinghorse, the metal band with a popularity rivaling — and in certain circles, eclipsing — Endpoint's, couldn't stay together after a brief reunion in 1996.
"If you liked that band, great; I am truly grateful for your support," says Sean Garrison, Kinghorse's enigmatic frontman. "But really, let's let it die."
Barlow and Endpoint singer Rob Pennington — who now sings for Black Cross — resurfaced about a year after Endpoint's last show in By The Grace of God, a faster, more aggressive throwback to the earliest hardcore bands that first influenced them. But Endpoint's absence remained palpable.
Slowly, Louisville transformed itself into an Ohio Valley outpost of dance, noise and post-punk apathy. The kids who crowded into Tewligan's and the Machine (now a beer-and-fried-food joint and a laser-tag venue, respectively) were in their early 20s and much more interested in martinis and dancing than 7-inches and circle pits. There were fewer clubs, fewer bands and fewer kids interested in seeing them.
The lack of venues remains, which is why basketball gyms in E'town and offbeat joints like the Keswick Democratic Club, a Louisville social club with all the charm of a high school cafeteria, have become hardcore safe houses.
"I think the people that come out are involved and really care," Patterson says. "It's different to me than it was then because it doesn't seem trendy. There's no glory, and there's nothing cool about it."
Patterson is one of the last holdouts from the mid- to late '90s hardcore surge. He and his brother, Evan, who plays guitar in Breather Resist and Black Cross, have become de facto scene organizers, putting together shows, booking tours, and with their new label, Auxiliary Records, putting out music.
"We're just putting out stuff that we believe in without all the s--- that trips you up like profit and advertising," Ryan Patterson says. "Initial (Records) got to the point where we couldn't scale back."
Initial Records fostered and fed Louisville punk rock in the '90s, putting out records by Enkindel, Falling Forward and other local bands. Andy Rich, who started the label more than a decade ago, abruptly pulled the plug late last year with no public announcement or explanation.
Two weeks after the Elizabethtown show, many of the same kids are gathered at the Keswick, a non-descript building at the corner of Logan and Mary streets in the working class Shelby Park neighborhood. Headlining the bill are Coliseum and Lords, a furious hardcore trio set to release its full-length debut, "Swords," on Auxiliary Records in April. Before the Lords' blistering 30-minute set, singer Chris Owens says that if, indeed, hardcore is making a comeback, it won't be permanent
"There is a resurgence in popularity in Louisville in this sort of thing," says Owens, sitting in the van that would become the band's home for the next few weeks. "But it's a constant ebb and flow."
Sometimes, just getting people to agree on what precisely is happening here can be difficult. (There are even some who refuse to accept that this thing called "hardcore" even made it out of the '80s. "Hardcore music was over in 1986," snorted Shawn Severs, who runs the local record label Louisville Lip.)
Is this a resurgence of hardcore, or something entirely new? What exactly is "hardcore?" That is the inherent difficulty in getting a fix on a music scene. What is and what isn't hardcore (or punk, or indie, for that matter) is not easily definable and is subject to the individual perspectives of, ironically, people who are loath to define and categorize music.
The teenagers battling Sindoni for the mic in Elizabethtown would shrug off Fugazi's "13 Songs" as hardcore, while the Patterson brothers were weaned on the legendary D.C. band. Louisville music history is a fractured timeline dictated by the men and women who played the songs and is greatly influenced and skewed by their desire to be remembered a certain way.
"I feel like 'hardcore' is such a weird term now, because what people know to be hardcore is almost like a metallic thing now," Evan Patterson says. "(We) went to shows and saw Endpoint, and if you went then, then you know it as something else, you know it as D.C. hardcore and all that other stuff. But the average person in my generation doesn't think that's hardcore."
What unifies these bands beyond the parameters of songwriting and sledgehammer riffs is the do-it-yourself ethic that punctuates hardcore music, be it the natural progression of D.C. punk or just new metal for a new generation. Lords, Breather Resist and Coliseum, as did Endpoint, Kinghorse and Sunspring before them, survive and prosper by booking their own tours, managing their own financial affairs and very often, releasing records on labels they started. Every show played and record released is a testament to the belief that you don't need anyone else to pull this off.
"I just need to be able to keep a roof over my head and have food to eat," Owens says of his career goals.
Breather Resist, which Spin magazine labeled one of metal's "Next Big Things" in its February issue, scored a coup last year by signing to Jade Tree Records, a respected indie label out of Delaware, and is now touring Europe. But there's no room in the van for starry-eyed fantasies.
"We book our own tours; we put out our own records," Ryan Patterson says. "We're not waiting for something to happen, and that's something I don't think people understand. We never sat around and waited. We just went on f---ing tour."
What are you doing now?
I own a small design studio in Buffalo. We do design work that deals with music or the youth market like skateboarding and stuff.
Explain the reasoning behind the transformation of the Enkindels into The Enkindels.
The generic reason would be that we kicked out one of our founding members. We were a little band that made zero money and made zero impact on anything. But we worked so hard to get any little recognition we had, that I didn’t want to give it up. I started that project when I was 15 and at that point I was 21 or 22 and my musical opinions had changed a lot and we just reached a crossroad, but we didn’t want to fully give away what we worked so hard for. But we wanted to give the idea that we had grown up a little and we were taking things a little bit more seriously.
Why did the Enkindels break up?
In my opinion the band went on for a number of successful years considering where independent music was at that time and where that genre was at that time. We were just a little early. Now there are a lot of bands in the same playing field that we were in and they are being marketed. We were before the punk explosion exploded. Sometimes not pacing yourself and trying to take the world by storm is a bad strategy. Being in a rock band is just like being a boxer. If you come out in the first round and just start swinging you can win a couple fights, but in the later rounds you’re not going to have enough to knock a guy out. When we got to the point where we had those opportunities, we were just mentally exhausted. All the bad tours had taken a financial and mental drain. We were simply too tired to reach out and grab it.
Are you doing music now?
I’m not some sort of great musician but what I feel I am great at is making a connection. A lot of people loved me and I’m sure even more people hated me, but everyone knew who I was. I think I did a good job entertaining everyone. I still participate in music. I have a new band called Brickey and the Brawlers. Its not me life blood and I don’t fight for it. I’ll never fight for another band for like I fought for that (Enkindel) band. My dreams and ambitions died with that band.
What was special about the Louisville music scene
Louisville is a really really great city and there’s just something about the way its set up and its very inspiring for creative people. Louisville is a beautiful island floating by itself. Things in Louisville have a chance to mature and blossom before the rest of the world gets to see it. Little bands here have to be really good at their first show or they have to fight off that they suck for a year. In Louisville, you’re by yourself, there’s no friction and things get a chance to be really good before they get taken out of that environment. VHS or Beta had a chance to mature and develop without the rest of the world peering down on them. If those guys started that band in L.A. or New York, they would have been pressured to move it faster and if they had to, it might not have worked. We were so cut off from the rest of the world. But it also makes it so hard to get big being from Louisville, because of where it is.
How was playing with By The Grace of God again?
Strange. It was nice helping out with the fundraiser and it was fun seeing old friends again. However, it has come to my attention that I am too old to move around so much on stage.
What was special about the Louisville music scene?
There was a strange sense of community; I say strange because Louisville bands have always made volatile bedmates.
Will Endpoint every play again?
The magic eight ball says, "doubtful."
Is touring with a punk rock band as fun as I think it is?
Yes and no. It depends on the band, the support bands with which you tour, and how old you are. I would argue that the older I got, the more I enjoyed touring because there was less fighting amongst the members. Out of all the tours I did I only disliked two; on those two tours I would wager that I tended to problematize the situation because I was struggling with depression problems.
What are you doing now?
"I’m the technical director at the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall at Northwestern University. I oversee the events from a technical standpoint. They cater to the school of music."
What kind of memories do you have of Erchint?
We had a great time, especially in the early and mid 90s. In my eyes, that’s when the punk scene was at its biggest. As time went on, attendance at the shows just seemed to diminish. Basically, I had a great a time. We were together from about 88 to about 96 or 97. Damon, the bass player, left in 94. Damon left because he was moving and toward the end, a lot of us were just getting tired of keeping it going. It got frustrating. After time we just kind of got tired and broke up. Chico and I went on to do the Don Q Trio for a little while. To me, having grown up in that timeframe, back when Kinghorse was around and there was Tewligan’s and places like that, there just used to be a ton of places to play and a lot of them just closed down.
Do you miss it?
I don’t necessarily miss being in a band because it’s a lot of work. Being much older now, I’ve got a job that I need to maintain. I’ve gotten used to playing and recording my own stuff, but there are parts of me that would like to have that again. A lot of times I write a song on guitar and go and piece it together. Record it at home. It’s nothing that I’m submitting anywhere.
When’s the last time you heard an Erchint song and what did you think?
Sometimes I pop it in, just to reminiscence and to remember. Very occasionally. I was diagnosed with M.S. three years ago and it completely changed my life. That’s why I moved to Chicago, to take more of a desk job. I was moving large equipment that I really can’t do anymore, unfortunately. It woke me up to a lot of things.
Who is in Best Actress, and what kind of music do you play?
Best Actress is myself and Maya Weissbach. It is a studio project at the moment. I write and play the music, and Maya does all the singing. It’s all pretty upbeat with lots of heavy percussion. Most of the melodies are led by piano and the bass and drums work very much together. Maya has a really great voice that lends itself to a variety of different styles, which is good because our music and voice interaction varies from song to song. We have been recording for several months, taking things pretty slowly. We have six songs finished and are planning on putting out a full-length album sometime this year. We haven’t yet let many people hear any of our material yet, and we haven’t talked to any labels yet, but I anticipate all of that happening within the next few months.
Do you feel the property at 1047 Bardstown Road best served the community as Tewligan’s or Cahoots?
That depends on what you want out of your community, or at least what you want to do with your time. Over the years I have probably equally patronized all of the several establishments that have occupied the space since I started going there. In the days when the space hosted live music, there was definitely a higher noise level, which I know did not hold the venue in such good favor with many of the neighbors. As Cahoots, the crowds come at a variety of times of day instead of all at once and are, if not more mature, then definitely older. The younger crowds Tewligan’s attracted, I think, perhaps had less respect for the neighbors and premises. I remember there being problems with spray painting, litter and vandalism back then. On the other hand, you can’t beat the location, and it was a great place to see many wonderful bands over the years. Communities change, the community’s needs change, and property usage certainly changes. I would find it hard to argue one way or the other over which purpose best served the community.
What was special about the Louisville music scene?
In the early and mid-1990’s, I think there was a bigger excitement about the new music that was being made. There were certainly more bands and a larger local audience, which I think led to a greater success rate for memorable experiences among everyone involved. I think you could apply the business ideal that more competition and greater resources result in a higher quality product. In this case the product was not only the music, but also the sense community that resulted from groups of people sharing their musical experiences and enthusiasm, and seeing it evolve together as each new band, record, song, or movement surfaced. I also think part of what made the bands and shows so special for so many people was the knowing that it was all the product of a little place called Louisville. It was something that everyone involved - artists, audiences, promoters, labels - could feel good about, because it was something we had all built together in Kentucky, where no one would have imagined such a thing was likely or possible. I should also say that I feel like economics play a big role in what is possible. Music and entertainment are the first things that get eliminated when people are short on money. Likewise, when people have more money and discretionary income to spend, they have a greater ability to take the time to go see shows, be in a band, put out a record, publish their own magazine, or buy a shirt of their favorite band. If you have to work two jobs just to pay your bills, you’re not going to feel like adding band practices to your schedule and making your economic situation even worse by investing in equipment or buying CDs. Louisville has always had an advantage by having an unusually affordable cost of living, and I think that also helped the creative community in the Nineties. But everyone in America is feeling the crunch now and we’re finding out firsthand why bands in places like Poland and Russia haven’t been very good; because they couldn’t afford to be.
How have Louisville bands, shows and those involved with local music changed since that time?
Well, on this, I can really only speak from my own experiences. I feel, for the most part, that no one in Louisville is really trying to do anything new. It is so easy to be in a band and write a song. The hard part is abandoning the influence of your favorite bands and doing something that hasn’t been done before. That is, writing songs that are actually your own. Everyone has their own individual personality and those personalities can translate into songs, if the individual allows them to. It seems to me that the bands in Louisville now, and bands in America in general, just aren’t trying hard enough to find their own identity.
Among all your music, design and publishing accomplishments, of what are you most proud?
Musically, I really like the "Strawberries" and "Encapsulated" records by Metroschifter. K Composite Magazine, which is returning to print this year, is also one of my favorite creations.
What do you do now?
I work for a living. Didn’t you read what Peter Searcy said? Ex-punk rockers work on houses. I crawl under foundations, get filthy and hit things with a hammer. I also still work part time at Twice Told Books, as I have since 1987. I am in a band called the Five Finger Discount, and we play out about once every 16 months. Our new CD is coming out in March.
You’re are scheduled to play All Tomorrow’s Parties with The Five Finger Discount, will you be playing the kind of music you released on "Saved by The Great Yellow Bird"?'
If you mean will I be playing acoustic music while suicidal and drunk- no. If you are asking if I will be playing songs that I wrote - some of which appear on The Yellow Bird CD - then the answer is "yes." By "the kind of music" I can’t help but assume that you are alluding to the fact that I made a huge stylistic change about 10 years ago. This is not exactly true, since I have been writing my own solo material for about 13 years. I never intended to play metal-type music; it just worked out that way because the friends who indulged me by letting me ‘sing’ with them were writing what they liked to write. Britt Walford and Mark Abromavage wrote the tunes and I wrote some words - the music was always out of my hands. I liked playing it, but if you check out my earliest interviews, you will see that I never was a fan of the type of stuff that I am associated with (except that I did listen to Black Sabbath a lot in 88). However, my first few shows were pretty punk-sounding music, and that was what I was into at the time (1983 and 84). I have been lucky to have always had good friends that were naturally gifted and generous.
If your parents played Hank Williams and Wagner at top volume all hours of the day and night, how did you end up in a band such as Kinghorse?
It seems obvious to me. They liked all types of music, and therefore I ended up liking all types of music. I always wanted to create hybrid styles and do whatever I could to avoid easy identification. Of course, this was disastrous to my music ‘career,’ because clear identification is what the people want. As I said before, for the first the first nine or ten years of my musical life I have written lyrics to music that somebody else created, so the sound and feel of most of it was not my responsibility and I can take no credit for it. I liked having the opportunity to vent, and I was just lucky that it sounded great because I have always worked with awesome musicians. Hank Williams, The Jackie Gleason Orchestra, Bach, Queen, Devo- I was exposed to all types of stuff by my family, as well as 1970’s radio, which I was hopelessly addicted to as a tyke. I suppose that some of it was good and some of it was bad, but back before I was poisoned by cool-guy elitism I didn’t know there was such a thing as bad music - I either liked a song or I didn’t. I am so sick of hearing smart people make fun of stuff I could just puke. In fact, I think I will. That feels better.
Do you miss Kinghorse or do you wish people would just shut up about it?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t miss being in that band. I miss the guys, of course, but I was just not cut out for the metal-guy life. I hated touring, and I despised most of the bands and people that we met on the road. I wanted to go in a different direction, and you can see that if you have heard some of the (still) unreleased Kinghorse stuff from even way, way back. I was just not into writing song after song about being violently psycho-depressed to that metallic soundtrack, and some of the guys in the band were really not into where I was going with the lyrics. If I could have had my way, we would have changed dramatically, and my song "The King of the Shallows" - which will be on the new CD - is probably what we would have ended up sounding like. Would our audience have accepted that? Who knows? Who cares? They are all grown up now, since that was YEARS and YEARS ago. Yes, I want people to shut up about it. If you liked that band -great. I am truly grateful for your support, but really let’s let it die."
What was special about the Louisville music scene?
I have always believed that in a town where there is nothing much to do, that the people will be forced to entertain themselves. The city really didn’t have much to offer people like me, and it still doesn’t. Those directly before and after my generation are the only people I know about, because I haven’t gone to rock shows with any regularity in about seven years. I hope that is still producing some special, unique and completely uncompromising creative young people, but I certainly haven’t met many lately. That doesn’t mean that they are not out there- they are. I’m old- if I don’t like what the kids are doing it must mean that they are doing the right thing, right? Let’s hope so. The traditional Middle Finger approach to the universe that Louisville music has traditionally had, does it survive? I am sure of it. I am glad to have the support of anybody who is willing to come and see us play- that’s the bottom line for me. I am typing with my middle fingers as I write this.