If you grew up in Philly, you have a nickname. My distant cousin would sweep the sidewalks around 17th and Mifflin St. daily. As soon as you would pop your head out of one of the row houses, you get hit with a barrage of “A cuz, alright cuz. How you doin cuz? Oh ya cuz? Good cuz.” He came to be known as “Cuz” by neighborhood and to this day, I couldn’t tell you what his real name is. In Philly, your name is who you are. There was Lina Crow Feet, Crazy Anthony, and The Chicken Man who sold live chickens. Ladies had to keep an eye out for “The Rubber” who would rub up against young woman on the bus. And then there was “The Dog,” who exposed himself at any opportunity.
Philly is a hardcore city. Long before hardcore became associated with windmilling and cutting loose at live shows, Philly was hardcore. I even have an uncle, “Richie Crowbar,” who got his name after being cracked in the face with a crowbar by a neighborhood bull. The next day, Richie Crowbar’s friends shot the guy with a bow and arrow. Hardcore mentality and such stories are synonymous with the City of Brotherly Love. It’s in our DNA. It should come as no surprise that the individual who has come to be known as “Joe Hardcore”, is the living embodiment of Philly Hardcore. Fast talking, quick-witted, with a no bullshit attitude and deep scars that are testament to years of living an unhinged lifestyle and having been raised in the mean streets of Kensington with a steady diet of hardcore culture as means of release. From the tumultuous transition from heavy metal and thrash shows in the 80s, to the incoming wave of aggression from bands like Sick of All in the formative hardcore stages, Joe “Hardcore” McKay is the living embodiment of Philly hardcore attitude with a now aging sense of wisdom that finds this 30-year-old hardcore music purveyor at the top of his game. Hardcore has had a tumultuous history throughout the US, and Joe “Hardcore” McKay has lived and breathed it since the early 90s and is now recognized and respected throughout the world-wide hardcore community as one of the leading promoters, who has the ability to break bands out of the neighborhood and into the global spotlight, on top of supplying year-round shows for bands touring from all corners.
From booking Hatebreed social-hall shows for 80 bucks in the 90s to establishing one of the world’s largest and most respected hardcore fest, This Is Hardcore, we catch up with Joe just 72 hours before the 2011 edition of This Is Hardcore featuring a four-day lineup with the likes of Youth of Today, Ringworm, Nails, H20, Title Fight, Bracewar, Bane, Terror, Strife, Victims, and From Ashes Rise, just to name a few. In this interview, Joe touches on his introduction to the music world and brings Blow The Scene readers all the way up through the planning phases of TIH 2011. To trim down some of the magnitude of this in-depth interview, we have a few videos from our interview posted below where Joe goes in-depth on the preparation behind 2011’s This Is Hardcore Fest.
As I arrive at Joe’s house in the Kensington neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia, Joe’s girlfriend Jess greats me at the door with warm, familiar smile and leads me to the backyard where Joe is putting together a new table and chair set for our interview. We discuss his most recent hosting, Old Firm Casuals at The First Unitarian Church, as I begin to fire off a barrage of questions about Joe’s life-long love of hardcore music and conversation that transcends all the way up into the planning for This is Hardcore 2011 and upcoming plans for Joe’s Philly Hardcore Shows promotion group.
My mom booked heavy metal shows. Everything from cover-band metal bands to real thrash bands. I remember she booked Nuclear Assault and Abolish– this Philly metal band. She took me to see Overkill. She snuck me in, she said, ‘Oh we’re going to stop over at the Empire Rock Club.’ It was about a mile from my house. I was literally 7 or 8 years old. She would drive up and say, ‘listen, my son just wants to pop his head in.’ I would pop my head in and see bands head banging go ‘Yo, this is so crazy.’ And she would be like, ‘Ok you have go.’And I’d get dropped back off. I got taken to a lot of big concerts- Ozzy, Metalica, stuff like that. And that became the forefront of what got me into more music. Now when she starting dating more metal head dudes- the metal head dudes got into thrash. I remember she dated this guy Jim who was really into the Ramones, but into Kiss, and the hair metal and regular metal stuff. And he was the one who took us to see Pantera when they came. He would always take us to see Pantera. He also took us to like Wasp. And there was a lot of crossover music that came from him. If my mom wasn’t who my mom was, it would have been a much harder world for me to come across Hardcore. She never booked hardcore shows but she booked metal shows. It was pretty surreal. For the lifestyle my youth had, you know, rock n’ roll, party all-night kind of things going on at the house. Crazy girls running around and house parties. It is what it is. It kinda made me who I am now, so I don’t hate on it.
Joe segues into his initial experience with hardcore music, branching out from the metal scene he had grown accustomed to in Philadelphia and surrounding areas, and into his first attempts at booking bands.
When you went to shows then, it was scary. There were Nazis at a lot of the clubs, there was a big force and there was no collective metal scene, not the way hardcore was. So I go to see a band called Sick of All with Biohazard and Sheer Terror on the South St. We’d go a lot of shows on South Street. I’d go to the Troc and there dudes on stage telling Nazis to ‘go fuck themselves’ and calling them out. Ended up being Toby from H2O, Minus from Marauder, E-zach, just basically maniacs at the time threatening the white power dudes. We were in the crowd young as hell. That was a shock to our system. We were like ‘wow, somebody is stepping up to them.’
A lot of things segued into that. At the time, hardcore shows weren’t 2-300 people. They were a hundred people. So hardcore bands supporting a metal show was more realistic. Agnostic Front did play with Malevolent Creation and Madball did play with them kinds of bands because they needed to. The first time I saw Madball, they were opening up for Downset, and it was Madball, Dog Eat Dog and Hard Response on South St. at JC dobbs. It was a scary show. I knew what it was, but I didn’t understand if was really different. I didn’t understand that punk aspect. Because the bands didn’t look like punk. We’d been to punk shows. So it segued for me from knowing about metal bands and going to metal shows to being more excited. You know metal shows, you show up, unless you want to get in the pit, you want to get aggressive with guys, it didn’t happen to you. I went to JC dobbs I got knocked down just standing there. That was kind of exciting. In a weird masochistic way, it was exciting. Everybody is like ‘Joe Hardcore’ cause I’ve been the same for so many years, but I was a little, young, long-haired kid, who didn’t fit in and didn’t know anything and was like super naive, way too talkative, and barely made it through my twenties. Barely got to my twenties. And hardcore for me, was an instant passion. Fount it, loved it. Tried to make it my own. We started booking shows in our own neighborhood. Union Street Hall was one of the first venues I ever booked at. Some of the weird venues we had in our neighborhood became the first places that Bad 13 destroyed. Some of them people that were at those first shows, still are my friends and branched out into other friendships that I’ve had and maintained throughout the last 20 years. But when I think about it now, when I said I wanted to book my own shows, I didn’t like the idea that no one was coming to shows, I thought I knew enough people that would come to a show. Other people didn’t, because they were focusing on the hardcore scene. I made something different. What is a hard scene? I don’t know. But we were young in the 16, 17 sense.
My first show was in Nov of 1995. Wasn’t great at it, I was 15 years old. But by that time, it took me two years.. I was the first one to give 25 ta Life a really big show. I did a number of smaller shows for bands that would make come-ups later own, like the VODs, E-town Concrete, Bulldoze, a lot of them bands that are really popular and there were tons of bands like that, that I booked. Those bands were getting like 60 dollars. Think about that. I have letters I could show you from Hatebreed and Despair, that were like, ‘Yo, we’re coming together we could use like 85 to a 100 between the two bands. Hardcore was a folk culture, it was pass-me-down, you had to go to the store, you had to look at the record, look at the zines, you just didn’t know. There was a thing called Book-your-own-fucking-life and that helped me b/c a lot of the guys in hardcore would write their addresses down. I fucking bought a book of stamps and wrote everybody, ‘I want to book your band. Will you play?’ I had bands I never even heard of who wanted 200 bucks and bands I wanted to see that wanted 50. I was like ‘Oh, hardcore is crazy. I don’t know what I’m doing.’ But I learned seat of my pants. Sometimes barely not get beaten by bands. Sometimes fights happening and people getting mad. We were very destructive as kids too. I don’t think I was ready for what the responsibility of booking shows, the way it is now. But by the seat of my pants we just made it. We converged onto the downtown scene. Head-butted with a lot of the guys. Robby (Redcheeks) is like a mentor and big brother. But at the same time, what I was doing at his shows is not what I would want young kids doing at my shows now. But I didn’t have that foresight. It’s only in hindsight that I understand how dumb it was. But a lot of the guys Robby is friends with now, he’ll laugh at now and go ‘Yo those guys were suckers.’ At the time, they were the guys calling the shots in Philly. And they were fucking punks. But they were like the guys who came to Philly and I guess moved here from other parts and were like we’re ‘the Philly hardcore scene.’ And we’re like ‘alright bitch, you’re the Philly hardcore scene? We’re from Philly.’ We come from the El and we come down 40-deep and we’d fight with them. Didn’t help hardcore in Philadelphia, but it established who we were. And who we were dissipated because we became me and couple other guys. But the next generation was George from Balcklisted– the guys who became the bands of the 2000s. It was us who did the big fighting. And the younger guys came later on.
Joe expands on the overly-publicized, but often misrepresented aspects of the Philly hardcore scene and violence before the second wave of the 2000s bands.
We were just here for the shows and them guys were like really aggressive with snobby ‘you don’t know this band or this..’ We’d look at them and go, ‘You’re not from Philadelphia.’ You can walk down this neighborhood and see the people that are from Philadelphia and the people that have moved here and it takes 10 seconds to see who is and who isn’t. Hear it in how they say words. And these guys thought they were they were the shit because at the time I was 16, so they were 20. So they had a little more say, had been around a little bit longer and they had a couple more muscles and more tattoos. But I laugh now cause those are the guys that text me and go ‘Can I come to This Is Hardcore this year?’ Karma is funny like that, but it also comes in time. One of my fiends got his jaw wired by Ezach. I had my life threatened by guys so many times, but at the same time is I’m just saying I just had my life threatened because there was enough of us for them to go ‘ugh, do we really want to fight with all them young crazy kids from Kensington?’ It was really like a kinda of forked kind of hardcore scene. You had the West Philly situation, straight edge Robby and his shows which were like the most hardcore, and then you had the Troc shows where everyone would have to come to. When the Electric Factory reopened in 1997ish, the fights that would happen there were legendary. And a whole different class of people came. People who came from the Troc, who were hardcore kids, but you only saw them at the Troc and Electric Factory shows. Then you had the bouncers who came out of nowhere who were sorta hardcore but they were fighting on our side against the Nazis. There were weird sub-social-circles that existed in 1998 that didn’t exist in 95, and don’t exist now, that popped-up and really splintered hardcore. It’s kind of funny, the only thing it really ended were the big Troc shows. I haven’t seen a sold out hardcore show at the Troc in over 10 years, which makes me happy because we sold out the Ballroom with more people than the Troc holds , we really had a force. But it definitely scattered things if that makes any sense. A lot of anger was taken out, Robby had a lot of problems, that a lot of young promoters have, you’re friends with guys, they get in trouble. You have to stick up for your friends but at the same time, it isn’t until you learn a lesson- you don’t realize you’re a public servant to the hardcore scene. Other people ‘Oh, I’m entrepreneur, I’m trying to book shows in the hardcore scene.’ You’re still serving your community. So until you understand that and you have the ‘serve all’ mentality, you’re going to take sides, you’re going to make decisions that may not be best for everybody . But I’ll tell ya, for everytime I was kicked out by Robby Redcheecks at a show, I never fought with him. He was like, ‘Joe, you gotta leave, you punched someone.” I go ‘ok can I get my my bag?’ No one grabbed me, I walked out cause I knew I was wrong. That segues what happened to me then vs now. The most jacked-off part was, we’d be at a show fighting at one place, I’d be flyring at it two weeks later, telling people about my show. Very much a dual mentally toward the scene, I didn’t feel like we fit in, I felt misanthropic. We were the ones who fought, we were the ones who weren’t cool, I didn’t know about all the cool styles of bands. We would go to the shows and pay 5 dollars like everyone else, but I didn’t have long hair when everybody was watching From Ashes Rise or dirty jackets, I was wearing a hoodie and soccer jacket and sweat pants. And I still wear sweat pants and hoodies. So I haven’t changed too much. But I’ve always felt that that in some ways, we’ve always been different, where I came from.
We have about another 40 minutes worth of interview time with Joe Hardcore that we will be saving for a pt II, post-fest-wrap-up, as Joe discusses running the fest after the opening bells, his initial branching out to other states and countries in the 90s, the possibility of hosting other fests, and much more. Stay tuned for the Joe Hardcore Interview Pt II, but be sure to enjoy the videos below as Joe talks about the final preparations, as This Is Hardcore 2011 kicks off tomorrow!
Interview continues in video format! Find out what Joe is doing in the hours leading up to the Fest!
The Joe Hardcore Interview: 72 hours until This Is Hardcore 2011
[youtube width=”560″ height=”349″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIED1YT_peY[/youtube]
The Joe Hardcore Interview pt II: “The New Internet World” & Booking TIH 2011
[youtube width=”560″ height=”349″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS8DpsR6U14[/youtube]
This is Hardcore 2011
Official This Is Hardcore Website
This Is Hardcore Facebook
Philly Hardcore Shows
Interview by Joshua T. Cohen
Blow The Scene Pictures by James Seibert.