Texas Hardcore Fest, Day 2
January 9, 2016
Houston was in kind of a sour mood on Saturday night. Part of that was probably the humiliating NFL Wildcard defeat over at NRG Stadium. Another part of it was likely due to our distinct shortage of suitable winter clothing. But for whatever reason, there were a lot of frowns out on the streets after dark. It was grim.
I find it’s best not to let grumbles and bitching fester. Especially not at this time of year, when the days grow so short. So, I decided to head down Main Street in the opposite direction from the Texans’ latest debacle and check out the Texas Hardcore Fest downtown — maybe take some shitty iPhone pics, too. Saturday’s lineup included a few scene regulars that I hadn’t heard before, and besides, you know what they say: Nothing drives away the blues like a punishing dancefloor beatdown.
The fest was already in full swing by the time I arrived. It was at Walters, of course — still the only stage that really matters in the Houston hardcore scene. Day 1 had raged all night on Friday, capped off by pummeling locals Lesser Degree and Dallas’ Choke Chain. Day 2 featured another collection of young scene-makers from around the state, and fans showed up fresh and ready to throw down anew. Starve, a heavy, upbeat group that’d made the six-hour drive in from Abilene to play the fest, was onstage when I walked in. As they bashed out frenetic, thrashy tunes like “Iron Hotel” from their new Desperate Measures EP, the crowd clustered around in a big circle, ceding plenty of floor space to the maniacs busting out spinning dropkicks in the middle of the room.
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As I looked around for a group of girls to hide behind, I quickly realized that no place was safe from the slam-dancers. Spurred on by Starve’s staccato crunch, young guys and gals crisscrossed the club with impassioned purpose, whirling and stomping and crashing happily into anyone they could find. These kids could’ve given a fuck about the Texans’ wins and losses this season. They had their very own contact sport, and on Saturday, there were no concussion protocols in place.
Folks moshed merrily for a few minutes, and then Starve’s set was over. In fact, none of the evening’s proceedings would be dragged out for long. Songs were short, sets were tight and everybody hustled on and off the stage. Kids who wanted to squeeze in a cigarette before the pit started up again had to be quick — not that anybody wanted to spend much time outside. The black hoodies weren’t just for show at this one — it was brick outside, for real. Not even the lure of the Boombox Taco truck parked outside the venue could draw much of a crowd out in the cold.
Houston’s Rothschild made sure Walters' interior stayed sweaty and loud up next. Their music seemed to be composed almost entirely of breakdowns, and when they broke down the breakdowns, oh dear Lord but the fists did fly. As the band’s singer screamed his guts out, more bad karate broke out in the pit than one might see in a dozen straight-to-video Segal flicks. Rothschild was rocking hard onstage, but the fiends on the floor were putting on a performance of their own. Sometimes the action was hilarious; sometimes it was worrisome. But everyone was polite enough to clap at the end of each furious song.
Rio Grande Valley five-piece Reinforce seemed mighty pleased by the crowd’s enthusiastic participation during their set — “Well worth the five-hour drive,” the band’s vocalist told us. They brought a rougher, doomier sound to the festival, featuring some nifty guitar lines that had young scenesters skanking in droves before whipping them into a wild circle pit. The more chilled-out portion of the crowd did its best to remain unscathed during protest polemics like “Streets of Pharr 1971,” but avoiding the pinwheeling bodies was an active challenge.
The pitting reached its crescendo, naturally, during the last band of the night: Houston’s Mind Kill. There was a heavy groove baked into the group’s tight, metallic brand of ‘core, lending a fun bounce to the distorted crunch of tunes like “Onslaught.” It was the upbeat rush of “Society Scam,” the title track from their 2015 EP, that really set the crowd off, though. A wicked circle pit erupted that sucked in guys and girls who’d been holding a little something in reserve for the headliners. Fans hopped onstage to dance and sing, then tried to take out anyone they could on their way down. It was smiles all around.
These were no crusty scene veterans, covered in tattoos and clinging to bygone salad days. Many of the scene kids in attendance looked a year or two away from buying their first beer, still 100 percent ready to prove just how hardcore they could be. There seems to be a real youth movement underway in Houston’s hardcore scene, and while that probably wasn’t the greatest news for the club’s bartenders on Saturday night, it certainly bodes well for the future of the club as yet another generation explores the electric promise of heavy, chugging punk. And judging from the out-of-town bands on display, the rest of the state seems to be doing just dandy, too.
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Personal Bias: For some of us, I guess, Walter’s will always be on Washington.
The Crowd: Ready to slam.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Excuse me, is it true that if you’re in a band, you get free water?”
Random Notebook Dump: Hoyer who?