For those not familiar with the term “hardcore” as one of many rock and roll styles, it is starting point to know that it started in the eighties as an evolution of the punk rock style. It is different from punk in that the music is faster and some say more aggressive, but the lyrics are less destructive. All such definitions can be argued about for a long time and this is usually done amongst fans of the style. One of the biggest bands playing that kind of music today is a New York band who started in the mid eighties called Sick of it All. They have over the years released ample albums but their main strength lies in their stage performance, which is the most powerful known to any hardcore fan. When attending a SOIA concert expect to get dragged into a pit of fans bumping and cutting into each other and it is not uncommon to find yourself holding someone’s foot or other body parts when people are jumping of the stage to surf on the crowd.
For most people this seems a scary and risky activity but for the initiated such as me it is not only great fun but also the only way to enjoy a band of this genre. Especially when this band is Sick of it All.
When I heard that they were coming here my hardcore heart instantly started jumping to the beat of the last SOIA concert I attended back in 1999 in the parking lot under the national radio station.
I was somewhat disappointed when I heard about the venue though, because although Gaukur á Stöng can serve rock and roll concert well it isn’t sufficient for a hardcore show. The stage is too small, the floor is too narrow and above all, since it has a bar, the majority of the teenage fans are not allowed to enter. Fortunately, since there were two shows it was possible to make one an “all ages” show and although I am well into my twenties I decided to go to the first one and indulge myself in some serious slamming with the kids instead of standing cross-armed in the back row nodding my head to the beat with an intellectual expression on my face.
The badly chosen venue wasn’t the only problem. The warmup bands were the Icelandic acts I Adapt and Botnleðja, two great bands but very different in style and genre and the latter very different from anything that goes on in a regular hardcore show. I Adapt is a refreshing and amicable hardcore band who have had, during the last two years, a strong group of followers who know all the lyrics and like to jump around with the singer who frequently passes the microphone to the crowd while he grinds in the pit. When they had finished their program and Botnleðja came on stage the vibe instantly changed for the worse. The crowd stopped dancing and the atmosphere was suddenly more like you would expect at a public execution. It was embarrassing for everyone present, especially for those who actually enjoy Botnleðja´s music, as I do, but just not in this context. At the very least they should have opened the show. For a split second I thought it was all over and done with but SOIAs stage experience after fifteen years on the road ultimately saved the day.
Personally I liked the show four years ago better since both the crowd and the hall were much bigger, but they managed to create a domestic feel with sing-a-long numbers and chatty conversations between the numbers instead of the regular shout-outs. The majority of the songs were from their most popular album Scratch the Surface which is at the moment the only one available here, so everyone could sing along using the microphone handed to them by the singer.
Sick of it All is one of the BEST live bands in the world and their live performances are always hectic, I have the hardcore bruises to prove it The organisers choice of a band to import was perfect so I hope they will do something like this again soon, and hopefully learn from their mistakes on this one. Hats off to them!
Since you are one of the biggest bands playing this kind of music… do you see yourselves as leaders of some sort?
Well, a lot of people look at us as a band who sets the standards for them when they are starting their own band but I think there are more and more up and comers who start with that and then they set standards for themselves that we could never reach because we aren’t really the greatest musicians in the world. We work within our limits but there are other musicians in the hardcore scene that are way more talented than we are.
Do you think that the scene has changed a lot since you started playing?
It’s more separate now than it used to be. There are now so many different styles going on within the scene like melodic punk or heavy hardcore and then the fans only go see that… they don’t mix between styles… they just find what they are into and follow that. It seems like that a lot of the new generations are very closed-minded and that is really kind of sad to say because the hardcore scene was established on the idea of keeping an open mind to everything and having the freedom of expression. But now it seems like this isolation between styles has put a little bit of a damper on that freedom.
In the early nineties there was a shooting incident that was subsequently blamed on your music… do you think that had any effect on how you evolved into moving away from violence in your music?
I don’t think so, because what this incident did for the band was that all of the big media, like the daily newspapers that otherwise weren’t interested in us at all, started interviewing us on this and we gained more recognition from it and also it helped remove violence label pinned on us at the time.
Yeah but, did your music change in style after this… did you try to be less violent in your expression and were there any sell-out rumours because of that?
The thing is that our lyrics have never been violent at all… although our music is aggressive and somewhat violent in that sense, our message has never been about glorifying violence. The sell-out rumours were mostly because we had gained more recognition and we had started playing bigger clubs and moved to a bigger label. And the fans view of us is a bit related to what we just said about the isolation of styles, they started following our music because the sense of the underground appealed to them but when we got bigger many fans turned their back on us.
Do you think there is any difference between the American and the European hardcore scene?
What i is cool about the European scene is that it sort of brings back the ultra high intensity and the sound of the past. For instance the band Refused from Sweden have had a huge impact on American hardcore. Just by being really innovative and creating the old school dynamic and so many American bands were inspired by that… doing something different when really they were just working with the old sound. So the bands kind of influence each other in that way.
Are you familiar with other Swedish bands like for example Raised Fist or other Scandinavian bands?
Our booking agent also books Raised Fist and he’s always trying to get us to tour with them, we haven’t heard them so I can’t really say but we like Amulet from Norway, they are a really good band and we might be touring with them this fall.