The hardcore scene inspires a lot of devotion out of its fans, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone as dedicated to it than Joe McKay. Better known in many circles as "Joe Hardcore," the Philadelphian spends a huge part of his time away from his career as a union cement mason booking shows, with This Is Hardcore being the main focus. But how did Joe get into hardcore in the first place? "My mother was a young single mother and wasn't even 30 when I began transitioning from the hair metal she listened into thrash music," the promoter tells me. "She never steered me away from the streets and allowed me to hang with older 'headbanger/D & D' cousins of mine, which later turned me into a world of different music.
"My first hardcore show was Sick of It All, Biohazard, and Sheer Terror at the TLA in early '94. In that year, I was exposed to a lot of hardcore bands and began scouring record stores and shows, finding out about underground music. It's weird to realize now, that I was always 2-5 years younger than the people around me. From Steve "BUSHY," to GutPunch Records Bob, to Diego/Slave/Chris X, Carmen (RIP), and later the Tri-State Crew Skinheads—Bad Luck 13- Jamie Davis/Jay Goldberg/Dennis.. I always had alot of older friends looking out and putting me onto new things, etc."
The 13th installment of This Is Hardcore is going down July 27—29 at the Electric Factory in Philadephia. One King Down, Ten Yard Fight, and E-Town Concrete are all reuniting for the annual gathering this time out. I ask Joe if booking the behemoth of a festival gets an easier with time. "There is a form with a specific format, so there is an element of fill in the blanks from last year to our process. There is always adjustments and reasons to change up from what we did in previous years, so we ensure we can continue to do what we think we do for everyone who comes and plays the fest. It's hard to always feel like I am making the right decisions with some of the booking decisions. I'm lucky that I brought Rich Hall on board over the last few years. As a friend/mentor and promoter I looked up to, his insight and ability to support or contradict ideas has been critical for the continuation of the fest. My own protege, Bob Wilson (who does FYA Fest), has really grown into a powerhouse of a promoter and his own insight and input is received and used to counter ideas or influence the direction of the lineup.
"As a whole, I envy the smaller fests, there are finite numbers to deal with, and a true limit on what they can do. It allows them to always have something for next year, whereas as we collectively deliver what we feel is the finest lineup in the united states, we are left every year, trying to match or top what has already been done."
With so many bands playing, I know it must be a headache to work out all of the logistics to This Is Hardcore, so I was curious to find how far in advance Joe begins to book the festival. "At this point in the fest, the ball is always rolling. Typically, once we announce and are in the promotion phase, I'm getting into conversations about the following year. When ideas for bands hit, or when we are turned down, we often get told or asked about 'can we do it next year?' This allows us more flexibility in what I was talking about above, but again, as TIHC is something I to some degree touch on every single day of my life, it doesn't make it easier for us. It just allows us to pencil in things that don't work in the current year, for the following year."
If you know anything about how music festivals work, you're probably already familiar with the whole guarantee thing. People always want certain bands to perform at these things, but often, their fee is too high. "Most of who you haven't seen on our lineups has been a direct result of the asking price being too high. The main thing I deal with in the last few years is telling bands we are working with that there is in fact a ceiling. There is a point where a solid drawing band just becomes overpriced. In the beginning, I believe it was good to grow and expand and challenge ourselves and risk it.
"As we've grown, we've found through stress, error, and a lot of worrying, that there needs to be a working budget that allows more room for error. I came to this conclusion in my own show bookings and watched as it began to apply to the fest itself. There is a disappointment from me in not being able to get the bands on the bill for the kids to see them, and likewise at times to give the band the kind of set that is unique to TIHC. I can't stress how much as a fan it is a bum out, but again, it forces us to grow, and the silver lining is we've done alot of stuff that is way out of the box, because some of the most obvious ideas are way beyond our budget."
Of the newer bands playing this year, who is Joe especially excited about seeing? "Relative to the point of the fest, we always have about 25 plus bands that have never played it before. That goes for both older and newer groups. Out of the newer bands to the fest, and in general, I'm excited for the return of Trail of Lies, Jesus Piece, and Year of the Knife.
We've got some bands that are dropping new records within a few weeks of the fest, or during it, and it's satisifying to be able to showcase Regulate, King Nine, etc.
"To be honest, as much as there is hoopla in the reunions and the older names, the heart of the fest is in the younger bands. It's a main reason why I did the first fest, and its why we still do it."
Does Joe foresee a day when he'll hand the reigns over to someone else and just become a supporter of This Is Hardcore from afar? "That is by far the single hardest thing for me to answer without saying yes. But with next year coming, 1/3 of my life has been working on TIHC. At times I wish to find someone to pass it off to. Other times, I just assume Bob Wilson will grow into the rest of the role and take the lead. I can only say that I am not sure what life would be like for me, not thinking about the fest. It went from a positive effort to drive some of the demons out of my life, into a life's work of sorts. I don't feel as if I'm too old or out of touch to not continue to deliver, but with everyone getting younger and the parlance of the times having a demeaning tone towards older people in hardcore... I don't know if I will have a choice. I may hold on too long or we may just fade out of popularity.
"To go back to your question, yes, I think about it. It is at times a thought to drive my life in another way, but I worry that so much of me is in the fest, that if I wasn't a part of it, I would probably also take myself completely out of the equation and let whomever it fell into do their thing with no involvement or interference. I think thats the part I fear, the what comes after."
Somehow, I get the feeling Joe isn't going to be letting go of This Is Hardcore anytime soon.
Tickets for this year's installment of This Is Hardcore are available now!
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