Olympia Hardcore Festival 2015

Mac Pogue

My time at Round 2 of Olympia Hardcore Festival almost ended before it started. My companion and I arrived at Olympia’s Obsidian about two bands into the night to see a large “Sold Out” sign at the ID check. Dejected, we cruised around the building and found a group of kids huddled in front of a cracked window, watching Slouch tear through “N/A/G – Not A Girl”. Not until we ran into a certain tall Vancouverite did we learn that we could easily disregard the ‘sold out’ sign.

Turning people away isn’t really Jeff Caffey’s thing. On the second day of the festival I sat with Caffey as he took money for the day show with Cryogenics, Lysol, U.S. Disorder and Combat Knife. As a stream of kids passed through the doorways, he took whatever amount of money kids had to pay, and when one attendee handed him a handful of bills, he shook his head, saying “you came from very far,” and X-ed their hand free of charge.

“I had worked on a collective a few years ago on a fest called New Direction Fest and that was really fun, but the collective disbanded,” Jeff recalls. “I had promised some friends from Mexico that I would bring them out, so I used that as an excuse to book a show, and then try and get as many of my friends to come out as I could, and make a little thing out of it.” Contrary to the rest of the crowd hanging out in the hallway and small back room at the 2pm show at Le Voyeur, Jeff has a subdued voice, but punctuates most sentences with a quick, giddy laugh. “It worked out great the first year, so I decided I would try and do it again,” he says.

Olympia hardcore fest poster

Organized less like a traditional festival—it was really just a couple of great shows all happening next to each other, one after another—Round 2 of the Olympia Hardcore Festival showcased some of the true greats of recent Northwest hardcore. Highlights of the regional sets included G.L.O.S.S., GAG, Mysterious Skin, Slouch, Nudes and Vexx, but the festival also drew artists from across the globe, including L.A.’s Condition, Midwest Bad Brains worshippers Big Zit and Mexico City youth crew heavyweights Cadenaxo.

Between K Records and riot grrrl, Olympia has (for better or worse) a reputation as a countercultural music town, but only until the last five years or so has it become a noted hub for hardcore. As he hands out change for the day show, Caffey recalls a laundry list of bands that signaled the birth of modern-day Olympia hardcore. “This band called the Crazies started, which were people that ended up become my friends … One of my friends was already in it. He was the one that showed me their demo, and I started getting more into hardcore.” Since then, bands like White Wards, Hysterics, and Caffey’s In Debt have broadened the vocabulary, taking the quintessentially Olympian approach of absorbing decades of culture then infusing it with an art-school sensibility and a distrust of the mainstream music industry.

As GAG’s circular riffs eat themselves, folks leap off the tables, windowsills, counters, just about any perch they could clabber onto, turning the pizzeria into a shaken-up snow globe with punks in place of snowflakes.

What the Olympia Hardcore Festival looks like, in person, is complete mayhem. The first night of shows concluded at the Old School Pizzeria, a small shop off of 4th Street in downtown Olympia that couldn’t seat more than 30 people. Show-goers stood on tables, counters, stools, and even the awning over the doorway at one point, to see GAG, Glue, Cadenaxo and Glitter. Cadenaxo’s set sufficiently tore through the crowd, brandishing a polished batch of Boston hardcore-influenced ragers.

Arty weirdos GAG took to the center of the pizza shop accompanied by the sound of Enya blasting over the house speakers. The band functions as both a garish parody of hardcore and loving tribute to the genre’s most base, brutish instincts. Singer Adam Barnes squats and flops around, screaming into a cranked bucket-brigade delay. His vocals are unintelligible, a wash of consonants and grunts, distilling hardcore into the most basic building blocks of the voice, the power chord and the beat. As GAG’s circular riffs eat themselves, folks leap off the tables, windowsills, counters, just about any perch they could clabber onto, turning the pizzeria into a shaken-up snow globe with punks in place of snowflakes.

Other highlights that I managed to catch included the raging fastcore of Mysterious Skin, a horrific mix of guttural vocals and 2000s Bay Area thrashcore, and the purist D-beat of Condition. The festival’s secret guest turned out to be a short reunion of Ooze, the fast-burning shooting star of a band from the Chicago/Northwest Indiana scene. Aided by G.L.O.S.S.’s Julaya Antolin, the four played in matching Ooze shirts to an ecstatic, cheering crowd, and ripped through a handful of songs from the handful of cassettes and singles to their name.

The high water mark for the festival was set early, by the relatively young five-piece known as G.L.O.S.S. Before launching into their set at the Obsidian, G.L.O.S.S.’s leader Sadie Switchblade paces from one side of the stage to the other, reminiscing on the long bouts of boredom and stress that accompanies festivals. Sadie’s pacing seems born both of nervous tic and a conscious decision to claim all of the stage. I spot several femme punks climbing through the same window I watched Slouch through as Sadie calls for white, straight, cis-men to leave the pit. The crowd obliges, and folks begin to stream past me in both directions, swirling and bobbing while Sadie carefully speaks the opening words to their demo tape: “They told us we were girls.” Anyone who has heard the tape (if you haven’t, start now) knows this is the moment.

When we talk mid-weekend, Jeff Caffey reminds me that “the reason I book the people in the bands I do book is that they have sound politics and that they’re good people.” Olympia stands leagues apart from, say, the Terror show I witnessed in Portland a few years back, but the physical violence involved in the space still sends people to the margins.

Over the course of the fest, a few bands comprised of older-appearing men spoke from the same ingrained standpoint of classically white, cis-male hardcore: that this is a space to ‘do anything,’ to ‘be free.’ But G.L.O.S.S.’s set served to cut down that notion: hardcore isn’t a place of freedom, and undoing the work of oppression requires stepping back and allowing other people to take up your space sometimes. Watching the crowd and the bands progress throughout the weekend, one could see the changing directions of hardcore in this town, and hopefully, the changing directions of hardcore in general.

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