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Ten Questions for Joe Hardcore About Ten Years of This Is Hardcore

We interviewed the man behind the longest running hardcore festival of all time.

Photo by Sarah Hull

The annual This Is Hardcore Festival is something else. Now in its 10th edition (9th year), it is the longest running hardcore festival of all time. In a genre of music like hardcore where virtually everything is transitory from the bands, the venues, and the personalities, there is something to be said for This Is Hardcore's longevity. It takes a lot to book a fest for just one year. It takes a lot more to expand in scale and scope as time goes on. You have to factor in the booking of the bands, scheduling of the venue, talking the kids into the building, and then keeping those kids happy. In truth, booking a fest is really hard, taxing, and often frustrating. That's why so few book fests and even fewer keep doing it after a while.


At the heart of This Is Hardcore is Joe “Joe Hardcore” McKay. A New Jersey / Philadelphia hardcore legend, McKay has run the annual festival from day one and does everything from booking the bands to acting in the fest's promotional videos to handling security on stage. I interviewed McKay the week of This Is Hardcore X to get his thoughts and reflections on the last ten fests.

Noisey: So here we are, 10 years of This Is Hardcore. A decade is a lifetime in hardcore years, how does it feel to see the fest make it to this point? Does it feel surreal to you to see the fest become the institution that it is today or did you kind of always know it was heading this way?

Joe Hardcore: Technically 9 years. 2006-2015, but ten fests as of 2 days from right now. It is humbling to know the festival has grown in all the best directions due to the support we've been shown each year. It's nice to put your heart and soul into something and for the people to support and get just as excited as we are, is really icing on the cake. I just didn't like Posi Number's direction whereas they started as an elitist too cool for school thing and became the alternative to Hellfest. Lots of snarky dudes in eBay shirts who didn't like Madball but loved No Warning rubbed me wrong. Over time Bob turned it into something cool but it wasn't sustainable. Hellfest was the same way on a much larger scale. The mindset of festival was there, a void had been created and TIHC was born from it.


What was your goal in starting This Is Hardcore? It is clear that the fest is not just about music, it is also about cultivating a culture within the hardcore community. What do you think This Is Hardcore's impact has been on the scene?

JHC: My goal was to bond the lines where many fests were regional, or specific to a sub genre, or had its own niche. The catch all name “ This Is Hardcore” was an idea to showcase it all, and the longer we've been doing this, the wider that net is. In doing TIHC each year, it is to foster a relationship where the scene may have an event that celebrates the fundamentals of hardcore. Many things we do are because we are a very large hardcore show first and foremost. Its hard to gauge the impact, I'd like to say that we've done well for the bands who've come up on the bills and we are constantly looking to make the experience better for everyone so that way no one gets lost on what makes hardcore a life thing and not a 3 year thing. We will see when we are done what we have created and who was touched by it, I rarely have time to smell the roses, so I'll have to come back to really know if what I put my time into made an impact or not.

What was your favorite band to play This Is Hardcore? Why?

JHC: I have lots of favorites. Killing Time is up there. Bane really just puts into 30 minutes what is best in hardcore. The energy, the crowd participation. There are many great performances and many well known bands that have come through. Its really gotten out of control just how many bands have played that its too hard to say one. I'm happy in a year where turnstile is big, that Killing Time and Reach the Sky and Biohazard also have a place.


Everybody has their crazy fest hangout stories, after 10 years, what's your favorite memory/story from This Is Hardcore?

JHC: I don't hang out. I work, fueled by anxiety to the point where I can't eat or sleep and my feet swell. Again, as much is a blur til after, my interaction at the festival is in a service capacity, so its limited to short bursts of social activity and than behind the scenes stuff. 2014 was one of the most quotable years in terms of what bands said backstage, but honestly I don't know how to really have fun during the whole thing so my perspective is skewed. The Merauder drummer story is a blast to tell, the Antifa calling the cops and saying a race riot would happen was fun in 2011. Most of the most interesting and funny stories are more to laugh at how someone misbehaved or poorly handled themselves more so than anything else. I love going to eat before the fest and after. We are going to BYRNE's Tavern in Port Richmond, just like last year and hopefully we will end up at the Oregon Diner for the 4th year in a row this year.

It's always interesting hearing stories about the booking of bands for festivals. Obviously in the realm of hardcore punk, some bands are more difficult than others. What was the most difficult band you booked for This Is Hardcore? I mean this in the sense of you had to jump the most hurdles and overcome the most obstacles to make it happen.


JHC: Snapcase involved bringing Rich Hall in to the equation. He is a mentor, a friend and a legend in promoting and it was his friendship with the band that nailed it. Getting GWAR felt great, working out AN with Matt after years of thinking it would never happen was awesome and so brief considering all that was in the way. Judge was a benchmark for us. I love confirming the headliners the most because they really make that year what it will be, but its the work on the bands like Suicide File, Reach the Sky, Crown of Thornz (who were incredible in 2012) and a few other bands that are less active but really make the fest stand out in a sea of other festivals.

What's your white whale? Every promoter has one. That band that everyone says “it will never happen” while the promoter tries to get them to play. What's the band that you have at the top of your board every year in the planning for This Is Hardcore? You've accomplished a few dream bookings since the first TIHC so the band has likely changed.

JHC: It's changed. I'd be lying if I'd say I'm not disappointed we still haven't worked with Hatebreed. I would love to have Ignite be a part of the fest at least once. Bands that would make me jump up for joy would be to work in Jedi Mind Tricks, Disfear, Napalm Death, SSD (with Al Barile or nothing), Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Cock Sparrer, Uniform Choice, The Nerve Agents. I've always got names rolling in my head, but at this point- getting the band who hasn't played in X years isn't in my current playbook. I've got other things in mind for how to properly bill TIHC and keep it unique and interesting and what we want from a festival with 10 fests under its belt.


If there's bit of advice that 2015 Joe could give 2006 Joe about booking This Is Hardcore, what would it be?

JHC: Hire help, relax more. Take deep breaths, the internet isn't everything and remember to have fun.

Do you have any rituals or superstitions during TIHC? Things you make sure you do or not do?

JHC: I have specific colors I use on my excel sheets to coordinate the days. I've never deviated from those and getting a 4th color took more than a second to make it look “right”. I always have a pack of shirts and clean socks. I usually get sick after the fest. I used to hang up the fresh laminate on the wall with the rest of them from the years before.

What do you think is the single biggest accomplishment of TIHC?

JHC: To have lasted as long as it has is an accomplishment. To work with a venue that was stigmatized as a not punk friendly venue, and come to find out its the easiest, most punk working relationship I've had on my own without Sean and R5. To hold a festival with 5,000 attendees across 4 days each summer in Philadelphia, while working in concrete all year, is to me a personally satisfying thing, I'd never want to rely or make this my living. This is my penance for years being young and dumb, this is my homage to hardcore and what it gave my life. To come this far and have new people and old people both excited really in itself the most rewarding accomplishment I can think of.

You seem to always have a plan in mind. Where do you see TIHC going? What are your future goals and ambitions with the fest?

JHC: Same shit, different year. Work on making the promotional end of it smoother, lots of behind the scenes playbook stuff I can't divulge. Work on adding more elements to the afterparties, retain the fun aspect of the weekend without over doing it and overwhelming it. Keeping door prices affordable, instituted a number of financial elements in the business dealings of the fest to ensure the sustainability of the fest in the wake of what could potentially be more and more fests on the horizon. Sounds boring but it's a lot more logistically practical than to fundraise an outside pool and the insurance or get Manowar to play outside. Sometimes the best ideas happen in the wake of one fest and in the working stages of the next, so my head isn't clear of where to take what is next til this one is out of my head.

Follow the fest on Twitter and buy your ticket here for This Is Hardcore X.