At this weekend's third annual Fed Up Fest, a Chicago queercore punk music festival, you could find Natalie Krueger of Minneapolis's Naïve Sense screaming with a voice as guttural as Linda Blair in The Exorcist. You could find Kyle Casey Chu, lead singer of San Francisco's Sissyfit, vogueing as his three-piece chanted lyrics like, "I wanna cut off all your white dreads," from its cultural appropriation anthem "White Dread." You could find heads of hair dyed in the full Crayola spectrum, and queers milling about in New York Dolls-meets-Rocky Horror outfits, flowing floral-print sundresses and the scene's requisite silver-studded jean jackets, smothered in patches.
Queercore is a branch of hardcore punk and a cultural and political movement centered on gay and transgender issues, and as Fed Up's 24 acts tried their best to blow audience eardrums, the gathering served as a potent reminder that queercore's not dead. As these kind of events proliferate across North America and around the world, they're providing new spaces for queer punk bands to revitalize a once-vital countercultural movement.
Those festivals include the third annual Slut Island DIY music festival in Montreal, a two-week-long, 40-band-strong roster of acts from across Canada and America that took place this July. In June, Milwaukee's fourth annual Filth Fest featured three days of queer workshops, art shows, and concerts. Last September, New York's Freak Out Fest brought together 20 queer, trans, and gender-fluid bands. Brooklyn TransCore, a trans and queer art and music collective, produced a stage at this June's Punk Island music festival in New York. And websites like HomoGround, a self-described "network of queer music and media creators," prove that the genre remains vibrant in the digital age, showcasing videos, podcasts, and events from across the North American queercore diaspora. "It's like a queer version of MTV," Homoground founder Lynn Casper told blog Bedford and Bowery in a post about Freak Out Fest and the New York queercore scene.
Queercore's roots stretch back to the foundations of punk itself. As recounted in an oral history of the genre by Adam Rathe for OUT magazine, queers, both closeted and out, were inextricable to the rise of formative punk in the late 1970s. While closeted at the time, Bob Mould and of Hüsker Dü and Darby Crash of the Germs would eventually lend queer visibility to two influential punk bands (though their bands were not queercore and didn't deal in gay themes.) Out musicians like Gary Floyd of the Dicks, however, were already making waves.
They created music that denounced homophobia and served to dismantle the conservative values of the Reagan 80s. Throughout the decade, zines carved out the earliest queercore network. The year 1985 saw the first issue of Bruce LaBruce and G. B. Jones's influential queer zine J. D.s, which inspired the creation of further zines, festivals, and collectives in punk enclaves from London to New York to San Francisco, the latter of which would go on to become the scene's mecca in the 90s.
By 1989, the genre had what may be considered a manifesto: an article released in punk zine MaximumRocknRoll titled "Don't Be Gay." Penned by LaBruce and Jones, the article served as "a scathing critique of both punk and gay communities," according to Kevin Dunn's DIY punk history Global Punk, and sought to dismantle punk's "ubiquitous homophobia" while "[attacking] the gay 'movement' for its implicit misogyny."
It's a platform not far from the heart of Fed Up Collective today, which organized this weekend's festival: "We are fed up with violence against our bodies and communities," the collective, which did not wish to single out a single member to speak for its group, emailed VICE by way of explaining its origins. "We are fed up with mass media capitalizing on our rage... [Our collective] is also a rejection of the mainstream LGBT movement's assimilationism and respectability politics."
Queer punk bands went on to achieve some level of mainstream success; in 1994, Pansy Division toured with Green Day and appeared on Howard Stern, lending new visibility to what had been until then an underground genre. But the aughts brought about the fall of a slew of queer record labels at the center of the genre, from the 2004 fall of Mr. Lady to Agitprop!, silent since 2007. That said, with the rise of social media and websites like Bandcamp, the "music label" of choice for nearly every Fed Up band, queercore's labels and zines have perhaps met their digital and spiritual successors.
At gatherings like Fed Up, queercore bands have the chance to meet outside the confines of the internet, explaining why such festivals are multiplying in the face of a decaying traditional music industry. Bands like the UK's Jesus and His Judgemental Father, which stopped at Fed Up as part of its US tour, show that even the international queercore community saw representation at this Chicago festival. And Oklahoma City's Crutch, who play 30-second hardcore jams in the vein of Minor Threat, revealed the ongoing need for the genre in the first place with its new song "Pulse," about this June's Orlando nightclub massacre. "It's a cathartic thing for me," frontman Garrett Fisbeck told VICE. "I've always been a really angry person, so having this outlet is something I need to not go crazy."
With the rise of mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, it's easier than ever for queers to become politically complacent. Marriage equality can't change the fact that much of the gay community remains as marginalized as ever—those who fall outside the mainstream, whether non-binary, QPOC, differently abled, or otherwise. Festivals like Fed Up and the surviving queercore movement provide spaces and meeting grounds for all kinds of queers to gather and fight for their own agency, making the genre, in many ways, more vital than ever.
"There are all of these archetypes that gay culture tells me to fit into," Sissyfit frontman Kyle Casey Chu told VICE. "Go to the gym five times a week, go to these clubs, basically be an alcoholic, be catty and fucking mean to everyone. And that's just something that I never subscribed to. That shit's ugly. That can never encapsulate the way I am or what I'm all about."