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I love hardcore. I love the intensity, directness and simplicity of the music. Although the sound has evolved stylistically over the years, the groups that rule today aren't that far removed from the bands I loved growing up. While so much of the music industry is influenced by trends and focuses on pageantry, hardcore has always been about being yourself and playing music that you love. No fancy hairdos, no hipster clothes and, most important, no one to impress. And because of that, it's been impervious to the pitfalls of the industry. CD sales are down? SFW. These fans buy seven-inches.
Hardcore is on an entirely different plane. It's not about fame. It's about friends. It's not about record deals. It's about integrity. And in Denver, there's no better place to experience hardcore's essence than Sox's Place, a small, nondescript warehouse just a few blocks from Coors Field that by day functions as a drop-in center for homeless kids and by night is ground zero for Denver's hardcore scene. It's not hard to find: Just look for the kids.
I stopped by last Thursday night to catch Fight Like Hell and was greeted at the door by Memphis, who plays drums in Fight and books the place with Crooked Ways vocalist Mark Frandsen. The pair led me into the dimly lit space — which is wall-to-wall, top-to-bottom graffiti — in time to catch the tail end of the Speak in Vowels set, which was riveting. It had been a while since I'd been to a hardcore show, and I'd forgotten how intense they can be. As Speak doled out razor-sharp guitar lines and pounding rhythms, the kids responded with a loose, extremely animated pit. Dancing furiously, they kicked and flailed their arms like it was a capueda exhibition.
After a brief changeover, Fight was up, and the frenzied activity immediately resumed. With the way Fight incited the crowd, with the frontman engaging the crowd like a rabid pitbull tethered to a stake, if you didn't know any better, you'd think that all hell was about to break loose.
While it's invigorating to witness such unbridled enthusiasm on both sides, it's easy to see how such a display might be intimidating to the uninitiated. "I don't think kids get freaked out so much from the dancing as much as they get freaked out from who's dancing," says Memphis. "There's other places in Denver where you can go see a hardcore show and kids will be doing that sort of thing — but there, you're in a safe, suburban church, where there's a bunch of security, so you feel like you don't have anything to worry about. But when you walk into Sox's Place and there's a bunch of big guys swinging their arms around and you don't see any security, and there's a bunch of graffiti on the walls, and you might get harassed by a bum if you go outside — I think that freaks people out a bit.
"It's in a place maybe where you don't feel 100 percent safe all the time," he admits. "But you can ask pretty much anyone who grew up in hardcore: Part of the appeal of growing up in it is that you're not safe all the time."
Even so, there's almost no safer place in the city to see a show than Sox's Place. Memphis, who co-founded Food, Friends and Hardcore with Frandsen, has been putting on shows here for the past three years and says there hasn't been a single fight or incident. And while these days the scene — which revolves around a half-dozen or so bands including Fight Like Hell, Speak in Vowels, Crooked Ways, Killing Kings, the Diehard Remain and Fools Die — is in a bit of a decline compared to past few years when shows drew hundreds of kids, its heart is still beating strong at Sox's place. This is as hardcore as it gets.
For more on Denver's hardcore scene and my conversation with Memphis, go to the Backbeat Online blog.