20 Watts

Live Free, Diehard: In tough economic times, Syracuse’s hardcore fanatics keep this scene kicking at any cost (Pt. 1)

Summer 2008. Ian Macneil is out with his band Election Day on a two-week East Coast tour with Rochester’s Like Wolves. Powered by their trusty van, dubbed “James K. Polk,” Election Day are on their way down to Florida for what is supposed to be a worry-free trip.

But just as they pull up to a scheduled house show in Orlando, Mr. Polk’s exhaust expels its final belch. Mike, the guitar player for Election Day, begins to lose it – he had passed up a higher-paying job at summer camp to do this tour. In the morning, the group finds out that it will cost more to fix the van than they had originally paid for it. Mike calls his bosses at the summer camp, accepts a job there, scraps the van and flies to New Jersey to work. Macneil and Election Day rent a car and finish the tour minus a guitar player.

In many ways, Macneil could be the poster boy for the Syracuse hardcore scene. The city has always been famous for its hardcore culture, but in the past decade that culture has become difficult to maintain. Hardcore music, a mutation of punk rock, usually goes hand-in-hand with “do-it-yourself ” culture, an aesthetic that shelves major labels and large venues in favor of self-released albums and ragtag tours. As such, DIY rarely turns a profit – and in a recession, that can prove fatal. Or it can give diehards a new reason to keep pushing.

Macneil belongs to the second group.

“We had all gotten sick and everyone just wanted to go home, but no one really wanted to go home,” Macneil says of the Election Day tour. “We just didn’t want to be in those conditions anymore.”

Macneil, now the drummer for local southern rock/hardcore outfit Merrimac, has seen it all in his years on the scene: he’s played with two bands, booked his own tours and released an EP with micro-label Barrett Records.

He says most hardcore bands start out booking house shows, even illegal ones without the necessary entertainment permits. Those shows can draw a crowd because they won’t charge the $15 or $20 demanded by other acts. But at the same time, he says, most of the lesser-known groups don’t even turn a profit. As a result, the scene has become competitive.

Just putting on a 30-minute set could take up to 40 hours of work, Macneil says. Between rehearsals, loading equipment and balancing separate work and performance schedules, hardcore is like a full-time job without the full-time pay.

John Weldon knows this reality all too well. As the bassist for local hardcore group John Wayne’s Severed Head, Weldon says the band tries to do everything themselves. It’s part of hardcore’s heritage and is critical to the band’s integrity.

“We’re keeping big business and other peoples’ interests out of it. It’s our own community, done by us, for us,” Weldon says. “Everyone’s doing the work themselves and putting out something they’re proud of.”


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