A Wave of Relief: DIY Hardcore Returns as Sunami Pummels San Jose
If youâre gonna go out on the first weekend after Californiaâs COVID restrictions are lifted, you might as well go hard. That was my idea, anyway, when I drove two hours to San Jose on Saturday. My destination: REAL BAY SHIT, a DIY show with seven bands, in the city thatâs quickly become the epicenter of the countryâs hardcore scene.
Picture your typical industrial park: faceless concrete buildings, loading bays, on the outskirts of town. Then picture a long line of people waiting to pay their $5, and, around a corner in a roped-off, hidden parking lot, upwards up 1,500 people. Some of them are already crowdsurfing before even one band has played a note. The location was announced at 3pm, just two hours prior, and people have been so eager to get together again that the place is already full.
Thereâs an electricity in the air, along with the occasional hurled beer can, drum head, giant stuffed animal, discarded bra, and human body soaring across the sky. And thatâs only during the opening bands. During Xiobalbaâs set, I scan the crowd: maybe 60% white, with a mix of Latino, Asian and Black fansâa reflection of the South Bay, basically. I see a couple of typical mohawked drunk punks almost get into an all-out brawl with some dudes in matching â10 Years of Smashing Nazisâ T-shirts and then, two minutes later, I see them working it out and hugging in the pit.
SUNAMI | 6.19.21 pic.twitter.com/KMWnrNposD
— Gabe Becerra (@GabeThePigeon) June 20, 2021
Iâm here for Sunami, San Joseâs most talked-about hardcore band at the moment, who specialize in a heavy, in-your-face assault. This is their second-ever show; the only other show theyâve played was in October of 2019, pre-COVID. In the past year and a half, two things happened: that show attained legendary status due to widely-watched footage of the crowd going off while the band debuted in a living room, and also, everyone who watched it sat at home for a year, waiting for the chance to finally allow the bottled-up powder keg of shelter-in-place to explode in every direction.
So… yeah. Thatâs basically what happens when Sunami starts playing.
Where I am, at the front of the stage, itâs just a churn of bodiesâflailing, falling, swarming. Entire sections of the crowd crash down hard on the asphalt, resurfacing with bloodied knees and palms. One guy has a bloody eye. During one song, four different stagedivers land right on my head. There are screams and sweat and gnashing of teeth all around me. There are men and women alike just straight-up kicking and throwing swings at anybody within striking distance, over and over; I wind up getting punched a couple times in the head.
And you know what? It is beautiful.
Itâs what I realize I missed most in the pandemic: not just being in a pit specifically, but being in close quarters with other humans, with their movements impacting yours, and doing so in such a random and hectic way as to feel illicit or dangerous. Think crowded BART cars, or sideshows, or packed wave pools. After a year of quarantine, I wanted chaos and tension with other people. I wanted the extreme opposite of social distancing.
And, as I realized at some point, I didnât want any more manufactured âexperiences,â or festivals put on by huge promoters. This show was $5, it was completely DIY, probably illegal on a number of different levels, powered by a generator, BYOB, with cheap tacos being sold, no Live Nation, no Goldenvoice, by the scene, for the scene. The stacked lineupâDrain, Gulch, Sunami, Xiobalba, Skeletal Remains, Maya Over Eyes, and Scowlâcould have easily sold out the Warfield. It wouldnât have been nearly the same.
Plus it was just fun. Being cooped up inside has made everyone I know take themselves too seriously. Give me more of the inane, the over-the-top, the unexplainable, the alive. Give me more of Vantana Row, the band that, as I went to my car for more ibuprofen (I am 45), pulled up in a van, opened the side doors, and played one song before insulting the crowd and driving off, all in under a minute.
Itâs not for everybody. But to me, thereâs a church-like process to the best hardcore shows that Iâve missed: the processional of the pit, the unwritten rules of lifting each other up, the moments of rising and singing along to hymns, the sin of beating the hell out of everyone around you and the redemption of hugging it out. People of all races and backgrounds and pronouns in a communal testimony.
And, especially after a year in quarantine, itâs the concentrated version of society itself, that thing weâre all going to have to re-enter: messy, unexpected, joyful and scary, and completely unmediated.
Sunami plays again with Connoisseur, Lead Dream, Extinguish, and Fentanyl at the Punk Rock Flea Market on Sunday, June 27, at LVL UP in San Jose. Bring aspirin. Details here.
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