Devoted Syracuse hardcore fans usher in a new era

Devoted Syracuse hardcore fans usher in a new era

A younger wave of hardcore rock fans look to prioritize inclusivity for the historic music scene’s latest chapter.

Fans huddled together and shouting at a Deal With God set in Silver Street Community Center in eastern Syracuse.
Deal With God is just one band of many leaving its imprint in a new era for the hardcore rock culture after a period of inactivity.

When Dylan Wainwright left his hometown of Rochester in 2017, he saw the chance for a fresh beginning in Syracuse. 

After watching shows and playing with bands including Edge Control in Rochester, Wainwright found his place in Syracuse’s hardcore music scene. He created his own band — Deal With God — got the opportunity to play in other bands like All 4 All, met his now-fiance at a show headlined by ACxDC and eventually started booking his own shows.

Since his arrival, he’s also been making an active effort to help create a shift from how the scene looked when he first arrived seven years ago.

“Back in the day, there were so many fights, hazing and whatnot,” the Deal With God vocalist said. “When a kid came into the scene they had to earn their stripes.” 

“We’re trying to undo a lot of that mentality.”

The Salt City hardcore scene has now seen a resurgence thanks to a younger wave of fans taking up the mantle and continuing the legacy of the subgenre in Syracuse. As a result, more bands are being created, more shows are being put on and more people are being welcomed.

Glimpse into Syracuse’s Hardcore History

The Syracuse hardcore scene has produced multiple notable bands including Earth Crisis, Black Sheep Squadron and The Promise

Earth Crisis in particular helped to create a surge in the popularity of hardcore. The band sparked a straight edge — no alcohol, no drugs — movement, as well as a vegan movement locally. 

Earth Crisis has toured every state in the continental United States as well as other countries like the United Kingdom. Along with a wave of veganism and straight edge, the band’s impact includes inspiring the creation of other bands and vegan eateries, including a Strong Hearts Cafe milkshake named after them.

Earth Crisis’ success also introduced what some saw as a militant, outspoken wave of hardcore.

Sarah Miller has been attending shows since 1998 and has been recording them on video for about two years. In shows of the past, along with uniform clothing — primarily black — she said she noticed that the kind of people who went to shows were just as uniform.

“If you weren’t straight edge, a lot of the time you weren’t invited,” Miller, who was straight edge for eight years herself, said. “[And] there’s no one that’s going to disagree with me if I say the hardcore scene in Syracuse (during the late 90s and early 2000s) was primarily white male.” 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Syracuse’s status as a hardcore powerhouse brought multiple household names to Central New York, including Killswitch Engage, Misfits, Lamb of God and dozens more for Hellfest, a hardcore music festival, as well as locally conceived bands like Earth Crisis and The Promise.

Rising from the Dark Ages

The 2010s marked a period of inactivity and a lack of new local music in the hardcore scene in Syracuse. Show promoter and musician Sam “Spatty” Patterson called this period the “dark ages” for local hardcore.

Patterson — who currently plays for All 4 All — said that after his first band, Stalemate, played their last show at The Badlands in 2014, the DIY venue shut down. Concerts from this point on weren’t as productive, as people went to shows with the intention of hurting people.

“It sucks because some of my favorite hardcore music came out at that time but it just wasn’t coming to Syracuse because there was nowhere for them to play, ” Patterson said.

During this time, promoters were also unable to host their annual New Year’s Day Matinee from 2014 to 2020.

Patterson said that things for the local scene started looking up in 2017 when, at 17 years old, promoter and musician Lukas Reed started booking shows with more bands.

Reed, who plays with Street Hassle and All 4 All, went to his first show — headlined by Trail of Lies, Violent Side and Hunted Down — at Silver Street Community Center in December of 2012. He said that while some of the musicians who played at the show barely remember it, that night changed everything for him.

Lukas Reed wearing a white baseball cap, white t-shirt and green pants screaming into his microphone near a member of the audience.
Hardcore show promoter and musician Lukas Reed playing with his band Street Hassle at DIY skate park The Spot.

“One song into Hunted Down’s set and I already knew that this was the realest, most tangible thing I had ever experienced in my life up to that point,” Reed said.

Reed got his start booking local shows at The Town Shop in Camillus. He said the people working at the venue always encouraged the kids in whatever they wanted to do, and as he went to more shows, he and his friends knew they wanted to put on shows themselves.

This youthful energy created what Patterson called a “combustion” that made it so Syracuse could have a positive scene moving forward.

“They just weren’t scared to do anything,” Patterson said. “They didn’t have any preconceived notions of what hardcore is or should be.”

Reed said this wave of more shows and more music started out of necessity for keeping things active in the scene, as during 2018 Edge Control and Trail of Lies were the only active local bands. He recalls one time when he ended up collaborating on three demos in one night at Wainwright’s house.

In 2019, Reed booked his first hardcore show in Syracuse at Spark Art Gallery called Spark’s Last Stand. Even though the venue closed soon afterward, many community members say that show represented an official shift to the younger wave of hardcore and it encouraged Reed to continue booking shows.

Right as the ball got rolling for Syracuse hardcore, the pandemic hit, putting a halt to the momentum the scene was seeing. 

Although it created a forceful pause, members of the community say the COVID-19 pandemic played a big part in the resurgence of hardcore in Syracuse. 

Ian MacNeil, a hardcore show frequenter since 2000, said the pandemic encouraged a friend of his to hit him up with the idea to start Hard to Know. Even with the members pushing 40 and having played in bands previously, they collectively decided that life’s too short to not try something new.

“It’s almost like maybe COVID was a good thing for hardcore, it certainly lit a fire under our asses to not take hardcore and our DIY ethics for granted,” MacNeil said.

Wainwright, who created Deal With God during COVID, said the pandemic also allowed young people to find themselves in a time where they were restricted from finding and expressing themselves outside. 

“You can only be inside playing video games and just waiting for so long,” Wainwright said. “When you’re forced to abstain from any socialization in your life in a time where you want to be about, of course you’re going to want to roll around in the mud the moment you see the sunlight.”

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X-Threat vocalist Apollo Volac singing at a March show in Silver Street Community Center.
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X-Threat guitarist Ronan playing in March at a Silver Street Community Center show.

New, accessible wave

With Gen Z leading the path for the new wave of Syracuse hardcore, more bands have been rising up and more people are able to enjoy hardcore without being met by a wall of unwritten rules.

Singer Apollo Volac started X-Threat as a passion project with their partner. Their inspiration for the name of the band came from the prominence straight edge has in Syracuse history and how people viewed it as a threatening concept despite its overarching message of peace.

“It used to freak people out, I remember seeing a documentary from CNN and they were like ‘straight edge is a gang,’” Volac said. “It was kind of like a scare tactic.”

The two wrote songs in their basement during May of last year. In October, they ended up recording a demo together and started looking for members to play the songs live with them. 

Today, X-Threat serves as one of the only active musical representations of straight edge in the local hardcore scene.

Volac was ultimately drawn to hardcore because of the positive messages community members reinforce through actions like creating fundraisers as well as keeping community members out of the house and involved as much as possible. 

“It’s all very productive, but you get the release of that energy too (through music),” Volac said. “It’s just pure running off the spirit, no selfishness involved.”

Having just graduated high school and turned 18, Heart of Man vocalist Damon Pienkowski said he’s grateful for the opportunities the scene has given him and his bandmates, who are all still in high school. In 2023, Wainwright connected Pienkowski with other teenagers looking to start a band and gave them the idea to start one together, and from there, everything clicked and Heart of Man was formed. 

“It’s like being denied that sweet treat that you really want,” Pienkowski said.

His first run with a band has given him the opportunity to play in cities across the country from New York City to Philadelphia. After not being able to play music for a lot of his life due to his family’s economic standings, Pienkowski was hungry for the chance to play live music.

Pienkowski said that community members were willing to help Heart of Man with booking shows because of the group’s passion, despite their young age, as well as the connections that he’s made in his time going to shows.

The vocalist said that everyone should get involved in the hardcore scene in some way, whether it’s through a band or through making art. Everyone’s contributions play an important part in making shows happen.

In the scene today, fans report there being more comradery than ever. Patterson said that now there is an emphasis on “the spirit” people have coming in and, as a result, a lot of the restrictions that once existed in the scene have gone away.

MacNeil said he’s impressed with how much the scene has changed since he first entered hardcore, including seeing more queer fans and fans of color, and that it warms his heart to see Gen Z do a good job carrying the torch.

With the scene becoming more accessible, younger fans are showing up to shows, from high schoolers to infants being carried by parents. 

Wainwright said that while attendees may still get hurt from moshing at shows, there is a lot more attention on making sure everyone is cared for and preventing unnecessary harm.

“We never want to make someone feel like sh*t for just being a young kid,” Wainwright said. “We want to encourage it and want people to feel like they can start a band and not write people off if there’s no reason to write them off other than being young.”

Wainwright in a white t-shirt and black jeans singing into a microphone
Dylan Wainwright performing with his band Deal With God at Silver Street Community Center.
Dylan Wainwright dancing alongside audience members
Deal With God performing at The Spot in 2023.

Importance of DIY

DIY culture plays a key part in many punk scenes, and Syracuse is no exception. DIY means everyone in a community is involved in making shows happen in some way and, as a result, the whole scene thrives instead of relying largely on corporations.

Today, there are some staple spots for the hardcore community to routinely host shows and gather at, including Silver Street Community Center, where shows are often held multiple times a month in the downstairs and upstairs levels. Other well-known venues include The Spot, a DIY skatepark, and The Night Drop. 

Members of the community said that having venues like Silver Street available is an example of the local scene being accessible to all while also keeping itself grounded. Reed’s first hardcore show took place in the community center, and he said its purpose remains the same 12 years later.

“There’s no rockstars to be made in a tiny half-basketball court. People just took the spaces that were accessible to them and made something out of nothing,” Reed said. “That to me is the spirit of Syracuse.”

DIY promoters create shows with their own time, effort, and funds. Along with promoting local bands, promoters use the opportunity to raise funds for The Spot, The Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, and other issues, all while working regular jobs outside of the scene.

“I’ll spend hours just brainstorming what bands I think would be good in Syracuse — what venue I’d like to see them, reaching out to bands themselves, making a flier for the gig, promoting it on social media, hanging fliers around town, organizing gear — and that’s all before anyone’s even shown up yet,” Reed said. “Most times people show up, sometimes they don’t, but that’s the risk you gotta take to keep things moving.”

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This community-first effort allows promoters to directly support bands and removes the pressure of having to go to a record label to make music. This allows more people to experiment and participate in dozens of bands over time.

During the late 2010s, Reed remembers starting multiple kinds of groups with his friends, from punk to straight edge to “goofy mosh bands,” with each band serving a purpose regardless of its success or how seriously members participated.

Along with Stalemate and All 4 All, Patterson was a part of several other projects, including Edge Control, which was the first band that gave him the chance to play out of town in cities like Philadelphia and Binghamton.

“When I found hardcore I realized that I didn’t have to wait for some rockstar to come into town and play music for you and you and your friends could do it yourself, that was really eye-opening for me,” Patterson said. “It just feels so much more connected and truer to the human experience.”

MacNeil, who currently works as treasurer for the Geddes Solvay Democratic Committee, said that the DIY aspect of the scene inspires him to do as much for residents as he can. In a time where redlining is still an issue locally and political tensions in the country are high, MacNeil said being able to listen to community concerns on a grassroots level as much as possible is important.

“I would say all of my politics have been influenced by punk and hardcore,” MacNeil said. “It’s our responsibility to use our privilege to elevate others that aren’t being given our privilege.”

The DIY aspect of the scene allows fans to be active in other artistic facets of the scene besides music.

After realizing that people loved looking at shows through a retro lens, Sarah Miller started recording shows on a VHS camera. She shares her videos on her Instagram and YouTube channel.

Along with shooting videos, Miller designs fliers for some shows, with her latest design being made for a show happening on May 30th. She views the work she does as a unique opportunity to give back to the community she’s spent decades watching and to continue the DIY tradition. 

“There’s just so many talented people,” Miller said. “We want you to hear this music, we want you to feel happy and be a part of something.”