The Shape Of Hardcore: Fucked Up Live At The Garage

The Canadian progressive punks have grow even further from the recognisable tropes of hardcore sonics with Dose Your Dreams, but Sophie Porter finds its original spirit in the band’s live performance in north London

Pictures courtesy of Maria Jefferis

I re-watched Paul Rachman’s documentary American Hardcore a few nights ago – a retrospective of the birth and evolution of the punk-rock movement throughout the 80s. The music was a fast, loud and aggressive assault on the ears, with little to no fat or frills. It was a direct vehicle for that which needed to be said and, like a slap in the face, the songs were usually over before you even saw them coming.

In the same year that the film was released, Toronto’s Fucked Up put out their first full length album, Hidden Worlds (2006), which firmly rooted themselves in the modern hardcore scene. From then the band have demonstrated a gentle evolution and unapologetic attitude towards indulging in the fanciful; The Chemistry Of Common Life (2008) references highbrow art and literature; David Comes To Life (2011) is the vision of guitarist Mike Haliechuk – an ambitious and critically celebrated 18 track, four-act rock opera; Glass Boys (2014) is a reevaluation of their 2011 opus and a return to vocalist Damian Abraham’s purist punk rock ideology. The band now sit in a curious position where they bear little resemblance to the typical hardcore genre whilst simultaneously expanding its horizons. 

Abraham and Haliechuk existed in disparate worlds of thought with their latest offering, Dose Your Dreams (2018) – one of new possibilities and exploration into the unknown, and another of stripped down, straight-forwardness. The ensuing album is a delicate ecosystem of contrasting sonic components, relationships and control shifts, but it is undeniably maximum in intelligence and effect.

Despite the oscillation of creative leadership, there is no feel of contention – Dose Your Dreams would not have existed without having Glass Boys to respond to, and, likewise, David Comes To Life before that. The process has been an organic push and pull right from the beginning and has resulted in something truly special.

It dips its toe into an array of genres stylings, yet never fully commits or succumbs. The heavy use of synths, 70s disco beats and power-pop hooks are brought together with hints of gritty Britpop-esque melodies and layered with effect driven guitars and, even, saxophone, to create a sound that is nothing short of joyful and celebratory. Fucked Up’s hardcore heritage is diluted in this ever expanding universe of experimentation, where Abraham’s vocals become less of an intrinsic quality in Dose Your Dreams, but no less important. His role is realised as not needing to be what it has been historically in order for the band to continue to grow. The space around the immediacy of his vocals, given to other band members or for instrumentals, is a refreshing respite that, in turn, draws attention right back to him when he ruthlessly tears back in with his trademark cut-throat scream.

Along with the re-casting of David Eliade, the protagonist of David Comes To Life, we’re taken on a sprawling, mind-bending odyssey of his re-imagined world. This album is to be admired as much as it is to be enjoyed.

The title track is played first at The Garage in North London – a growing soundscape with all the sass and funk of a disco anthem. Josh Zucker breathily sings his concerns for David to an angel (“Did David die?”) and, with no sign of Abraham on stage, this incarnation of the band – stoic, crisp-shirt and beret clad – could easily operate as an outfit in its own right. Something avant-garde and oozing art-school chic; perhaps a little taste of the Fucked Up future. But the hulking singer appears, cartoonish and playful, a wiry mass of beard poking out the bottom of a black hood, and shatters the ‘cool’ with his throaty bark: “Then I took everything in my soul / Everything angry, everything cold”. He is the common thread which runs through their evolution and grounds the band to their origins. A thought which crosses my mind just as he removes his hoodie, turns his back to us and gestures with both thumbs to a slogan on the back of his shirt which reads ‘punk rock since day one’ – a funny coincidence.

The band succeed in perfectly recreating Dose Your Dreams’ dense walls of sound, intricate guitar layers, barrage of effects and vocal harmonies, showcased in a set which takes on an impressive life of its own and thus doesn’t require the singer’s legendary on stage antics. Tonight he is reserved and doesn’t rely on gimmick or shtick. He respectfully shrinks to the back of the stage when his peers take over mic duties, but is by no means any less engaged. He spends the majority of the night in the no man’s land between stage and crowd, defying physical boundary and the them-and-us, which, in turn, incites classic displays of mosh pit goings on, although a more mellow affair.

‘I Hate Summer’ is played second to last and comes with a change from Abraham: “This song is now about smashing fucking fascism”. The sentiment is perhaps blanket and obvious, it doesn’t go very deep, but his earnestness and sweetness is affirming. Fucked Up have a penchant for blurring fiction and personal anecdotes in their lyrics, but in the act of politicising the track, he unites the crowd, giving us something meaningful and purposeful to shout about together. This song is for and about us. My vision is suddenly limited from behind a wall of fists and hands silhouetted against the stage lights.

80s hardcore was the answer to the call of a pissed off youth, let down by their society and its politics, and provided an accessible way to channel their collective mounting boredom and angst into a gigantic, “Fuck you”. Early on in the American Hardcore documentary, Keith Morris (Black Flag/ Circle Jerks) talks about hardcore shows as being the place to “go off” with like-minded people. With this in mind, it’s clear that Fucked Up have grown past the confines of hardcore sonics and embarked on an evolutionary path towards something more conceptual, but Damian Abraham embraces the presence and mannerisms which are rooted in the genre. He applies it to this new sound, and, as a result, stands as a physical bridge between band and audience, but also between the variety in the crowd that the sprawling sound of Fucked Up draws – the dads, the art school types, the straight up punks – something he achieves through the simple act of sharing and passing the mic.

Sonics are an important identifier of the genre, but so is community and inclusion. After tonight’s performance, it is obvious that this is where the spirit of hardcore lives in the Fucked Up universe.

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