Recipe For Disaster: How Damaged City Became A Hub For International Hardcore

[Originally appeared in DCist in April 2015]

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In the years since his former band Career Suicide released what became its career-defining album, Matthew Miller’s life has changed.

He had two kids. He moved to what bandmate and Career Suicide singer Martin Farkas calls “the literal middle of nowhere”, in the expansive prairies of Manitoba, Canada. He now steers an 18-wheel truck through long stretches of highway crisscrossing the continent.

So when Farkas called Miller to extend the invitation to play D.C.’s Damaged City festival, when his truck was frozen in a repair yard in the middle of the awful Canadian winter, the offer to return to his former life, however briefly, must have sounded appealing.

“The first thing that came to mind was the opportunity to see Martin and Jonah (Falco, the band’s guitarist) again,” Miller says. It had been more than four years since he had seen his former bandmates, and the opportunity to see the boys again was too good to pass up.

So this Saturday, the band will play Damaged City with the lineup from its 2007 full lengthAttempted Suicide. The show, part of the three-day festival at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, and other nearby venues, will mark the first time that lineup has ever played live together. And it’s the only such show Career Suicide will play—certainly for now and, potentially, ever.

It’s quite the coup for Damaged City, for which hosting bands from far-flung places has become commonplace. Now in its third year, Damaged City has become one of the country’s premiere hardcore punk festivals, attracting preposterous lineups that blend local hardcore mainstays and up-and-coming regional bands with major national and international acts that rarely, if ever, play the punk festival circuit. Or, in some cases, the country at all.

The international presence at Damaged City is a growing part of the festival’s evolving lineup. While previous years included a dusting of international bands, this year’s lineup features 11 bands based outside of the U.S.—like U.K. peace-punk legends The Mob and Spain’s Suicidas—or include members who live abroad. There isn’t much like it in the hardcore festival universe.

This year’s iteration of This Is Hardcore, the decade-plus old Philadelphia punk blowout, includes a few major international bands (U.K. mohawk punks The Exploited are playing the band’s first U.S. show in a decade, for example), but the bulk of the festival’s four-day lineup is populated by big name American bands. And while the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival is a living monument to extreme music, it’s a corporate-sponsored behemoth of a festival where you’re far more likely to see a skillful smattering of corpse paint than a Minor Threat t-shirt—a very different beast than Damaged City. At the moment, this year’s Damaged City is unique among American festivals, both as a DIY operation and as a magnet for international bands that likely wouldn’t touch U.S. soil otherwise.

Damaged City as a concept was born overseas, in the summer of 2012 when co-organizers Nick Candela and Chris Moore were transversing Europe’s panoply of punk and hardcore festivals with their band, Coke Bust. In the band’s tour van one night, Candela—who is known as NickTape for all of the punk rock world—and Moore settled on hosting their own festival in D.C. and began brainstorming how they would put together the lineup. International bands were a given.

“I think that’s just the product of us touring so much, between all of our different bands, and knowing so many people outside of the country,” Candela says.

It’s one thing to know which bands to ask. Candela says he and Moore simply invite bands they like from other countries—Violent Reaction and Arms Race from the U.K. to name a few—that would otherwise have a difficult time making a trip to the U.S. happen.

But it’s another thing to get those bands, most of which are firmly entrenched in the DIY world of small labels and home-brewed tours, to actually make the trip over.

Usually, Candela says, overseas bands can’t make the trip unless there’s more than just Damaged City waiting for them. They’d all love to come play D.C., he says, but without a tour to back it up, few can justify the trip. Both Damaged City organizers have toured extensively and booked a fair few tours themselves, so they do what they can to set bands up with shows around the fest—from smaller, East Coast runs to major, multi-week tours around the country.

Last year, Candela says he booked something like five tours for international bands around the festival—“I was losing my mind it was so stressful,” he says. But they do it because the bands they want to play wouldn’t show up otherwise.

For other one-off performances, Candela says he and Moore are in a position now to help out with expenses if it means booking a band they’re dying to see play the festival. This year, they bought Career Suicide’s plane tickets in from Toronto.

“And the end of the day, they’re fucking punks. This is just going to be a really cheap vacation for them,” Candela says. So long as they get to play to a new audience—and maybe sell a few records and t-shirts in the meantime—everything will work out fine.

And that’s the larger point of the fest’s ambitious international lineup, Candela says. It’s important for punk and hardcore audiences in D.C. and the country generally to hear overseas bands they might not otherwise. In the US, there is a tendency for music scenes to become insular, to only care about bands from certain cities and certain scenes. “It kind of sucks,” Candela says. “There’s good hardcore all over the world.”

Candela has been around to hear it. Two years ago, he and Moore were touring England with Coke Bust and got to see Violent Reaction and The Flex before they ever played a U.S. show. Just last week, Candela returned home after an extended stay in Brazil on the back of a Coke Bust South American tour, absorbing São Paulo’s rich punk scene.

This weekend, nearly a dozen of those bands will arrive in D.C., passports surely tucked away somewhere, ready to give festival-goers a glimpse of hardcore from abroad. And why not? We can all listen to music made anywhere in the world any time we want; why shouldn’t we be able to see the bands live as well? The scene is no longer our backyard. The scene is the world.

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