Black n Blue Bowl

The infamous Black and Blue Ball returned to the Brooklyn Monarch. ...
Black n Blue Bowl
Black n Blue Bowl

On Saturday & Sunday, May 18th & 19th, the infamous Black n Blue Ball returned to The Brooklyn Monarch. This annual event remains the pinnacle of the New York hardcore punk scene – this year celebrating a line up worth writing home about. 

You would be slightly forgiven if you were not aware of what the Black n Blue ball was about, one of the best kept secrets of a subculture. It’s a two-day punk-centric weekender, which continually boasts some of the most rich hardcore lineups – recognizing bands which have been part of the punk scene throughout the years. This year’s line-up was no exception to this. QRO was lucky to slide into the event on Saturday.

Set at the Brooklyn Monarch, a 10,000sq ft warehouse in East Williamsburg, this year’s setting of the Bowl couldn’t have been more perfect. Punk, as a presentation of authenticity and often sung by the unrepresented blue collar classes, the area remains a working neighborhood with a huge onus on graffiti, art and live music – a venue seemingly a natural choice for an event like this.

Saturday’s line-up featured bands that have foundationally shaped a scene for over forty years. Featuring some of the most prolific bands instrumental in the scene, the event was headlined by NYHC pioneers of joyous veracity, Agnostic Front, playing their 1984 debut Victim in Pain in its entirety.

Punk remains one of the most misunderstood genres. It is a subculture that is wholly inclusive – a come as you are, be as you wish, take what you want community – just a precursor of no bull. There is so much catharsis in those elements, regardless of one’s knowledge and investment in the hardcore scene. Black n Blue Productions, the organizers of the event, do well to curate stellar line ups in the scene, whilst supporting the very essence of community, friendship and siblinghood, amongst the obvious – whilst putting on a shit hot show. 

This year’s line-up included an array of aggressive hardcore bands stemming across the scene, pulling Boston’s Slapshot, Chicago’s Conservative Military Image, Bayway from New Jersey, Full Blown Chaos and DMIZE, both closely homegrown bands out of Queens, New York. Get The Shot, The World, Exit Strategy, and Shoot da 5 also played.

It could be argued that the foundations of punk are fundamentally built on a type of anarchy, and it could be argued that hardcore is built on an anti-capitalist mindset – and in turn what stood out throughout the day is the notion of community, togetherness, support – a rejection of the dialogues of division and money that increasingly define our world. Here lies music supporting music, fans supporting fans, an understanding that in a world that is full of hardship & pain, and indeed that hardcore saves.

As the day began to grow, Bayway pulled in a crowd for their rap infused hardcore, with swagger and style whilst owning the stage. Vocalist Jay spoke about the death of his teenage brother, dedicating “Time Heals Nothing” to him, and his struggles with ownership and power. Presenting with playful profanity, their lyricism talks of the underdog whilst their presentation offered both ease and power in owning the struggle. Bayway are fun – they jump circles through what most find difficult, without apology and unabashed fury.

Bands from the tri-state area often present with their rich mix of cultural heritage. DMIZE bring a sense of swagger, movement and style into the scene, dusted with a certain sense of rhythm and ease. DMIZE have made a comeback from their under-sung presence in the scene from the early 1990s. Their material provides a richness and playfulness with grit (which might even be transferably heard in Madball’s material as their original bassist was once found in DMIZE). There is an ease and a passion that sets this band apart, often credited as one of the first DMS bands. DMS has been a whole movement redefining a generational punk scene 30 or so years ago, but live DMIZE’s reunion shows, twinned with Saturday’s line-up, recertifies it to be still alive and kicking. It is said that DMIZE are at times touted as a best kept secret, but as their reunion shows, that need be no more.

Although many of the bands on the lineup are multi generation mainstays of the hardcore scene, Conservative Military Image, a newer band from Chicago, have been making a prolific impact on the scene, Saturday’s performance was no exception. Word on the street is that they’re the next big thing, but they’re close to already being there. Touting the phrase “casual violence” and proclaiming a “no bullshit” skinhead approach in their music, they are meta in their presentation with a heavy irony, openly owning the weirdness of being and the awkwardness of life with barbarity. Adam Ryan makes for a strong frontman, with the crowd enthusiastic and responsive to his strength and aggression. The depth in their presentation opens up a gaping void, perfect for nurturing a growing pit, which indeed starts to kick off. 

Slapshot continue this on as the day grows. As one of the most prolific bands from the East Coast scene, Slapshot are often one of the first bands one might think of when looking at Boston hardcore or their label, Bridge 9. As with many of these bands, their lineup has been in constant rotation for 30 years, but they’re never not tight. It’s recognized too, in their continually recognition and the push and pull of a rammed crowd who are eager to kick off and get dirty. There is a rawness and aggression with their spiky demeanor that heats the room. Even though they’re known to be somewhat divisive, there is not a hint of this here as the crowd are pulled into a polished performance which again, presents with strength and aggression.

There is a reason they remain at the front of the Boston Hardcore scene. There has always been a sense of innovation that is different from other bands of the same root – for instance once putting out a 24-track hardcore album, which was then completely unheard of (Taylor Swift’s Tortured Poets Department, eat your heart out, Slapshot were here first). It’s perhaps not a bad thing their lineup changes – each member is fresh, on it, present, powerful, but visibly grateful too.

Although of a differing ilk, headliners Agnostic Front also bring innovation, presence and power home, closing the show. There is an undeniable charm about this band that has been present from the very start. Founded in 1980, this band’s hold is lifelong. With a lineup what has changed dramatically over the years, the bands current mix lends well. Roger Miret heads on, this his third installation of the band, and a suitable candidate for one of the most charming front men. Saturday proves they warrant it their years of success.

Agnostic Front play their album Victim in Pain, released in 1984, but it seems that it’s been on repeat for the crowd ever since – a heaving, packed room know every word, clamber over the stage, the room is filled with a contagious joy, that dances around the lyrical content. The room screams how they “Miss the old New York”, how they “Gotta Gotta Gotta Go” – now frequently flung phrases that now are popular culture within this community. It seems appropriate for them to close – in a day which thematically describes the hardship of existence throughout every band – Agnostic Front take all of this, the acknowledgement of pain, blame, hate and catalytically convert it into joy, ownership and self-awareness.

There is an undeniable passion in Miret’s vocal, although unfortunately this was severely hindered by a microphone malfunction, resulting in the majority of the vocal being lost. But in characteristic fashion, this was shook off and held together by the current line up with no note being lost by bassist Gallo and the characteristic sincerity of Vinnie Sigma, who is referred to as the Godfather of New York hardcore. This is a man who certainly owns up to that title. Sigma has your back, without hesitance jumping into the crowd in the middle of a circle pit and being held on the shoulders of Madball’s Freddy Cricien, his gratitude and presence underpins a sense of aliveness and exultation in every movement. 

Although Sigma is the only current member who was part of the original line-up, Agnostic Front were also joined by their original vocalist, John Watson – a true celebration of their rich history and heritage. 43 years of a band has got to mean something – a cultivation of musicality, community and friendship – the bonds here are so worth celebration. It is seen across the room, with an electric joy visible in all. Minds and bodies were lost as a skew of bodies jumped off the stage and an increasingly triumphant performance owned all.

A cake is presented to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Victim in Pain. A start-to-finish with sweet presentation both on record, but this night too, despite technical problems. The understanding that art reflects life, life reflects art holds true in this space too. With all bands throughout the day, there is a sense of gratitude to be there, in that space, with acknowledgment to the growing hardships in everyday life in the global world. The band, the cake, this event – it represents more than just a festival – it was a quantifiable blow to the hardships of life and surefire sucker-punch in the redemption of life itself.

It is fantastically well deserved that Agnostic Front remain one of most influential bands in the New York Hardcore scene, and no surprising their recognition stems beyond it too. Their complex identity is owned, in their fragility, their ownership of joy and pain, history past and present, their changing bodies and life themes that remain more apt that ever in their music. To bring this form of unadulterated joy with the acknowledgment of these heavy complexities is a skill which is notable. A band that spreads happiness in a time of famine is always worth it. Their performance is the pinnacle.

Hardcore presents a conversion of the hardship of survival into something cathartic and real. This is a central theme of the weekend’s Black n Blue Bowl – genuinely the Super Bowl of Hardcore. It is the scene supporting the scene, the community supporting the community – for past, present and future. The legacy is not just kept by a headliner, by Agnostic Front, but is held by the entire body of who makes this happen. This Saturday was no exception, and it’s worth taking note of Black n Blue Productions if one values authenticity, community; a breath of something real in a world of falsehood – here real recognizes real.

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