From where I am, at the front of the stage, it’s just a churn of bodies—flailing, 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.
This is what I missed most in the pandemic: not just being in a pit specifically, but moving 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 even 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 on Saturday, I don’t want any more manufactured “experiences,” or festivals put on by huge promoters. This show was $5, it was completely DIY, probably illegal on a number of different levels, bands played on a plywood stage, powered by a generator, BYOB with cheap tacos being sold, no Live Nation, no Goldenvoice, by the scene, for the scene. The stacked lineup—Drain, Gulch, Sunami, Xiobalba, Skeletal Remains, Maya Over Eyes, and Scowl—could have easily sold out the Warfield. It wouldn’t 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 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.
And yes, I know it isn't for everybody. But to me, there’s a church-like ritual to the best hardcore shows that I’ve 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, it’s the concentrated version of society itself, that thing we’re 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.