For the audiences at this weekend's No Way Fest, playing word association with “great '80s music” isn't likely to call up the feather-haired one-hit wonders inundating retro-radio play lists. Instead, the phrase will evoke the salad days of hardcore — that fired-up, mostly American riff on the punk rock of the late-'70s.
During the style's peak, such powerhouses as Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, the Bad Brains and Minor Threat led the cross-coastal charge. And while the primal flame of '80s hardcore should have died nearly two decades ago, No Way Fest's lineup proves the contrary. This aggressively unrefined strain of rock 'n' roll is still alive — and thriving — in the underground.
Founded three years ago by Brandon Ferrell and Lauren Amiss as an excuse to pull far-away friends into Richmond for an extended party, No Way Fest takes its name from the duo's hardcore label, No Way Records. Ferrell and Amiss run this circus out of their Oregon Hill record store, Vinyl Conflict. “People can be proud that they have something like this coming from their town,” Ferrell says.
He and Amiss have been busy lately. They just returned from a nearly month-long European tour with bands Government Warning and Wasted Time (Ferrell plays drums for both; Amiss runs the merchandise). Now they're releasing seven new records and booking another tour, all while organizing the more than two-dozen bands that will play No Way Fest 3.
Each of the Fest's 27 acts delivers a mutation of the '80s hardcore form. There's the tightly wound, socio-political vitriol of Government Warning, Brutal Knights' sputtering nihilism, Chronic Seizure's doomed racket and the melody-heavy clatter of the Carbonas (which will play its final show). While most have American ZIP codes (nine from Virginia), groups from Canada, Sweden, Italy and Spain will play too. In this virile roster, one name hovers above all: the Zero Boys, an Indianapolis unit that Ferrell calls “very classic. It's really a big deal that they are coming to play.”
Unlike the other acts that can be considered tributes to the Reagan years, the temporarily reunited Zero Boys are legitimate veterans of the decade. “Vicious Circle,” their initial full-length, was recorded in four hours in 1982, an underappreciated prize from a particularly fruitful period. The Boys will be the only name to appear at the Fest twice. Bassist David Clough will use the weekend to rekindle past friendships and strike new ones, as much a kind of family reunion as a music festival.
Ferrell's attraction to the genre comes from “the speed, intensity, and the occasional melody, and the good friends we have made from it." But he bristles at some conceptions of the style: “People love '80s hardcore but I don't [think] my bands or any bands that generally play the Fest are trying to rip off or revive the '80s. It's just heavily inspired by '80s hardcore and punk, you know?”
In the purist spirit of hardcore, he's straightforward about the leanings of the affair. “What our fest has that not a lot of other fests [have] is less diversity,” he says. “I guess you could say that's either a good or bad thing, huh?” S
No Way Fest 3 takes place at the Czar (929 W. Grace St.) on Friday, June 19, at 6 p.m., and at Alley Katz (10 Walnut Alley) on Saturday, June 20, at 5 p.m. and Sunday, June 21, at 5 p.m. Passes are $10.50-$52.50. For information, visit nowayfest.bigcartel.com.
CORRECTION: In the original version of this story, one of Brandon Ferrell's quotes was attributed to David Clough.