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May 1, 2014

Recurring rock violence taints music scene

By Travis Raymond

The second day of Lakewood’s Firefest 2014 ended nearly before it could begin with a massive brawl of rival hardcore crews and gunfire April 19.

Calls to 911 began pouring in at around 7:15 p.m.  Bystanders relayed to dispatchers descriptions of brutal violence and chaos.  Gunshots were fired, and young Caucasian men, many wearing black and tattooed, were attacking each other with metal baseball bats and machetes, they said.

The men were members of two hardcore crews, Youngstown’s Swing on Sight Family (SOSF) and Friends Stand United (FSU) from Boston.  Both groups are affiliated with hardcore music and subculture with well-earned reputations for violence.

The groups had a long-running dispute, what The Foundry’s general manager, Mark Witherspoon, would later describe on Facebook as a “crew related beef.” 

The fight involved as many as 50 people, sending five people to area hospitals for treatment.  Lakewood and Cleveland police responded within minutes and arrested 23 of the suspects.

Lakewood residents expressed shock and disbelief at the violence that erupted in their quiet city.  Music fans were not surprised.

Even the most sheltered know that the concerts of rock, metal, punk and hardcore music, truly any subgenre descendent from rock and roll, can be violent places. 

While many live shows do go off without a hitch and deaths and maimings are rare occurrences, accidents and violence, particularly fights, are not uncommon, with alcohol often contributing to the problem.

Historically, the phenomenon is not even confined to rock and roll.  Igor Stravinsky’s "Le Sacre du Printemps," considered among the first harbingers of modern music, sparked a small scale riot at its premiere in Paris.

But the history of rock and roll, specifically its live shows, is a turbulent one littered with events that ended horribly.

Now infamous, the Hell’s Angels earned a large chunk of their reputation for violence at Altamont in 1969, ringing the death knell of the hippie era as they kept the stage clear with the liberal use of clubs and stabbed a man to death.

Ten years later, The Who toured for the first time since the death of Keith Moon.  At their Cincinnati date, eleven people were crushed to death at one of the Riverfront Coliseum’s entrances as the capacity crowd pushed to get inside.

Thirty years after Altamont, fires, riots and rape are all anyone would remember about Woodstock 1999.

In 2004, guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott was shot and killed onstage at a concert in Columbus along with three other people.

“You kind of just have to get used to it,” said Nicky D, former guitarist for Fine Day for an Exorcism.  “It isn’t like crowd violence is only in music – you see soccer hooligans going at each other in Europe or just sports fans in general trashing stuff.”

Nicky D had considered attending Firefest 2014.

“It gets pretty crazy sometimes,” Nicky D said.  “With hardcore, I think I’ve seen more vocalists jump offstage and join fights than not.”

While many of these tragic events exhibit multiple contributing factors, police say the two hardcore crews planned the incident in Lakewood to occur.

To understand the incident, a brief history on hardcore music and subculture is necessary.
Punk was born in a small bar called CBGB in New York City in the 70s and grew around the popularity of bands like the Ramones and the Dead Boys.  Punk’s sound was straightforward, unpolished and unpretentious in reaction to more flamboyant music at the time.

By the late 70s and early 80s, punk music had spawned the subgenre hardcore punk in southern California.  Now generally referred to simply as hardcore, the new subgenre’s sound was faster and more aggressive than punk, and its fans and live shows quickly became notorious for their intense violence.

As hardcore music spread throughout the country, it soon began to grow new facets of its own – straight edge, fascist Neo-Nazism and then soon anti fascists.  Straight edge hardcore bands and fans abstain from drugs and alcohol, and the more extreme do so with the aforementioned violence so common to hardcore music. 

FSU, classified as a gang by the FBI, began as one of the anti fascist crews determined to chase the burgeoning fascist and racist sentiment from the hardcore scene.  Now, with Neo-Nazism gone from the hardcore and punk scenes, the remaining hardcore crews like FSU and SOSF are left to fight among themselves.

The hardcore brawl in Lakewood is another live concert incident that will overshadow the music.  Because of events like these, it is no secret that a rock concert is no picnic.