On Saturday, June 19, in a San Jose parking lot surrounded by car stereo garages and physical therapist businesses, over 2,000 people swarmed for the underground renegade show RBS—“Real Bay Shit.”
The event featured stars of the nationally renowned San Jose/Santa Cruz hardcore scene like Gulch, Sunami and Drain, along with similarly brutal acts from Southern California. Within a week, videos of the show went viral on YouTube, and media outlets ranging from KQED to Brooklyn Vegan picked up the story.
“It felt like being back home,” recalls Scowl guitarist Malachai Greene. “Our last show was the day before the lockdown. It’s just been so long, but the moment we hit the stage it was on.”
The first South Bay hardcore show since the lockdown, “RBS” went off according to true punk rock DIY (Do-It-Yourself) ethos. An impromptu stage was built, generators ran the power and sound was provided pro bono by East Bay Audio. Though the flyer was passed around online for weeks prior to the event, the location was only announced two hours before doors. Inside, local taco and burger vendors grilled sustenance for the hungry crowd.
Earlier that day, a pop-up merch event was held at a separate location, featuring highly coveted clothing from Drain, Scowl and Gulch (who all share band members), all made by Print Head—a printing company owned and operated by Cole Kakimoto, guitarist for Gulch and drummer for Scowl.
“We made like 600 shirts,” Kakimoto says. “I can’t believe people waited in that line for hours in the 100 degree heat.”
And wait they did.
The line for merchandise wrapped around several nearby buildings, and stayed hundreds of people deep for hours. While the average music fan might have seen the line and left, the fashionable hardcore scene showed up and couldn’t have been happier. Online, Gulch merchandise can sell out in minutes.
One attendee who asked only to be identified by the name David had waited in line for over two hours, saying simply: “we’re here for the experience.”
San Jose’s hardcore scene began blowing up on a national level around 2019. That year, both Gulch and Drain played Philadelphia’s This Is Hardcore Fest and caught a lot of attention for their unrelenting energy. Combined, those sets now have hundreds of thousands of plays on YouTube.
“All of these bands were working towards 2020 to be the year for shows, record releases and big tours,” explains Bay Area promoter Nick Dill, an attendee at RBS. “I can’t even imagine how big the scene will be in 2021.”
Last year, Drain, Gulch and Sunami all released new music, most of it to wide acclaim. Gulch’s Impenetrable Mental Fortress landed a glowing review in Pitchfork, and Drain’s thrashy California Cursed quickly went through multiple repressings on vinyl. Rather than slow down the scene’s momentum, the lack of touring only propelled it into overdrive, fans hungry for more music and merch to get them through the global uncertainty of the last fifteen months.
“It’s thriving,” Dill says. “We have so much support, and so many resources at our disposal that allow it to prosper and grow.”
For instance, Sunami’s first show was in October 2019, just months before the pandemic. Today, video of the punishing seven-minute set has almost one hundred thousand views on YouTube.
Still, it was surprising at RBS when singer Josef Alfonso’s mic went out and the entire crowd began chanting along to fill the silence. In the past, it might not have seemed like such a big deal. But considering this was only the second time Sunami has ever played live—and the first time most of the audience had ever seen them—it was a testament to just how big San Jose hardcore has become.
“This is amazing,” says an attendee named Ess. Like many at RBS, it was her and her sister’s first hardcore show, but definitely not their last.
“I randomly wanted to go to local San Jose shows so I looked up ‘Hardcore San Jose’ and Sunami popped up. We’re already going to go to the next show, too.”
With the state now reopened, San Jose’s hardcore scene is well on its way to becoming bigger than ever.
“It already is,” says Scowl.
Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted Nick Dill under a name previously used as a show promoter.