Last Friday and Saturday nights saw the 12th Annual United Blood Festival take over The Canal Club in Shockoe Bottom. United Blood is a hardcore fest, showcasing an offshoot of punk rock known as hardcore due to its heavier, more metallic sound, its tough, no-frills presentation, and its street-level lyrical realism. Beginning in various American cities at the dawn of the 80s, hardcore has established a strong tradition in the intervening decades, and this year’s edition of United Blood celebrated that tradition with performances from established legends of the scene, while also presenting many of the scene’s best new bands.
The big attraction for many this year was the thrill of reunion sets from two celebrated bands from the early 2000s. While people were excited about reunions from bands that were formed nearly 20 years after the dawn of this underground subgenre; hardcore remains a very youth-oriented movement even today, and it’s no surprise that many attendees would be seeing both Count Me Out and Shark Attack for the first time.
Richmond locals Count Me Out were a particularly powerful draw for locals of all ages, whether they wanted to relive their teenage years or get a dose of the sounds of their hometown that they’d been born too late to catch the first time. The two 12-hour days of music had a lot of other inducements to offer, from NYHC legends Madball and Connecticut vets Death Threat to current bands putting new twists on the genre, including Turnstile and Twitching Tongues, among others.
The website where tickets were available for purchase warned buyers to “ENTER AT OWN RISK” in bold capital letters, and one glance at the frenetic dance-floor antics on display throughout the festival was enough to demonstrate the aptness of such a warning. As befits the music, hardcore dancing is an aggressive, intense display of controlled violence — fists and feet fly as some audience members go charging through the crowd at full speed and others dive from the stage onto the upraised arms of the crowd.
However, despite the intensity of this physical expression, there’s a sense of togetherness and unity that unites the audience, which can be seen in the way those who trip and fall in the pit are immediately picked up and placed back on their feet by those around them. It’s also on display in front of the stage, where fans singing along to the choruses of their favorite songs are often given a chance to sing along into the mic by band members who see themselves not as rock stars but as peers.
While it may be inscrutable to outsiders, the initiated tend to think of the hardcore scene as a family — one that feels more open and accepting than mainstream society and even their biological families. When they’re here and this music plays, they are at home; they are together as one. United Blood.
Here are some of the best photos from United Blood XII:
Photos by Branden Wilson. Words by Marilyn Drew Necci
Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond