When I suggest to Shane Merrill that the hardcore festival he founded might have some similarities with This Is Hardcore—the enormous three-day spectacular in Philadelphia booked by “Joe Hardcore” McKay—he gives me a wry laugh. The head honcho of Empire Productions, who started the Rumble in 2010, came up in the potent late-90s Chicago hardcore scene, and he’s founded several bands over the years, including the Killer (in 2001) and most recently Young & Dead (in 2013). But despite his long history in the community, he knows that This Is Hardcore is doing something above and beyond what he hopes to accomplish this weekend, when he brings the Rumble back for two days at Cobra Lounge.
“I don’t have aspirations to ever do it on the scale that Joe does. It takes six months out of his year,” Merrill says. “Still, he’s done such a good job at educating young kids. One King Down is headlining a day this year—which is amazing to me. There will be these new kids unfamiliar with that band, but by the time they play that show it’s going to be off the chain.”
Merrill shut down the Rumble following an impressive 2013 version that included Nails, Crown of Thornz, Weekend Nachos, Expire, and Power Trip. “I got worn out and lost money a few years in a row,” he says. “What had begun as a labor of love just got a little tiring.” He hadn’t given much thought to bringing back the Rumble till two younger hardcore boosters, Jon Ortiz (of Mal Intent) and Taylor Wadley, started pushing him to do it. For the past few years, the Empire shows Merrill has booked (at spaces such as Reggie’s Rock Club, Cobra Lounge, and Subterranean) have mostly ranged from metal to extremely metal, so these days he employs Ortiz and Wadley to help with the hardcore side of things, tapping into their up-to-date expertise whenever he has a concert in that orbit. The two of them kept asking about resuscitating the Rumble—and Merrill eventually relented. “I said, ‘Fine, we’re going to do it. And you’re going to help me book most of the bands.'”
The generational divide between Merrill and his assistants mirrors the hierarchical split between older and younger hardcore acts on the Rumble’s bill. “The three, four, five bands that have members in their 30s or 40s . . . yep, I booked those,” Merrill admits. They include Wisdom in Chains, Racetraitor, Billy Club Sandwich, Greg Bennick of Trial doing spoken word, and Strife—who’ll play the landmark 1997 album In This Defiance in its entirety. Just as One King Down will no doubt find a new, younger audience at This Is Hardcore, these old-school artists will endear themselves to a fresh demographic at the Rumble.
The meat of the festival’s lineup, though, consists of present-day hardcore acts who are beholden to the bands Merrill knows from way back. Long Island’s Incendiary—probably the most popular band on the bill—released one of the best hardcore records of 2017, Thousand Mile Stare. “Ten or 15 years ago, Incendiary are Turmoil,” Merrill says, by way of historical analogy. The metal-tinged hardcore of fellow Long Islanders Sanction recalls the buzz-saw sound of the early-2000s Hydra Head catalog. Louisville’s Nine Eyes play old-school beatdown at its best. And Kansas City/Chicago behemoth Spine release a new full-length in June via hardcore mainstay Bridge Nine Records.
“The Chicago hardcore scene right now is a younger person’s game,” Merrill says, without a shred of resentment. “Some might say I’m mellowing out in my old age. I’d probably never really say that, because sooner or later I’m going to be listening to a Suffocation record.”
The Rumble 2018 has already been a success by at least one yardstick, because tickets are already sold out. They’ve actually been sold out for a while now—a testament not only to the strength of the festival’s lineup but also to the close-knit nature of hardcore’s community of fans. Merrill himself happily remains a part of that community, and recognizes the value in the music’s cyclical nature—old bands feed the young ‘uns, and up-and-comers pay homage to their elders. “I’ll always be linked to hardcore no matter what,” he says. “I’ll always have it in my DNA, and it’ll always be part of what I do.”