Drug Church Credit: Kat Nijmeddin

Hardcore has always had a tenuous relationship with the mainstream. In the 90s, a number of hardcore bands signed to major labels seemed to be at the brink of crossing over to wider audiences, but the results were varied. For every Sick of It All who wound up dropping a classic record on a major label (1994’s Scratch the Surface), there’s an Orange 9mm or a CIV, who both suffered the indignities of alienating their fan bases while also failing to connect with the average music listener. In 2018, plenty of younger acts have learned the lessons of those major-label casualties, allowing them to make a play for mass acceptance without losing their own identities in the process. And while they aren’t playing hardcore in the traditional sense, they’re working inside that genre at a time when it’s arguably at its most elastic. Two bands that have successfully shown how well gussied-up, cleanly produced hardcore can work are Drug Church and Gouge Away. While their most recent albums, Cheer and Burnt Sugar, respectively, don’t resemble one another at first glance, repeated listens show a similar underlying approach. Drug Church takes Seaweed-style 90s alt-rock and reimagines it as a part of the Victory Records canon, while Gouge Away show you don’t need to cake on the distortion to make songs feel heavy, with a sound that borders on classic Pixies material while vocalist Christina Michelle growls on top of it. It feels appropriate that they’re touring together and playing a classic, hardcore-style matinee show at Cobra Lounge: both bands engage with the traditions of hardcore on a thoughtfully selective basis, playing small, all-ages matinees while discarding hardcore’s traditionalist ethos of selling out. In the eyes of some, they may be opportunists for shifting to a more accessible sound, but what both Drug Church and Gouge Away demonstrate is that maybe all those major-label hardcore releases could have worked if the bands committed to breaking the rules instead of hedging their bets.   v