Photos: Em Demarco
Humans flow like garbage out into the boulevards and avenues destroying nearly everything in their path. Every third weekend of August in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the town comes alive with miscreants, criminals, street urchins and other such fodder. In addition to “Little Italy Days,” a 4-day punk festival named, simply, Skull Fest, takes place. From the underground, even more vile creatures rise above sea level in fragments of black clothing and hairdos that resemble skunks, lady hawks, peacocks and the like in an assembly nothing short of incredible. What started as a 7 band birthday celebration has turned into an endurance test of over 50 bands spanning nearly all genres of “extreme” music — but but mostly catering to diy punk and hardcore. For the better (or worse) part of a week, hordes of mutants gather from around the world between the pit of women’s fears and the summit of her knowledge at an event we call SKULL FEST.
It should be noted that I played a part in the organization and planning of this punk style festival. I did not see every show, I did not see every band. This is a singular Skull experience, the only way to really understand what happens in this quaint city for a short time each year is to participate yourself.
DAY ONE – THURSDAY
Festivities begin at one of the few all-ages venues to host punk shows called The Shop where locals EYEROLL play their first show to a great response in an ever filling warehouse space. As I fill mutants with liquid and fight idle hands North Carolina’s NO TOMORROW give a nearly overwhelming d-beat demonstration that is as loud as it is intense. The air does not move in this space. It quickly has an overcast of a smell that will linger on the general aura of all those it encompasses and becomes a badge we all silently wear.
BLIND DOG from Kansas City pound through hardcore punk the way it was meant to be played (I go on an ice run; MALOKIO played in my absence). ISOTOPE of California rip through one of the multiple sets they play during the weekend, though I miss a majority of it in the bathroom line. Pogoing ensues almost instantly as NYC’s POX take stage and a continual bop is felt throughout the building. TOZCOS are the last band of the show and their combination of hardcore punk and undeniably catchy melodies make them a fast favorite. The show ends. I help clean up. People start to disperse to the Brillobox to see HIDEOUS MANGLEUS, BEASTMAN, RATFACE and ZEITGEIST in addition to a secret punk location for HUMANMANIA, M.A.D., INCISOR and MOWER.
DAY TWO – FRIDAY
After an anxiety filled shift at work, I rush around the city picking up my soon-to-be defunct band’s equipment so I can set it up as the backline for the weekend at a wonderful dive called The Rock Room. During my time peddling vegan friendly foods to ingrates, OBNOX, WETBRAIN (Why did I have to miss WETBRAIN? Is nothing sacred in this awful world?) and FUCK YOU PAY ME play an early show. I can only assume it went well — Cleveland hardcore is superior to most other classes of music. I sit in traffic, I arrive at the venue, I park and then unload (While I stack and plug in electronics, my friend’s in FUCKING HEADACHE play their final show opening up for VIOLENT SOCIETY, CAUSTIC CHRIST, and GOVERNMENT ISSUE down the street. I also miss this show due to my previous stacking and plugging obligation). Jim from FUCKING HEADACHE has some of the craziest eyes when they play and I will miss them. My only hope is that he starts another punk troupe for me to gaze upon. A last minute addition of SCUZZ start the show. If any of the show goers had a preconceived notion of what they thought they might see, SCUZZ lay those thoughts to waste. I am glad that they were able to play and the response they got was well deserved.
And then, I plug into my amp and tune my guitar and don my ski mask for what will probably be the last time. I look out upon various friends, enemies and strangers and play my part in a band called DRUG LUST. The crowd becomes a whirlwind of flesh and human-style beings flop from side to side like fish stranded out of water. We strike our last chord and it is over. I feel sad but my life and — more importantly — the show goes on.
It becomes abhorrently apparent how fucking hot the Rock Room is. Columbus, Ohio’s SLAVEHOUSE play a kind of blackened hardcore that exists in the dichotomy between ugly and prepossessing. They hit hard and let you know they feel it. I was stoked to have them on the show and am equally stoked for their LP due out on YOUTH ATTACK RECORDS. After the clamor of SLAVEHOUSE simmers Philadelphia’s LATEX follow with an onslaught of punk that brought me out of pogo retirement (This is not recommended, my knees and ankles immediately felt awful and it became even more obvious how decrepit I have become). I painfully bounce through the rest of their set before going back into pogo retirement (for now). Up next are VARIX who hail equally from Minneapolis and New York (City and subsequently state). My love of this band and the girls within it is unequivocal and unending. They almost had to cancel but in a magic moment all the stars aligned and I stood before a shin-high stage as my friends played a set that was as hard hitting and vehement as it was delightful. Though the landscapes of your life keep you separate, in that one moment, VARIX, you were perfect. The show ends, my anxiety subsides (for now) and I continue to drink too much and accidentally start a dance party. I exit the bar in search of the after party/show. I see the other half of an ISOTOPE set before stepping outside to a couple of genuinely nice, but perhaps confused, police officers. We really should be getting home sir. It really is quite late. Goodnight.