Recently released Balance: European Hardcore book takes you on the journey across the European hardcore scene presenting number of people devoted to keep it alive and going even at the price of sacrificing free time, money and hard work. The book tells the story of dedication above all and reading how much heart these kids put into hardcore, no matter if it is France, Poland, Portugal or UK, gives your real motivation to carry on. After all, we are all fighting the same struggle to stay true to values which we hold dear in our lives while busting our asses off to provide the food on the table and pay the bills. And as the times get more hectic, it’s even more important to focus on such positive examples. The book was put together by duo; Sophia Schorr-Kon, responsible for the visual side of the book, and Tom Barry, who handled the writing duties. We caught up with the latter for a Q&A session about the project.Balance deals with individuals in European hardcore scene who commitment, dedication, enthusiasm to the hardcore scene while struggling to make ends meet and dealing with personal life challenges. What was your motivation to do this book?
The motivation came from our respect for such individuals and the need to get them documented NOW! Once myself and Sophia’s two worlds collided, all of the necessary elements were there to capture this scene in some way. Sophia’s first shots of the Belgian scene made it clear that an opportunity to photograph DIY hardcore in a beautiful and honest way – to give it the props it deserved – was there to be taken. How we would tie this together thematically was not clear at first. It was on a trip to visit the Portuguese scene that we decided that the work/hardcore balance was what we were interested in. The motivation then came directly from the scene and those elements you’ve listed – the enthusiasm you feel being around someone like Tonr from Providence can only add to your own motivation.
Writing book about real people and real situations seems like a huge responsibility to provide honest and sincere story. What is the key to telling a good story without compromising that person’s privacy?
I can’t speak for the individuals featured but hardcore is not a great “hiding place” for the most part, so those involved tend to be more honest and trusting with people tied to them through the culture. They had to trust that I respected them and I think that comes through in the book. If I screwed anybody over I would expect to be called out, but I live for it as they do - I would be fucking myself over to disrespect what I love. I think people understood that. All of the people I met were strong individuals who believe in hardcore and the decisions they make around it and have no problem letting people know that.
In terms of the story being good, well there was no need to be creative ‘cos it was all there – passion, suffering, dedication, alienation, community, anger, love. All the elements of a good story are there when people step out of the mainstream to pursue what they believe in. Having to live between two “worlds” will always be interesting to an observer. I just needed to listen and observe.
Saying all of this doesn’t mean I wasn’t stressed about getting everything ‘right’ - I couldn’t go back to the south of Poland and hang around Adam’s mine waiting for him to finish his shift so that I could check over everything. Both myself and Sophia needed to be open and aware to ensure that we didn’t miss stuff.
How much time did it take you to gather all the stories and how much time did you need for the writing and editing the book?
It was a short period of time – months. After we had presented our initial pitch to the publishers it was a case of wait…wait…um…wait…go, go, go! There was a period of time that we thought it might not happen ‘cos our contact, Buzz (great name, great guy) had to clear it with other people at the publishers and they weren’t going to email to tell us about each meeting they were having. We weren’t sure what was going on and then suddenly it was on and we had to get the whole thing done hardcore style! The speed helped keep everything “true” to our original plan - we had already decided to move through a number of countries quickly, shooting what we saw and documenting as honestly as possible. With the pressure to hand in for publishing, that speed was even more important and helped immensely with focus! The support of those in the scene made the whole thing possible. I also have to send a shout out to Balance’s designer, Siaron Hughes as she really helped us with her advice and guidance.
How did you choose the people to be featured in the book?
We worked out that on our budget we could hit a number of countries in the required time frame. It was then a case of making contact with people in the scene – we needed to capture people at work and performing/promoting, only being able to spend one or two days in each place before catching a train or plane to the next! Word spread through those who were down to support the project - like Joerg in Germany and Tonr in France - and the Balance tentacles found their way into the lives of strangers in the countries visited. We tried to capture a cross section of Europe but didn’t have the time to get to places like the Nordics, which was a real shame. I’d love to do another book and hit a load of the countries we couldn’t get to.
Which part of researching for the book was the most personally interesting to you?
Poland’s experience of the modern scene was of great interest because it was happening at the same time as I was getting into hardcore yet the experiences were both very different and very similar in a way that wasn’t the case with other Western European countries. Aside from the subject matter I was writing about, I was also very interested in how we would capture the people and music in photographs. Standing on speakers with a lightbox held above my head while Sophia dodged spin-kicks looked chaotic but we knew that the resultant lighting would capture the subjects in a more intimate way.
Was there anything that surprised you when dealing with hardcore kids from totally different parts of Europe, like Poland, Portugal, Germany, France… ?
There were cultural elements that informed some behavior and attitudes – the Southern Europeans were a lot more open and warm than their Northern counterparts for example, but ultimately hardcore people are hardcore people.
Were there stories that you would have liked to include, but they just didn't make into the final book?
Due to the speed that we were moving at, there were a few cases where a person was playing a show but it was impossible to catch them at work while we were in their country. There were also a few cases of vans breaking down and potential subjects not making shows – typical low budget DIY hardcore stuff. We could only cover two people per country so it was hard when you’d interview and hang out with somebody and they’d have another angle but there was no room to include them. Essentially there was a cut-off point - if we didn’t catch a full snapshot of that person at that time then it wouldn’t do the project justice.
It would have been amazing to include every country in Europe but it would have been impossible in the timescale. The book had to remain honest to its creation. As I explain in the introduction – this isn’t the ultimate guide to European Hardcore in 2011/12, rather it is a snapshot of the lives of some of its participants. There will always be those who can’t accept that and want the book to feature pages and pages of their favourite bands. This project came about to highlight what living a hardcore life means – if you can’t see yourself in some of these subjects and their experience than what are you doing calling yourself hardcore?
Hardcore is still an unusual topic for a book. Was it easy to find a publisher?
No. We learnt a lot wandering around book fairs and asking questions but it helped that we pitched the project to Buzz; somebody who was already familiar with hardcore. When I explained what we were going to be doing he half joked, “is this gonna be about FSU?” and I knew that we’d been given a lucky break and we had to nail it. Thankfully we did. Some of the other publishers would smile and nod as you went through presentations and suddenly reel back in horror when they saw a tattooed “thug” swinging their arms in a pit. Hopefully they can now read about these people and not be so quick to judge them. Strangely, a common brush-off was, “we’re concentrating on cook books.” I guess that was the most un-hardcore subject they could think of. I think there was actually a hardcore cookbook put out a while ago with Sick Of It All and maybe Agnostic Front donating their favourite recipes. Maybe I dreamt it…
What was the publishing process like with this book?
As you can tell from our stress waiting for a decision from the publishers, we were both novices to this world. We decided that, no matter how hard it was to convince people, it was important to do this on a scale befitting of the subject matter and work. We were confident in our work and believed in what we were doing, even if we took a few knock-backs.
What’s your own history or relationship with hardcore? What's the most important lesson you've learned throughout your involvement in the movement?
I got into hardcore in my teens because it was the perfect fit. I didn’t fit in with the metal and rock scenes, and they didn’t connect with me in anything like the way seeing people of my own age, dressed “normally”, and screaming about stuff with sincerity did. Everybody around me listened to dancehall and rap (which I still love), but Knuckledust was the same age as us and made music that crushed all of that dead! It was completely crazy. I was full of aggression and I needed something real to listen to that had that rage running through it. I love all types of street music but hardcore has THE sound. The first show I went to had my future singer, DBS on the door – 15 years old but a tough kid! Knuckledust were playing alongside Stampin’ Ground, who Ian Glasper played with. Ian’s balancing act of running labels, working a day job, raising a family, playing in bands, and writing, would go on to inspire me to do something. The fact that he writes the foreword for the book is amazing - he was playing onstage at my first hardcore show which cemented my love for the music - and then writes the foreword for Balance all these years later. Would that happen in any other “music scene?”
I started my own band, Kartel after attending shows, so my relationship with hardcore then became even more involved. The most important lessons? Wow. The real power of co-operation, of trust, the importance of channeling negativity into something positive without compromising your beliefs, the power to go beyond the limits society places on you through building your own communities and art. Aggressive music is no less valid than other forms of music – humans have different experiences, hardcore is one type of music for those who’ve been pissed off by theirs. It definitely acted as an anchor in my life growing up.