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Hard to be ‘core: The all-ages scene still struggles against its city

<p>Steven Brown from Scream The Lie performing at Extreme Thing 2013. PHOTO: MAX PLENKE</p>

Steven Brown from Scream The Lie performing at Extreme Thing 2013. PHOTO: MAX PLENKE

<p>Extreme Thing 2013. PHOTO: MAX PLENKE</p>

Extreme Thing 2013. PHOTO: MAX PLENKE

The pavement looks straight out of Lord of the Rings. Two groups divided into monstrous, convulsing, 100-man organs of flat-ironed hair and lip rings, between them a bare, sun-beaten 30-yard canyon of asphalt. “Wall of death!” they chant at Scream the Lie onstage, signifying they want a battle. Or a slaughter. Something that draws blood, which they’ll show their nonparticipatory friends, waiting on the sideline, phones raised against the sky, little red record button lit up. And on three the sides hurdle toward each other like mounds of iron to a magnet, until smearing their bodies together in the middle, a black cotton snowball melting in the desert sun. This is Extreme Thing. And these kids, running into each other the way cars run into trees, are, loosely defined, the all-ages -core (a blanket term for hardcore, metalcore and hard punk) scene.

“I’d say the Extreme Thing crowd for STL was split between 75 percent of people who knew us and 25 percent of people who just heard music playing,” says Steven Brown, Scream the Lie’s 18-year-old frontman. His five-piece metalcore outfit played at 11:30 a.m., the first band of the day. The line to gain entry was still a bottlenecked platoon of ticket-buyers. But his band’s fans were waiting, arrived early to dance (more or less) to one of a handful of local all-ages bands to snag a signing with a small-shop label out of state — in this case, Negative Progression Records, also the label of locals Ministry of Love. “Once I signed MOL, I was interested in continuing to make a name for my label in the Vegas music community,” says label head Seth Hyman. “Scream the Lie were friends with MOL and they contacted me several times about working with them. When I saw STL were playing great shows opening for large national acts, I decided to sign them.”

And that’s been the trend of the last couple years, slowly gaining momentum. Stolas is the first to sign to California-based Blue Swan Records, the label of Dance Gavin Dance’s Will Swan. Caravels signed to Boston-based Topshelf Records. Alaska joined Portland’s Never Lost Records. Around our bullpen we’ve nicknamed these the Yayo Taco Bands, those that appeal to the all-ages audience and count their bar shows on one hand or less. “I definitely notice the increase in bands getting signed, and I’m stoked for it,” Brown says. “I think with the lack of venues, there is a sort of natural selection going on with bands. Bands that are willing to do what it takes to make it out of the Vegas local issues are being separated from those who are not, and I think labels just like to see that, among other things.”

It didn’t used to be as necessary to get out of town, we’d learn as more musicians opened up about the problems that sound uniquely Las Vegas. “The main problem you run in to are options because there are so few now,” says Jules Manning, who has played for both the all-ages scene with Marsana and the 21-plus crowd as a new member of Goldboot. “A few years ago it was easy because you had The Farm, Fade, The Rock ‘N’ Java [and] Jillian’s. It was as easy as starting a band, writing songs and sending an e-mail. Now you have to worry about your age, where to play, if there will be a P.A. — [and] is the venue still around?”

It’s not like there isn’t a demand for it. The crowds at all-ages shows make those at most bar gigs feel paltry in comparison. But the scarcity in outlets for the all-ages community is almost congruent with the national attention on it. Take the crowd pulping together in the tyrannical spring sun during Scream the Lie’s unfathomably early set. The support is there. We’ve been reporting on it for years — a venue closes, nothing takes its place. And some have a hard time staying optimistic. “The same scenario of a venue closing and a new venue opening happens at least once a year,” says local -core music promoter Sam Favata, adding that hardcore bands don’t make a point to stop through Las Vegas. “Hardcore has quite a downfall here when it comes to that.”

Maybe with the disintegration of all-ages venues, it makes bands hungrier, working harder to get themselves in front of different crowds and touring immediately. It’s like the city, with its strict rules for teen dance-hall licenses and ridiculous standards for operating, acts as negative reinforcement. “I think it’s because musicians are starting to see that there’s more than just one way to the top and these little labels are trying those different ways to get those bands out there,” Manning says. “Sometimes it gets a bad rap, but its a pretty great scene to be punk, hardcore [and] prog in.”