Hate5Six Captures the Hardcore Shows You Wish You Were At
Last year, Hate5Six, an online platform documenting and preserving hardcore and punk history through live videos, turned seven years old. In those seven years, founder Sunny Singh built the site from the ground up, transforming it from the seed of an idea existing on YouTube to a more complex, algorithm-driven community of its own. But as the modified hammer-and-sickle logo suggests, Singh’s goal is larger and more political than some may realize.
In the site’s manifesto, he describes Hate5Six as a “project [that] stands for the redistribution of high-quality live music videos in as much of an anti-capitalist framework as realistically allowable … In an era when the turnover rate in the community is staggeringly high, this site serves as a vehicle for preservation and posterity. Institutional memory is key in any setting, and hardcore is no exception.” This may sound a bit hefty for those who have only spent a cursory amount of time on the site, but when you're pressed on the fleeting nature of live performances, Singh’s message begins to make a lot of sense. How many of us have been to shows that we wish we could revisit? How many past events are lost to time?
In the age of cellphones, where (virtually) everyone has a HD camera in their pocket, however, where do we draw the line? For every question that Singh raises, there are counterpoints. Is there such a thing as too much documentation? In order to better spread awareness of not necessarily his site, but his message, we hopped on the phone with Singh to talk about his goals and some of the problems that his site inadvertently may support.
When and where did you first start getting to hardcore and punk shows?
I started going to shows in the early 2000s. I grew up about 20-30 minutes away from Philadelphia, in Marlton, New Jersey. It must have been around 2000 or 2001, when I was a freshman in high school and my friends were starting bands — the typical ska or pop-punk, the type of shit that you get into in high school. I wanted to get involved, but I didn’t really know how to do that. I wasn’t really musically inclined and I didn’t really want to be in a band. So, I saw the video camera as a cool thing to try. I didn’t have experience before that and I didn’t really have a goal in mind. Eventually it kind of fizzled out because I was about to go to college and, at that point there was no way to share it, because there was no real online streaming.
So, what happened to kick it back into gear, to make you realize that Hate5Six could be a reality?
I had stopped filming shows sometime around the middle of 2004, but in 2006 I got my first real camera. It was a Canon GL2, which is a prosumer camera that was typically used in news and for films as a B-roll camera, stuff like that. I remember the first big show that I filmed was the Floorpunch reunion. At that time, YouTube had become a thing, so I put it up there and I started to get a little bit of traffic. I continued filming shows through 2008 and then, come 2009, there was the Burning Fight fest in Chicago, which was a big event to celebrate this book written by Brian Peterson celebrating the best of the best from the '90s hardcore scene. They got a bunch of these bands to reunite, like Disembodied, Trial, 108 and Unbroken. I remember they had some sort of call online for people who wanted to shoot the show. So, I wrote them this big thing about how I was shooting shows over the last few years and how I really thought it was important for the sets to be preserved for posterity. Eventually they wrote me to tell me they were picking someone else, but wanted to thank me. I was pretty bummed, but I was planning on going anyway, and then about a week before the show they hit me up saying that things fell through with the original person and that they would love for me to come in and do my thing. I remember getting that green light and talking to my photographer friend and them telling me, "This is a turning point for you; this is what is going to push you to the next step." I thought he was exaggerating, but if you look at the statistics, Burning Fight was the tipping point.
Hate5Six seems akin to a political statement, i.e., documenting and preserving is something that you believe is necessary. I was wondering if you could outline your attachment to the project?
That’s definitely it. I took a certain political turn with the site, both literally and figuratively. I think there is an inherent political statement with what Hate5Six is: It’s this idea of redistributing these experiences from live shows to people who can’t experience them, either because they are not anywhere near where these shows are happening or they weren’t even alive when these shows happened. For me, it’s just about sharing these experiences with people, and I think that can be a pretty subversive thing. Obviously, there are aesthetics — I am always shooting continuous shots, I am always shooting full sets and I don’t cut things out — but it's this idea of wanting to signal boost what hardcore is. Hardcore punk — and music in general — really opened me up to a lot of ideas and different modes of thinking. Which means that sometimes I film stuff that I don’t like, but as a completist I need to document and share it because it might inspire someone somewhere — it may make them think a different way, and it might challenge the way they think. There is a certain value in creating this environment where people can hear ideas. It is not just reliving stage dives, but thinking about what hardcore is. Music is communicating ideas through rhythm and sound.
Do you ever feel like you are missing out, being stuck behind the camera?
Yeah, there are definitely times where I feel like that. [Laughs] There are a handful of bands where I will ask other people to film for me because I want to be singing along. Not to name-drop, but I remember getting into an argument with Ian MacKaye because I wanted to shoot the Evens. He basically said it was cool if I shot it, but he also argued that I was doing myself a disservice by putting a device between what was happening before me and enjoying the experience. He was basically saying that there may be a point where I want to put the camera down and enjoy the set, and I agree with that — there are certain bands that I would much rather be singing along with — but when I am filming a band, I feel like I am engaged with their set in a different way: I am looking for different moments, I am looking for the way that the music is influencing the crowd and how the crowd responds to it, and I am trying to capture these moments.
It’s strange with MacKaye as well, given his project to archive as many Fugazi performances as he can. He seems to create a hierarchy, where audio is a more important tool than video when it comes to archiving.
I think he has certain points. There is definitely an overabundance of documentation, and it’s something that I contribute to. I don’t know if you want to call it a problem, but it is something that should be discussed. People should think about the point where there is too much documentation. As far as what video can offer that audio cannot, video offers a window into a band’s live existence that isn’t really captured otherwise. It’s obvious, but a video gives you the benefit of both the aspect of hearing and seeing a band’s live performance. It gives a window into how people, in a specific time and place, reacted to that band’s music; were they just standing around or were they going apeshit? I feel like that is a very interesting thing. It is telling a story of not just how a band sounds, but how an audience is responding to it.
You can make the argument that audio prioritizes the band, while video prioritizes the communal aspect.
That’s actually a good point, because hardcore and punk is a very communal thing where bands will say, "The mic is yours," or "The stage is yours," and I think people take that literally.
How do you battle your personal politics versus a band’s? You stated earlier that you often have to shoot bands that you don’t like. Is there a breaking point where you’d refuse to shoot a band?
It’s tough because I try to come at it as an objective observer, almost as a journalist. To not film something would feel disingenuous. I do get people reaching out to me that say that I shouldn’t film a certain band or should delete footage because they did this or that. Even though I often side with what they are saying, I feel like I can’t be revisionist because if someone is going to ask me to be revisionist, they damn well better be ready for me to be consistent about that decision, and that starts to bring in these gray areas. If I am going to censor a certain band and basically remove them from history — which is pretty fucked up — where do I draw the line? I feel like the best way for me to do it is to just film everything, and if the band is controversial, let there be a discussion that comes out of it But at the same time, there have been bands that just go on stage and spew sexist or homophobic things, and there have been a handful of times where I just turn the camera off. But, at the end of the day, I try to be as consistent as I can.
I think that one of the downsides of the ability to document and share everything is that a sense of entitlement forms. People think they are owed things immediately. How do you deal with that attitude?
I think people have this assumption that I am a fully-fledged company and I have employees that are just churning out videos everyday, and they don’t realize it is essentially just me. People have a disconnect — and not just with me, but with record labels and things like that — with the amount of work that goes into producing these things. There is a lot of shit going on behind the scenes that you don’t really realize. That sense of entitlement definitely became a thing with pirating music online. That created this environment — and I am guilty of it — where you can freely access any sort of music you want and not have to pay for it. I don’t know what the solution is, but I usually try to deal with it with humor, or I try to call people out on it, or ignore it the best I can. I intentionally slow down my releases to keep people waiting and wanting more. There is an assumption that things are always going to persist, when in fact there is no guarantee that is the case. I think that, for me, that is what is most dangerous about this era of entitlement: It is that people just assume that things are infallible, and that is not the case. I definitely hit a brick wall every now and then where I think, ‘I don’t want to be doing this anymore. This is just a hobby and I have a lot of other things in my life.’ Those are the things that people don’t see, and those are the most telling things about this age of entitlement.
You have also implemented a system that rewards giving as well. Can you tell us about that?
I started experimenting with this voting system for the This Is Hardcore and Back to School Jam sets. Normally, I predetermine what order I am going to post the videos and when I decide to do it. This year, I moved to this paid voting system, where for 50 cents you can vote for whatever set you want to see, and there is no limit for how many times you vote or for which bands. That money goes to pay off engineers and the camera equipment rental — I am not banking off any of this [laughs]; this is recovering costs — and I also split the funds with a charity that I pick. The interesting thing about the voting is that the onus isn’t on one particular person, but it gives the community a voice to determine what comes out when. It’s showing people that, at least in this small inconsequential domain, there are things you can control. What it boils down to is a "do it yourself" philosophy.
How long do you see Hate5Six lasting for?
The site turned 7 in October, so I hope it keeps going. Every time I think about going to a show and not filming, I get upset. I feel like the site is still growing, and lately I’ve been getting hit up by bigger bands and labels asking if I was interested in covering them. Young kids will tell me that I helped them discover their new favorite band, and older folks will say that they fell out of hardcore and just discovered this new scene because of a video, and that keeps me going. That makes me feel like the stuff I am doing has meaning.