Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ink & Dagger

There's a schism of understanding in hardcore as it relates to performance. The bedrock of hardcore punk is rooted in authenticity and realism. What you see on stage is the real deal. There's no room for pageantry or artistry. Most of the time when bands do try to be artistic, it comes off as contrived and bad. In recent years, we've seen a spate of psuedo-poetic, pseudo-philosophical hardcore bands that modern hardcore kids have been eating up (a more glaring indictment of modern hardcore kids' sensibilities than the bands' artistic chops). In truth, artistry in hardcore is a formidable challenge, if not near impossible. Your audience are usually kids who wear a hood of cynicism (at least they should) and usually come to the show expecting some kind of catharsis out of it. The problem for artistry in hardcore is that kids are either too smart or too dumb for it.

Then you get a project like Philadelphia's Ink & Dagger and things become different. Formed by Sean McCabe & Don De Vore in the mid 1990s, Ink & Dagger was a project based entirely in artistic immersion. It wasn't about self-expression as much as it was the two members becoming other people during their sets. Ink & Dagger was hardcore's most successful performance art band. Their entire gimmick was based on vampirism. They painted their faces white with black around the eyes (think Nosferatu) and incorporated a lot of fake blood in their sets. Their sound was more complex and interesting, even for 90s hardcore which prides itself on being more abstract and interesting. Ink & Dagger's sound incorporated electronics, post-hardcore, 90s screamo, and other elements. Ink & Dagger's sound, as well as their persona, are truly one of a kind.

The band's persona is far more admirable than their musical accomplishments. Up to now, Ink & Dagger has been explained as a 'performance art' band. You probably think that the members were a couple of emaciated dorks who went to an east coast art school, are PC to the bone, and are egalitarian pacifists. This description is not even in the same galaxy as what Ink & Dagger was. Not only were they a performance art band, but they were easily one of the most confrontational hardcore bands ever. They loved to mess with people and not like "your shirt is stupid" mess with them, I mean like "what do you value highest? Watch me trash it" mess with them. McCabe once vomited on a Christmas tree on stage. He threw eggs at Hare Krishna devotees. Most famous of all was the Earth Crisis incident. During an Earth Crisis performance, McCabe hit the stage in a fur coat (that later proved to be fake, but in the moment no one knew that) and pelted the band with yogurt. McCabe's antics bordered on hyperbole.

Another famous Ink & Dagger incident was their first Halloween show in New Brunswick, NJ. Here is noted Philadelphia hardcore personality Robby Redcheeks' account of the show in a 2007 interview with blog All Philly, All Day:

"Trope built a coffin to carry Jenny Jamz (Jennifer Layne Park) out to into the show. The show was PACKED. So we put Jenny in the coffin outside of the show, me and 3 other dudes carried her in pushing through the crowd. People were like “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!" We were all in Dagger makeup also. We set the coffin down in front of the crowd. Jenny got out wearing a black leather body suit and started reciting the oath she wrote in the Drive This 7”. Reciting, im sorry, more like inciting a riot. She was pushing people and yelling in their faces. I had previously prepared a batch of Dagger blood, (this was actually the first time it was used), a mix of 1 bottle of club soda & 1 red color food dye. We made 4 bottles of it and perched on each side of the band for when Jenny was done. When she reached the end, Dagger had already been building up feedback and noise. She finished, and they started off with the beginning to "Changeling" (if I remember correctly) . Then BLAM~ we covered the crowd with blood. And chaos erupted throughout. Needless to say, anyone that was at that show will remember that show forever. Including me."

Of course in bands with personalities as volatile as McCabe's, these things don't last forever. Ink & Dagger broke up in 1999 after only a few years of activity. Luckily, they produced a pretty lengthy catalog before they went. Two full lengths, four EPs, two splits. De Vore went on to feature for a parade of bands: Amazing Baby, Sick Feeling, Frail, Ghost Note, Giant Drag, The Icarus Line, Lilys, Souls She Said. Sean McCabe died in 2000. He was found in a motel room in Indiana. He was 27. McCabe would have probably smiled at this last detail. We all have to go to sometime, but not everyone gets to go as a member of the 27 Club. Hardcore was lucky enough to get one Ink & Dagger and there will never be another one like them.

RIP Sean McCabe


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