Shelter. Buried Alive. A Pulling Teeth reunion. Madball. Disembodied. Bloodlet. Leeway. Code Orange. Killing Time. Earth Crisis. Ramallah. All Out War. Terror. Martyr A.D. 100 Demons…The list goes on and on. 

Even in the context of one of the greatest, most singular heavy music events on the face of the planet, the extremely extreme 2017 This Is Hardcore lineup is something extraordinary and special.

Decibel reached out to Joe “Hardcore” McKay to talk about the twelfth installment of the heavy music institution he’s summoned into being, his own history with the music, and how he keeps killing it year — even while working full-time as a union cement mason…

I found hardcore by going to metal shows at places like the Troc, TLA, Cell Block, etcetera. Being exposed in my early teens to bands like Shelter, Sick Of It All, Sheer Terror, Madball — it was very exciting and surreal to become a part of in my area. Looking back, I was just a young long hair metal kid transitioning from Metallica and Slayer into death metal when I found hardcore. I’d never guess that twenty years later I’d still be booking shows, let alone to the level in which I’ve been doing it.

The original This Is Hardcore template came off the success of the shows put together by Robby Redcheeks, Sean Agnew with the help of Rich Hall when Hellfest 2005 fell apart. The original This Is Hardcore venue — the Starlight Ballroom — was the host venue for the Lifetime reunion with 108. From seeing so many kids go to so many shows in the Philadelphia area in a weekend — three shows at the church, two at the Troc and one at the Starlight Ballroom — I felt like Philadelphia could host a fest not unlike Hellfest or Posi #s — which also ceased operating in 2005.

At first, it was a slow start with the focus on the working, upcoming bands, with no thought to big guarantees or reunions. As we progressed into the highlight of hardcore punk in the states every summer, things grew to a much bigger thing. I’m proud the efforts put forth reaped reward and that Philadelphia became a centerpiece of the American hardcore scene, even if for only a weekend a year. But at the time, I just wanted to fill the void and try to take on the festival construct from my perspective. Having Sean Agnew of R5 Productions as a mentor, friend and partner is really how the event took shape and became a reality and I’m eternally grateful for his support, tutelage and friendship.

I’m a Union Cement Mason, so my day job is completely different from the world of This Is Hardcore with thousands of phone hours logged and emails being sent. I pour concrete during the day and send emails and make calls after work ’til late into the night.

The task of putting a lineup together takes over a year to pull off, with the ball always rolling for the next year as the current year’s fest is in various stages…This Is Hardcore is as difficult as we’ve let it be. With time, as it grew, I was gifted with the tremendous staff of R5 regulars plus my own crew of help to remove some weight from the shoulders. As time moves on, there is multiple hands in the mix, from the lineup building and announcement stage, to the promoting run — which goes about a hundred days — to even more hands “day of” for four days.

It has gotten easier as we’re onto our twelfth edition: We’ve got a system and a good core group who knows what to do and what is expected. It is impressive how simple it feels, yet it is ball-breaking, tear-jerking and very frustrating at times. I’d like to believe this is doing my part to give back to the hardcore punk community that gave me so much and I’m happy that each year our team kicks ass and gives everyone the four days of the year everyone looks forward to.

This [2017] lineup contains so many of my all time favorites. After booking shows for 20 years, this is the most well balanced, evenly booked lineup I’ve ever put together. Whether its the rougher end of the equation like Madball, Blood For Blood — with a special set by Ramallah on Thursday — or the more old school stuff like Leeway, Murphy’s Law and Slapshot. I was happy to be able to bring back Pulling Teeth — a band who played our first lineup in 2006 — to celebrate the ten year anniversary of their Martyr Immortal record. Having booked both Buried Alive and 25 ta Life in my first early years of booking shows, it was an honor to bring both of those back to the stage. Seeing Shelter open for Type O Negative in the early 90s changed my life forever and being able to have them play is still unbelievable.

What makes This Is Hardcore special isn’t just the big names, but all the bands kicking ass today like Code Orange, Jesus Piece, Freedom, Vein, Trail of Lies and being able to tie in some of the newer stuff coming out like Sect, Eyes of the Lord, Easy Money, Risk It! from Germany. I’ve always enjoyed the diversity and wide spectrum of hardcore, so finally getting Bloodlet, Disembodied, Martyr AD and Young And In the Way was very important: I want to make sure there is a lot of diversity in the bands across the four days as a way to showcase to younger kids just how far reaching hardcore is as well as to bring so many of our annual returning supporters back. Whether you’re here for your first time this summer, or you’re back and ready for another crazy Killing Time, H20 or All Out War set, this is going to be something you’ll remember for the rest of your days. I can say for certain I’m most proud of this one…and also most anxiously counting down the days til it all begins.

For more information and tickets, visit the official fest website