Festival Review: Just Another Gig Vol. 4 at Real Art Tacoma in Tacoma, WA

Tacoma, Washington has been cold and gloomy, but on the first day of Just Another Gig (JAG) Vol. 4 the clouds parted and the sun shined to welcome bands and fans from all around the US and Canada. As the sun set and the event commenced, the real heat began to come out on the floor of Real Art Tacoma.

Seattle hardcore natives Insecure were the first up of the JAG Vol. 4 weekend. Being locally based, the pit immediately opened up as Tacomans welcomed the Pacific Northwest band. As they played a personal favorite, “Snakes,” the energy in the room skyrocketed to welcome the local and traveling hardcore kids.

Next up were Video Prick, also based in the Seattle region. Widely known for vocalist Chad Bucklew‘s energy and vibrant performance, Video Prick are a band you don’t want to sleep on if they’re in your town. As the set began, Bucklew threw himself from side to side of the stage as the pit began to mirror him. By the end of their performance, the back of Bucklew’s head was bloody and the first of many mics over the weekend was broken.

Known for their branding “Real Bay Shit,” San Jose-based band Big Boy kicked off the next set with their new spring promo. “Ace of Spades!” echoed in the room as the Bay Area hardcore scene came to life in South Tacoma. Travelers from the Bay Area piled on top of vocalist Brandon Flores, still fueled by the energy from Video Prick’s performance.

The band who displayed the most merch worn amongst the pit went to none other than the New England-based band Restraining Order. Having followed Big Boy’s performance where moshers went into “nightmare mode,” Restraining Order brought a more dancey vibe amongst the “two-steppers.” Their set was the palate cleanser we all needed after the notoriously known San Jose hardcore aggression that preceded it.

Having their home rooted in Tacoma, Denial of Life played to friends and fans next. Being a woman in the hardcore scene, my heartstrings are always pulled by seeing the scene continue to grow in diversity. Vocalist Brenna Gowin shared on being a woman in hardcore: “I love the fact that it’s a very common thing seeing femmes in bands no matter the instrument, and I wish there was a lot more of that around when I was a kid. I really love the fact that these bands and people are being recognized for the simple fact that they’re great musicians, not their gender. We live in a really sick time right now that provides the space to thrive.”

Being based in Tacoma, Gowin and I also chatted a bit about what JAG meant to her and the DOL team. “JAG, to me, is a really beautiful opportunity to introduce and involve our entire community in music. It’s so cool seeing how many people, all from different walks of life and in some cases not even from the state, at Real Art all gathered together for the love of music.”

In their set Friday, DOL brought variety to the venue from their beatdown riffs in “Bloodsaint” to their more ’80’s rock-influenced song “Antifreeze,” and through the diversity in their music, you could feel the synergy in the band. “DOL means the world to me; changed my entire life. I feel so lucky to be in a band with my musical soulmates. I mean, really, all three of them make me feel so inspired every day and I couldn’t ask for a better team. If I could spend the rest of my life doing this with them, I would.”

Having a super quick jump in popularity amongst the hardcore scene, Gel followed up. Of course, the energy rose with “XOXO,” but as they performed their new single “Attainable” the energy peaked. “Attainable” comes as one of two recent singles released in anticipation of their new album to come this year. Though this was not my first time seeing Gel, every performance lives up to the hype and leaves you excited for the next time you might catch them.
Texas-based band, Judiciary, followed next. The metal band definitely changed the energy coming behind the more melodic Gel. Nonetheless, the engagement from the pit was unwavering.

The last to finish the first day was the Winnipeg band, Comeback Kid. This was by far the sweatiest set of the day as the entire room broke out in song and dance. The room erupted with “We said! We said! We said!” as vocalist Andrew Neufeld led “Wake the Dead.” Stage divers flew from each side of the stage as the room pushed forward. Comeback Kid’s presence was also a light in the room amongst the number of Canada-based hardcore scene kids that came to Real Art this weekend; another important representation of the diversity the hardcore scene has grown into. And with the end of Comeback Kid’s set so did the first day of JAG conclude.

After a crushing previous day, Ego Death kicked off the second day of JAG. The Seattle band did not hesitate to get the pit started especially being local to the scene. Their performance of “Misery Loves Company” was what caught me, but what really left a lasting impression was the break between songs when guitarist Pedro Licuime picked up a carton of milk and started chugging it. This was not the first nor last impressionable thing to be consumed on the stage of Real Art.

By All Meanz dedicated their set to the local native tribes, including the Puyallup and Nisqually tribes of whose land Tacoma resides. In their song “None Forgiven”, vocalist Caleb Sugiyama shouts “Do they know who we are?! This is Tacoma hardcore!” representing their home-based pride. In addition, Sugiyama shared what it meant to him and the Tacoma hardcore community having JAG present:

“Tacoma is where Rainfest started and having JAG brings a bigger scope to our town for hardcore rocks. Tacoma hardcore kinda fizzled out for a bit, so having people shout out Tacoma again and telling people they gotta come through for things like JAG makes me feel like all the years supporting my scene haven’t been for nothing. Tacoma hardcore is forever.”

A Mourning Star played next. Having recently released their new single “A World Beyond,” the five-piece Canadian band’s presence at JAG Vol. 4 was their debut in U.S. touring. Guitarist, Kurt Cuffy, shared a little about their experience: “JAG to us was wild! It was super cool to play in America for the first time at such a crucial fest in Tacoma. We were happy to share a couple of new songs for the first time and we can’t wait to be back.”

With their last festival being at Act Like You Know in Tulsa, OK, Ozone only brought bigger energy to their performance at JAG. The Fort Worth-based band is one that is worth seeing if they’re performing near you. From the energy vocalist, Joe Kelly brings in his stage presence to the heavy riffs you can’t help but want to two-step to, they are consistent and such a pleasure to see.

Next on the roster of San Jose-based Bay Area bands was Spinebreaker. Like Big Boy the day before, the Bay Area hardcore kids came to life for their set piling on top of each other to flood the stage. Spinebreaker brought a much more aggressive pit with their death metal riffs. If you’ve seen Spinebreaker before, you know already know this is their normal.

Embracing classic New York hardcore vibes, Combust took us from the West Coast to the East Coast with a bit of their own new age spin. Combust started in 2017 as a high school idea that has since been a band loved from coast-to-coast. From vocalist Andrew Vacante: “JAG was a really cool moment for me and the rest of Combust. We don’t get to head out to the West Coast that often. It was a really cool representation of the Northwest hardcore scene.” Their performance this weekend was one to have not missed, and every time “The Big Game” plays I’m immediately transported back into dance mode that Friday night.

Next, Simulakra was up to bat. The Delaware hardcore band came in heavy with their brutal beatdowns and belligerent riffs. It’s impossible to not feel your adrenaline rise when Simulakra plays, and that stayed consistent at JAG. From the stage, this was the first band of the night that made the pit and stage feel like they were merging together, but they were not the last.

Up-and-coming from Seattle and next on the roster was Apex Predator. Sean from CVLT Nation commented how “with every set, they just keep getting better and better.” Having only released their two EPs between 2021 and 2022, Apex Predator is one to keep an eye out for with their heavy riffs and tough exterior. Moreso, Apex Predator is a must-see live performance. During their set, vocalist Casey Shaw paused to hand off the mic as he proceeded to grab a pack of G-Fuel and consume it like Fun-Dip only to add to the infectious energy they were already bringing to the venue.

My Bay Area bias aside, one of my favorite bands to catch live followed next in line. Spy re a band to not miss whether you see them at a festival, above a cafe in Oakland, or at a random house show—Their energy never wavers. Maybe it was Peter Pawlak’s eccentric stage presence or the residual G Fuel left behind from Apex Predator, but their performance led one to believe the night was only just getting started as the crowd collectively joined in singing “Afraid of Everything.” From Pawlak, “For Spy, it was our second time playing JAG and we really appreciate being invited back. The PNW scene is a special thing and we love playing shows up there.” And with their performance, another mic was lost.

Boasting an Eagles jersey, Gridiron came out ready to represent their Pennsylvania football team for the following day’s Superbowl Sunday. As they walked on stage, they played the Philadelphia Eagles fight song before playing. Gridiron is another one of those bands that is timeless to see and every time is better than the last, though having Mindforce on the same bill definitely made this performance a personal favorite. As they played “25-8,” Jay Peta of Mindforce joined in for his vocal feature– truly an experience worth noting especially if you too enjoy this song recorded.

Lastly, to finish the weekend was the New York-based hardcore band, Mindforce. Before starting their set, vocalist Jay Peta introduced their first song with a tribute to his wife: “This song goes out to my wife. I lost my wedding ring—She doesn’t care! Words fail!” As their set continued, all safe spaces in the venue vanished as the stage became one with the pit. The entire room echoed the lyrics to “Excalibur” as Jay didn’t even need to sing this song.

In a similar fashion, their quick one-minute hit “Nightmare” was mostly performed by the audience. While shooting the show, I looked down for a moment to find a person in the pit wiggling between my legs and Sunny’s of Hate5Six. By the end of their performance, the only thing remaining in the pit was an explosion of the G Fuel brought in during Apex Predator’s set. It was difficult to tell if the energy on the second night was greater influenced by the stellar performances all day or the contact high from the residual G Fuel left in the room.

Overall, the weekend was one for the books. The space in Real Art Tacoma was filled with an incredible amount of love, bloody noses, and a lot of hardcore. But at the end of the day, it was just another gig.

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