On their own, memories stay sharp only for so long. It's the physical reminders of an experience that make a moment vivid. And one thing's for certain: if you're in the audience at a Modern Pain show, you're very likely to leave with a few lumps and bruises as a memento of the band's set. It's precisely because of this danger and chaos that Modern Pain is quickly rising within the American hardcore underground. The band recently joined the roster of one of the genre's most recognized labels, Bridge Nine Records, and has earned spots on some of the country's largest hardcore festivals, including last weekend's South By So What Festival in Grand Prairie.
The band, formed in Dallas in 2010, is part of a sect of hardcore groups taking the genre in ever-darker directions. In their music, lyrics and artwork, Modern Pain delves strictly in the grays and blacks of the world. Reality of the Pain, the band's 2012 debut EP, demands the listener's attention from the first note. The songs shift between off-the-rails intensity and walls of brooding feedback without warning. If you need convincing that Modern Pain's world is a bleak one, the first line of last year's Self Deconstruction EP sets the tone better than my words ever could: "Insanity takes hold of me/I'm left wondering why I'm even here."
The group's live show, though, is where the songs' aura of primal desperation truly peaks. A Modern Pain set is an exhilarating blur of flying bodies and squalled notes, a sensory overload of fast-moving sight and sound. But according to guitarist Jay Chary, the band's approach to live performance wasn't strategically planned at the outset. "Honestly it just naturally happened," he says. "Ever since our early shows, Noah [Boyce, Modern Pain's singer] was always climbing and jumping off stuff without warning. Maybe he'll stop once he hurts himself seriously, but thankfully thus far it has only been stitches and a concussion."
Modern Pain falls under the subcategory of straight edge hardcore, a faction of the genre that abstains from drug and alcohol use. Straight edge bands often write from a markedly positive viewpoint, focusing on the bonds formed through a shared identity. For Modern Pain, though, straight edge is a perspective from which to approach the harrowing realities of drug use rather than a soapbox to preach on.
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"Well, we never wanted to be too vocal about straight edge in our music because we aren't like that in real life," explains Chary. "A lot of bands want to talk about sticking together because they are straight edge, but we wanted to talk about (what we would imagine) the hell it is to deal with overdoses, relapses, and isolation."
On the strength of two EPs and a solid touring history, last month Modern Pain signed to long-running Massachusetts hardcore label Bridge Nine Records. Bridge Nine has released albums from such legendary acts as Agnostic Front, H2O and Terror, and has long been one of the most-watched labels in the genre for rising talent. Modern Pain was on tour when they were contacted out of the blue by the label, a moment Chary describes as "one of the most bizarre, unexpected things to happen to us, ever."
The band recently traveled to Philadelphia to record their debut full-length with Arthur Rizk, someone who, like Modern Pain, is known as much for his musical talents as for his violent live performances. Chary views the producer as a kindred spirit and, in his words, "enough of a weirdo to properly capture what we were trying to do in the studio." And just like the band, Rizk approaches the hardcore genre from a set of multifaceted influences, drawing inspiration from 80s thrash and black metal to hone a unique production style.
Modern Pain will undoubtedly gain new fans from the album once it's released later this summer, but where the band will continue to have its largest impact is in a live setting. For some, last weekend's South By So What Festival in Grand Prairie was their first chance to see the group, who played alongside a multi-generational roster of some of the nation's biggest hardcore and metal acts. Although the lineup largely skewed towards the more mainstream side of the genre, for the more underground bands on the bill (like Modern Pain, who played for the second year in a row) it was an opportunity to perform for a receptive audience that might not otherwise have been exposed to them.
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"South By So What is an interesting phenomenon because during our set last year, I saw so many kids singing along and going off to us that I have never seen in my life," Chary recollected shortly before this year's edition of the festival. He went on to lament: "On the one hand, it's bad ass that they're into the band, but on the other hand, why aren't they coming to hardcore shows where it's $6 instead of $60 to watch us and a bunch of even better bands play?"
Chary isn't overly concerned with how many people the band can convert to regular DIY show attendees, though. More than anything, he wants audiences to remember a Modern Pain set. No lukewarm fence-sitting here: like any great boundary-pushing band, the goal is to elicit strong emotions, no matter what. "Whether it is a positive or negative [response], we want to be polarizing," says Chary. "We would rather have someone hate us or love us than be indifferent about us."
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