Hardcore with open arms: A chat with Hamtown Smakdown organiser, Sam Chumz
I get lost. I am neither proud nor pleased that this is the case, but Sam Chumz, Hamilton musician and general music guy doesn't make me feel bad about it. He waves off my apologies and we take up residence in what I am certain is a cafe on the brink of closing for the day. So as waiters mop floors and balance tills, I try to unravel the annual punk and hardcore show Hamtown Smakdown just before it launches it's 16th event over the weekend of the 18th and 19th of March.
Sam Chumz is all of 27, but he is an old hand in Hamilton. He has played in scores of bands, including current hardcore heroes Wizz Kids, and new venture, Love Mess. In 2009 he picked himself out of the muck of the legendary house-party-come-concert venue, The Palace, and went on to open Void at the north end of Vic Street. Void became like a home to so many of Hamilton's musically enthralled punters and an actual home for many others staying upstairs one too many nights to be called guests and one too few to pay proper rent. Chumz and his bevy of collaborators dedicated the space to a wide array of musical tastes for all ages, though primarily punk and hardcore permeated the air. The stairs leading up into the venue read proudly, "No Racism, No Sexism, No Homophobia, No Violence, No Alcohol, No Drugs," which was always intended to promote inclusiveness. That is what Chumz is trying to replicate with Hamtown Smakdown again this year, a space of inclusiveness where those interested in music rather than the drugs, alcohol or the violence can come and enjoy an evening or two out.
I ask Chumz about violence, but in no way because he looks like a violent person. He's thin and speaks both quietly and with a hurried confidence. Not only does he seem non-violent, I learn he's vegan and a cyclist. However, hardcore punk has been linked to violence both in its inception in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Washington DC and LA and, I learn from Chumz, more recently in Hamilton at previous Hamtown Smakdown events and similar shows. Chumz' attitude to how violence and hardcore mix is not all that different from the likes of hardcore bands in those earlier times. When Black Flag guitarist, Chuck Dukowski was asked about his audience he explained, "[the audience] go there for the intensity of the event...the action at the event is very violent". So it was in Hamilton, where Chumz saw some of the most extreme hardcore dancing anywhere. But it wasn't long before Smakdown started seeing what the likes of Black Flag had seen; people attending the events as an excuse to get violent. That is what Chumz is trying to avoid. It was in the values of Void and has been at the forefront of the last three Smakdown events of which he has been at the helm. He sees diversity in the crowd as key to supporting this culture and to get diversity in the crowd, he has been looking for diversity in the bands.
Melbourne hardcore band Outright are one way to move things and their incredibly upbeat front-woman, Jelena Goluza will ensure smiles on every face as they headline this years' Smakdown. It was important to Chumz to see more female attendees at the show and as a friend of Outright's Goluza, he knew they were exactly the right spirit to bring over. Chumz acknowledged that the crowd has been male-dominated in the past and even had a "jock" type feel, but he is making sure that those from every walk of life can climb the Meteor steps on the weekend and open their ears to two nights of blistering music with nothing to worry about and a positive atmosphere. In fact, it's not just a hardcore scene or walking musical encyclopaedias that Chumz is trying to attract either. He's hoping it will be the first show attended by many. An introduction if you will. Partly because he remembers coming into Hamilton for some of his first shows and the affect it had on him and partly because he is quietly proud of the event, the music and the place he's had in it all this time.