How Get Better Fest is delivering on the promise of hardcore and punk

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Get Better Fest 3 | photo by Jeff Hersch | courtesy of Get Better Records
Get Better Fest 3 | photo by Jeff Hersch | courtesy of the artist

Alex Licktenhour wears their identity on their sleeve. Literally. The 27-year-old head of Get Better Records and the driving force behind the festival of the same name recently got the label’s logo, a sunflower bursting out of an upside down pink triangle, tattooed on the back of their arm. That logo, Lickenhour said, is a representation of, “Queerness [and] being non-binary.” Considering the history of the pink triangle being used to mark LGBTQ+ people in Nazi Germany, it also makes an obvious political statement.

This mixture of the personal and the political is reflected in their approach to running the label – going since 2010 – and booking the festival, which is happening for the fourth time at the end of this month. “I feel like through the label [and festival] I broadcast my politics,” Licktenhour explained. “Who is on the label, what I’m talking about. My politics are very open in terms of what I support and what I don’t support.”

Right now that includes a slew of releases from queer grindcore collective +HIRS+ (for whom Licktenhour is an occasional live drummer), rock n’ rollers Thin Lips, the post-G.L.O.S.S. band Tankini, and the final album from folk punk stalwarts Ramshackle Glory. Just as exciting is the recent announcement that the label would be putting out an album by Dark Thoughts, as well as the cassette release of Cayetana’s forthcoming New Kind of Normal.

What’s the unifying thread running through all these bands, outside of the fact that most are from Philadelphia? The label’s no-nonsense slogan addresses that: “DIY label. For the queers. No sexist, no racist, no transphobic, no homophobic, no apologist bullshit tolerated.”

The festival is a natural extension of that, especially since it serves as a fundraiser for progressive and radical non-profits. This year Get Better Fest – April 28th through the 30th – will be benefitting the Trans Assistance Project, Youth Emergency Services, and Women Against Abuse. Shows will be held at Glitter Galaxy, the First Unitarian Church and PhilaMOCA.

 

+HIRS+ | photo courtesy of Get Better Records
+HIRS+ | photo courtesy of Get Better Records

The main focus of the festival, outside of raising money, is on presenting a diverse and inclusive lineup. Asked why, Licktenhour told The Key that, “Giving people a platform that they might not normally have, whether it’s a real stage or a basement stage, is giving them that spotlight that they might not have access to otherwise.” The idea of creating this space for bands to play is important because even in 2017 the all-white/male/straight/cisgender show lineup is still very common. There are no bands playing Get Better Fest this year that are made up entirely of white cisgender men.

That was the first thing brought up by Luke Henderiks from the New Jersey shore eight-piece punk band Teenage Halloween, who are playing Get Better Fest and are also slated to release a tape on the label later this year. “This fest creates a platform for all people and not the simple agenda of cis-white men with meaningless and unproductive lyrical topics,” they told The Key. “As a band it is really wonderful to us that we were considered for a fest of this caliber [and] as a band with mainly queer-identifying individuals it is meaningful to have a space for representation ….”

The hardcore supergroup Open City – featuring members of Bridge and Tunnel, Lifetime, Paint It Black, and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – are scheduled to play the Saturday night Get Better Fest show alongside Radiator Hospital, Soul Glo, Solarized, +HIRS+, and others. The message behind the festival resonates heavily with the band. According to vocalist Rachel Rubino: “Our participation and our efforts to amplify the visibility and voices of these groups doing such important work is the very least we can do.”

Open City guitarist Dan Yemin, who has been continuously involved in punk and hardcore since even before he helped found Lifetime in 1990, concurred: “… I do find it genuinely exciting that punk is perhaps finally beginning to deliver on its promise. And by that I mean being a space that exists in opposition to mainstream culture in which people who have felt alienated in and excluded from mainstream culture can be welcome and free to celebrate life and creativity and passion and resistance.” While the subculture has failed to deliver on that promise in the past, Yemin said that this festival, “seems to be part of something that some of us have been waiting a long time for.”

Open City | photo by Scott Troyan | courtesy of Get Better Records
Open City | photo by Scott Troyan | scotttroyan.com | courtesy of Get Better Records

Get Better Fest isn’t the only punk festival happening in Philadelphia that’s aimed at showcasing bands made up of queer and trans people and/or people of color. There was Electrifest, which occurred at the beginning of this month, and Break Free Fest happening at the end of May. The latter is entirely made up of punk and hardcore bands where all or most of the musicians are people of color.

According to Scout Eleana, the main organizer for Break Free Fest, events like hers and Get Better Fest are important because, “It inspires others to follow in the footsteps of people they admire. … fests like these show people in the music community that you can put a show together with queer bands, bands of color, female-fronted bands without it seeming like a last-minute thought. Representation doesn’t have to be done to satisfy people, it should naturally happen.”

That idea of inspiring others is also central to Licktenhour’s philosophy, be it with running a label or booking a festival. They’re quick to point out that they are not special or unique for having a record label and that anyone can – and should – “Write a good album, record it and put it online. You don’t need a label or anyone else.”

What’s more important, and the reason they continue with Get Better Records and Get Better Fest, is using that music as a force for change. According to Licktenhour, “The only I thing I do with the label that is really cool is benefit comps. We’ve raised thousands of dollars via Bandcamp and benefit comps. Do more of that, people!”

Get Better Fest 4 takes place April 28th at Glitter Gallery with Cottontail, Teenage Halloween, Library and more; April 29th at the First Unitarian Church with Pinkwash, +HIRS+, Pandemix, Radiator Hospital, Open City and more; and April 30th at PhilaMOCA Thin Lips, Amanda X, Katie Ellen, Loone and more. Tickets and more information can be found at Facebook and at the XPN Concert Calendar. In addition, PhillyMag’s Patrick Rapa put together a tight Get Better Fest playlist; you can check that out here.

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