Breaking the Barrier: The Lehigh Valley’s Chris Reject talks punk, wrestling, and tonight’s Let’s Hang Out festival in Bethlehem

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Dasher Hatfield vs Juan Francisco | photo by Zia Hitley | courtesy of the artist

Wrestling and punk go together like, well, wrestling and punk. They’re both aggressive, weird, fun, and straddling that line between the mainstream – WWE, Warped Tour, that recent Misfits reunion show where the tickets were like $500 each – and various levels of the DIY underground. Two sides of the same twisted coin. Just like in punk, the atmosphere of a wrestling match is dictated not just by what’s going on in the ring (or out of it!) but by how the crowd is reacting to it all. That’s why one of the most exciting moments in a match or at a show is when that barrier between performer and crowd is literally broken down and the two briefly become one.

It should be no surprise then that there’s been a lot of crossover between wrestling and punk over the years. This is both in the more metaphoric sense, with wrestlers being identified in some way as fans of the music, or quite literally with wrestling-themed bands. Scratch the surface of any self-professed punk and you’ll find someone who, even if they aren’t a wrestling fan, will at the very least admit to enjoying the chaos of it all. And the opposite is certainly true.

To that end, Chris Reject, very much a huge lover of DIY music and wrestling and the head honcho at Lehigh Valley Apparel Creations and Square of Opposition Records, has helped put together an event this Friday in Bethlehem that is all those things and more.

Called Let’s Hang Out! – named after the album by the classic Bethlehem hardcore band The Russian Meatsquats and using the album art as inspiration for the flyer – the night is divided into wrestling matches with the BWA followed by performances by Cheap Pop, Mannequin Pussy, and Spirit of the Beehive.

Reject told The Key that, “I definitely see a lot of ways in which punk and wrestling are very different, but they both have a really gritty DIY underbelly that I think bridges most of that gap. Most of the shady indie wrestling shows that happen every weekend aren’t all that different from the shady basement punk shows.”

Chikara | photo by Zia Hitley | courtesy of the artist

The idea for the event first came up before the LVAC moved to Bethlehem in February as potentially part of a going away party at their old location. Reject explained that, “We have long standing relationships with a handful of wrestlers – Dasher Hatfield, Ultramantis Black, etc – so my gears started turning in a direction beyond just a standard four band show. I talked to some of the wrestlers we know and they seemed to agree that it’d be fun to do something that was a little more renegade, very low pressure, and pretty far outside the box for all of us.” When that couldn’t happen for logistical reasons, it was shelved for a few months until Reject “picked up the idea again with some level of seriousness,” as he put it.

The Sokols club in Bethlehem that’s hosting the event is the latest venue to serve as a home for punk and other DIY music in the Lehigh Valley. While that scene might be relatively unknown in Philly, it’s been going strong since the late 70s with bands including Weston, Mr. Yuk, Government Satire, the aforementioned Russian Meatsquats and Follow Fashion Monkeys, and even a wrestling-themed band, Allentown’s The Ultimate Warriors.

There’s a special attitude that comes with the territory according to Reject. According to him, “You grow up in a place like the Lehigh Valley and you either embrace the romantic underdog sort of thing or you hate it and move to the nearest big city — Philly — as soon as possible. We’re definitely in the former category.”

That scrappy underdog is a mainstay in wrestling, too. Fighting your way to the top while taking on a stronger, more formidable opponent is a popular angle for good reason. It’s something that we can relate to and very much aspire towards, another blurring of the lines between performer and audience.

On top of the wrestling and music there’s going to be a number of vendors set up at the club, all of which are organizations or businesses that already have a relationship with the LVAC. These include Misfit Manor — an animal refuge in Montgomery County that also co-sponsors a popular “couch or 5K” through Woodland Cemetery in West Philly every year — Santoro’s Franks & Chili, Lit Coffee Shop & Roastery, and Sweet Doe Bakery, all of whom will be selling vegan food. As Reject said, “These are all folks that LVAC already prints for and places we all eat at and get coffee from and whatnot. It’s all a very friendly affair, you know? Same with the bands and wrestlers – almost all are people that we’ve printed for and been friends with for years. Kind of brings it all back to that very relaxed aesthetic – Let’s Hang Out!”

Let’s Hang Out takes place June 20th beginning at 7 p.m. at National Sokols in Bethlehem. More information on the event can be found at its Facebook event page.

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