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Subculture not a warped idea

The Internet dominates music, but live tours still have their place.

Published July 21, 2007

A fan is carried across sea of fans at the Vans Warped Tour in Vinoy Park during a set by the band Circa Survive.
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
(Left to Right) Kayla Allman, 19, Jaclyn Mahoney, 20, and Nicole Dimon, 19, all enjoy the music in Vinoy Park at the Vans Warped Tour.

[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Members of the band Circa Survive, from Philadelphia, entertain the crowd in Vinoy Park during the Vans Warped Tour. A brief thunderstorm didn't stop the crowd from enjoying the music.

Walking from stage to stage at the soggy Vans Warped Tour on Friday - amid a crowd that smelled like wet dog dipped in beer and Axe body spray - I kept thinking about a cultural conundrum that's very 2007. In an age when any kid in any city is a mouse click away from any band anywhere, does the idea of subculture still mean anything?

When the Warped Tour began in 1995, punk was a newly revived trend, emo wasn't yet a buzzword, and skateboarding was still largely seen as pseudo-suburban rebellion, a la Bart Simpson.

Now Green Day is one of the biggest bands in the world, emo-screamo-pop punkers like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance aren't far behind, and skateboarder Tony Hawk has been a guest voice on The Simpsons. The Warped Tour doesn't seem so alternative anymore.

Maybe that's why the bands acted like rock stars - to these fans, they are.

He needs a keytar

As Scary Kids Scaring Kids singer Tyson Stevens let loose his gutteral screams, his bandmates hunched behind him and head-banged perfectly in sync to the thrashy pop-metal beat. Keyboard player Pouyan Afkary stole the stage, whipping back his pretty-boy poof; tilting his keyboard forward so we could see his nimble fingers, like an '80s keytar player showing off; and taking off his shirt to reveal hip-cuddling jeans of course, much pelvis grinding ensued.

Ten years ago, the Warped Tour might have been Scary Kids' only chance to find an audience. But what does obscurity mean when the band has had its songs played on MySpace nearly 7-million times - far more times than 2006 American Idol winner Taylor Hicks' CD has been purchased?

A majority of the dozens of bands played subtle variations of pop punk that dissolved into one another over the course of the day - not that it mattered to the teen-heavy crowd. Anberlin played its chiming, anthemic songs on one of the poorly amplified smaller stages, but the fans just chipped in with some "over and over!" on Paperthin Hymn when Stephen Christian's vocals got lost.

The best act I saw wasn't trying to be a crossover hit. Killswitch Engage played some furious metal - with drum kicks intense enough to make your chest cavity collapse and shrieks that could melt your face like the dude at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Making them even more endearing was a surprise birthday wish from guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz to lead singer Howard Jones (the grim reaper came out with black balloons, natch). "How did you know?" Jones asked, dropping the growl. "It's in my phone - I stored it," Dutkiewicz said.

Tradition, tradition

Hardcore metal seems like an even narrower genre, but Killswitch's songs have been played 11-million times on MySpace. What's happened to the underground?

The best answer came during a set by ska stalwarts the Toasters. As singer-guitarist Robert "Bucket" Hingley played his off-beat upstrokes (with a puzzlingly dour look), a circle formed that looked like a strange version of a Bar Mitzvah hora. It was a circle of skanking, that little punk dance that's a cross between Rockette kicks and Carlton's It's Not Unusual dance from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - a scene that could have been plucked from any show in the Toasters' 25 years. It felt like a culture passing down its traditions.

That's what music scenes and subcultures are for: They're still an entryway to identity, a place for people - especially young people - to feel connected to something.

All the Internet has done is show those fans just how many others there are like them. For one wet afternoon, it sure seemed like a lot.

Josh Korr can be reached at

[Last modified July 21, 2007, 00:08:21]

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