Poking fun at punk with The Hard Times
Parodying the traditionally straight-faced subgenres of punk and hardcore via a salty satire website could have earned Hard Times Editor-In-Chief and founder Matt Saincome a whole lot of enemies – but millions of page views a month, pats on the back from his favourite bands and endless props from the punk community and further afield couldn’t disagree more.
The Hard Times has been running for a year and a half now, and while its smash hit success has come as a surprise to even Saincome, its hit factor lies in the site’s irresistibly on point subject matter. Recent articles (including Singer of The Story So Far Apologizes to ‘Stupid Whore’ He Dropkicked Off Stage, Bassist Quits Band Over Unending Group Text, and Man Clearly Yelling Gibberish During Sing-along Part) send a shiver of gleeful recognition down the spine of anyone involved in the scene, and offers a hilarious peek into modern punk for anyone else.
Read on for Saincome’s verdict on punk’s “all-white, all-male” rep, the cringe-inducing real-life situations that inspired the site, and where he reckons punk is headed next.
The site mainly focuses on satirising the punk and hardcore communities. What is it about these subcultures that inspired you to form The Hard Times?
I’ve been a punk my whole life and I’ve always loved to make people laugh. It’s really as simple as that. I think the phrase goes “write what you know.”
I’ve played in bands since I was 15 or 16 and started touring the country around 17. I’m 25 now. I made friends (and enemies) from every sub-genre of punk/hardcore on those tours. When you meet and befriend that many people within a community, you start to notice patterns. Those patterns – and the patterns I see when I look in the mirror – were the main focus of the site. But now, with an army of 150+ contributors and a team of editors from different parts of the country and scene, it’s a more broad story – and I love that.
Do you think the punk and hardcore fans are happy to laugh at themselves?
What was the initial reaction to the site?
It was immediately a smash hit. Millions of people were checking it out. Some of my favourite musicians of all time were endorsing the site, retweeting it, and reaching out. People loved it so much the site crashed frequently as hundreds of thousands of people would try to get onto it in a single day. Since then I’ve been building up the infrastructure of the site to meet the demand, and I’m happy to report we are a crash-free site now. That’s mostly because I brought on another co-founder, my friend Amber. She’s a hardcore chick from Boston I met on tour. Turns out she’s also a computer whiz and a fan of satire. It was a perfect match.
I was behind the merch table at Gilman show last weekend talking to my friend Anthony of Ceremony about the idea of how projects catch steam. I played in a band for so long thinking we were making all these little incremental gains – that’s not really how a successful project works. It’s boom or bust. People liked Ceremony right off the bat. People liked Hard Times right off the bat. Then you build on that success. That’s what we do every day now: build.
Do you think people’s reactions to the site have changed over time?
Yeah, it keeps getting more popular as we expand out our editorial topics. We seem to be very popular with the 20-40 year old audience. I think that’s because that’s who I am and because those people have been around long enough to laugh at themselves. People who are really, really, in the thick of it – people like myself 6 years ago – probably don’t find it as funny. Punk isn’t a joke to them. And hey, that’s their right. No worries.
It’s weird. I’ve played in bands before where I was legitimately hurt when people said we sucked or whatever. I would lash out whenever I saw someone saying bad things about us, because I had worked so hard on the project. Now when I see someone say they don’t like The Hard Times I couldn’t care less, cause I know 1.4 million people in the month of February disagree, and I know some very bright comedians – people who I admire and look up to – have told us our comedy is something they enjoy and admire. I booked Judge, one of my favorite bands of all time, and when they showed up they told me how much they liked the site before I could even tell them how much I liked Judge! So honestly, as far as reactions go, it’s way overshot my expectations and anything that happens from here on out is just icing on the cake. The Hard Times is undeniably a success story, and even better than that it’s a success story I wrote with people close to me. I couldn’t be happier.
Your target audience is something of a niche. Were you surprised at how many people the jokes landed with?
I was at first. Then I started to think about it: Who doesn’t know what a mosh pit is nowadays? Who doesn’t know who Henry Rollins is? Punk has been around forever. Plus, we’re not limited to punk, we’re an alternative culture website. So the audience is bigger than you’d think, but also way more passionate than a completely mainstream site. It’s the best of both worlds really. I feel like I’m friends with our readers, because we share so many of the same interests and know so much of the same stuff, but there are SO MANY of us that it’s crazy. It’s a very positive experience being a member of the Hard Times readership. All my friends who wear Hard Times shirts tell me about the friends they make when they go out in public with them on, and the percent of positive comments on our social media is staggering – especially when you compare it to other sites where everyone has turned against the publication.
Which posts are the least thinly-veiled references to real-life situations?
Almost all of them are based in reality. But Polyamorous Guy Who Brought Ukulele to Party Explains Feminism to Young Women is pretty much a word-for-word recounting of actual events my brother saw at a party. He couldn’t believe how much of a wolf in sheep’s clothing this guy was and just had to put him on blast. Hilarious.
"A lot of these articles have to do with questioning ourselves, questioning our scene, and questioning society at large"
What is your favourite instance of someone mistaking the site as real?
A white power site republished one of our articles, Iggy Azalea Clarifies She Only Listens to Early Skrewdriver in full. I mean, white power people aren’t exactly known as the smartest bunch but god damn that was funny.
Some of the site’s most popular posts poke fun at punk and hardcore’s “all-white, all-male” reputation. What has the reaction been like from those white, male fans?
It’s like John Cena: NO ONE BRINGS MORE EMOTION OUT OF THE HARD TIMES UNIVERSE THAN A WHITE DUDE ARTICLE!
What inspired these particular kinds of posts to be featured?
I’m a straight white dude who fronts hardcore bands. So most of those jokes are about me, making fun of myself for attitudes or beliefs I held in the past as a younger, more naïve or ignorant kid growing up, before I was exposed (or at least receptive) to the ideas my friends in the punk scene had been trying to tell me. I’m a naturally stubborn guy, so I would say most the inspiration is self-deprecation for my delayed response in thinking over these ideas more thoroughly.
Any way of thinking that can’t withstand being turned inside out and joked about isn’t a good one, so a lot of these articles have to do with questioning ourselves, questioning our scene, and questioning society at large. It’s about poking and prodding at big questions and ourselves. It’s about us figuring out the world.
People get into punk/hardcore for different reasons. For me, it was mostly about escapism, an element of danger, and excitement. I wanted to break stuff, swing chains, and make trouble. For others, it’s about activism, politics, and safety. As I grew up I’ve learned a lot from the other side. It took me a while, because I was so preoccupied with my escapism, but now I appreciate that both sides exist. Punk is a really really interesting subculture in that way: the one word means so many things to so many different people. It’s one of the reasons I love it. I love being friends with a 54-year-old squatter/activist punk, a 24-year-old hardcore crew member, and a 15-year-old suburban brat all at the same time. It’s weird, and I like it, and I learn from it.
People sometimes equate punk and hardcore with a community stuck in their ways. From your viewpoint, do you think punk and hardcore is evolving in keeping with societal trends?
I think the punk and hardcore community evolves really fast in some respects. It’s evolved like crazy over the last 10 years I’ve been around, so I’m sure it’ll continue to change. I have interviewed lots of guys who were present for the birth of hardcore and asked them about the changes they’ve seen. The biggest one they all say: more women are involved now, and they like that.
For all the best punk news, head over to The Hard Times