The founder of The Hard Times speaks to Dazed about bringing alt-music’s darkest issues to the forefront with comedy
In recent years, in part due to the popularity of The Onion, more and more satire websites have been cropping up – and they’ve been getting ever more specific and cutting; like ClickHole, which satirises clickbait websites, and Reductress, which dryly parodies women’s magazines with headlines like “Man Texts 13 Times and, Just as He Suspected, the 13th One Did Make Her Want to Hook Up”. Even more specific yet is The Hard Times, an alternative music-oriented satire site that launched in 2014. Launched by Matt Saincome, a 26-year-old who has been in the hardcore scene for a long time, the site turns the spotlight on the scene that Matt knows inside out – both the funny aspects of it, and the far less savoury ones.
Especially in times as objectively terrible and mad as right now, comedy has great power (and some responsibility) to educate people who might otherwise be sick of being told what to think. With the wave of sexual assault allegations recently, and the general epidemic of abuse in alternative music scenes, it’s important that people in those scenes and industries don’t turn a blind eye to it. The Hard Times, which is run entirely by “DIY punk people”, bravely chooses not to ignore those aspects. Instead, it made a name for itself with headlines like “All Warped Tour Stages Moved 100 Feet from Audience to Comply with Sex Offender Laws” and “Pop-Punk Singer Urges Crowd to Respect Women Besides the Ones He Sings About”. They may have caused a stir with some members of the community, but for many, they drew attention to things that many have been wilfully ignoring in the industry.
We spoke to Saincome for tips on how to effectively write satire that isn’t just funny, but that gets to the heart of an issue – even ones that other people around you don’t want to tackle.
WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW
“The Onion – and many other things in this world – is designed for the every man. But that every man doesn’t exist for us anymore. Our life isn’t about raising kids, mowing a lawn, or working at a desk job. Our life is about music, culture, not being able to afford a house, etc. So it’s satire for people like you and me. And maybe, even though we are different in a lot of ways, we still come from the same world, subculture, generation, or something, and so we understand and appreciate the viewpoint expressed through Hard Times. The company is a product of its environment.
You need to confront the absurdity of the issue at hand, wherever you find it; whether it is in you, your friends, or your enemies. Anyone can mock their enemies or some southern Republican congressman, but only talented and self-aware people can confront issues close to home. Many of our articles are all about presenting a bold, truthful subtextual message about band guys. I’m a band guy. Most of my friends are band guys. So that’s me greenlighting and publishing brutal, damning critiques of people close to home. If you can’t do that, and only want to throw bombs at other people, I don’t want you around.”
USE SATIRE AS A TOOL TO EDUCATE
“People should be educating themselves in a more serious manner, too, but I do think it’s important for comedy (at times, not always) to be used as a vehicle to bring up and confront uncomfortable and socially awkward things. I think in this case it is important for a publication born from this world to acknowledge the flaws of that world. That’s what makes it real. A Hard Times that doesn’t recognise the evils within the music world is a useless Hard Times. You have to have teeth.
But I believe in comedy first. So if you only have an important topic you want to bring up, but no comedy to help guide it, I’m not down with that. I think that’s lazy. The Warped Tour stage one, or the pop punk frontman 18+ show, are perfect examples of message and comedy working together hand in hand and amplifying each other into something really special. That’s what I want. Not just snarky remarks that are super heavy on message and light on comedy.”
“You will always be considered disrespectful by some percentage of people, so really what you are doing is trying to get that number down as far as you can”
DON’T SHY AWAY FROM HARD TOPICS
“I always wanted Hard Times to become a platform that gave a voice for people who were traditionally not heard from within the music world to hit back with comedy. I would also say that it’s not just in pop punk circles, it’s everywhere in music, so maybe we should focus on that a bit too.
The key problem is: ‘how do you cover a horrible but important topic with satire and not come off disrespectful?’ The truth is you will always be considered disrespectful by some percentage of people, so really what you are doing is trying to get that number down as far as you can by carefully crafting the presentation of your subtext. Unlike other forms of writing, satire doesn’t say what it means, and the subtext carries the brunt of the weight as far as conveying the message. The ability to present that message in a way so that even the dumber people can at least somewhat grasp what you are trying to get across, while also not insulting the smarter people by being afraid to take creative risks and be a bit clever at times, is a difficult needle to thread. If you go too far in either direction, you run into problems.
If you go too easy to understand, you start to get closer to what I’ve seen called ‘clapter’ which means you are just preaching to the choir by saying obviously true things the majority of people agree with. But if you go too subtle and difficult to understand, your subtext gets blurry and you end up sometimes inadvertently coming off as expressing the exact opposite of what you believe.”
YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE...
“We’ve had bands that were offended refuse to play our shows, be in our pictures, etc. We’ve ruined potential business relationships by critiquing certain record labels, tours, and management companies. I’ve personally lost friends and been threatened. But none of that stuff matters to me more than our mission. You have to do what you believe in and think is right. We make our decisions then stick by them. We set up the company in a way where we are beholden to no one, so we can do whatever we want.
Something I’ve been seeing a lot more of, which is very disheartening, is this rejection of anything that dares to even include certain topics, regardless of how they are presented. I think it’s up to creators to be bold and keep pushing ahead despite calls from increasingly angry mobs asking for sanitised content.”
...AND SOMETIMES IT’S WORTH UPSETTING SOME PEOPLE
“One thing that happened to me that really made me feel good and inspired me to keep going, was I wrote an article about Jorge from the Casualties – a singer for a band I was a huge fan of growing up who was later accused of sexual misdeeds. It was super early on, and I didn’t have a lot of experience with satire, and the percentage of people who felt disrespected by my take of trying to paint him as the Cosby of the punk scene was higher than I wanted. And I remember feeling like I had failed. But then the woman who accused him reached out to me personally to say how much she enjoyed and appreciated the article, and how seeing a site like ours on her side made her feel good. That was huge for me, because my message was received by the most important part of the audience, and it energised me to rededicate myself to getting into the weeds with these gnarly topics and doing my best to not make mistakes.”