Joe Hardcore Gets Medieval.
An axe comes down hard on a faded opponent’s shield as the two weary battlers wince slightly from the heaviness of the sound.
Thwack! Suddenly, a swipe from the axe comes a moment too soon to be blocked again by the shield and all at once, the already-damaged fighter loses both of his legs. Though the axe-wielder knows victory is imminent, he takes his time circling his opponent before making the final strike. He comes down once more with a crash and the clash is over.
A moment later, Joseph of Harcourt, one of many squires to King Edward of the East Kingdom, lends valuable advice to an inexperienced fighter.
“When you’re fighting, ‘hold’ means stop, no matter what,” he says. “I don’t care if God comes down and offers you Beyonce’s asshole, ‘hold’ means stop.”
Everyone laughs and the winner of the practice bout helps up the dead man. “Everyone” tonight is Joey Ross, Damon Cunningham, Kitt McKittrick and organizer of the practice, Joe McKay, aka Joe Hardcore, founder of the This Is Hardcore festival and all-around promoter of the genre. But in this rec room, in his somewhat historically accurate 11th/12th century fighting armor, he is Joseph of Harcourt. When the armor comes off later and the gym shorts go on, he’s back to being regular Joe McKay — Philadelphia lifer, Freemason and father of three.
The turnout is relatively small but it is of no consequence to Joe.
“You gotta come to practice,” he says. “You don’t have gear? Borrow some and come to practice. You’re sick? Come to practice. You’re really sick?”
Joe thinks for a split second, smiles and says, “Then you probably shouldn’t come to practice.”
The men are assembled in a rec room run by Damon, who, during practice time, goes by nKante, a 13th century African warrior. With one flickering light illuminating the space and the remains of a child’s first birthday celebration still in the air (one large decoration reads “Happy birthday! Oh boy, I’m one!”), the room may not be where one conjures up the image of people gathering to beat the shit out of each other with blunted, though still dangerous, weaponry. Kitt, Damon and Joe have been fighting for years but tonight is Joey’s first practice. Joey, 22, is completely new to this sort of battling, and it wasn’t surprising to learn that he was drawn in by Joe.
“I was at a show seeing Cruel Hand and Agitator,” Joey says. “Joe said that I’d probably like SCA, so I came out.”
Joe has that effect on people.
The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) was founded in 1966 at the University of California, Berkeley, as a way for science fiction and history fans to bring to life their grander ambitions via actual medieval-influenced combat. Being the pre-Dungeons & Dragons era, the SCA was the first of its kind to hold these sort of tournaments, and the organization has ballooned since then.
Whatever you do, don’t bring up that four-letter “L” word (LARP, or live action role-playing) around most SCAers. While the worlds of SCA and LARPing may be close in theory, the SCA strives to be as historically accurate as possible, giving combatants a frame of time (roughly 400-1600 AD) to to cull their characters from. For example, each player gets to pick their own historically accurate name (such as Damon with nKante) and as long as the player can prove the authenticity of his or her name, it is allowed. Today, the SCA boasts more than 30,000 paying members and 60,000 competitors spread out around the world.
Out of all of those tens of thousands of competitors, only one books hardcore shows in his spare time, though the phrase spare time is not exactly accurate as Joe McKay has barely enough time in one day to do everything he wants or needs to get done.
On the day before practice, McKay has contracting work to do, along with some final preparations for a show he’s booking at O’Reilly’s in Kensington at the end of the week. This particular show is dear to Joe’s heart, it is nearly a band-by-band recreation of a show he saw back in his formative days back in 1986, featuring The Casualties and Tribe 13.
Joe designated 2013 as the year to start finding more time in his life for his three main loves: the SCA, hardcore and family. The first thing to take somewhat of a backseat was hardcore, with Joe focusing less on the quantity of shows for the year and more on the quality. This year’s 8th annual This Is Hardcore festival — the pride of Philadelphia hardcore and Joe himself — is still a few months away but with an event of such magnitude, planning can be an all-consuming task.
Now, without the worry of a rival punk festival threatening to take away bands and showgoers like last year (Riot Fest East won’t happen again in Philly this year, thanks in part to resistance from Joe), it should be smooth sailing ahead. Joe is downright chipper when he says he doesn’t mind the TIH festival not making money as long as the kids have a good time seeing the bands they love, even if it means working doubly hard to put it on the next year. The mental toll is what made Joe decide to take a half step back, adding that though he enjoys the work, he doesn’t want to end up like good friend and R5 booker Sean Agnew and “have to go to Asia for a month just to unwind.”
This is partially why Joe took up SCA fighting in the first place. The change from Joe Hardcore to Joseph of Harcourt was a gradual one. While touring with Punishment in 2003, Joe saw a video of SCAers in action, soundtracked by Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness.” This caught his attention.
He showed up to his first practice in 2007 by himself — a rare occurrence for a man with as many friends as Joe has. Only three or four other people showed up but the first taste was all Joe needed to get hooked enough to spend the next two or three months in borrowed and mismatched gear, fighting and learning the ropes with people who would become lasting friends.
After getting authorized in York, Joe was officially set to fight and he’s been doing so ever since, albeit not as much as he’d like. Though some might lazily try to connect the fighting done in the SCA to the fighting done at immeasurable hardcore shows throughout the years, Joe is quick to dispel that notion.
Bad days are something Joe has not been a stranger to. He was an active member of the street gang Friends Stand United. Those days are long gone but he still has scars from fighting. He retains lingering resentment because of his October 2011 drug charge. Joe was driving a friend who, unbeknownst to him, had drugs on him. Joe was later acquitted.
Today, he is a man who is constantly on the move, whether it’s driving tools to his painting job or turning down an invite to an SCA event so he can see The Hobbit with his daughter and girlfriend for his daughter’s birthday. Jess Parr, Joe’s girlfriend, is usually the one making sure Joe has enough time for all of his endeavors.
“It’s the same shit, whether it’s SCA or anything,” she says as Joe queues up videos of SCA battles on YouTube. “It’s, ‘Are you gonna be able to have time for this?’”
At this moment, Joe has time to watch some SCA battle videos. One of the first videos features King Edward of the East Kingdom in battle. This region, along with most of the eastern United States, makes up the SCA’s East Kingdom.
“Being king is a commitment,” Joe says as he shakes his head, admitting that he wouldn’t want to be king. “I just don’t have the time to do it.”
Though he is happy being a squire, he would one day like to be a knight. Joe points out in another battle video that there are 60- and 70-year-old men still battling. Joe will not be one of those men.
“I’m planning on being dead by 55,” Joe says.
There’s a morose pause and then he chuckles.
“Fifty-five is fucking old, man!” he snaps. “I think that’s why I push myself to do so much, so I can fit it all in.”
Joe leans back on his couch, his eyes never leaving the computer screen. Factions are going to war, and Joe can pick out every kingdom simply by the colors the fighters are wearing.
“It’s organized chaos,” he says.
The fighters cross a stream as a flurry of swords and shields blur the screen.
“Nothing else matters when you’re in a bridge battle,” he says, as though providing color commentary for the battle.
He then launches into a diatribe about one sorry SCAer’s mismatched Roman-by-way-of-Greek fighting garb.
“He’s got a shield from the 14th century and the ugliest fucking tunic I’ve ever seen in my life,” Joe yells, and at once he is back to being Joseph of Harcourt.
Joseph of Harcourt looks a lot like Joe McKay, who most certainly resembles Joe Hardcore.
All three men fight daily to win a seemingly more enviable prize than kingship: sole possession of Joe’s unrelenting passion for doing something, anything at all.
“Well, there’s Joe Hardcore doing the hardcore shows,” Joe explains. “And there’s Joe Harcourt doing SCA and Joe McKay doing everything else. It’s SCA that keeps all of there mentalities in check.”