How Convulse Records became a haven for hardcore’s weirdos

From GEL’s sensational debut to giving rising stars Militarie Gun their first-ever release, Convulse Records are on the cutting edge of what’s happening in hardcore right now. But the label is about more than finding the hottest trends, it’s a community of outsiders, united by a desire to push the form and each other…

How Convulse Records became a haven for hardcore’s weirdos
Huw Baines
Daniel Topete, Angel Tumalan

If you ever find yourself short of a conversation starter at a hardcore show in Denver, Colorado, Adam Croft thinks you could do worse than bringing up Goon’s Natural Evil, the first full-length he put out on Convulse Records. “If you talk to any kid, they’ll get this look in their eyes,” he gushes, reflecting on the releases that became momentum shifts for the label. “It’s just an amazing Denver record.”

Four years isn't that long – even when taking a time-warping pandemic into account – but the subsequent pace of Convulse’s rise has allowed Natural Evil to already occupy a spot that Adam describes as “a classic for the heads”. Back in 2019 he had only handled a few cassettes and seven-inches, but today the label stands as one of the most consistently exciting, boundary-pushing hardcore houses in a packed field. Last year alone they have rattled off GEL’s Only Constant, Gumm’s Slogan Machine, Spine’s Raíces, MSPAINT’s Post-American and Be My Vengeance, a grimy, stomping riot courtesy of Adam’s own band Destiny Bond.

None of these records sound alike, but they are knitted together by an ineffable vibe. Adam and the team of volunteers who help run Convulse – from his apartment and a couple of storage lockers, one of which is solely devoted to GEL – have assembled a cast list of weirdos who are making music for other weirdos. “There doesn’t have to be a mould to fit into, Convulse can put out Dazy, MSPAINT, and Sentinel and they all just make sense together,” GEL guitarist Anthony Webster says. “It isn’t a sonic thing, it’s about the feeling.”

As COVID wiped shows from the map in 2020, Adam scaled up his ambitions, thinking he could maybe extend his footprint outside of Denver for the first time – “I hit up a lot of bands.” He put out a seven-inch by Vancouver’s Punitive Damage and heard back from Ian Shelton, who had temporarily set aside Regional Justice Center and begun working on potentially divisive, melody-led material for a new band called Militarie Gun. Convulse would release the fledgling outfit’s first songs in the autumn of that year, setting in motion a parallel success story. “I was like, 'Dude, this is great, you're doing AmRep pop songs,’” Adam recalls. “It’s catchy weirdo music.”

These are the sort of records that people tend to notice, particularly since hardcore started gaining a life of its own online. “Those releases had me eyeing the label, and then I dove into the back catalogue and found a lot of cool shit,” Gumm vocalist Drew Walden explains. “The whole operation felt very familiar, in the friends-helping-friends way, without being pretentious or presumptive. It was just a badass label run by genuine people putting out music they liked.”

The Convulse story begins with Adam as a teenager in Sundance, Wyoming, a rural town of 1,000 people or so. “I was into bands that could reach a kid in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “I was obsessed with AFI, and they can actually get you to hardcore, right? Davey Havok’s in interviews talking about vegan straight-edge. The first time I heard Modern Life Is War was because they had mentioned them.”

Soon, Adam was mailing cash earned mowing lawns to music store Interpunk in exchange for records. His interest in DIY began to grow thanks to scenes in towns an hour either side of Sundance – Gillette, Wyoming and Rapid City, South Dakota – that proved to be eye-opening. Along with local bands, major players would come through on off-days from bigger tours. He saw Bane and Terror. Touché Amoré played a garage. On the day he got his licence, he skipped school and drove to see Axe To Fall-era Converge at a Knights Of Columbus hall. “That was a life-changing show,” he says. “20 people paid in and no-one was there, but that was huge.”

By the time Adam went to college in Laramie, Wyoming, DIY had become the prevailing wind in his life. All he wanted to do was put on shows and play in bands, which he’d started doing in Denver, a couple of hours down the road. Eventually, he became incensed by seeing groups flame out before their sound could be properly documented. “Around 2015, 2016 there was this great wave of hardcore and punk in Denver,” he says. “But it was very demo-core in the sense that these bands would write amazing songs, they would go on tour once, they’d have a really crappy home-dubbed tape, and then they would break up. I would get so frustrated.”

So, he decided to do something about it. “It was taking up so much of my time anyway and there were all these bands I loved that I wanted to commemorate… It was time to start a label.”

It's the same ride-or-die attitude most labels have when they get started, but the trick is to cling on to the belief that you are introducing people to something amazing for as long as you can. “The most important aspect of Convulse is believing in the music,” Public Opinion vocalist Kevin Hart observes. “They approach every release like it should be the absolute biggest thing in the world.”

Denver itself is also an important voice in the room. It’s a DIY island, cut off from other scenes geographically. “Touring here is just exhausting,” Adam says, having recently returned from a Destiny Bond run opening for Baroness. “There’s no way to route a tour here that’s not an eight- or nine-hour drive, or six if you go to Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

This isolation bred an outsider mentality. Adam credits Primitive Man’s Ethan McCarthy with helping to lift Denver DIY to its current position, with house shows leading to the establishment of long-running venues. “Hardcore and punk have become more homogenous nationally over the last 10-15 years,” Adam says. “I think Denver stayed unique and regional because it was harder to get big touring bands to stop here.”

Over time, he came to recognise the same qualities in other musicians who came up outside of major cities. In Ian Shelton, of Enumclaw, Washington, for example, he saw someone who had “the same chip on his shoulder”.

“Denver is a freaky hardcore town,” he continues. "Same with Gumm in Chattanooga, Tennessee. MSPAINT in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We're from the middle of nowhere. The sound becomes what the sound becomes. It's going to be influenced by what you get excited about in your small town.”

Like the venues where he volunteers, Adam is partly in the business of access. The Convulse logo has become a sort of glue bonding the disparate noises rising from these scenes together. “I think people know they have a wide range of releases so can’t entirely pin down what a band is going to sound like, which is awesome,” MSPAINT vocalist DeeDee says. “Anyone who has been tapped into [2023’s] wild ride of incredible music knows that a lot of those bands passed through Convulse in some way. I would say it’s a ‘real recognises real’ scenario.”

The next step is to make sure this moment puts down roots. And ultimately, Adam is driven by a desire to get more people involved in DIY by demystifying the touring and label process – from what it means to do mail-order, to videography and laying out admat. “If in five years there are other labels or bands that have popped up with this knowledge that we developed, that would be more important to me than anything else.”

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