Coalesce: “The Comedian in Question”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Coalesce-The-Comedian-In-Question.mp3|titles=Coalesce: “The Comedian In Question”]
Kansas City, Missouri-based hardcore band Coalesce has spent the last decade in flux, with shifting lineups, hiatuses, and sporadic shows prior to a full-blown reunion that spawned a new seven-inch, a full-length, and an EP.
But just because its output and appearances have been limited, the band isn’t out of touch. The scene has simply changed, and lead vocalist Sean Ingram wanted to rediscover the magic of its early days. Now, he finds himself on the ground floor of yet another nascent, independent movement: hardcourt bike polo.
Punk Living Through Non-Musical Means, or This Bike is a Weapon
by Sean Ingram of Coalesce
There was a point a few years ago that I was completely depressed by the world I had created around myself with electronics and new media. A fellow I knew had offed himself, and it was great sport to come up with the best pun skewering his illness in the comments. A band from Japan wrecked on the highway here in the States, seriously fucking some of them up, and the response was, “Van frip, Paypar prease,” in a mocking and fairly racist manner. For whatever reason, this kind of assholery was getting to me, and I made a pact with myself that I would turn everything off, and do my best to disassociate myself from cynicism. A major task, I know. But there is only so much one can take of faceless assholes telling them what is and isn’t cool. So it was done. I was out.
Without all of this extra noise, it was easier to focus on tasks at hand. Planting an orchard, building some old-school hemp rope-swings, not knowing what someone’s done for the last week before catching up with them in person for a beer. Little things were more enjoyable. As my attitude started to ease up, and I started to take more time to enjoy the little things, I noticed some guys on some bikes with big hammers, knocking the shit out of a little ball. I spent the day by the sideline checking these guys out. It was like hockey, but on these Mad Max-looking bikes. But these guys clearly weren’t jocks. These were guys that probably heard “Skate or die, fag!” yelled at them a million times in high school, just like me. So I gave it a shot.
I took an old bike and did it up like how I saw them do theirs. I put a bunch of MAD DECENT stickers on it, since that’s all I had access to, and some sweet wheel covers I made out of sign material. I showed up wicked nervous, expecting everyone to be an ass, and then probably throw the bike away when I got home, or forget about it until the next garage sale, maybe. But something happened. I had a blast. And I don’t mean a blast like you have a blast as an adult. I had a blast like a kid does. The kind of blast you get when you went wicked high on a swing, or rode a grown-up roller coaster for the first time as a kid. It was kinda life-changing, actually.
So there I was, completely hooked on this sport called Hardcourt Bike Polo. And after a few months, I started to notice that this thing I was involved with was almost identical to the early punk days of Coalesce. Almost like being a part of this thing was proof that some of us are just predisposed to punk or DIY things, even when we aren’t conscious of it or even looking for it. I have to be honest; I missed it. I think that the music scene we’re involved in has just simply evolved. Shit is so easy now; it’s like it’s on autopilot, and it’s easy to get numb. But also some things have been robbed of us, like staying at a fan’s house is totally out of the question now, due to the amount of theft that runs rampant on band equipment — things like that. But in this Hardcourt world, shit is just starting, so it’s got that same early taste and smell, and I want to share it with you.
Art: Just like a record cover or the back of their jacket, a player’s wheel covers are their artistic statement — whether that’s hometown pride, some icon or logo they came up for themselves, or even another band’s art. I’ve seen everything from Black Flag to Converge covers. It’s awesome to go to a tournament and browse the bikes just like you’d browse a distro table. Each one is hand-done and put together with love. It’s an art show, and it rules.
Regional style: Just like Orange County to NYC in music, each region has its own unique style. You can tell where some people are from, just by their style. Just like in punk. I remember we could tell the difference between NJ kids and NYC kids by how they played their instruments. It’s not any different in Hardcourt, and it’s a total trip to see the styles mishmash and clash at tournaments. In fact, the first tournament I went to was in Lexington, and I could have sworn I was at the Detroit Fest, circa ’97.
Tournaments are like early fests: From the way the venues are total shit and the way the food is set up for meat eaters and vegans, to the way that players all stay packed on the floors of other players’ apartments. A good tournament is almost no different from a good early DIY festival; the band is just in the boom box. The closest current fest I can equate it to is the fest that happens in Gainesville, Florida. However, the fest in Florida is way more organized than any tournament I’ve been to. But they are both sponsored by PBR, so there’s that. Also, there’s a very low spectator-to-player ratio — JUST like a good fest in the ’90s.
There are Hipsters. A Hipster, in my opinion, is just a new term for a Poser. Every scene will have them, and when something new comes along, they are the first to go. The majority of people in this thing don’t give a shit about their appearence outside of good face protection and no missing teeth. But there are still those people with sweet bikes who stand by the side and look the part but don’t venture in. It’s like the kids I’ve witnessed buying a Converge shirt while the band is playing and then bailing back into their mom’s minivan. Never understood that.
There are pseudo famous people that are kinda crazy. We had Ray Cappo in hardcore, and Hardcourt has people just as nuts. The first that comes to mind is Rawbie Boards. A toothless Canadian that is rumored to be an ex-con, Boards has an entertaining polo show on Vimeo that graciously hands out “Dick of the Week” awards.
People tour: Touring to all the qualifying tournaments is no different than touring to play a gig. Only difference is, there is no money in Hardcourt, so it’s still pure. It’s also all word of mouth, basically, on one central site. Really similar to Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll having tour dates in its magazine.
There are fucking straight-edge people everywhere. This one blew me away. I’ve had problems with straight-edge gangs in the past, but the new breed of SxE kid that I’m coming across is pretty positive and exciting to be around. I hung out with a 30-something guy with huge Xs tattooed on his hands and a bigger-than-life “animal liberation” tattoo on his neck. Normally when I see shit like that, I’ll peace out, because I know what’s coming next, and I don’t need that shit. But this guy was amazing. He was volunteering his coaching skills to his protégé, a girl named Tina who was absolutely killing it. I found myself trying to get within earshot of him just so I could pick up his tips — just like kids do with Jes [Steineger] (Coalesce guitarist) when he’s flipping out on his guitar.
There are merch tables. Small indie companies making gear for bike polo sell stuff on a merch table in the back. I happen to have founded a little imprint called Fixcraft that sponsors some events. I sit behind that table, just like I have countless hours at Coalesce shows. It rules.
So that’s it. Not only was I a part of the hardcore scene in the ’90s (and today, haters), I’m now a part of the Hardcourt scene of the what, aughts or teens? Regardless, the same magic is there. The same elements for awesome are up for grabs, if you can let go of your cynicism and get on a bike with a hammer and have the fucking time of your life. That’s not to say I don’t still get depressed when my kids bring home a new Alternative Press magazine and I catch an article about how to do you hair, or someone forwards me a video of Victory Records’ latest signing. But still, fuck your Facebook and Twitter for a month, and find something awesome. Reset yourself to zero, and don’t be afraid to find something new with no preconceptions from your asshole “friends” online.