Most Ithacans are aware of the substantial and diverse music scene held within the heart of this little city. But Ithaca has a harder edge to its music scene lurking in the underground in the likes of noise projects like Scab Addict, power violence groups Oppressor Oppressor and Escuela, doom rock group Water Bears, and sludge metal four piece group Monolith. The hardcore metal scene might not have the strongest presence, nor is it always visible, but according to those in the local scene, it’s making a comeback after years of absence. You can find these shows in the upstairs loft of the Chanticleer or at The Haunt, but mostly, according to frontman Toby Whitener from Oppressor Oppressor, the scene comes to full bore at house shows dotting the city.
“When I was 14 or 15, I saw Escuela at the Ithaca Festival at their first show ever and completely fell in love with that music,” said Whitener. “We were like damn, we need to do something like this too. We don’t want to say we copied them, but we did. We’ve played with them a lot.”
While there are not a lot of metal and hardcore bands in the Ithaca scene – mostly punk, grunge, and a number of avant-garde rock and noise projects such as experimental math-rock and avant-garde BRIAN! And Robot Detective – there exists lots of great cross-scene interaction according to Jason Eldridge, guitar and vocals for both Monolith and Escuela. You’ll also see a lot of the same guys playing in a variety of bands and across genres like Mike Amadeo with Water Bears – who also plays for noise project Scab Addict and Lady D and the Shadow Spirits – and father and son combo Ken and Toby Whitener, who play with a handful of local groups including Monolith, Oppressor Oppressor, Revisionist, and Casas.
You can also catch rock bands – hard-rock, metal, hardcore, counterculture, underground, and more – outside of the mainstream on WVBR’s The Last Exit for the Lost, Ithaca’s metal show since ‘94 but with roots back in ‘85, airing from 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Saturday nights and the live band recordings on Last Exit for the Lost’s YouTube channel. Now in their third building, moving with the station, the show has come a long way from the early days where some of the bands who would play live on the show were saddled with playing in the studio’s hallway.
“Last Exit; anything that isn’t mainstream…. Hardcore, metal… we don’t play stuff you’re going to hear everywhere else,” said host Seriah Azkath. “Metal is the core, but I don’t have any problem going into goth or punk or whatever is interesting.”
The music ranges from Ithaca’s psychedelic grunge rock three-piece Spazzare to heavier, harder-hitting tunes from the likes of head banging rock metal group Ire Clad, who keep it local playing their shows in and around the Ithaca area.
“There used to be A LOT of Metal bands in Ithaca years ago, now it’s more Punk, Experimental, etc.,” added Azkath, “Ithaca’s heavy music scene goes through cycles like anything else, but it’s also so much smaller than Rochester or Syracuse. The Rochester / Buffalo area has always had a plethora of heavy bands, but Ithaca morphs, and has always been home to some stranger combination of styles.”
The hardcore scene isn’t jam-packed with bands, but has a strong community presence. This past monday night, about 30 filed in to the upper floor of the Chanticleer to hear Syracuse’s Moon Machine, Ithaca’s own Water Bears and Monolith, among other hard-rock groups. It was a head banging and eardrum blowing good time.
“It seems like the metal scene here is kind of in a rebuilding stage... I think Ithaca is getting there, but it’ll take time,” said Monolith’s guitarist and vocalist Colin Wilson. “There are new bands coming up like Oppressor Oppressor doing big things, so it should be a bright future for the heavy music scene.”
“I wouldn’t say Ithaca has a huge metal/hardcore scene, but there are a lot of people who enjoy and consume that kind of music and have taken that influence to make new paths forward in terms of genre,” added Chris Knight, from Robot Detective. “There are some rock-inspired bands that are doing cool things like BRIAN!... Monolith is a devastating black metal band with really great long form arrangements, Escuela is great but they have since moved away. There is a younger punk band called Oppressor Oppressor which is up and coming.”
An eclectic mix of local rock bands Zero Mean, White Crime, and Nancy Babich will be performing with What Cheer? Brigade at The Haunt on July 29. None of these are hardcore or metal, but have touches of heavy sound – Zero Mean offers a psychedelic drone shoegaze sound and White Crime is a hardcore crust punk anti-fascist three piece.
“There are some really cool people in this town that are doing some really cool things that fall outside of traditional rock music and it’s great,” said Jessica Eustace, lead vocalist and guitarist for experimental post punk rock n’ roll group Nancy Babich. Alexis Boytsov is also on vocals and on bass and current full time drummer is Em Ludek and Tyler Rodkey, a local hardcore musician, has also collaborated with them as well.
“There’s definitely a community,” Fidget Illy, Zero Mean bassist and vocalist and Food Pill noise project lead, said. “There are people I see at every show. Going to shows is definitely the best way to join the scene; it has such a diverse grouping of people.”
Little known in the Ithaca community outside of its hardcore, hard rock, metal scene is the Finger Lakes Metal Festival held each Spring before Memorial Day weekend since 2006 in Clyde NY. The festival is dedicated to promoting the local metal scene and takes submissions to perform between October - June. The metal fest has seen a few local Ithaca bands but would definitely like to have more in the upcoming years.
If you missed this year’s FLMF, another metal festival, The End of Summer Metal Meltdown will be held on Sunday, September 8, in Clyde, NY, featuring 12 bands including Ithaca’s Ire Clad.