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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

R.I.P. Since By Man, 1999-2008

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After a year and a half of inactivity, the Milwaukee hardcore band Since By Man made it official, announcing plans to break up following one last show this Saturday. Band members have already begun moving on to other careers, projects and cities. That it took them months to settle on a date for their long-planned farewell show speaks volumes about how divergent their paths had become.

“We still enjoyed playing together, and our shows were great,” explains singer Sam Macon, “but the writing process was becoming stressful, and we were having difficulty coming up with material for our third album. Creatively, we were growing apart.”

Since By Man’s formation nearly a decade ago coincided with a creative renaissance for hardcore music. Influenced by the complex chording and irregular rhythms of ’90s math-rock and the relentless experimentation of Fugazi, a new generation of late-’90s hardcore bands pushed against the conventions of 1980s hardcore punk, which in its purist form had been hard, fast and simple.

“The hardcore bands I listened to were more creative, a lot less constricted by what a hardcore band was supposed to be,” Macon says. “Bands were approaching heavy music by thinking outside the box. If you were in a hardcore band, suddenly your T-shirts didn’t need to be scary and tough looking. They could draw from the visual aesthetic of Blue Note and old jazz records. Now your songs no longer had to be about what girl broke up with you that weekend. You could draw lyrical influences from novels instead.”

Milwaukee’s turn-of-the-century hardcore scene was particularly prosperous. Bands like Akarso, Seven Days of Samsara and Since By Man packed venues with this more demanding breed of hardcore, which was dense and heavy, marked by intense extremes. Their breakdowns were loud and brutal, their bridges often soft and intricate. Short, predictable song structures had been replaced by winding, seemingly free-form compositions. Pained, harrowingly human screams had replaced generic, tough-guy shouts.

Of course, this is not the kind of hardcore music that fills giant venues these days. As the 2000s progressed, intelligent, challenging hardcore was eclipsed by poppier, more accessible hardcore that took the genre to new commercial heights, but left idealists like Macon disillusioned.

“It’s funny how that ’90s hardcore renaissance gave way to some of today’s worst music,” Macon says. “Insteerad of the cream rising to the top, it was just the most palatable, least thought-out hardcore bands that ultimately found success. It was the crappiest bands we encountered throughout our existence as a band that went on to bigger things.

“Today’s heavily melodic hardcore is music that doesn’t mean anything,” he continues. “The second you take the edge off of hardcore and replace it with some empty teen angst, you’re defeating the purpose. If the music isn’t dangerous and it’s not edgy, then what is it?”

Even though Since By Man was touring with popular bands like Underoath and playing some of the biggest shows of their career, the disconnect between the band and the greater hardcore scene wore at them, hastening their breakup.

Macon concedes that he fosters mild bitterness toward the usual targets—promoters, his record label, Hot Topic—but he has only glowing words for Milwaukee and its inclusive music scene.

“That was one of the biggest things we learned to appreciate while touring,” Macon says. “In Milwaukee, we could play a show with Temper Temper, The Mistreaters and Decibully. You could have all these different bands from different genres on one bill, and audiences would be supportive of them all. That just doesn’t happen in other cities. It always blew my mind on the road when you’d have a bill with three hardcore bands, and the promoter would put another hardcore band as the opener. Who wants to see that many hardcore bands?”

If nothing else, Macon hopes that Since By Man will be remembered as a champion of the Milwaukee music scene.

“When I was a kid, it always seemed like the music scene was such a tight, inaccessible clique, so we wanted to make it more accessible by actively throwing shows with different bands, and having them be fun and an event, something inviting for everybody. That tradition has carried on, I think. The kids now are throwing their own shows in their house, or out in some VFW in the ’burbs. There are so many people doing shows in every empty room they can find. Milwaukee’s scene is no longer about waiting for the next national touring act to come to town so we have something to see.”

Since By Man play their last show Saturday, April 26, at the Bay View Post with Seven Days of Samsara, Call Me Lightning and Decibully.