Turnstile: The Heart of Hardcore
No-holds-barred energy and legendary live shows, a band that’s introducing hardcore to an entirely new audience, while still pleasing purists — in ‘Hypebeast Magazine’ Issue 31.
Turnstile‘s Brendan Yates is a firm believer in following your heart, even if it leads you on an uncomfortable path. “Your heart’s desires can pull you to a vulnerable place,” says the Baltimore-based hardcore band’s lead vocalist, “but if there’s not a little bit of discomfort along the way, you’re not pushing yourself.”
Yates’ belief seems to be at the center of 2021’s GLOW ON, the album that’s rapidly propelling the singer and his bandmates—bassist Franz Lyons, drummer Daniel Fang, and guitarist Pat McCrory—toward superstardom. GLOW ON was nominated for three awards at the 2023 Grammys, helped Turnstile land a spot on Blink-182‘s summer 2023 tour, and has been pegged by pundits as a seamless evolution of the hardcore genre.
Turnstile deserves a large measure of credit for the hardcore renaissance taking place in mainstream music. Rappers, rockers, singers, and producers all seem to be trying to capture some of the raucous energy and fierce authenticity the genre was built on. Just look at how seemingly every rapper tries to incite mosh pits at their shows. But while other musicians are trying to bottle up hardcore’s sound, Turnstile is uncorking it, spreading it to a wider, more diverse, and more inclusive audience without diluting what made it appealing in the first place.
Hardcore’s roots can be traced back to the late ’70s, and the genre came of age in the ‘80s thanks to bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Black Flag, who provided a stark contrast to the avant-garde new wave music that was popular at the time. Harder, faster, and more aggressive than previous versions of punk rock, hardcore has always prized speed, intensity, and, yes, authenticity. “There’s a freedom in hardcore,” says guitarist Pat McCrory. “As long as you’re singing about something you really care about, the audience will be able to listen and understand.”
As lifelong students of the genre, Turnstile’s members respect its customs and traditions, but they’re also willing to push the boundaries of the genre like no band before. “GLOW ON” is full of the thrashing guitars and rapid tempos associated with traditional hardcore music, most notably on “TLC” and “Don’t Play,” but they’re buoyed by outside elements across the entirety of the album. The band’s sharply-honed groove is apparent on tracks like “HOLIDAY” and “MYSTERY,” while “BLACKOUT” ends with an intricate drum solo. “FLY AGAIN” features a soaring, majestic vocal performance from Yates, while radio-friendly rhythms and riffs can be heard on “NEW HEART DESIGN” and “UNDERWATER BOI.”
“Tethering yourself to what’s ‘traditional’ only limits what feelings are out there to discover.”
“I think that all of us enjoy life more when there’s no concept of ‘traditional’,” drummer Daniel Fang says when asked about the expansion of Turnstile’s sound. “Our band will always be rooted in certain sounds, cultures, communities, and histories. But sometimes, we love to follow our feelings toward what scratches a certain itch. Tethering yourself to what’s traditional only limits what feelings are out there to discover.”
Besides the unmistakable sound, the live show is a key part of hardcore. When a hardcore show is done right, the only real distinction between the band and the crowd is who’s playing the music. It’s a cathartic experience, a beautiful shared release of emotion, and a therapy session in the form of mosh pits, stage diving, headbanging, and releasing inhibition in pursuit of transcendence. “You can sing as loud as you want, you can mosh, you can stage dive, you can express yourself however you see fit,” says McCrory. “What the band is doing and what the audience is doing is the exact same thing—we just happen to be holding the instruments.”
To attend a Turnstile show is to immerse yourself in a palpable energy, an energy that’s so thick and rich you could cut it with a knife. You surrender yourself to the undulating mass of the crowd, sharing in sweat and spirit. Bassist Franz Lyons isn’t exaggerating when he says, “you really gotta see it live to get it” on GLOW ON’s “NO SURPRISE.”
“The goal is to try and have as little distance as possible between the band and the people who come to support us.”
“The goal is to try and have as little distance as possible between the band and the people who come to support us,” says Lyons. “We want everyone to feel like they’re part of something, to embrace whatever’s coming their way at our shows.” Yates agrees: “It really is the coolest thing to share that experience with people from so many different walks of life.”
There’s an inherent intensity to the world of Turnstile, but all the members of the band are disarmingly kind and open in person, devoid of pretentiousness or anything resembling a stereotypical rockstar attitude. “Franz does the best switch heelflips,” says McCrory when asked to share something fans might not know about the band. “Dan has the best squatting form I’ve ever seen, and Brendan is good at literally everything he does—he could play sports if he wanted to.”
“I just love these guys so much,” says Lyons.
The genuine bond between the four members of Turnstile (and their current touring guitarist Greg Cerwonka) is proof of the band’s deep-rooted authenticity [Editor's Note: Since this piece was originally published in Hypbeast Magazine Issue #31, May 2023, Cerwonka has been replaced by Meg Mills]. So is Turnstile’s heartfelt connection with their fanbase, even as their fame grows. “Whenever we do anything, we put every ounce of energy we have into the intention behind it,” says McCrory. “I think our audience can feel that intention, and it speaks to them personally, just like our sound does.”
Thirteen years, five EPs, and three studio albums later, the band’s process hasn’t changed, even if the sound has evolved. “We put out music if it feels good to us—simple as that,” says Lyons.
“Our goal has always been to be connected with ourselves individually, so as a group, we can make music that we can connect to,” adds Yates. “I think that when we do that, it naturally creates an opportunity for others to connect as well. That’s what’s magical.”
“Magical” is an apt adjective to describe the Turnstile story, from the formation of the band to their rise over the last decade-plus and to the widespread critical acclaim they enjoy today. It also describes their appearance at the 2023 Grammys, where they shook up the red carpet with clothing that displayed their unique personalities—from Lyons’ hand-distressed Carhartt pants and Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1s to Fang’s stainless steel mesh top from womenswear line Fannie Schiavoni, Yates’ Bottega Veneta culottes, and McCrory’s Our Legacy knit vest. Music executives in charge of manufactured boy bands could only dream of such a mixture of individual style and group cohesion, but it came naturally to the four band members. Authentic expression is at the core of what they do, musically, personally, and sartorially.
“Choosing a Grammy outfit isn’t much different than the creative choices that go into songwriting or live performance,” says Fang. “We work to find a way to speak our individual languages in unison. It’s very important to us that we always remain honest in our creative expression. Finding group cohesion shouldn’t mean sacrificing individuality. That mindset applies to how we express ourselves aesthetically, just as much as how we play on stage.”
From tiny crowds in small clubs to global tours with punk icons and Grammy Award nominations, from self-manned merch tables to head-turning red carpet fits, it’s been a wild ride for Turnstile. The band is flying the flag for hardcore in 2023, and it’s not a responsibility they take lightly. “The same mentality and intentions we had a long time ago are still there,” says McCrory. “It’s a joy to have people think of us when they think of hardcore.”
HYPEBEAST Magazine Issue 31: The Circle Issue is now available on HBX.