hate5six Interview: Meet the YouTuber Bringing Hardcore to the Masses

One of ​​Sunny Singh’s proudest moments as a videographer was the night he got punched in the face with his own camera. Singh — who for the past decade-plus has singlehandedly built up one of the web’s most robust and widely admired archives of live-music footage on his hate5six YouTube channel — was filming a DIY hardcore show in Baltimore when a would-be stage diver swung his arms wildly, accidentally shoving Singh’s camera square into his mouth and breaking two of his teeth in the process. “If you watch the video, I get punched and I fall down sideways and the camera gets back up. So it’s almost like the viewer’s getting punched,” Singh recalls. “As much as that sucked, it really conveyed the feeling of ‘This show is crazy.’”

For fans of heavy music worldwide, Singh’s videos deliver that sensation like a daily vitamin. Since he launched the channel in 2008 — the name is a play on 856, an area code for southern New Jersey, where Singh, 36, grew up — he’s uploaded close to 5,000 videos, currently at the rate of several a day, nearly all of which he has filmed himself. He’s just as passionate about documenting up-and-coming bands as he is about breakout acts like Turnstile and Code Orange, both of whom he’s been turning his camera on since before their days of headlining tours and high-profile festival slots. A given hate5six video can pull in hundreds of thousands of views, or even, in the case of a 2021 video of Turnstile’s hometown album-release show in Baltimore, more than a million; the channel’s total view count is now close to 40 million. Singh’s growing reach and unusually zealous devotion to his craft — during one week this past spring, he filmed 38 sets across four states — have made hate5six something like the unofficial homepage of hardcore, and a key conduit to a broader audience. 

Prominent musicians in the scene feel similarly. “In the early 2010s, being featured in a hate5six video meant that the set was filmed in its entirety and that a few hundred, or maybe a few thousand, hardcore-punk fans would see it,” says Turnstile drummer Daniel Fang, who debuted on the channel in 2009 with his former band Mindset. “Now, having Sunny film a show means that there’s a global audience throughout the hardcore community and way beyond. I hear from people all the time that they’ve discovered not only Turnstile through hate5six videos, but this entire genre of music.”  

“I remember becoming aware of hate5six early on when I discovered hardcore,” says Kat Moss, who fronts fast-rising Santa Cruz, California, band Scowl, whose first hate5six video appeared in January and has been viewed more than 130,000 times. “It was sort of a part of entering the world of hardcore subculture.”

To watch a hate5six video — like, say, a recent upload of hyper-energetic Santa Cruz outfit Drain playing at legendary Philly punk-show haven the First Unitarian Church— is to be plunged into the glorious chaos of an underground gig, complete with room-engulfing mosh pits, bodies flying from the stage, and vocalists lost in a sea of fans clamoring for their chance to shout a line on the mic. Singh makes a point of only shooting handheld, sans tripod, a technical choice that takes on a spiritual dimension. What he’s after is a kind of cinéma vérité approach, not just to the music, but to the community it fosters. 

“I try to stand onstage whenever possible,” Singh says. “And the reason for that is, one, I’m close to the action, but two, especially at these shows where there’s usually no barricade, it’s the band and the crowd feeding off of each other’s energy. The crowd’s jumping onstage, they’re jumping off; the band members might be jumping in the crowd with their instruments. … Being on the side of the stage, I’m at that interface, literally, where those two forces are meeting and feeding off each other. 

“I spend a lot of time trying to tell that story of, ‘Here’s the band; here’s how they sounded that night,’” he adds. “But [also], ‘Here’s what the crowd was like, here’s who was there, and here’s how they all interacted under that roof.’”

For young musicians, landing on hate5six can feel like a career milestone. Drain frontman Sammy Ciaramitaro, who also drums in various bands, vividly remembers the first time he realized that Singh would be filming him, at the 2019 edition of Chicago fest the Rumble, where his group Hands of God was playing. “When we got to the fest and I saw him onstage, I was honestly a little bit stressed, because I knew that I had to bring my A game and play as hard as I can,” he says. “It for sure felt like a milestone for me, just because of the amount of time I spent watching his videos and the impact it had on me as a musician and a fan of hardcore music. While I was nervous, we all stepped up to the plate and played hard and were really stoked on the way that it went. He came and gave me a knuckle bump as he was adjusting a mic and I was pumped.”

A household name in the underground, hate5six has also begun to impact the musical mainstream. Last year, Charli XCX’s team recruited Luis Aponte, drummer for the explosive Philly hardcore band Jesus Piece and a friend of Singh’s, to perform with the star on SNL after her team spotted him in a hate5six drum-cam video. Singh shrugs off the idea that he deserves any kind of special acknowledgement for instances like this. “He was already on this trajectory because he’s a talented drummer, and he’s just an amazing person whose creativity shines through his drumming,” Singh says of Aponte. “So if anything, I just helped catalyze that.”

Singh traces much of the approach and ethos of hate5six back to one band: Rage Against the Machine, which he discovered through his brother as a pre-teen in the Nineties. He spent hours on “weird underground chat servers,” downloading as many bootleg show videos as he could.

“Just by watching so many of these things and collecting them, I grew obsessed with how live music can manifest itself and can make a whole crowd respond differently from this night to the next night, or how the set list can change,” he says. “And I didn’t realize it at the time, but a terrible recording of a band shot from the nosebleeds on a grainy VHS camera — if that little thing can get someone like me, a kid, super excited about live music, [I] was thinking, ‘OK, well … imagine what a really well-documented piece of video could do to someone who watches it later.’”

He also credits Rage with showing him how music could spark political awareness. Much as that band made a point of educating its fans, Singh routinely features footage of rallies and other cause-driven gatherings — including a May memorial for victims of the deadly 1985 police bombing in Philadelphia that killed members of the environmentally conscious Black Power organization MOVE. 

“I was a 10-year-old kid in ’96 when ‘Bulls on Parade’ came out, and hearing that on the radio, then getting Evil Empire and seeing that there was a reading list [in the album layout] and realizing, ‘What is this?’ And then getting all these live recordings and hearing the speeches Zack would give in the middle of ‘Wake Up’ or ‘Bullet in the Head,’ it made me realize, people are coming in expecting entertainment, and then you subvert that,” he says. “You give them actual knowledge and actual information that has material consequences in this world. And that’s how you get the message out.”

Growing up as the son of Indian immigrants, Singh also saw a bit of himself in Rage. “As a brown kid growing up in a white New Jersey suburb, seeing a heavy band on TV with two unapologetic men of color made me feel like I had a home in that genre,” he says.

Singh started filming punk and ska bands in 2000, when he was a freshman in high school. He never got around to distributing his early tapes, but once he started college, he found what he calls his “dream camera” — a Canon GL-2, known for its use in classic skateboard videos, a silhouette of which Singh merged with the Communist hammer and sickle to create the official hate5six logo — on eBay and started shooting shows in Philly. He launched the channel in 2008, and for the next decade, kept up a rigorous shooting schedule while making his way through grad school and holding down a nine-to-five job. The channel slowly built up steam, helped along by the occasional hilarious meme (see “When drinking in the pit goes wrong” or the mass Running Man outbreak during a set by Chicago straight-edge band Harm’s Way) in addition to its signature you-are-there live footage. Eventually Singh set up a Patreon model — supporters vote daily on which videos will post — and started running hate5six full time as of 2018. 

Singh is constantly striving to deliver a better product. He holds a master’s degree in machine learning, and his innovations for the channel include a wire-mounted drone camera and a 3-D-printed controller that he used to switch between cameras during a series of in-studio pandemic-era shoots. “There’s a lot of stuff like that where I could easily just hire someone to do it,” he says. “But I like the challenge of, ‘OK, here’s a technical problem. I feel like I can build a device that’s going to allow me to do it.’”

As the channel has grown, Singh says he’s seen the once white- and male-dominated realms of hardcore diversifying in a healthy way. A quick browse through his recent offerings shows plenty of women and people of color both onstage and in the crowd. But as he’s experienced firsthand, discrimination is still just as present in the heavy-music underground as it is in any other strata of society. “I mean, I get called a terrorist,” Singh says. “And it’s interesting because it’s things that I was hearing in high school — they’re not new, all of these racist attacks. … Recently I did an interview and the podcast had me upload a photo of me holding a sign with the name of the podcast, and someone took that photo of me and they replaced the sign with an ISIS flag. They put a turban on my head and they photoshopped a suicide bomb vest on my chest. And again, it’s like, that’s so tired and boring. … That’s the best that you can do, calling me a terrorist, thinking that’s going to upset me?”

“They’re not new, all of these racist attacks. … That’s the best that you can do, calling me a terrorist, thinking that’s going to upset me?”

Just as he documents the positive aspects of the scene through his videos, he makes a point of spotlighting these incidents — holding a mirror up to a community that still has a lot of growing left to do.

“Whenever these things happen to me, I draw attention to it. Because I want people to know that this is a thing that happens to people like me. People think I must be immune to it because I’m running this successful channel, but no, I still get these attacks. I re-posted that picture just to, one, draw attention to it, but also, two, to neutralize its effect. The person who created it wanted to hurt me, but if I re-share it, it shows that it’s not actually hurting me. I’m actually embracing it in a weird way.”

Singh’s determination to push through obstacles like these reflects his unshakeable belief in what he’s built, and his commitment to sticking to the channel’s original egalitarian ideals. He has big dreams — he wrote Rage Against the Machine’s management a passionate letter asking to document their summer reunion tour — but his allegiance is still with the underground. “People will call me a tastemaker, and things like that,” he says. “I don’t think I’m a tastemaker because I will literally go film Turnstile playing in front of 2,000 people, but then the next night I’ll go film [a] band playing their first show in front of 10 people.”

Recently, at a fest in Louisville, a young attendee came up to Singh and told him that the gig was his first-ever live hardcore show, and that hate5six was the reason he was there. “He was watching a video-game review on YouTube, and it just so happened that the recommendation algorithm gave him one of my videos. He had never heard hardcore before, and he watched it,” Singh explains. “He said, ‘What is this?’ And it got him so excited that it motivated him to come to this fest that happened in Louisville.” 

As proud as he is of the growth and visibility of the channel, this testimonial seems to give Singh a special kind of satisfaction, linking his audience back to the childhood hours he spent in his room, obsessively watching bootleg Rage videos. “For me,” he says, “getting feedback like that is like, ‘OK — this is working.’”

Maria Lewis

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