A few months ago I was doing research for an interview with Maryland hardcore band Turnstile. One thing led to the next, and I fell into a YouTube rabbit hole of related live performance videos from hardcore bands big and small, old and new. Any fan of hardcore music surely knows this experience, because you always inevitably end up on the same channel: hate5six.
More than a mere uploader, hate5six and its home at hate5six.com is a community-driven platform of rare bootlegs, band recommendations, and nearly 3,000 videos (and counting) of live performances, some dating back to around 1993, almost all of which have been filmed and/or edited, and uploaded by one man: Sunny Singh.
The 32-year-old got his start filming concerts in high school, and in 2008, at the end of college and with the advent of viable online video, he decided to officially launch hate5six as a website. Singh would post videos of performances he’d filmed, then edit the occasional political statement into the footage (his logo is a play on the Communist hammer and sickle), as inspired by Rage Against The Machine. “Rage is very big about putting the politics at the forefront of what they were doing,” he told me. “That's exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm using hate5six as a platform, not just for sharing my love for archival footage but also as a vehicle for raising money for various charities and raising social awareness about causes that are happening in this day and age.”
Right now, Singh lives in South Philadelphia, his home for the last three years and hate5six’s HQ. He had been running the platform as a sidegig for almost 10 years, working as a software developer by day. But this March, he made it his full-time job, crowdfunding his income through Patreon. Running a hardcore goldmine is a massive undertaking for one person (“People don't realize that hate5six is just me. I'm the one who's filming, I'm the one who's editing, updating the site, answering trolls on social media”), but for now, he’s focused on building tools to make the job a little easier, and he’s got an incredibly devoted global viewership and online community, that keeps it all going.
Where’d you grow up? What was your upbringing like?
I grew up in Marlton, New Jersey which is not far from Philly. The area code of where I grew up was 856. hate5six is a nod to where I came from. The area I grew up in was a middle-class town, predominately white. I was maybe one of a handful of brown kids in the high school. My family was maybe one of the first Indian families to come here from India. My parents came to America in the ‘70s and started a family. Growing up, I was always the one who was not fitting in, being one of the only people of color in the town, but also, once I got into high school, I was starting to get into hard rock, hardcore music, and there were a handful of kids who were also into that. The typical story about being the punk rock outcast in school, there was that element. I was also into BMX at the time, and still am into BMX, and there was no one else doing that. I've always been drawn to doing my own thing.
How and why did you get into music in the first place?
I remember my older brother got a bunch of CDs from some mail order catalog, sometime in the ‘90s. He got Jimi Hendrix’s greatest hits, James Brown, Ace of Base, Soundgarden, Rage Against The Machine — a whole array of different kinds of music. I remember sitting in his room, we would just listen to all of it. That's my earliest memory of falling in love with music. He got me into metal and hip-hop. By the time I was in middle school, I was really into listening to stuff on the radio and calling into radio stations and requesting songs. By the time I got into high school, it was a full-blown obsession, being interested in all genres of music.
So what drew you then particularly to hardcore?
This goes into the origin story of hate5six. If you imagine taking a ten year old in like 1996 and locking him in a room with nothing but a box full of VHS tapes with live Rage Against the Machine shows, what comes out of that room in 2008 is hate5six.
I studied a lot of live recordings of Rage. That was my favorite band — still is my favorite band. That really got me to appreciate live music. Every show was different: there were different speeches, different setlists. I started tracing the history of the members. [For me, my fandom of hardcore] really started with that, and wanting to then figure out: Okay, where did this band come from, what do the members in this band do?
Where did that initial box of tapes with the Rage tape actually come from?
This is definitely before YouTube and any sort of online video. There were message boards, and back in the '90s and early 2000s, there was a dedicated community of people who would trade VHS tapes of bands amongst themselves. I think I somehow got a tape from someone who was willing to just give it me, and it snowballed from there. I have a memory of walking through the Moorestown Mall with my mom around this time, and there was some guy who had a table set up and was selling all kinds of VHS tapes. He had one recording in particular, Rage Against the Machine playing at this place called The Dragonfly in California in April of '96, and I picked it up. I had never come across it before, but I posted it online, like, “I found this thing.” Immediately all these traders wanted it because apparently it was a holy grail that no one had seen except for a small group of people. Once I got that one, I was able to trade it for a whole bunch of other stuff. I was ten when I started collecting.
I was watching [Rage Against The Machine performance tapes] so religiously and like studying everything about them. I think that that band and my whole process of falling in love with the live recordings was also falling in love with the idea of infusing social commentary into art. Rage is very big about putting the politics at the forefront of what they were doing. That's exactly what I'm trying to do with hate5six. I'm using hate5six as a platform, not just for sharing my love for archival footage, but also as a vehicle for raising money for various charities, and raising social awareness about causes that are happening in this day and age.
“I don’t expect everyone in the world to agree with everything that I say and believe in, but I think that it’s important to show people what’s happening and get them to engage. I think that at the bare minimum my responsibility with hate5six is to not let the politics fall to the wayside.”
You are very open about your political and social views. Can you dive a little bit deeper into how they are reflected in hate5six? It takes a few forms. I know you also recently made “Abolish ICE” merch.
Like I said, I really gained an appreciation for the idea of disrupting how people consume information. When you're listening to a Rage record, you don't get this, but when you're listening to them live, it really shows. They would do this thing where they would play a song and in the middle of the song, they would extend the interlude and deliver a really powerful speech about immigration rights or something like that. It was a very subversive idea that I immediately noticed. They were attracting people with the music, but at the last minute that pipeline is disrupted and people are being forced to listen to a message with a meaning.
I'm sort of trying to follow that model. [Viewers are] expecting music, they're expecting entertainment, but if you show them the reality of what's going on in the world, they're forced to face that. I understand that a lot of people, a lot of viewers don't like the politics, or they might not agree with it, and that's fine. I don't expect everyone in the world to agree with everything that I say and believe in, but I think that it's important to show people what's happening and get them to engage. I think that at the bare minimum my responsibility with hate5six is to not let the politics fall to the wayside. Especially with hardcore and punk rock, these things were founded on the idea of rebellion and resisting societal norms, so I think I’m not afraid to embrace that aspect of the punk rock ethos and history.
People often message me saying you should keep the politics separate from the music, but again, I really think that they're inextricable and furthermore, I do feel like, aside from showing explicit examples of political causes, that hate5six is a political statement, allowing people all over the ability to really experience live music. I get messages from people in parts of the world that don't have access to these bands, and they'll say things like, "You filmed my favorite band in that basement. They're never gonna play here, but that performance really helped me through this hard time.” I think that is a very, very powerful.
hate5six has been around for 10 years next month. How has it changed overtime, and when did you decide to take this on full-time?
People don't realize that hate5six is just me. I'm the one who's filming, I'm the one who's editing, updating the site, answering trolls on social media. The evolution has been largely trying to establish a hate5six presence across different mediums. Everything was and still is posted on Vimeo, but in the last two years, I started mirroring everything on YouTube as well. Vimeo and hate5six are great for people who are already in the know, but YouTube is a much more diverse community in terms of [discovery]. That was a big move for me. In the last couple years it's just been [about] trying to grow the presence, and a lot of it has been building a lot of automated tools to do that.
Once I film the video and edit it, I don't control what videos get posted every day. hate5six has become a very democratic, community-controlled system where viewers decide what gets released every day [through Patreon]. If there's a certain video that you wanna see, it's up to you to take initiative. It's also an exercise in teaching people the importance of getting involved and not waiting around. I'm not trying to equate what I'm doing with voting in local elections, but I think that it is a very small scale exercise of being engaged.
Since March, I've been trying to do hate5six full time. If I look back at old hate5six interviews, I always say I would never want to do it full time, ‘cause I think I'd grow to hate it if I was relying on it. But really, I was growing sick and tired of working in tech, and feeling like the work that I was doing was not helping anyone, and I was not seeing the work that I was doing being put into practice. It would just be thrown on a shelf or never see the light of day. After getting laid off in January I said, Maybe it's time for me to try this.
It's funny, I had a tech job interview in February, and during the interview, the interviewer was like, "I know this is random but I watch hate5six all the time. It's a really great site, and you filmed my band." I never told him that hate5six was mine, he just knew, so I came out of the interview like, okay. It was funny to see those worlds colliding. Every day I hear from people all over the world who watch hate5six and I felt like now was the time to at least try it. If I don't try it then I'll have the regret of not knowing whether it was possible or not. I'm trying to use Patreon as a way of crowdfunding my income and keeping hate5six free in its current form, but also trying to expand it. If I'm able to do this as my job, that'll be great.
How has your filming set up changed or evolved over the years? I know you’re also editing and putting out older footage you may not have recorded yourself.
People are sending me tapes of stuff that they've filmed before my time and I've been working on editing them so I have like close to 500, maybe 600 tapes that I've been in the process of digitizing and editing.
I've been using the same camera since 2011, but I've really placed a lot more emphasis on getting better and cleaner audio over the years. I started out using the built in microphone on the camera, then getting external microphones, and now I'm using a digital audio recorder. For bigger performances, I'll hire a sound engineer to come in and he'll multi track the soundboard feed, and he'll get like 16 channels. He'll mix and master bands that are playing, and we'll mix in the ambient microphone from the camera, and all the ambient mics that we have set up, and really try to find the right balance between listening to a really good recording, and also feeling like you're still there. That's something that me and my friend, Len Carmichael, who is my audio guy that I’ve contracted since 2012, have been trying to push the envelope on.
hate5six has also expanded into a band recommender through Sage, as well as hate5six, labs as an editing tutorial platform. How did those come to be?
My life has been best described as experimenting and trying to combine different worlds, so I've always been a technical person. I've always been a math nerd and programmer, I've always loved music — Sage was my way of taking my skillset as someone who's interested in machine learning and AI and trying to combine that with a community of people who come to my website looking for music. Also, I felt like working on a project — I had a couple days to kill and I was like, Let me build something. Doing the hate5six labs live sessions on YouTube is a way to show people the process of producing the videos, and answering peoples' questions. I've actually had people watching the live session and give me advice. If this can turn into a community where it's collaborative and people can be exchanging ideas, then that is amazing.
What are some of the most important things you've learned from actually being out there filming live?
I think it's all about following the emotion. So if there's a guitarist thrashing on stage, I'll focus on him, if someone in the crowd is having a moment where they're clearly just being consumed by the music, I'll focus on them. I think it's important to allow the music and the moment to overtake and guide what I'm filming. I almost never stand in front of the stage because I feel like the front of the stage should be the interface where the band and crowd interact, and if you start putting a row of photographers and camera operators there, it really creates a barrier that inhibits that potential full organic interaction. I really like standing on the side of the stage. One, I'm less likely to be obstructing someone's view, and secondly, for me, it’s the prime location to capture and tell that story about how the band and crowd are interacting with one another.
What's next for hate5six?
I really want to take hate5six global. I'm sort of relegated to filming stuff in the Philadelphia tri-state area. Every now and then I can travel to different states to shoot, but I honestly get messages every day from people in Indonesia and Russia and London, and across the US saying, "Can you film my band? Can you film this show?" I really wanna get to the point where I'm able to go and travel and to shoot those bands and those shows because I think people are realizing the value of hate5six.