"Pound for pound, [Raleigh has] the best hardcore scene in the country," says Daniel Lupton. And if anyone's an expert in the state of modern hardcore, Lupton, a 31-year-old English literature scholar and proprietor of the Carrboro-based label Sorry State Records, is as qualified as any.
For the past five years, Lupton has steadily grown a spare-room business pressing, releasing, promoting and selling records, both with his Sorry State imprint and as a distributor specializing in obscure punk and hardcore titles. "Sometimes I feel like I'm just chasing that for the rest of my life, trying to hear something as good as Minor Threat again," Lupton says, recalling the first band that sparked his interest in hardcore as a teenager.
Through that pursuit, Sorry State has quietly become one of the area's more successful locally focused labels. This year's Double Negative LP, Lupton says, has already sold close to 2,000 copies, while catalogue titles by Richmond's Direct Control and a reissue of the short-lived Tennessee hardcore band Koro's self-titled EP have sold more than twice that. "Lots of bands that draw a lot of people locally, they're still only selling a few hundred records," Lupton says. "But I think some of that is just the genre. Record collecting is a big thing [in hardcore], and people are more focused on the object."
Lupton's success has hardly been limited to hardcore, though: With titles from agitated pop-punk band Crossed Eyes, gonzo garage rockers Whatever Brains and the rough-hewn UK pop band The Love Triangle, Sorry State stays true to Lupton's reluctance to have a house sound. "I gravitated toward stuff that's a little weirder," he explains.
Even with a smart curatorial ear and record collecting fan base, the label is hardly a millionaire's prospect. "It's sort of my roommate now," Lupton says. "It has a room in my house, and I pay for my Internet connection and part of my rent with that money. In terms of time spent, it's full-time; in terms of money, no."
On Sunday, Sorry State hosts a showcase featuring seven mostly local bands with titles bearing the label's imprint. Richmond purists Direct Control—whose Nuclear Tomorrow 7" was Sorry State's first release—headline. The increasingly noisy and experimental Double Negative takes the stage with its blistering, and potentially career-defining, sophomore LP, Daydreamnation, still fresh in listeners' minds. Boston's Libyans charge their Sorry State-released A Common Place with nervous energy and rock 'n' roll hooks that owe more to punk's first wave. Lupton's current band, Devour, brings an unsettling denial of repetitive song structures to the genre, while Lupton's previous band, Logic Problem, reunites for its first set in more than a year.
The showcase serves as a release party for Shards and Stripmines, two new Raleigh hardcore bright spots. Shards is debuting its self-titled LP which, with a concise 11 songs in 23 minutes, nods to West Coast melody and speed—think T.S.O.L. and The Adolescents—with a darker sneer in the vocals. Stripmines arrives with its debut EP, Sympathy Rations, a five-song spree of frantic, dynamic hardcore that pinballs between '80s purism, grindcore speed and heavy metal heft.
Like Sorry State's catalog, Sunday's show offers both a full range of punk variables and unwavering quality. "I think [Lupton] picks and chooses his bands really well," says Matt LaVallee, Stripmines vocalist and Lupton's bandmate in Devour and the erstwhile Cross Laws. "I think the showcase is really representative of that; there's not a weak link on that bill."
But if Lupton has his way, it'll be more than just a great bill. He hopes it will give punk rock fans in the Triangle a chance to take stock of the great music in their midst. "What I'm hoping is that it's kind of a punk rock Thanksgiving," he says. "There are all these great bands that I'm putting out and that are playing locally, and hopefully this is just a moment to take stock and have it all in one place and just appreciate it for a moment."
This exact opportunity might not present itself again. Lupton could finish his Ph.D. in 18th-century British literature in May, leaving Carrboro for a professorship. That's not necessarily a death knell for the label. The day-to-day job of filling and shipping orders and assembling records is a way of leaving the mental rigors of academia behind—and Lupton isn't the type to let his passions pass so quickly.
"When I do stuff," says Lupton, "it consumes me and I want to push it as far as it can go."