Desert Dweller Fest Founder Matt Marcum-Ugalde Brings Hardcore Party to Arizona

I’ve been waxing affectionate about Arizona’s hardcore scene for a while now. I don’t just live here, I’ve had the privilege of seeing numerous people, friendships, and bands grow into entirely new entities over the last decade. In my own way, I’ve grown up here too. Last year, Matt Marcum-Ugalde, an integral fixture in Tucson and Arizona’s hardcore scenes, ignited his home with the inaugural Desert Dweller Fest. It was among the coolest events I’ve seen in my time here, a two-day gathering replete with impassioned sets, seething pits and classical hardcore camaraderie. It was the stuff once sang about in old Youth Crew songs, that rarified breed of hardcore spirit.

For this year’s second installment of Desert Dweller Fest (September 7th-9th), I wanted to expand upon the creation of this beast with its creator. If you will, invest a moment into my conversation with Matt himself regarding what just might be the next big event in American hardcore. If you’re feeling generous, take a trip to Arizona that weekend to witness Arizona hardcore for yourself. 

What inspired you to form Desert Dweller Fest?

So, DD has been an idea in my head for years. I always talked about it with friends and we would always makes plans for it. But the end product never really made it out till I was terribly sick for two weeks in the beginning of 2017. I sat in bed for two weeks bored and decided just to start planning everything out and hit some people. Here I am now with Year Two of Desert Dweller and don't plan on stopping anytime soon.

Dance floor justice action at Desert Dweller 2017. (Photo: Pablo Vigueras)

What is your vision for DD, your "mission statement," if you will?

To me, what I value the most in hardcore and punk is the conscious thinking behind the music. I wanna listen to something that's gonna provoke me into thinking better and give me some insight on how I can better myself and the people around me. I'm no musician and I lack the chops to be a frontman, so I decided to incorporate various groups into this years DD such as Food Not Bombs, LUCHA, and Scholarships A-Z. Last year, we donated some of the earnings to DACA because as a POC/Mexican-American I have family members and friends who depend on the DACA program to stay in the US. So, as a mission statement, it would be to provide info to the community, whether it's our scene or the outside world and helping one another.

All the bands playing DD this year are powerful, heavy and awesome. Are there any particular sets you’re looking forward to?

I picked each band, so I can't really put my finger on it. But that new Absence of Mine should be sick as fuck. Also, Territory is always dope to see live. Reasons and Territory are the most underrated bands in Arizona, had to throw that out there.

Are there any AZ bands you’d like to see play a future DDF that have yet to play one?

Groundwork, Iniquity, Troubled, and a Step Aside reunion show.

How do you think Arizona's hardcore scene compares to similar scenes nationwide, what makes it special?

Arizona hardcore is a different beast in my eyes. Especially in Tucson, people will pull up and just go off the whole time (shout out Tucson hardcore for keeping it real). Looking over all of Arizona, I think we all fuck with different realms of music. Either its diving heavily into metal, punk, and any other form of alternative music, we'll check out any show (speaking for myself). Arizona is a skipped state, so any kind of band/tour coming through, people will go and check it out and have insane energy.

Get A Grip (Photo: Wulfticket)

How has growing up in this scene shaped you?

Growing up in Tucson shaped me into keeping an open mind to any gig and really looking for the best in any situation. Also, valuing friendship is a big one. In my friend group we all met at a young age and just fed off each other's music preferences till now and it shows within bands they've created and what I'm doing now with DD.

If you could pick any bands to play a future fest, who would they be?

Outburst and Los Crudos. There's more, but it's too many to list.

Dare at Programme Skate & Sound, Fullerton, CA, 2017. (Photo: Dan Rawe)

What band(s) got you into hardcore, and why did these bands resonate with you?

In elementary school, everyone I knew was into rap and hip hop. I really tried to like it, but always ended up going back to metal. That shit didn't really stick with me but stuff like Slayer, Metallica, Led Zeppelin (I know, I'm wack), Slipknot, Black Sabbath, and AFI always kept my interests high. I sometimes didn't have the means to listen to it as much as anyone would, but I was young as shit. From then on I branched out and found other music either through radio, movies, or Tony Hawk video games and GTA 4. In middle school, I got really into deathcore, but going through YouTube I would always find different bands in hardcore randomly. “Rise Above” by Black Flag was my favorite song on Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland and that song always stuck with me. Later down around my middle school days, I got really into skateboarding culture and watched a lot of skate vids and I would read the music credits and find bands. That's how I fell down the rabbit hole, also various family members fueled my music interests.

What are your favorite hardcore releases?

Urban Discipline, Miles to Go, Truth In the Age of Lies, and Set It Off. The classics.

If there was one era of hardcore you could go back in time to experience firsthand, when would that be and why?

It would have to be 1987-1995. New York was pumping out classics, one after another.

Is there anything you’d like to add for No Echo’s readers?

Shout out to my girlfriend Maria, shout out to Tucson. Free Elliott, shout out to Get A Grip, Crossfire, Blackened, Chaos Ladder, and Troubled. Keep an eye out for War Prison. Shout out to the O'odham fam! Arizona Hardcore forever…

Blackened (Photo found on Facebook)


Since conducting this interview, Matt has told us that the following bands will not be playing the festival: Sex Prisoner, Regional Justice Center, Divine Hammer, and Ingrown.

For more info and set times for Desert Dweller, head to the fest's Instagram page.

Tagged: desert dweller fest