Fortress Records: South Florida Hardcore Label Should Be on Your Radar

The best record labels are the ones that feel truly curated. That's been the case for Fortress Records since the young label first appeared last year. 

Founded by South Florida-based musician Mikey Morales, he's managed to develop a strong musical and aesthetic point of view for Fortress despite being early in its story. Releases by Caliber, It's the Limit, and Utility are heavily recommened for fans of straight-up, no-bullshit hardcore.

Throughout the years, Mikey has played in bands like Envision, Collateral, and xElegyx, so he's clearly a tapped-in participant in his hardcore community. Intrigued with his work, I reached out to him to get the story behind Fortress Records and the pathway to his passion project.

Tell me a bit about you and how you discovered hardcore music.

Yo! So I grew up in South Florida all my life, mostly in West Pines (shoutout Muvico 24) and I guess just like every other kid in the 2000s got into alternative music via my older sister and video game soundtracks and what not. That just kind of took its course as it does and eventually heard like actual hardcore bands on Tumblr in like 2011/2012 but didn't know much about it.

I think it was a Title Fight show in 2012 at the Talent Farm (RIP, which was located 5 minutes from my parents house which helped me sell the idea of me going to a gig by myself to my parents) which was the first "local venue" show I'd ever been to. Someone was flyering for some upcoming hardcore and emo shows and I remember just feeling curious about it because I enjoyed the setting that night.

Like a week or two later I went to one of the shows on the flyer and I think the lineup was like Blistered, Axis, and maybe Super Mutant and Harbinger? Anyways, I remember just being like a little jit in the corner watching people twice my size smack each other up to Harbinger and just deciding I really needed to keep coming to that venue, so I did! And here we are all these years later, I guess!

You’ve played in a bunch of Florida hardcore bands throughout the years, but when and why did you decide to start Fortress Records?

It's an amalgamation of many different reasons but mostly because the local shows down here started having a lot of newer heads turn out consistently and, as great of a scene South Florida was in the late 2010s one thing that we lacked was new faces coming around, it was very much a have a really epic show with the same 50 people in a tiny room vibe for many years. Which was cool at the time but we definitely struggled to bring new heads in.

After the COVID lockdowns, Equinox Booking started ramping up the local-level gigs, and Breakeven Booking in tandem was ramping up bringing bigger tours down here when bands would normally skip SFL. Also, during the lockdowns, a ton of my best friends moved away, particularly ones I am in bands with so I felt a huge hole in my life where I was no longer contributing to my scene in the way I wanted to.

So I decided I wanted to just do a zine to try and get the newer South Florida heads involved. Then, after months of workshopping this zine, Tobby (Collaterall, Be All End All) asked me if I wanted to do a fast hardcore band, and I was like fuck yeah that would be cool thing to do cause my other bands are much less active since I have to fly out for one-offs when I want to play gigs. Plus, I liked the idea of collaborating with someone I hadn't with before.

So we met up and developed his outline for the Collateral demo and I thought it was so fuckin beast that it needed more love than just putting it out with little thought and effort beyond a Bandcamp drop and a Instagram post. At this point, I was like two interviews into my zine it was going so slowly because I'm a picky and lazy bastard so I was like yo what if instead of a zine I just do a label just so we can put this out and maybe anything else we as a squad might come up with.

The fact that I'm about to be at 8 releases, with one being a record, would have been unimaginable to me at the time.

Were there any specific records labels that inspired you to do it?

My time involved in hardcore has always been spent liking a little bit of everything and I wanted the label to represent that in a consistent manner while also drawing attention to shit I feel like would've been overlooked if I was just released into the ether.

That being said, I've spent these years looking up to a variety of different labels, I think the older inspirations are obvious so I would say the ones that most inspired me are the local ones that I loved growing up in SFL like IOU and Plead Your Case, I'd even say to an extent Arduous Path Records, while being stylistically different I helped them with a bunch of graphical shit and layouts so it feels like a part of the puzzle too.

Let’s talk a bit about some of the Fortress releases. The first drop was the Collateral demo, a band you play in. It feels like you guys got a great response out of the gate. How has everything felt from your standpoint?

Yeah, it's still kinda wild to me how great the response was and still is for that demo, its kinda weird because I put the band out but am also in the band so it feels like a baby to me in two different ways like I catch myself saying I'm proud of them forgetting that I'm right there with them. We thought maybe like 10 people in south Florida would care but that was (and still is) enough for us, but we've gotten a ton of great opportunities and had a ton of great times together.

Most importantly, the newer generation down here gets it and they support us so much, it makes me so proud of my scene and basically just accomplishes precisely what I wanted the label (or the zine early on rather) to accomplish from the beginning, just to a higher degree than I was anticipating.

What’s the story behind Caliber? 

So, actually we had just arrived at Burke's Dungeon Recording Studio to get Sid's vocals recorded for the demo, and at this point was a week or two after deciding to make Fortress a label. Burke was mixing Caliber before starting our shit and I thought it was not only insanely sick but that the timing was perfect and the band was friends of ours doing a style of hardcore I like a lot that isn't really currently represented in South Florida.

So, I asked them pretty much within the hour if they'd want me to put it out which they were down with. Zack, the singer, moved away so they don't really play shows rn but I'm hoping that they'll run some more soon.

The Suicide of a Species demo from S.O.S. is on some classic fast hardcore/power violence shit. Who else plays in the band with you, and can we expect more material to come out at some point? 

S.O.S. is the brainchild of Jesse Inman, aka the CEO of IOU Records, and he had almost all of it written already when he showed me and it, too, was exactly the shit I wanted to represent the label with. We joke that he always has new power violence/hardcore-crossed band ideas popping up and calling S.O.S. Be All End All #2 or SPM #3 and so forth.

We missed our first show cause I broke my arm like 3 days prior which took some of our steam out the tank but hopefully we'll have some gigs coming up soon. As far as new material, I haven't asked him but he's always coming up w some dope and weird power violence-type hardcore, so I'm sure we'll cross that bridge eventually, who knows?

It’s the Limit is based out of San Antonio, Texas. How did you hook up with them? It’s great that you’re spreading out to other areas of the country.

This is the band that broke the camel's back for me when I had originally pledged to only put out South Florida bands. I was at work not doing shit and around like 9am I was doom scrolling and Dewey, close colleague of the Fort, posted this demo he did art for and it just looked really fuckin' cool so I immediately listened and messaged him like, "yo, is this your new band or something what is this?" He was like, "oh, it's some friends of mine from San Antonio, and I did the art."

He linked me up with them and within 15 minutes they were down for me to just put out, so while I was supposed to be doing shit at work I was scrambling to get the Bandcamp re-set up, the streaming BS, tapes, IG post, etc. to have it all ready to post it all over again at noon under Fortress.

I pretty much became acquainted with them only within that first chaotic hour of getting all the shit together. This could just be me doing mental gymnastics to justify me changing my mind on it, but I do feel like doing a release here and there that aren't based from here does help draw in outside eyes to our scene and draw our scene's eyes to those scenes, which is exactly how I've made some of closest friends in the past 10 years, so it felt natural to be spread around like that.

Staying on that subject of non-Florida bands, Utility comes from the Connecticut scene. Who’s in that band and how would you describe what they’re doing? That demo rips.

Early on in the Fortress catalog, Matt from Wreckage was like, "yo, I wanna do a band for you to put out," and him being a homie, especially a talented one, I was like. "yo, I'm down to make that my one and only non-Florida release! I don't even care what it sounds like, I'll put out no matter what."

Months and months later, he showed me the tracks. I thought it was gonna be pretty good but it's legit incredible and the reception has reflected that from what I can tell.

The lineup is half of Wreckage and the other half are people that were briefly in, or filled in for, Wreckage, so I think they just wanted to do some other shit on the side for fun. I love that musically it feels related to Wreckage, in the way a scene from back then has a distinct sound, but is still different enough to stand on its own, it just sounds like a fresh take of classical CTHC.

The latest Fortress release is the 4-song demo from Obscured, a band out of Tampa.

Way before Collateral was conceived, Cory from Obscured and I were talking about doing a heavier band together and we'd send ideas here and there and since we're 5 hours apart it just never happened but I told him I still wanted to put out whatever band he does next because I knew it'd be sick. And then like a couple months ago, we circled back to that and they sent me some drafts and the logo recently and I was like, "oh shit, this is dope!" cause I've been wanting heavier bands on the label but I want it to still feel like it fits in with the current catalog and it walks that line exactly the way I was hoping for.

South Florida and Tampa have always had a pretty tight relationship so I knew even if the label never did bands from outside of Florida that I wanted to represent Tampa hardcore on it at some point. The band has members of Six Paths, Dogmatic, Crisis Unit, and ironically enough, another band by the name of "The Limit" that should not to be confused with It's the Limit from Texas [laughs].

You mentioned your zine, which I still need to get my hands on. Do you plan on doing more of that in the future?

My life has been kind of a busy mess for the past year for a ton of reasons and I'm so annoyingly particular with the zine shit so it will def take me a while but I absolutely intend on doing more in the future.

The Fortress stuff has a visual aesthetic all its own. How do you handle that? Do you work closely with the artists who are doing the cover art/imagery for the bands? Do you do a lot of it on your own?

I definitely from the get-go had a particular vision in mind for the visual aesthetic of Fort. I've done graphic design for a bunch of years so I'm really particular and picky about that type of shit. When I started the label, I was listening to a lot of Citizens Arrest and reading the Hardware Fanzine Anthology so I think that plus just being into sword and sorcery type art definitely led to some of the vibe.

Aside from that, I have like annoying parameters in mind such as wanting all the tape art to be 2 colors only and to feel old but fresh simultaneously, to have original visually-striking art with consistent layouts.

And maybe, most importantly, I wanted the label to champion the people that make the art, Robert Cerrito and Dewey have done most of the art for the label and without their visual styles I think the label wouldn't have the style it does, nor do I think people would care about it as much.

I love the idea of decades passing by and hardcore artists from my generation being praised the way Billy Side by Side, Sean Taggart, etc. are, and because I personally, to an extent, feel that the legacy of our current generation in hardcore is more important than what has come before. And that goes for the bands, their messages, the people mixing and mastering the music, and the visual artists that bring it to life.

I think being a graphic designer in a DIY setting is an incredible advantage to have especially when we live in a time where there's so much shit out there, people are more selective about what they pay attention to, and of course they will usually pick the visually striking things over the rest. I do most of the layouts and a lot of the flyers and shit but not without the help of those I mentioned, of course.

What’s next on the release schedule, or do you keep that stuff under wraps till it drops? Do you have anything coming up you would like to promote?

Actually, just 20 minutes ago, I received the masters for a Chicago band I'm going to release a second demo for in a few weeks. It'll be releasing June 12th, most likely. Following that, I will be releasing 2 more demos for new South Florida bands!

That's the most I'm willing to divulge because I'm very superstitious about talking about things too early and then it not happening [laughs].  

Fortress Records on social media: Instagram

Tagged: collateral, record label profile