Every month, Here to Hear offers a brief look at DIY scenes around the world. This month: Atlanta, Georgia.
Oftentimes, the best art is also the most marginalized. Manchester post-punk, Glasgow indie pop, New York no wave — all of these were splinter movements that struggled during their existence and were only widely celebrated after they were extinct. This is the reality for indie bands in Atlanta. The best punk scenes arise out of maximal boredom and minimal opportunity — living room shows, basement zine meetings — but, despite their metropolitan location, Atlanta has proven resistant to this kind of community. As local outfit Places to Hide will be the first to tell you: When it comes to indie rock, their city kinda sucks.
“It’s really great for hardcore, but not good hardcore — bro hardcore,” frontman Kyle Swick told me over the phone. “Then there’s the hipster ‘make your band sound like shit on purpose’ bands that people are really into.” The problem is, Places to Hide are weird: Think Dinosaur Jr. and Jawbreaker as filtered through Midwest emo. Excitement and exhaustion are the group’s principal tenets. Lyrics like “Fuck, I just miss my mom” and “Come home so we have the saddest sex,” turn up on the record, their heavy melancholy matched by robust melody. “We were pretty sad people when we wrote our record,” Swick explains. “I’d moved away from Charleston to go to music school in Atlanta and I’d just gone through a terrible breakup. I had no friends and I was working full time at Toys ‘R’ Us. And that’s a place of misery.”
The theme of sadness and sex — pleasure and pain mingling into a single hedonistic blur — is not unique to Places to Hide. It’s starting to become common in Atlanta, and perhaps no band explores it as sweetly as Gold-Bears.
The band put out an impressive debut in 2011, Are You Falling In Love? via Slumberland Records, which operated somewhere between textured indie pop and dreamy noise and was also, unfortunately, overlooked. Both Gold-Bears and Places to Hide flirt with a certain kind of ’90s nostalgia, but build upon it in the decade’s wake. Gold-Bears’ chief difference is in their optimism. If Places to Hide are lovesick and poring over relationships gone sour, Gold-Bears accentuate the positive. Their single “Record Store” starts with, “You couldn’t tell that this was a living hell,” before declaring, “You saved my life/ from the backdoor of a crowded record store.” The song’s finale, “We’re so in love, yeah,” gains certainty through repetition.
If an Atlantan identity plays into either of these bands, it’s in their dedication to operating outside the margins. If no one else in their zip code is experimenting with a certain sound, they’re going to try like hell to perfect it. Sometimes being alone isn’t so bad.