Red Asphalt: Punk Bands Finding Strength in Weakness

Sam Lefebvre

By Sam Lefebvre

on 11.20.14 in Features

Red Asphalt is a series by Sam Lefebvre examining recent activity in the punk and hardcore scene.

Hardcore puts a premium on perceived strength. The stilted vocabulary of its criticism reflects as much — praising brick-wall brutality and ferocity, as if the measure of quality is a record’s aptitude for battle. Yet recent records by Pig DNA, American Hate and others highlight the power of veering in the opposite direction. Exploring sickliness, decay and black humor, much of the best recent hardcore undermines the style’s usual focus on power. Given its history of rather homogenous figureheads, the trend is a welcomed rebuff.

Pig DNA, Control You Fucker #3 (Nightrider)

The surge of bands influenced by d-beat continues, but this time with telling little differences. NY crust-punkers Nomad embellish their straightforward Discharge mimicry with a Japanese influence. Artists like Alexander Heir emblazon record covers and towels with illustrations of Mohawked punks wearing shoelace headbands — only they’re coupled with kanji and a professed love for blown-out Japanese punk bands like Lip Cream and Confuse. Such hyperbolic punk cliches are even reemerging at shows, where leather, studs and the practice of glue-sniffing is standard. Silly? Absolutely, and yet proponents remain ardent; few bands actively reckon with the glaring goofiness of their leather-laden scene, except Pig DNA. A band whose debut EP’s incoherent press release partly goes, “る新世代NOISE HARDCORE PUNK!!POIKKEUSと,” has become one of noise punk’s best practitioners by setting out to be the silliest.


The Oakland foursome’s debut EP, Control You Fucker #3, is willfully riffless. Little more than torrid, arrhythmic feedback underpins intermittently galloping drums and two-syllable vocal utterances. “Knife Play” is unique because the drums occasionally just stop. “Fly” flaunts the lyrics’ lumpen hostility, going, in whole, “Oh/ You like that shit/ Don’t you/ Bad taste/ Shit liker.” Shit liker — elite punk credential-checking, boiled to its banal essence to mock the very scene that would level such a diss.

Likewise, Pig DNA’s broader aesthetic package slyly satirizes the noisy hardcore cliché it’s ostensibly aligned with. Emoji-like smiley faces temper the stark black-and-white Xerox art. Featuring a hand-strengthener on the cover, Pig DNA locates the root of hardcore’s perceived power in a mere appendage. The vocalist goes by Leatherfist, but her lyrics reference a Power Glove-like Nintendo. Pig DNA’s clever caricatures reveals the nerdy, tender flesh beneath noisy hardcore’s studded hide.

Control You Fucker #3 isn’t available to stream online but you can buy it from Ignore Rock’n’Roll Heroes.

American Hate, Dead Squeeze (Not Normal)

Dead Squeeze‘s opening track, “Social Exposure,” is less than 30 seconds long and even in that brief time the vocals show signs of fatigue. The riffs start at a sprint, a verse-long lyrical deluge sounds as if it’s forcefully blurted through a mouthful of cud, and then dramatic gasps are audible in between several lines before the band collapses into a mid-tempo outro. “Social Exposure” dramatizes the self-harm that results from tracking hardcore without overdubs or preparatory exercises (which you can be sure plenty of hardcore vocalists employ). The gasps punctuate lines in other songs, too, and the turgid, memorable b-side cut “The Best Advice” opens with a sickeningly elongated croak, like a warped Gregorian chant on the wrong speed.

Dead Squeeze follows two earlier records from this Oklahoma City outfit, a sprawling, discordant album called I’d Rather Repeat Every Mistake and an eponymous debut EP. The self-loathing theme befits the band’s music, since the feeling persists that American Hate not only finishes each song in a state of exhaustion and woeful resignation, but starts like that too, all haggard and spent. The listening pleasure is somewhat perverse, then. Records like this convey a sense that every fitful transmission is defying a physical ailment. It’s an aesthetic of forgone treatment.

Big Zit, Big Zit and Ooze, Ooze (Not Normal)

Similar to how “Big Zit” and “Ooze” feel like two parts of the same repulsive sentence, any mention of the two bands without a nod their Northwest Indiana peers in the Devo-indebted punk outfit Coneheads is incomplete. Big Zit and Ooze’s shared sensibility (and artwork, see the spare black and tan designs adorning each record) isn’t surprising; Big Zit and Ooze share almost all of the same members, aside from vocalists.

Atop a careening rhythm section, both releases feature squealing leads that evoke teenage escapades into the recently discovered territory of “shredding.” Considering the longstanding moratorium in place on solos in punk and hardcore, it sounds like a sneering affront to the tyranny of thick riffs. Big Zit’s vocalist emits the noises of a melting witch, a death rattle ascending in pitch before expiration. It sounds eerily infantile, quite like H.R.’s squeals on the Bad Brains’ debut. Ooze’s vocalist favors a forced snarl, an inconsistent cadence suggests that he’s only uttering half of the words meant for each song.

In a recent joint interview with Maximum Rocknroll, the bands likened Northwest Indiana to Middle Earth, not for the fantasy scenery but more for the fact that to most people the area doesn’t exist. They don’t even specify a city. Internalized worthlessness is assuming your town isn’t worth mentioning, but that same marginal, outsider factor likely contributed to the fruition of these depraved experiments.

Deformity, Deformity (Katorga Works / Toxic State)

With its second EP, the New York-based outfit Deformity continues spiking shambolic hardcore with rock flourishes. Similarly to Ivy, with whom Deformity shares members, the individual performers waver in and out of unison, each instrument diverging from the others and then suddenly colliding on the beats that matter. Minus the guitar leads, Deformity’s most arresting moments involve the guitar veering away in a wretched reverie of its own, shedding specks of tonality from trebly saturation.

Deformity’s singular guitar approach distinguishes the band from its hardcore ilk. Quivering in the highs, prone to conventional rock bends and spontaneous feedback lashings in equal measure, the leads sound thin and somewhat malnourished. Rather than making its recordings insubstantial, though, they emerge all the more volatile. In a style that relishes a stalwart, headstrong riff, Deformity’s wily guitar playing assumes a vindictive churlishness, asserting its infirmity as leadership in ascent.