“It all comes from the same sort of distrust.”
Despise You frontman Chris Elder is referring to his band’s approach to storytelling. The life experience of the band members who comprise the seminal powerviolence band coincides with the act’s disjointed discography: brief bursts of violence and the incessant reality of urban decay, racism and isolation materialize in d-beat blasts, shoddily Xeroxed images of kids sniffing glue and duelling vocals, including gruff barks juxtaposed against yelled segments. This is a band that sprang from California in 1995, a continuation of the most abrasive segments of ’80s hardcore punk. Like their counterparts in Lack of Interest, they lyrically and conceptually embody a revolting reality; their entire artistic output oozes misanthropy. Over their spotty, 18-year history, their instrumental approach has remained largely similar, though their lyrical focus has somewhat shifted. When you’ve got kids and a family, things that enraged you as a young punk rocker lose significance, while societal complications are increasingly problematic.
“From then till now, thinking about what you are saying, a lot of stuff was way more personal back then,” agrees guitarist Phil Vera, who formed the band with Elder. The duo had hosted a metal show on KXLU in the early parts of the ‘90s and they rounded out the act with musicians they’d invited to perform on their program.
“You don’t trust yourself sometimes, you don’t trust your friends, you don’t trust your politicians. At least, in my experience, it’s a load of let downs with some people and that kind of goes back, way back, to childhood or teenage,” explains Elder, speaking from his home in Inglewood, California. The city sits southwest of downtown Los Angeles and has a tumultuous social history: The Ku Klux Klan boasted a chapter in the city until 1931; schools were desegregated in 1970 and, from then on, each census indicated radical changes in citizenry while community issues abounded; D.A.R.E. set up headquarters in the city in 1983; throughout the decade, the Crips and Bloods were caught up in increasingly violent scuffles over trafficking. Despise You utilized the ferocious reality of this urban decay, waxing poetic on the systemic racism, drug abuse, and violence that was an everyday reality for their mixed gender and heritage band and the communities from which they came.
“Back in the day, when we would get together, it would be like in 1995, ’96, it would be like every time we got together we’d want to write at least five songs,” recalls Vera. True to form, Despise You unleashed limited-run splits with Crom, Suppression, and Stapled Shut halfway through the ’90s and finally released the West Side Horizons compilation in 1999. Their original lineup featured two vocalist/guitarists, as Elder played guitar and provided the gruffer shouts while Lulu Hernandez was the yeller/bassist. Cynthia Nishi later replaced her as yeller; Elder is now guitar-less, as well.
At some point, though, the band stopped. Powerviolence fans complained bitterly that emo/ Ebullition-era punk had infiltrated the scene and, despite Despise You’s legendary status in the community, they’d yet to play live, due to Vera’s stage fright. Coupled with a sporadic discography that only credited the members’ first names, few had a chance to know the band intimately.
It wasn’t until 2007 that they made their live debut, months after drummer Robert Alaniz had unintentionally reinvigorated the band through the simple act of making a MySpace account. Fans came crawling from the woodwork and the Internet enabled the enormously important act to reach audiences that grassroots distribution was unable to do. The band’s social messages still resonated, 15 years later. As discord simmered worldwide and the Arab Spring, Egyptian revolts, and Occupy movements indicated increasing frustration with politics and hierarchy worldwide, their music had a renewed importance for the emerging dissident class. The same ferocity bubbled amongst fans and the band. Eventually they toured and released their first new material in over a decade in the form of another split with grind/powerviolence act, Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Later this year, Despise You will be releasing new material recorded in Vera’s new garage studio. Expect the material to remain in the same vein, despite their original counterparts from the California scene being long gone.
“It is what it is and, you know, where would you progress to? Do the parts four times instead of two? If they progress, they would be something else, because the root of this music is stripped down,” says Elder. He bristles at powerviolence as a genre, given how many sounds and conceptual approaches dwell under its umbrella. He and his bandmate list acts like Spazz and Charles Bronson on the “light side” while stressing the progression and skill inherent in Eric Wood projects, particularly Man is the Bastard follow-up, Bastard Noise. He also notes that a new scene and a plethora of bands have emerged, both of which which eschew neat description.
“It is a weird label,” agrees Vera. “As it goes now, it’s just very fast, very quick time changes, nothing is really stable.” Despise You is included in the unstable category, though Vera states the writing process has changed to stress quality over quantity.
As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Powerviolence thrives on sameness and Despise You now resonates with fans both new and old given the tumultuous reality of everyday life. Despite that, they’ve evolved in the sense that their lyrical approach is decreasingly introspective and wider social issues are now the concern. Despise You is seriously entrenched in mirroring the cruelty and brutality of society and that means their approach towards the politics and infighting of the hardcore scene are irreverent. To make his point, Vera refers to the Facebook debate surrounding the Calgary show and its opening acts with a disdainful chuckle.
“It’s usually pretty funny to me,” he concludes. “They are just whining and complaining. That happens here all the time, too. I stay out of all that crap.”
Experience Despise You twice on Friday, February 8. An all-ages show will occur at the Skate Shack (2536 – 12 Ave. S.E.) with Brain Fever, Sigil, and Savage Streets. Show begins at 6 p.m. The 18+ show will occur at Dickens Pub with Wake, Detroit, Breathe Knives, and Kid Gruesome. Show begins at 9 p.m.
By Sarah KitteringhamAB, Alberta