NASA Space University
After already been to Chaos in Tejas for two days, it seemed fitting that I finally saw an actual hardcore band at the festival. NASA Space University was that, a blast of twisted modern hardcore. At 5:00 in the afternoon, in broad daylight to an unresponsive crowd. Not in the sense that the crowd wasn’t into the music (they were), but that they simply did not want to go crazy. Which might have been worse. The band kept trying to goad the crowd, to stop being static and released themselves, to no avail. NASA Space University at least made the best of this situation, using the apathy to fuel their music and make it more intense.
Lower make this intense, heavy form of post-punk that feels like a hardcore band playing Joy Division. It’s brooding and hangs over you the longer it goes on. Live they are great; young, but like peers Iceage, knowing exactly what they are doing musically, balancing this sense of precision with the release that is contained in their songs. However, part of that was lost within this performance. Lower suffered from a semi-similar problem that NASA Space University suffered from; playing at the wrong time in the wrong setting. This is should not in any way be interpreted as saying Lower were bad in any part of their performance; they were great in their 25 minutes. It was just that something wasn’t there that should have been.
What Destruction Unit lost from performing in the day light: mystique, atmosphere, and the sense that they were swallowing you into a void of their creation. However, something unexpected was amplified during their set; the sense of evil that is contained in their songs. It was seeing the band twist around their instruments to make louder and louder noise. It was being able to see Ryan Rousseali’s eyes as they expanded to the size of coffee mugs like they saw something awful. It was the trashcan that came flying out of nowhere to crash into the band during the finale that had deformed into an ear bleeding (in a good way) of feedback. Destruction Unit might have succeeded in the light by the back drop of the burning sun that created them in Arizona them rather than the dark where they can escape into.
Total Control are already intense on record, an incredibly precise mix of post-punk and synth-punk that is as creative as it is intense. Live, though that intensity became cracked up 100%. Total Control live was one of the most intense and tight bands I have ever seen, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was six people going at it at once. Six people who at every moment knew exactly what to do without a blink of the eye or sideways glance. Frontman DX was absolutely commanding, giving the songs this intense but contained fury that made them just that much more powerful. Even when the band played the (slightly) slower, synthier songs like “Carpet Rash”, not an ounce of energy or momentum was lost. Total Control live was like a precision steel bat to the head that released a burst post-punk fury with each impact.
Merchandise only played for about 28 minutes. Merchandise only played four songs. Merchandise also put on possible the best show of the night. For a band that had just flown in from their first and massive tour of Europe two days before, it was unnoticeable during their performance. They played with a certain amount of swagger, a confidence built around not caring what anyone thought about the music they were making, whether it was punk enough or not, whether it was or not good enough or not. Ironic enough though was the fact that the band that was so decidedly unhardcore, and so built around not meeting some sort of preconceived standard, were the act that finally got everyone to go absolutely crazy. Open with “Anxiety’s Door” got the awkward twisting to start, but the real motion started once “Time” kicked in. Actual moshing took place to these noisy, emotional ballads, it just intensified as the band went on. By the time they closed with the 10 minute epic that is “Become Who You Are”, the crowd had gone absolutely nuts, people smashing into each other, and jumping off and crowd surfing off the non-existent stage. It was pure euphoria in less than 30 minutes.
Yes, The Men went Neil Young on their new record. Yes, they are now touring with fifth member who plays acoustic guitar and piano. However, The Men live is entirely a different, monstrous beast then the one on record. Live, The Men burn with the exact same amount passion and intensity that has always driven them in the past. The five of them were unyielding ball of energy, perfectly in synch with one another, never letting falling out of step or fumbling a note. They beyond tight as a band; the interweaving vocals, guitar riffs that knew exactly when to floor it like crazy and then jump back, the manic drumming that worked as a glue to keep this altogether. Not that all these nuances were necessarily noticed under the three billion layers of distortion and noise the band was working under, but even on just that visceral level, The Men were excellent, evoking Hüsker Dü and Crazy Horse noisy sprawl going at it at the same time.
I don’t think anyone knew what to expect seeing Marching Church, Ellias Rønnenfelt’s solo project, would be like. There was no precedent, both in terms of material (a tape and 7” of incredible varying sound) or live show. The audience collectively knew this was more than likely their only chance ever to see Marching Church perform live. Thankfully it was good. Rønnenfelt, backed by two members of Lower on bass and drums, delivered a short but blistering set of jagged, noisy, and disjointed post-punk that felt sort of like seeing a set composed entirely of the breakdown parts of hardcore songs. It was off-putting, almost never following a straight path and feeling like the trio could collapse at any moment, but Rønnenfelt managed to keep it together and the blistering ruckus they created endured.
I have a bad tendency to see living legends in regards to bands without having what should be the proper appreciation for the work. I saw Pavement on their sole Texas reunion show without having heard their entire discography. I got to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor without having heard one of their songs. And likewise, I saw Los Crudos without knowing their material at all, knowing only their reputation and that they had reunited for Chaos. And good god were they great. It was some of the best hardcore I’ve ever heard, blazing and ungodly passionate, with Martin Sorrondeguy’s banter between songs on everything from immigration to queer rights feeling just as important as the songs themselves. The literal warehouse they performed in, unventilated, massive with poor sound, made it feel like the world’s largest DIY show, the 700 people there going absolutely crazy in the best way possible.