The Month In Hardcore: September 2021
If I counted everything up right, Gulch’s entire discography is 19 songs long. One of those songs is a cover. Most of those songs are crazy short. And maybe that’s all we’ll get. Gulch have been together for about five years, and they’ve only really played outside of California a few times. But in those five years, Gulch developed a mystique, one that the band members themselves seem to regard with something like suspicion. They also figured out a convulsive, freaked-out sound that draws from across the heavy-music map and still sounds like absolutely nobody else. They have already created a legacy, and they are perfectly happy to put a bow on that legacy. Pretty soon, Gulch will be no more.
A week and a half ago, Gulch announced that they will play a grand total of 11 more shows. Most of those shows are, for now, blacked-out, and we don’t know when and where they’ll happen. The shows that Gulch have announced — one in San Francisco and two in Chicago, plus a set at Tampa’s FYF Fest early next year — sold out pretty much immediately. Every one of those 11 live shows is going to be an event.
The members of Gulch have always been clear that they don’t want their band to become a permanent institution. In an interview with David Anthony for Bandcamp last year, guitarist Cole Kakimoto said, “We had a plan before this LP came out, and we may stick to it and we may not, but the plan was: Come out with the LP, use that as a jump pad to go to the next level, then self-release an EP like a year later and then break up immediately. It’s hard to say whether or not we’re going to stick to that, but Gulch can’t be forever.” They haven’t said anything about a final EP, but other than that, they’re sticking to the plan.
Hardcore history is full of stories about bands who broke up when they were at their peak: Negative Approach, Judge, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth Of Today, Turning Point, Inside Out, Botch, Disembodied, Ink & Dagger. Maybe Refused belong on that list. Maybe At The Drive-In or Quicksand or American Nightmare or even Operation Ivy. The big name that everyone mentions is Minor Threat, but most of the classic Dischord bands called it after a record or two. Some of those bands got back together later. Some did not. Until recent years, it was relatively rare for any hardcore band to stick around for multiple albums. The quick burst of excitement is a big part of the genre’s DNA. But it’s still striking to see a band flare up as quickly as Gulch and then end things when they’re still on the ascent.
Three months ago, Gulch headlined a guerrilla show in San Jose — their first show back after the pandemic. They played alongside Drain and Sunami, two closely associated Bay Area bands who share members with Gulch and who have been at the forefront of an exploding scene. Gulch singer Elliot Morrow built the stage for the show himself. Gulch were a big deal before the pandemic, but they released their sole full-length Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress right in the dead zone of last summer, and they went supernova. When their famously bonkers live shows weren’t happening, Gulch’s legend only grew. When they returned at that San Jose show, thousands of people showed up. For a DIY band with fearsomely inaccessible music, Gulch are as big as it gets. Maybe they don’t want to get any bigger.
Looking back at Gulch interviews, it’s pretty striking how guarded the members of the band have been about all the excitement that surrounds them, and especially about the noise around their merch. Kakimoto had already started a screening business before Gulch formed, and he made a habit of hand-printing small batches of Gulch’s merch. Partly because it was hard to get, that merch became a sensation, with people reselling Gulch shirts online for much, much more than sticker price. When Gulch played FYF Fest in 2020, they made Sanrio-style hoodies, with a design that a fan drew up, and people actually came to meet the band at the airport to get those hoodies. The band was not into it.
At this point, Gulch probably could be a career act if that’s what the people in the band wanted. But Gulch have remained at the center of the hardcore conversation for a couple of years now, and that can’t be an easy place to be. This past summer, all the big hardcore stories have involved Gulch in one way or another. The week after their San Jose homecoming show, for instance, Gulch played another big outdoor guerrilla show in Oakland, and it was near an encampment of unhoused people. People at the show damaged a whole lot of unhoused people’s things — lighting cars on fire, leaving debris everywhere, preventing the fire department from getting anywhere near it. Gulch didn’t book that show, and I don’t think they’re responsible for what happened, but that whole story sucks. On a much lighter note, Gulch also played the Turnstile Santa Cruz show where human poop ended up onstage. Maybe the members of Gulch have simply decided that people do not know how to act and that they want no part in it.
Whether they’re following a long-established plan or simply deciding that they don’t like the track they’re on, Gulch’s decision to end things, just as they seem to be taking off, is a powerful gesture. If, at some point in the future, Gulch get back together, then the breakup will still be a powerful gesture. The members of Gulch will all do other things, and many of those things will be big. Drummer Sammy Ciaramitaro is also the singer for Drain, who just signed with Epitaph and who are currently on tour with Terror. Elliot Morrow’s other band Spinebreaker seems to be active again, too. Meanwhile, every remaining Gulch show is going to be something to witness. I’d rather see Gulch stay together and make more music, but if you’re going to end things, this is the way to do it.
ACxDC – “Brotherhood”
LA’s ACxDC are basically a powerviolence band, and “Brotherhood” is as fast and twisty and ugly as powerviolence is supposed to be. For me, though, the song reaches another level in the second half, when the band slows down and steers into sheer metal Valhalla. This band has been around for a long time now, and I’ve barely paid any attention, mostly because the name came off as a joke. That’s my bad. This song is no joke. [From ACxDC/Pig City split, out now on To Live A Lie Records.]
Drain – “Watch You Burn”
Drain are on Epitaph now. As far as hardcore is concerned, that’s the bigtime. But the first music that they’ve released on the largest punk label in history is not a sign that Drain are about to smooth things out. If anything, “Watch You Burn” is a nastier, meaner song than anything on Drain’s ridiculously fun 2020 album California Cursed. Sammy Ciaramitaro is now vomiting out his words like he’s mad at them. You can practically hear the flecks of phlegm hitting the mic. [Stand-alone single, out now on Epitaph Records.]
Last Gasp – “Nowhere 2 B Found”
Cleveland’s Last Gasp and Boston’s Final Gasp are two different bands working in the same genre, which could lead to Frail Hands/Frail Body levels of confusion. Fortunately, Last Gasp and Final Gasp don’t sound anything like each other. Last Gasp’s whole thing is fast and snotty and obnoxiously catchy, like a ’90s skate-punk band that’s decided to crank things up even further. You shouldn’t be able to whine this hard and still sound this tough, but they’ve figured out a way. [From The Storied Weight Of It All, out 9/29 on Dropping Bombs/Crew Cuts Records/Version City Blues.
Listless – “High Risk, Unsure Reward”
A long time ago in Baltimore, there was this crustpunk band called Wake Up On Fire who played grand, epic metallic shit. They had two drummers and a cellist, and they ruled so hard. (Some of the members of that band went on to form Portland’s Nux Vomica, who also ruled hard.) Seeing Wake Up On Fire in a loft space was like watching a mirage appear in your kitchen. Richmond’s Listless have that same vast scope. There is a whole lot of ambition in their brutality. This shit sounds like comets crashing into each other. [From Amygdala/Listless split, out 9/17 on Get Better Records.]
MH Chaos – “Chaos Returns”
In lieu of a proper description, please enjoy this dramatic portrait of what might happen if you attempt to relax in the general vicinity of Chicago’s MH Chaos while they’re playing.
Militarie Gun – “All Roads Lead To The Gun”
Ian Shelton’s Militarie Gun arrived fully-formed last year. Right away, the guy from Regional Justice Center was writing weirdly catchy noise-rock, full of big riffs and bigger hooks. Three EPs in, the band’s swagger is only getting more intense. Every song hits like an anthem. This one, in particular, feels like Turnstile without actually sounding anything like Turnstile. It’s the kind of song that won’t truly sound right until I see people jumping off of things while it’s playing. [From All Roads Lead To The Gun II EP, out now on Alternatives Label.]
Portrayal Of Guilt – “Touched By An Angel”
Pretty recently, I saw someone refer to Austin’s Portrayal Of Guilt as the “Misfits of screamo,” and I’m mad that I didn’t think of that first. POG already released one triumphantly disgusting album in 2021, and they’ve got another one coming out before the year is over. The second one is called CHRISTFUCKER, which might be the hardest album title in history. Lead singer “Possession” is a banger. But I feel like this song, dropped on a between-albums split 7″, is even more beautifully ugly. A song like this might wear your ribs as earrings. [From Portrayal Of Guilt/Chat Pile split, self-released, out now.]
Spy – “Exceptional American”
I’ve never crawled naked through tar and broken glass, but I’ve listened to this song a bunch of times, and I can’t imagine it’s all that different. This kind of raw and strident basement punk is one of America’s great artistic gifts to the world. Hang this shit on a museum wall. [From Habitual Offender EP, out 10/1 on To Live A Lie Records.]
Strong Boys – “Pink Death”
More than 40 years ago, Negative Approach invented a particular kind of burly, bare-bones fundamentalist hardcore growl. Today, Dublin’s Strong Boys use that sound, and they make it seem like that kind of music was always supposed to work as a vehicle for sincere, pissed-off queer pride anthems. Pink Death’s lyrics are simple and vivid: “Across the world, bound by norms/ Our lives and loves on their terms.” The music is simple and vivid, too, in that it sounds like being stuffed into a trashcan and rolled down a flight of stairs. [From Homo EP, out now on Static Shock Records.]
Tempter – “La Lluvia”
The members of Richmond’s Tempter come from bands like Nosebleed, Candy, and Ekulu, but they sound like they slithered out of a swamp in an underground cave. (I know swamps can’t exist in underground caves, but that’s how they sound.) Every song on Tempter’s debut rips, but the spooky druidic evilness of “La Lluvia” pushes it over the top for me. I want to sacrifice things to a song like this. [From Tempter EP, out now on Quality Control HQ.]