Sometimes, while observing something, a line from The Aviator, Martin Scorsese’s haunting portrait of Howard Hughes, returns to me. The very last scene of the film, as has happened before, the obsessive, disturbed innovator gets stuck on a certain phrase, which he seems incapable of stopping and repeats it compulsively despite his own and the people around him’s distress. He makes it to a bathroom and still can’t stop, and, staring into the mirror, he persists — the movie going black while he is still stuck in this episode.
“The way of the future. The way of the future. The way of the future…”
Those lines return to me as I duck behind my camera to avoid falling bodies. The bass is turned up so loud that it feels as if one’s bowels are, in a short time, about to be shaken loose.
Two African American gentleman, one wearing whiteface and one wearing the tattered remains of a KKK grand dragon cloak, caterwaul on stage — alternating rapping and screaming. Behind the kit, an anonymous gentleman pounds away at the drums, making the speakers work for all that they’re worth. The man in the KKK uniform, now wearing nothing but boxers, casually walks to the back of the stage and vomits before continuing on.
There’s a sheen of sweat on everyone. A female-bodied person in the crowd is painted up like a creature from the black lagoon and her breasts are fully bared beneath a vaguely green-tinted afro as she moshes with another Caucasian punk with long red dreads and a battle jacket. The man in whiteface screams and leaps, landing atop the crowd, his muscles in stark relief under the harsh lights before a strobe starts going off.
This is the scene of a Ho99o9 concert (pronounced “horror”), and at first glimpse, it may seem just that — a horror show. Between the mish-mash of hardcore and hip hop and racially charged symbols, it’s not tough to pick up on the seething anger that Ho99o9 is shedding. But what one might fail to notice — amid the pounding bass, glaring strobes, and deliberately confrontational feints — is that this is one of the most exciting, important, and relevant bands around right now.
Nearly twenty years ago, there was another band on the scene that was making incredibly angry, politically charged music that, two years before the rise of an incompetent American leader, culminated in one of the most influential and clairvoyant punk records ever: The Shape of Punk to Come.
Refused brought the full weight of the European education to bear, fusing socialistic and anarchistic philosophies with post-hardcore rage and experimental segues. What came out, whether shaping the punk scene to come or foretelling it (or, most likely, some of both) was one of the most relevant and politically aware pieces of punk music ever.
Twenty years later, Ho99o9, a band from New Jersey, is capturing that same spirit of political relevance and musical clairvoyance. While I have already spoken at length about the band’s savvy image and brilliant use of symbols, I have not been able to witness it in person until they hit The Roxy on October 30.
Being able to see the incredible diversity in audience — bringing everyone from the hip hop, punk, hardcore, metal, and extreme metal scenes all together under one roof is a whole lot easier said than done — as well as their incredibly energetic live show, really hammered home that I was watching the shape of punk to come, maybe even the way of the future itself.
But not without its upsets.
When Refused decided the were “fucking dead” — barely having finished the record — The Shape of Punk to Come was a year from the election that would appoint George W. Bush as president. While I don’t believe that Ho99o9’s 2015 record, Dead Bodies in the Lake, is to be their masterpiece (their potential is staggering), it’s timing, a year before the perhaps inevitable rise of president-elect Trump, is no less noticeable.
Refused sprayed their vitriol from a comparatively safe distance. The world had just suffered through the relative mistakes of the Clinton presidency, and their message, while certainly reactive to the contemporary world, seems now like a place of complete comfort.
Ho99o9’s world is not that. Their music, their rage, their abject fury, is a reaction to the world as it has been for African Americans for some time, and, as we can guess from this last election, as it may be for some time to come.
The United States is not a friendly world for those of darker complexions. With the last several weeks behind us, even us white, straight liberals now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, just what an unfriendly, brutish, ugly world it is for those not “lucky” enough to be gifted our skin tones, genders, and sexualities.
Whatever chaos the next four years brings, the soundtrack to the apocalypse (or its aversion) will be rage — and Ho99o9 fits perfectly into that as a band, savvy of political norms and usage of historical symbols, comprised of two black men either uncaring or too pissed off to care about the turmoil the intelligent use of those symbols incites, bringing together a diverse audience and musical influences into a single, pointed effort that encapsulates the fear, vitriol, dejection, alienation, and frustration of living in this modern world with the blinders removed.
The future is multiracial. The future doesn’t care about gender or race or religion or sexuality. The future is angry. The future is punk. The future is amalgamation. The future is unity. The future says, “Fuck yeah” to gay black muslim goths. The future says, “Fuck yeah” to trans female buddhist hardcore punks. The future is the fury of The Chariot and Kendrick Lamar and KRS-One and Cursed and Bad Brains brought together. The future is heralded by two screaming black men spitting in the face of a racist, corrupt system on the brink of collapse. This is the future.
Welcome to the Death Kult.