meta-scriptAussie Hardcore Band Speed Are Carrying The Flag For A Continent | GRAMMY.com
Speed
Speed

Photo: James Harley

news

Aussie Hardcore Band Speed Are Carrying The Flag For A Continent

Australian hardcore crew Speed have been making waves in their scene for years, on a continent less known for the bludgeoning genre. On their new album, 'Only One Mode,' Speed are rising to hardcore's current moment and championing the sound of Sydney.

GRAMMYs/Jul 10, 2024 - 07:12 pm

Speed once felt inert.

When the Sydney hardcore heroes started, there seemed to be no path forward to a full-fledged livelihood. "Within the realm of possibility, we didn't see any way of investing into the band full time and that not just leading to feeling disenfranchised," says guitarist Josh Clayton.

"Because we saw every single band that we witnessed around us who had gone full time," he continues. "There was no tangible way to do that without it becoming work and without all of the joy of it being like a true creative outlet being sucked out of it."

That life force is not to be tampered with — and it's captured in the title of their new album, Only One Mode, out July 12. To Speed's vocalist, Jem Siow, the title connotes "finding your people, finding yourself, and going hard as f— with the things you believe in, the convictions that you have in mind, whatever they may be."

Long story short, that inertia was fleeting. A key 2022 appearance at the kingmaking hardcore festival Sound and Fury burst them out of their continental bubble. Those in the know have been watching Speed put Sydney evermore on the hardcore map; now, with Only One Mode on the precipice of release, that flag might be irreversibly planted.

Read on for an interview with Siow and Clayton about the themes of Only One Mode, the band's sudden hurtle into the stratosphere, fighting dilution in the hardcore scene, and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How would you describe the dynamics of the Sydney hardcore scene, as opposed to other hardcore scenes around the world?

Siow: Sydney, and Australian hardcore in general, has never really been a globally recognized scene. It's not a really scene that has a super long history or one that has as much depth as some of the more popular scenes like New York or Boston, for example.

With Speed, it was really important that we claim Sydney hardcore from the very beginning. When Josh and I and the rest of Speed got into hardcore, we were like 12 or 13. In the mid-2000s, hardcore was really almost at its peak, because of the boom of Parkway Drive — Australia's biggest heavy export and biggest hardcore band at the time.

When it got to around 2018, 2019, for the five years or so leading up to that, the whole scene on this side of the world really dwindled — where it went from having thousands of people across Sydney go to shows in the years prior, to maybe only just about a hundred or 150 people left.

Because of that filtering out of the crowd, I feel like we were left with the people who were like the lifers, the people who really cared about it for all the right reasons, enough to stick around. We found that we [needed to] band together and put our heads together, put our differences aside — whatever slight differences there were — and worked together to rebuild the scene, and push and reinvigorate the culture again.

Sydney hardcore, to us, isn't really branded or defined by a certain musical style. It's more of a collective attitude to work together. That commonality between us is the love and passion for hardcore, the relationships and the experiences that it's given us.

I think that's the brand of Sydney right now. It's very inclusive. It's very welcoming for the people who see it for the right reasons. We're bound together by a common mentality of wanting the best for the scene and wanting the best for each other, which is bringing up the new generation and supporting all the new bands and the new people who are being involved.

Clayton: If you zoom in on Sydney, it has its own very unique cultural context, at least for our generation. It's unique, not just to the world, but to Australia specifically.

Because, for most of the 2010s — I think it was for about 10 years — there were some laws in place in Sydney that basically strangled its nightlife. That left an entire generation of young people in Sydney without much of a cultural identity, I think. There weren't a lot of opportunities for creative communities to really flourish in the face of that.

I think [people were forced to] sit on the fringes and create their own communities. I think that has set the table for the era that we're in at the moment, where a lot of that stuff has been walked back. But, also, I think it's left our generation with a really strong appetite to create their own scenes, and given a lot of young people in Sydney a really strong DIY ethic.

That really set the table for hardcore to come back to Sydney in a strong way. Because, [hardcore is] naturally so DIY. So, I think a lot of people have gravitated towards hardcore or adjacent communities that have a lot of overlap with hardcore. That, I think, is what sets Sydney hardcore apart.

Learn more: Like Turnstile And Code Orange? 10 More Bands Expanding The Boundaries Of Hardcore

You guys have mentioned that Speed's mission is to promote Australian hardcore culture. Drill into that more.

Clayton: Historically, hardcore comes from North America. If you ask somebody their favorite hardcore bands, 99 percent of them are going to be North American hardcore bands from the '80s onwards. Australia has never really made a significant splash in the international hardcore community because, with most of the scene existing within North America, people don't really tend to look outside of those borders.

We've always had this massive underdog mentality because the idea of being able to be a globally recognized hardcore band or a globally recognized hardcore scene is such a lofty ambition. It's never really been done before. We can count on one to two hands, I guess, how many Australian bands have ever even made it over to America to play.

So, for us, it's always been this huge ambition to try and push that forward and make Australian hardcore familiar to people all around the world. Because hardcore is such a global thing. We witnessed it firsthand. We've seen how hardcore exists in Europe and how it exists in Asia. We've met so many people around the world who've interpreted hardcore as a culture and put it within their own environment. 

A lot of those stories get lost a lot of the time because the dominant culture just exists where it exists. That's been something that we've pushed really hard to change and wanted to be the flag bearers for Australian hardcore. Because there is so much unique stuff that exists here. There are so many labels. There are so many awesome bands.

Our entire experience of hardcore is informed by the bands that we saw growing up who were all Australian. We could have told you 20 Australian hardcore bands when we were 15, but probably only five American ones, because we were just so focused on what was happening in our backyard.

I think that's why that's been such a strong agenda for us, is because it's so special to us. We just want to share it with everybody else in the world.

Take us through the period between 2022's Gang Called Speed EP and Only One Mode.

Siow: For the band as a seven inch was approached as our holy grail. When we started the band, we didn't see beyond the seven inch. It was just, "We'll do a seven inch after the demo, and that's it." With that in mind, especially riding that seven inch during Covid, that was written to be played and written for 200 people or so.

But, the month after that record was released, we played at Australia's biggest hardcore festival, Back On The Map. And, it was coming out of Covid, and it was 800 people sold out, all-Australian hardcore lineup only. It was the most insane show that we'd seen in over a decade.

I think that that show really marked, historically, a turning point and the renaissance of Australian hardcore here. But then, also, two weeks after that, we were flown over to play [Los Angeles'] Sound and Fury 2022, which was not only the biggest hardcore festival in the world, but it was also three times the size it had ever been coming out of Covid. It was like 6,000 people.

That was our 15th show. For us to be flown over to play a show like that, it was almost laughable between our friends how insane this kind of opportunity was. To go over there and play in front of this many people and have a set like we did was completely earth-shattering for us. It was beyond any dream we'd ever, ever, ever conceived.

This is like 6,000 people beating the s— out of each other, going into an absolute war zone, to an Australian band in the middle of the day on a Saturday over there. That completely just changed our lives multiple times in that one show, Sound and Fury.

After that, I think it just completely altered the trajectory of what we thought was possible with this band.

Two Only One Mode songs that jumped out at me were "Kill Cap" and "Caught in a Craze." Can you talk about those?

Siow: The title of "Kill Cap" is a bit of a play on words. A good friend of ours from Sydney runs a brand called Killjoy. And, he had a hat that says, "Kill," on the front of the cap. It kind of, in some ways, becomes anonymous with Speed because we'd worn it so much around.

But, in the context of this song, "Kill Cap" is actually short for killing capacity. And, it's a song about suicide, because we've all lost friends and important ones in our life over the years to this. 

Clayton: To me, "Kill Cap "is maybe the most unique Speed song of all, lyrically. From my assessment, every other Speed song is so confident in the message that it sends. It's so strong. This is how we feel, this is what we think. Take from that what you will.

Whereas, "Kill Cap" I think is a really open-ended song where it doesn't have an answer. It's a song that's just like, "This is a f—ed up thing that we've all experienced, and we don't know what else to say about it except that it hurts." You know what I mean? I think that it's easily the most vulnerable Speed song. 

Siow: "Caught in a Craze," the last song on the record, was written with a direct awareness of our context, especially in the last two years and how things have changed.

It is an incredible feeling and position to be in when many people have referred to us as their gateway band into hardcore. Hardcore, right now in 2024, is arguably the biggest it's ever been, which is an incredible thing. But, the avenues and the pathways in which people have found the space, it's very different to how we did when we were kids.

Read more: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Turnstile On Mainstream Attention, Touring With Blink-182, Repping DOMi & JD Beck

This is not on some jaded s— to say it needs to go back to the old way. But, Josh and I didn't find out about going to shows via TikTok or through seeing a celebrity talk about it or make a joke about it in some way, or wear some merch.

We found out about this because we went to our local record store and there was a flyer that pointed us in the right direction. And then, from that show, found out about another flyer. And, met people there and kept coming back and kept coming back over years and years and years, and learned about the culture through observing the etiquette and through participating.

For the last five to 10 years in Australia, it's been how do we get kids to come to shows? How do we get more people to come to shows? How do we make people feel the same way we do about hardcore? Now, coming out of Covid, the question snapped quickly to, Wait, how do we make sure this s— doesn't get diluted?

Because, there's almost too many people coming to shows now who aren't really getting it for the right reasons. So, "Caught in a Craze" is really about that. It's people who are caught in this craze, who are seeing this kind of spectacle and digesting hardcore on a superficial level, seeing it as being maybe just this violent spectacle or this new trend of the moment.

That's really normal. That happens a lot of the time, and that's OK. It's just through a filtration process; the right ones will generally stick around. But, I think that this song is really acknowledging our awareness of that.

There are a lot of people as well — we'll call them vultures from the mainstream market — who are trying to f—ing capitalize on this s— or capitalize on the moment.

We, as a band, see that, and we are navigating that, and we're keeping a close eye on all the newcomers that are trying to take what they can from the space.

Explore The World Of Hardcore

10 Hardcore Bands To Know
(L-R) MSPAINT, SPEED, End It, Zulu, Buggin, Militarie Gun, Drug Church, Soul Blind, Regulate, Scowl

Photos (L-R): Libby Zanders, Jonathan Tumbel, Kenny Savercool, Alice Baxley, Arturo Zarate, courtesy of the artist, Danielle Parsons, David Mitchell, Rebecca Lader, Magdalena Wosinska

list

Like Turnstile And Code Orange? 10 More Bands Expanding The Boundaries Of Hardcore

GRAMMY nominees Turnstile and Code Orange may be the two acts from the hardcore scene that have gotten the biggest mainstream push, but the story doesn't begin nor end with them. Here are 10 more current acts you should know.

GRAMMYs/Nov 18, 2022 - 06:28 pm

When it comes to hardcore's intersection with the mainstream, it's hard to remember a week like this.

On Nov. 15, it was announced that Turnstile — the high-flying, shamelessly hooky, stylistically rangey Baltimore punks — had been nominated for three golden gramophones at the 2023 GRAMMYs, for tracks from their 2021 breakout album GLOW ON.

Coupled with their sound, their story — of rising from cramped vans and vet's halls to become triple-GRAMMY nominated, and about to support Blink-182 on a national tour — has placed them at the forefront of hardcore for very good reasons.

But with that can arise reductive thinking: that from an industry standpoint, Turnstile, somehow, are the lone, self-contained ambassadors for the entire hardcore scene.

The same goes for Code Orange, who came up as authentically punk as anyone. The Pittsburgh band rapidly expanded their palette to become breathtakingly heavy and experimental, scooped up two GRAMMY nominations for Best Metal Performance, then went on to open for Korn across the US.

The notion that Code Orange and Turnstile somehow are hardcore is spurious. It diminishes the larger community, and its matrix of creative interchanges, that are responsible for these breakout acts' very existences.

For those unfamiliar with hardcore: think the original punk-rock sound of ‘76 or so, with the tempos and intensity cranked to the nth degree. Acts like Minor Threat, Black Flag and Circle Jerks were its early pillars; forward-thinking stylists like Bad Brains expanded its boundaries.

In the ensuingdecades, hardcore spawned innumerable subsets, like powerviolence, beatdown, youthcrew, and D-beat. It also engendered a network of communities that can act both as nurturing subcultures, and philosophically and creatively arid spaces.

But a cursory look at the contemporary hardcore scene reveals that what was once a rigid, defensive, hyper-masculine subculture — think basketball shorts, beatdowns in the pit and message-board flame wars — is changing rapidly.

Today, hardcore and hardcore-adjacent bands are full of women and people of all racial backgrounds; all gender expressions and walks of life are welcome to rock or just watch. Traditional orthodoxies are crumbling as a slew of fresh acts rewrite what hardcore can be — and sound like.

The ideological purism is becoming more porous; musically, bands are bringing in elements from big-tent indie, synth-rock and 2000s radio hits. Big melodies and big choruses are in. The songs are funny, intelligent and thought-provoking. Hearts are often on sleeves.

Turnstile and Code Orange demonstrate how hardcore has expanded and continues to flourish as an art form for everybody, not just an unbending few. 

And if you love either of those bands, maybe you'll love these too.

Scowl

Kat Moss' route to punk as personal salvation was like that of innumerable young outcasts in her position: she needed a counterweight to stifling, conservative suburbia. (In her case, the Gold Rush waystop town of Rocklin, California — a half-hour drive from Sacramento.)

"Sacramento was like hick-town suburbia, and I was around people who didn't think like me and didn't get me," she told Revolver. "I felt very alone. I'd dye my hair and play my music loud when I'd drive through the neighborhoods. I just felt so 'f— you' about everything."

Once she met her future bandmates in Scowl — guitarist Malachi Greene, bassist Bailey Lupo and drummer Cole Gilbert — she found an outlet for that displaced rage and alienation: a bracing scream that slices you up, backed by thunderous hardcore.

Still, she approached this mode of self-expression on her own terms, embracing a subversion of stereotypical femininity as a visual aesthetic, from onstage bouquets to floral dresses and album art.

Musically, the Santa Cruz-based Scowl were combustible from their earliest demo, released back in 2019. But their 2021 debut LP, How Flowers Grow, is where their artistry took, er, bloom: where their earliest work was an invitation to a knife fight, Scowl now sounds like they're compelling you to dig your own grave.

But the heaviest, most uncompromising moments (like the eponymous closer — good heavens!) truly land because of the moments of levity. Case in point: "Seeds to Sow," where Moss switches to clean singing over percolating, sax-inflected pop.)

All of this together has made Scowl fans out of Post Malone and Fred Durst; the latter picked them as support for Limp Bizkit.

Soul Blind

If you're looking for a list of carbon copies of Minor Threat and the like, look elsewhere. Because hook-filled, genre-blurring, slickly-produced bands like Soul Blind are bellwethers as to where the music at large is going.

In this case, the blend is of hardcore-adjacency with post-grunge and post-hardcore — imbued with a mesmeric twist of shoegaze like Swervedriver and Hum. 

Hailing from New York's Hudson Valley, mononymous bassist/vocalist Cen, guitarists Finn Lovell and Justin Sarica earned their bona fides — their last strictly hardcore project being God of Wine.

When they added Juan Espinosa (later replaced by Steve Hurley) to the mix, they headed in a much more melodic and radio-friendly direction, without sacrificing an iota of intensity.

"Bands like Failure, Hum, Sunny Day Real Estate, My Bloody Valentine, and Deftones all influence our sound," Cen explained to No Echo. "We wanted to make music that captured the sound of our youth while adding our own modern touch to it."

Soul Blind released their latest LP, Feel it All Around, this fall — and it uncannily sounds like 2002 and 2022. Mainstream emo rubs against visceral post-hardcore; songs like "Seventh Hell," "Stuck in a Loop" and "System (Failing)" simultaneously bruise and uplift.

Drug Church

A comic book writer and podcaster when not "singing" in Self Defense Family and Drug Church, Patrick Kindlon is one of the most irascible and compelling voices in alternative music.

Whether he's articulating his individual-over-collective philosophy on the page, ranting about the confused state of comics in his newsletter, or offering fact-damaged celebrity journalism on the podcast "Worst Possible Timeline," his perspective hooks you; you can listen to the guy talk for hours.

While the mellower, rangier Self Defense Family's last album, 2018's Have You Considered Punk Music, showed Kindlon exploring his relationship to craft and creation, Drug Church's latest is a blow to the jaw.

Building on Cheer — their slickly produced and highly memorable third album from that year —  Hygiene is a masterclass in dynamics; its performances and arrangements deftly push and pull the listener.

Granted, Kindlon doesn't write the music: guitarists Nick Cogan and Cory Galusha, bassist Patrick Nguyen and drummer Chris Villeneuve do. But as the mouthpiece, Kindlon is impossible to ignore.

In "Super Saturated," he castigates those who spend "Nights spent inside/ Gifted with endless foresight"; in "Million Miles of Fun," he's at wit's end with the news cycle. But following that tune is arguably the band's key song, and monument to humanity first: "Detective Lieutenant."

With an economy of language, Kindlon lays out the supremacy of pure artistic feeling: "If I do a double murder/ What this song did for you doesn't change an iota." When the chorus detonates, it amounts to a death-blow for those quick to cancel, unperson and vilify: "We don't toss away what we love/ I won't toss away what I love."

Militarie Gun

The most hardworking man in punk business is right in Drug Church's orbit: Ian Shelton has played in Self Defense Family, and co-hosted a cheeky hustle-and-grind podcast with Kindlon called "I Don't Care If This Ruins My Life."

Shelton established himself as the drummer and screamer in the grind-y punk band Regional Justice Center; when he got vocal about the band's conceptual roots in the prison system and his then-incarcerated brother, he found himself widely misunderstood — to his chagrin.

"People say I sing about the prison system. It's not even true!" he told GRAMMY.com in 2021 while hoofing it to an L.A. recording studio. "What I've done with my space in the press is that I've talked about it."

In interviews, Shelton may readily reference Securus Technologies and JPay, both for-profit prison firms that have had a deleterious effect on his family life. But the music he makes strikes a subtler, more personal note.

In both Regional Justice Center and his slightly more melodic, pop-centric band, Militarie Gun, Shelton grouses and howls about day-to-day anxieties and his Robert Pollard-like compulsion to continually create. (He's just over 30, but his Discogs page is getting frightening.)

While his Militarie Gun bandmates — guitarists Nick Cogan (also of Drug Church) and William Acuña, bassist Max Epstein, and drummer Vince Nyugen — weave jagged, colorful lines behind him, Shelton is gruff and immediate.

At a recent, sold-out gig at St. Vitus in Brooklyn, with fellow hardcore-adjacent acts Sugar Milk, Dazy, and MSPAINT, Shelton howled the chorus to "Don't Pick Up the Phone": "I want money/ I want love!" Suffice to say, bodies flew.

MSPAINT

Are MSPAINT hardcore? Are they dance-punk? Are they post-punk? They're none of it and all of it.

Along with Taylor Young of Twitching Tongues and God's Hate, Shelton co-produced their 2022 single "Acid" — the perfect entryway to these intriguing purveyors of synth-inflected heaviness. The ambiguous opening keyboard lines offer few clues of what's about to hit. Then it hits.

"We're beyond peace at this point/ It's just another ploy/ A marketing scheme tranquil and enjoyed/ By a network of demons yelling at the sky," singer Deedee howls, as the synths continue to churn, underpinning their slamming, declamatory punk.

Named after the infamous freeware, the Hattiesburg, Mississippi quartet of Deedee, synthesist Nick, bassist Randy, and drummer Quinn is relatively new on the scene; their self-titled EP dropped the week the pandemic hit.

But given the startling freshness of their young discography, it's tantalizing to wonder where they could go from here. Because this particular permutation of hardcore — one that meets electronic textures and block-rocking beats — has never been done quite this way.

Buggin

Initially called Buggin' Out before being compelled to change their name due to trademark infringement, Buggin is an excellent next stop if MSPAINT's Beastie Boys-style inflections are your thing.

Back when they were named after Giancarlo Espocito's character in Do the Right Thing, the Windy City hardcore crew slugged out an excellent self-titled debut EP, with plenty of '90s-style bounce and face-peeling performances from vocalist Bryanna Bennett.

The renamed band returned in 2021 with the heart-racing and profoundly fun Brainfreeze, a two-song single bundling the title track with a cover of the Beasties' Check Your Head cut "Gratitude" — previously interpreted by Rollins Band, the Transplants and Refused.

Buggin plans to release their debut album next year; in a 2022 interview with CVLT Nation, Bennett took their ever-swelling buzz in stride.

"For me, it's still crazy how much people like us all over," Bennett marveled. "In my mind, I'm just some guy that was tryna have fun with the homies and diversify our local scene." Sometimes, that's all it takes to breathe new life into a form of expression.

End It

Ah, the old heavy-music go-to — a sample of a quaint tune of yesteryear that melts and slows, before the band crashes in and steamrolls it.

In this case, poor Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" is summarily shattered by End It in their track "BCHC" — or "Baltimore City Hate Crew." 

"What's shaking, you f—ing chumps?" exhorts frontman Akil Godsey in the galloping 58-second opener to their 2022 EP Unpleasant Living. "You don't like us, and we don't like you/ Use your 24 to mind your f—ing business, and I'll mind mine, b—!"

From there, End It turn in some ferocious, dyed-in-the-wool hardcore, aided and abetted by another hardcore-crossover lynchpin: Justice Tripp from Trapped Under Ice and Angel Du$t. He appears on the class-struggle batterer "New Wage Slavery"; in the video, Godsey plays Omar from "The Wire."

Thanks to the deft writing of guitarists Johnny McMillion and Ray Lee, bassist Pat Martin, and drummer Chris Gonzalez, Unpleasant Living relays a coherent, cohesive statement in all of eight minutes.

After the acerbic scene commentary of "Hatekeeper," the Baltimore crew goes for the throat with crushing closer "The Comeback." You won't want End It to end it.

Speed

Representing the burgeoning hardcore scene Down Under are Speed, who dropped their latest EP, Gang Called Speed, last June. And the lead single, "Not That Nice," unflinchingly addresses one of the most reprehensible blights on society in recent memory.

"We wrote 'Not That Nice' in reaction to the Asian hate crimes born from the pandemic. The sad stories of innocent, good civilians falling victim to racial violence," vocalist Jem explained in a press release

"I found myself thinking, 'This is someone's grandma, grandpa, mum, dad, child…' Unfortunately, much of this stems from the often perverted portrayal of Asian stereotypes in the media," he added. "To the scared and uneducated few, the sad reality is that this rhetoric translates to oppression and real-world violence."

Coming from Speed — three of its five members are of Southeast Asian descent — "Not That Nice" lands with brute impact. "We're breaking through/ Set fire to a f—ed up truth," Jem snarls in the tough-as-nails video: "Bite my tongue? They're racist/ My story ain't told by fools."

Clearly, "Not That Nice" and the other tracks landed: their set at Sound and Fury Festival in Los Angeles the following summer went so hard, the footage of the gonzo, seemingly bone-snapping pit went viral.

When the Instagram account @viralclipz posted it with the caption "Who's going to this concert lol," none other than Shaquille O'Neal responded "me."

Regulate

If you connect with the sound of Drug Church's Cheer and Hygiene, partly thank Jon Markson; he produced and engineered both albums. Also in his swelling portfolio is New York punks Regulate's 2022 self-titled album — their first in four years and a signal of swelling evolution.

That's partly because — much like the acclaimed Turnstile — vocalist Sebastian Paba reaches for influences far outside the scope of hardcore.

Listing the influences on the record for Brooklyn Vegan, Paba cited artists as divergent as James Brown ("a template for performers on stage and in the studio"), Bloc Party (calling Silent Alarm "a perfect record that builds drama and anticipation"), and Santana (praising their self-titled debut's "undeniable groove and swag.")

Paba's evocation of Santana is telling, as Regulate incorporates Latin sounds in innovative ways — as on "Ugata," which toggles from a diaphanous daydream to twisted riffage.

Identity-related themes pop up in the lyrics as well: "Hair" faces down racialized beauty standards, "C.O.P." reflects the age of reckoning with racist police killings, and "New York Hates You" positions the city in opposition to vampiric gentrifiers.

"This place will chew you up/ This place will spit you out," Yaba threatens. "Time to go home now/ We won't see you around." The NYHC kings have spoken.

Zulu

When it comes to hardcore's positive developments regarding unorthodoxy, adventurousness and inclusion, is there a band that ticks as many boxes as Zulu?

Hailing from Los Angeles, the all-Black powerviolence band — vocalist Anaiah Lei, guitarists Dez Yusuf and Braxton Marcellous, bassist Satchel Brown, and drummer Christine Cadette — deals heavily in themes of Black identity; when it comes to genre distinctions, they maintain an omnivorous muse.

"A lot of the influence comes from soul, and it comes from R&B, and it comes from reggae, and it comes from funk and jazz," Lei told Kerrang in 2022 of their two EPs, Our Day Will Come and My People… Hold On. "Somehow, it worked out really well." (Their next album, A New Tomorrow, due in 2023, promises to continue in that vein.)

As Lei went on to explain, this often manifests in interstitial samples that provide dynamism and contrast — both on record and in their live show. The opening track on My People… Hold On — which features the cover of a weeping Black mother and child — is a recitation of a poem by Alesia Miller.

"When I cry over the limitations put on my humanity, when I am scared of what age my nephew will be perceived as a threat, when I desire to be held and handled with fragility,"  Miller declares in the poem, "it only translates as bitterness to the ears that hear me."

When Zulu then barrels in with "Now They Are Through With Me," the effect isn't of one-size-fits-all, one-dimensional rage, but of a riveting spectrum of feeling.

"They got me caught from every angle/ Not just the white, blue and red/ It's my own blood and flesh," Lei screams. That viscera is unforgettable to behold.

Drill Music Is On The Rise Around The World. Can Latin Drill Take Over Next?

ATEEZ performs in Los Angeles
ATEEZ performs in Los Angeles

Photo: KQ Entertainment

news

ATEEZ’s First U.S. Stadium Show Was A Triumph & Testament To Their Growth

During two performances at L.A.'s BMO Stadium, the fast-rising K-pop boy group dazzled audiences with drama, dance, and a deep appreciation for how far they've come.

GRAMMYs/Jul 22, 2024 - 04:51 pm

On July 20,  K-pop boy group ATEEZ stepped foot onto one of their largest stages yet for their first U.S. stadium show. The scene at Los Angeles’ open-air BMO Stadium was a far cry from the group's L.A. performance in 2019 — their first tour stop ever — at the petite Globe Theater, a former movie palace with a tenth of BMO’s capacity.

Even then, as a five-month-old rookie group, fans (called ATINYs) saw a remarkable promise in Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Mingi, Wooyoung, and Jongho. In the years since, ATEEZ has developed a growing presence in the States, even being the subject of a first-of-its-kind GRAMMY Museum pop-up. If the BMO Stadium performance was any indication, ATEEZ have officially hit their stride.

Read more: Inside The GRAMMY Museum's ATEEZ & Xikers Pop-Up: 5 Things We Learned

The nearly sold-out July 20 show felt like a level up, and not just because of the size of the venue. "As we performed, I really felt like ATEEZ has grown so much," singer Yunho said near the end of the night. He’s not wrong: they’re undoubtedly more confident than ever. Perhaps that’s because the octet made history earlier this year as the first K-pop boy group to perform at Coachella. Regardless, ATEEZ's growth in both production and showmanship was palpable. 

If you missed ATEEZ’s two nights in L.A., don’t worry: K-pop’s resident pirate kings (more on that title later) have more up their billowy sleeves. In the spirit of their never-ending grind, the Towards the Light: Will to Power tour has nine more North American stops, including New York’s Citi Field. Read on to find out why you won’t want to miss these fast-rising K-pop idols.

The Members Are As Good Apart As Together

ATEEZ’s motto is "eight makes one team" for good reason. Individually, their talents and tastes are prismatic, yet complement each other perfectly — a fact that comes into startling clarity midway through the show, when the group breaks off into units and solos.

Equal parts erotic and controlled, trap banger "IT’S You" gives Yeosang, San, and Wooyoung room to deploy their enigmatic charms as a trio; ATEEZ’s purveyor of belted high notes, Jongho, dips into his deeper register on solo ballad "Everything"; diametric duo Hongjoong and Seonghwa spit fire about the rapport that arises from their differences on red-hot cypher "MATZ": "M-A-T-Z like allergy, we don’t really fit together / Yeah, yeah, but on stage, reacting to that synergy."

Then there’s the wistful "Youth" from dance class pals Yunho and Mingi. The two go way back — something they reminded audiences of by acting out a fictionalized version of a real phone call they shared the day before auditioning for KQ Entertainment. "Imagine us taking the stage together someday," Yunho said. "Sounds amazing, right?"  

Read more: ATEEZ Are Here To Win The Hearts Of K-Pop Fans

ATEEZ Know How To Turn Up The Drama

ATEEZ's lore runs deep. In their conceptual universe, what began as a swashbuckling tale of pirates in search of treasure evolved into an anarchic manifesto about toppling the world order. Recently, in a Wild West turn, they’ve been masquerading as cowboys dedicated to the daily hustle.

Every ATEEZ performance has a story; on this tour, the theme is light. But, as always in ATEEZ’s oeuvre, that light can’t exist without a darkness seeking to quash it. The way they convey this narrative — acting, stage decoration, extras — is a masterclass in drama, fit for the theater as much as a stadium. 

Watch: Global Spin: Watch Ateez Represent South Korea With Kinetic Performance Of "The Real"

They’re In Their Element Onstage

The success of ATEEZ’s storytelling is bolstered by the group’s unearthly stage presence. In that regard, Seonghwa led the pack, moving like a man possessed. Whether crawling on his knees, rolling his eyes back, or slinging a sword to symphonic backing, the lithe dancer never let the air-tight facade slip — except, of course, when it came time to offer a couple of warm words to fans.

Like Seonghwa, the rest are also shockingly versatile. San effortlessly switches between agile body rolls and thigh caresses in the dangerously sensual "Cyberpunk," then vigorously glides his arms through air at the climax of "Say My Name," a gesture that has only grown in power and potency over time.

ATINYs Do Their Best To Match ATEEZ’s Energy

"There [are] more than 20,000 singers in here," Hongjoong said as the lead-in to the soaring "Dance Like Butterfly Wings." "Can you show me your singing?" 

Sing they did: All night, the crowd brought an energy as fierce and passionate as ATEEZ, especially when barking at charismatic rapper Mingi, much to his apparent enjoyment.

But the single noisiest moment came during "Guerilla." At a certain point, Yunho shouted a  ferocious "Make some noise!" as a cue and ATINYs know it’s time to warm up their vocal chords; while Jongho belts some of his highest notes yet, fans roared "Break the wall!" at the top of their lungs, loud enough to rise above the stadium enclosure.

Fan chants and cheers are a mainstay of K-pop shows in South Korea, but due to differences in concert etiquette and language barriers, most don’t make their way overseas. ATEEZ and their fans broke that wall, and built a bridge in its place.

It’s A Full Circle Moment In Their Career

That ATEEZ chose to drop anchor in Los Angeles for their first U.S. stadium show feels especially momentous. The band has history in Southern California, having trained at L.A.-based dance studios Movement Lifestyle and Millenium Dance Center prior to their debut. ("Our second hometown!" San said during the show.)

"Even though it was six years ago, it feels like just yesterday," Hongjoong said in his encore speech. "It’s absolutely an honor to be right here, now, in such a big venue." 

That’s a short time to come as far as they have, without slowing pace. "But, you know, it doesn’t stop," Hongjoong continued. "We will keep going to the next step and the next step, with you. Let’s keep making moments to shine even brighter, together." And if these three hours are any indication, ATEEZ has a light that won’t soon be dimmed.

More News About ATEEZ

Bellakath performs during Flow Fest 2023 in Mexico City
Bellakath performs during Flow Fest 2023 in Mexico City

Photo: Jaime Nogales

list

7 Artists Bringing Reggaeton Mexa To The World: El Malilla, Bellakath & More

Pulling from the genre's underground roots in Puerto Rico, these fast-rising reggaeton Mexa artists infuse their own culture and grit into a globally-appealing sound.

GRAMMYs/Jul 22, 2024 - 01:21 pm

Música Mexicana isn't the only sound of Mexico that's blowing up; the country's artists are now starting to make their mark in reggaeton. Imbued with the essence, swagger, and lingo of Mexico, reggaeton Mexa is the next big Latin sound that's going global.

Originating in the Caribbean, reggaeton evolved from Panama’s reggae en español and Jamaican dancehall of the 1980s. Puerto Rican acts like DJ Playero and DJ Nelson shaped the sound of reggaeton in the island's underground scene during the '90s, while Daddy Yankee, Tego Calderón, Don Omar, and Ivy Queen pushed the genre into the mainstream at the dawn of the new millennium. 

Boricua acts Tainy, Bad Bunny, and Ozuna pushed reggaeton into the next decade, though Colombia also brought about the genre's second wind. J Balvin's success solidified Medellín as a reggaeton hotbed, spawning Maluma, Karol G, and Feid as global stars.

Learn more: The Sonic And Cultural Evolution Of Reggaeton In 10 Songs

In the 2020s, Mexico is becoming the next hub for reggaeton as artists who grew up listening to the Puerto Rican OGs  — as well as Mexican acts Ghetto Kids and Pablito Mix — are now putting their own stamp on the genre. In late 2022, Bellakath put a spotlight on reggaeton Mexa with her viral hit "Gatita"; the following year, Yng Lvcas took the sound to new heights with his "La Bebé" remix featuring Peso Pluma, which reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

Reggaeton Mexa pulls from the genre's underground roots in Puerto Rico, infusing its songs with Mexican culture and grit. Lyrics are full of Mexican slang that reflect life in the barrios.

"Reggaeton Mexa is reminiscent of the sounds of the '90s and 2000s from Puerto Rican DJs like Playero and Joe," El Mallila, one of the reggaeton Mexa leaders, tells GRAMMY.com. "The songs, the beats, and rhythms are more or less similar to that flow. The difference here is the Mexican jargon. Reggaeton Mexa is spicy. We play with Mexican profanities without being offensive."

The emerging genre has gained traction among the larger reggaeton community with Jowell y Randy, Maldy, and J Balvin recently featuring on their songs. Following the success of Yng Lvcas, Bellakath, and El Malilla, Mexican acts like Peso Pluma (who dedicated part of his Éxodo album to reggaeton) and pop star Kenia Os are embracing the wave. As the tide continues to rise for reggaeton Mexa, GRAMMY.com is highlighting seven of the sound's leading artists.

Yng Lvcas

Guadalajara, Jalisco native Yng Lvcas noted that no one around him could name a Mexican reggaeton artist, so he decided to fill that void.

An early encounter would make for auspicious beginnings. As he was signing a record contract with Warner early last year, Yng Lvcas crossed paths with Peso Pluma. The música Mexicana star's first foray in reggaeton was with Yng Lvcas and their global hit, a sensual remix of "La Bebé." Their collaboration became the first reggaeton song by Mexican artists to enter the Hot 100 chart.

Last October, Yng Lvcas released his album Super Estrellas to put a spotlight on more reggaeton Mexa acts. The LP included songs with El Malilla and El Bogueto. Puerto Rican OG Maldy later teamed up with Yng Lvcas for the hypnotic "Diviértete."

Bellakath

The first artist to get the global conversation started about reggaeton Mexa was Bellakath. After earning a law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Mexico City native became a social media personality. Bellakath leveraged her following to start her music career, which exploded in late 2022 with the frisky "Gatita." The song went viral on TikTok and the music video has over 144 million views on YouTube.

In the male-dominated reggaeton Mexa scene, Bellakath is continuing to keep women on top. Last year, she released her debut album Kittyponeo with the hit "Reggaeton Champagne" featuring Dani Flow. After signing with Warner in May, Bellakath dropped "Sandunguea," which sampled the reggaeton classic "Mayor Que Yo" by Luny Tunes. On July 15, Bellakath released her second album, Sata 42, where she ventured into dembow music with artists from the Dominican Republic. 

Learn more: 5 Women Essential To Reggaeton: Ivy Queen, Natti Natasha, Karol G, Ms Nina & Mariah Angeliq

El Malilla

El Malilla proudly represents the chakalones (Mexican slang for "bad boys") in reggaeton Mexa. Hailing from Valle de Chalco, El Malilla remembers his first encounter with reggaeton as a teen came from the pirated CDs that were sold at the tianguis, or open-air markets.

Now, El Malilla is bringing Mexico's version of reggaeton to the forefront. He recently released his debut album ÑEROSTARS, which includes his viral hit "B de Bellako" with Yeyo. Back in May, Puerto Rican OGs Jowell y Randy jumped on a remix of the quirky banger. 

El Malilla also wants to make reggaeton Mexa more inclusive. Reggaeton has historically excluded LGBTQIA+ folks, though queer artists such as Young Miko, Villano Antillano, and La Cruz are changing that tune. On the Mexican front, El Malilla wanted to be an ally to his queer fans with the 2000-inspired "Rebote" music video, which was shot at the gay club Spartacus with Mexican drag queens. 

Within his album, El Malilla is also stretching the bounds of his artistry by exploring merengue in "Coronada" and experimenting with house music in "Todo Tiene Su Final." "ÑEROSTARS is a call to all the reggaeton Mexa artists to dare themselves to make new music and try different sounds," he says. "Don’t stay in your comfort zone just making perreo."

Yeri Mua

Veracruz native Yeri Mua is keeping a high heel firmly planted on the neck of the genre, holding it down for the women in reggaeton Mexa.

Mua started out doing makeup tutorials on YouTube and later grew a massive social media following. Last year, she launched her music career on Uzielito Mix's reggaeton romp "Línea del Perreo," which has over 103 million streams on Spotify. In songs like "Chupon," Mua brings a fierce femininity to reggaeton Mexa while flipping the genre's explicit lyrics from a woman's perspective. In April, Kenia Os tapped Mua and Ghetto Kids for her reggaeton Mexa banger "Mamita Rica." With a laugh, Os told GRAMMY.com at the time, "[Mua] sounds very sexy and makes noises like meowing. It felt very great to work with her." Last month, Mua signed a record contract with Sony Music México.

El Bogueto

Alongside El Malilla, El Bogueto is one of the OGs of reggaeton Mexa. The Nezahualcóyotl native has scored a number of hits since 2021, including "Tu Favo" and "G Low Kitty," which has nearly 60 million streams on Spotify.

The title of El Bogueto's 2023 debut album Reggaetoñerito is an amalgamation of the words reggaetonero and ñero, which is Mexican slang for a person from the hood. El Bogueto has continued to rack up millions of streams with his LP, which include hits like the freaky reggaeton romp "Piripituchy" and "Dale Bogueto." In May, J Balvin gave his co-sign to El Bogueto and the reggaeton Mexa scene when he jumped on an all-star remix of "G Low Kitty."

Yeyo

Among the artists on this list, Yeyo is the freshest one on the reggaeton Mexa scene, but he's fast becoming one of the genre's brightest stars and the go-to artist for a hit collaboration. The Zacatepec, Morelos native is a protege of Ghetto Kids' Luis Díaz, who also serves as his manager.

Yeyo's playful and infectious flow as a Mexican reggaetonero has translated into million of streams in songs like "B de Bellako" with El Malilla and "Mami Chakalosa" alongside Bellakath. He has also flexed a romantic side to his distinct voice in Ghetto Kids' recent hit "En El Ghetto #5 (La Discoteca)." Yeyo has also shined on the electronica-leaning reggaeton of "Maldad" and the sensual "Tentación."

Uzielito Mix

Many of the songs mentioned in this list wouldn't have been possible without Uzielito Mix. Following in the footsteps of Ghetto Kids and Pablito Mix, the Mexico City-based producer has become the backbone of the sound of reggaeton Mexa. Uzielito Mix produced Yeri Mua's hits like "Línea del Perreo" and "Brattiputy." He also co-produced El Bogueto and El Mallila's "G Low Kitty" with DJ Rockwell, which J Balvin later hopped on. 

In his stellar collaborations, Uzielito Mix is known for uniting many of the reggaeton Mexa stars. He continues to push the sound of the genre into the future like in the spooky "Espantan" remix with El Bogueto, Alnz G, Dani Flow, and Tensec. In 2022, Bad Bunny tapped Uzielito Mix to open his World's Hottest Tour stops in Mexico City. 

The Latest News About Latin Music

Rubén Albarrán of Café Tacvba performs  in New York City in 1997
Rubén Albarrán of Café Tacvba performs in New York City

Photo: Bill Tompkins/Getty Images

feature

Revisiting 'Re': How Café Tacvba’s 1994 Masterpiece Changed Mexican Music Forever

Released on July 22, 'Re' saw the experimental rock en español group tackle themes of identity, death and national pride over a sprawling double album. On its 30th anniversary, consider Café Tacvba's landmark for Mexican rock opus.

GRAMMYs/Jul 22, 2024 - 01:09 pm

Let’s not bury the lede here: Café Tacvba’s Re is one of the pantheon rock albums in the Spanish language. And arguably one of the greatest rock albums in any language. 

Since its release 30 years ago on July 22, it’s been held up as one of the most ambitious and eclectic albums of its time, elevating the standard by which almost every rock en español band would be held to ever since — including its own creators. As a song cycle, Re is a whirlwind, with genre exercises and mini-suites scattered seemingly at random. Many pop critics liken its sonic diversity to the Beatles’ White Album, which is true if you’re just counting musical styles. But whereas the Fab Four were indulging their personalities within the group context, Café Tacvba conveyed solidarity in putting together an almost sui generis collection of madcap melodies. 

As a whole, Re was a great leap forward for Latin American rock music, and a landmark for Mexican music in general.

It's important to consider the context of Café Tacvba in 1994. Despite its large population and long history as a Latin American cultural center, Mexico City lagged in establishing serious rock acts aside from outliers such as El Tri. Part of this is due to the politics of the age — including the Mexican government’s notorious crackdown on public rock concerts after several clashes between rock fans and police during the '70s — leaving the majority of Mexican rock bands resigned to playing in shady, underground clubs. 

However, the 1980s saw the birth of BMG’s "Rock de tu Idioma" marketing blitz, and Mexican record companies finally began to put efforts into finding a national equivalent to South American-born stadium bands like Soda Stereo and Los Enanitos Verdes. On their second album, El Circo, Madilta Vecindad brought Mexico City to the forefront of the modern rock en español movement with their innovative mix of rock n’roll and ska crossed with pachuco subculture. Other bands that emerged around this time — from the gothic Caifanes (whom the band is currently touring with across the United States) to the arena rockers Maná — began building large audiences across the continent, but the scene still lacked a singular act that could elevate Mexican rock to the forefront. 

Read more: Revisiting 'El Nervio Del Volcán' At 30: How Caifanes' Final Album Became A Classic In Latin American Rock

Enter los Tacvbos. Aligning based on their shared passion for English new wave music, Café Tacvba was formed in the late '80s by college friends Rubén Albarrán and Joselo Rangel, who would serve as vocalist and guitarist, respectively. In time, they were joined by Joselo’s brother (and bassist) Quique and the multi-instrumentalist Emmanuel "Meme" de Real, choosing to name their band after a historic Mexico City café. Café Tacvba spent the late '80s evolving from a college garage band into one of Mexico’s most exciting live acts. After the release of their seminal 1992 self-titled debut — a frantic collection of ska-punk mayhem and colorful pop songs — expectations were high that the band could deliver a follow-up that would mirror their electric live show. What the band delivered would end up altering the entire scene completely. 

Re is impactful and unique for many reasons, the first and most immediate being its adventurous studio production. Working again with rock en español superproducer Gustavo Santaolalla, Café Tacvba decided against continuing with the ska-punk foundations of El Circo and their own debut and embraced their own eclecticism. You can hear it from the jump with the huapango-via-jarana opening chords of "El Aparato," a sound previously unheard of on a pop record. Within its three-and-a-half minute runtime are layers of percussion and synthesizers complemented by glorious indigenous chants and one of Albarrán’s greatest vocals, rising and falling as the song demands. The movement in the final 45 seconds is ethereal, with its sheer sonic force sounding more apropos for the end of the world than the beginning of a double album.  

Santaolalla revealed to Rolling Stone that he challenged the band, who responded with two batches of new songs for a sprawling double disc. Re is where a song like the sophisti-funk of "El Ciclón" is followed by two minutes of unadulterated thrash in "El Borrego." "24 Horas," meanwhile, mixes Beach Boys harmonies, Latin American lounge music, and post-punk beats. And that’s not even getting to the pure WTF of "El Puñal y El Corazón," with its multiple sections finding the middle ground between Pedro Infante and the Beatles, albeit with a merengue coda thrown in. 

Perhaps the best testament to Santaolalla's production is "El Baile y El Salon," Re’s most popular song (and frequent concert encore for the band). It’s one of a string of great duets from Albarrán and Meme, perhaps the most earnest song in the band’s catalog with sweetly sincere lyrics. Santaolalla lets the music aid the storytelling: Meme’s vocals ride against stomping percussion and a grooving bass line, while Albarrán sings against a wave of synthesizers. In lesser hands, the song would be an easy paint-by-numbers arena rock anthem. Thankfully, Café Tacvba leaned into their own indulgences, and came out with something immortal.

Another important theme across Re is the band’s sense of discovery for their home country. Indeed, one of Café Tacvba’s intentions for Re was to showcase the sounds that they heard while touring through Mexico in support of their debut album. As Albarrán told the podcast "La Vida Circular," the band wanted to deepen their relationship with traditional Mexican music and infuse it with the punk, metal, and funk rock that they were already experimenting with.

The most striking example comes in the form of lead single "La Ingrata." With a bouncy rhythm and tweaked time signature inspired by norteño, the song is a common tale of desperation and heartbreak  with a spiteful edge bled over from Café Tacvba’s punk roots. The fan favorite is also one of the band’s most influential songs, as it presaged a number bands combining norteño and alternative music — from Tijuana’s Nortec Collective at the turn of the century, to the contemporary corridos tumblados resurgence. Café Tacvba decided to stop performing the song in concert in 2017, due in part to the harsh lyrics about its female subject, and the escalating waves of violence against women within Mexico during this period. Albarrán noted around that time that "We were very young when it was composed and we were not as sensitive to this problem as we all are now."

Re did not sell well in Mexico upon release, though the band fermented interest during a sold out tour of Chile and Argentina. This, along with exposure from the recent launch of MTV in Mexico, was the major catalyst for the album’s fortunes taking an upturn. As the Mexican music listening public soon gathered, Re had something for everyone: From the smooth bolero of "Esa Noche," the frenetic banda of "El Fin de la Infancia," and the glittery Mexican pop of "Las Flores." Lyrically the band was speaking to its compadres, most notably on "El Metro," a bizarre short story of a lovelorn man trapped inside the Mexico City subway.

Despite its madcap sound and unabashed orgullo Mexicano, Re’s deepest theme is about the cyclical nature of life. There’s an obvious hint to it within the album art’s spiral conch shell, and more allusions in the song title "El Ciclón" and the reflexivity of "Pez" and "Verde," which bleed in-and-out of each other.

But dig deeper and the album is rife with references to life, death, rebirth, and natural law. "Ixtepec" sounds like a buoyant pop number but is really a cryptic tale about Death coming to collect his bounty, underlined with the refrain that "life is a cycle." Multiple songs, including "Trópico de Cáncer" and closer "El Balcón," reference reclamation of their birth land from the conquistadors, with the former song in particular telling a heartbreaking story of a civil engineer encountering the ecological damage to which he’s complicit. And there’s also the understated elegance of "El Tlatoani del Barrio," which recounts a love story in a pre-Columbian world soundtracked by Indigenous chants and a disco boogie.

Unlike many bands in a similar position, Café Tacvba never tried to replicate the magic of Re. Their next release was the covers album Alalancha de Éxitos, itself born out of their label’s reaction about Re’s lack of commercial hits (this bet paid off; the album was nominated for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance at the 40th GRAMMY Awards). Their visionary, hyper-experimental 1999 release Revés/Yo Soy, solidified their critical standing by winning a Latin GRAMMY for Best Rock Album and earning a GRAMMY nod. Today, it's a cult item currently unavailable on any streaming service due to label in-fighting.

After the turn of the century came Cuatro Caminos, a much more traditional sounding rock album, which led them to new critical and commercial heights, including their only GRAMMY win for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album, and their career ever since has seen them find their groove as the thinking person’s favorite Mexican rock band. But within their exceptional catalog, Re remains a glorious outlier.

Even if Café Tacvba had never released another record after Re, their legacy would have remained secure. Re was among the major catalysts for the second wave of Mexican alterna-rock, which saw the likes of Julieta Venegas and Kinky elevating the genre with new sounds and perspectives. All modern rock owes a debt to the freewheeling spirit of Re, and the album’s continued influence and critical accolades are proof-positive of that. 

In a sense, it’s almost poetic that Café Tacvba — a band formed through their shared idolization of David Bowie, the Clash, and the Cure — ended up proving to be as essential and venerable to rock history as any of their influences.

The Latest News About Latin Music