Photos By Farrah Skeiky, Clarissa Villondo, Words By Jeb Gavin
On Tuesday Vice published a letter from DJ Seth Troxler regarding the current state of electronic dance music. Later that day I caught Ex-Cult’s short set at DC9 and was forced by my own brain to make some (possibly) interesting comparisons between EDM and the meandering juggernaut that is pop punk today. Not all of these comparisons were relevant, or even worth note- but there are parallels to be drawn.
Punk, this fractured, dead on arrival idea of anti-authority channeled through music almost immediately reattached to rock and roll, and like rock and roll it split off a shiny, pop version of itself. This is not the kind of music Ex-Cult plays. Ex-Cult, live and up close (as are all shows at DC9,) play a subversive, barely contained form of punk, the sort of music that makes you infuriated you’re not doing more with every second of your day. It’s this weird, atmospheric strain of punk rock, like listening to an un-anesthetized version of War on Drugs, except with a young Glenn Danzig growling out the vocals.
The thirty or so people at the show were in on the ground floor of what should, could, and possibly will be the future of punk rock. This growl and whine of guitars pushed not to the edge of sound or melody but to places otherwise skipped over by the genre smacks of a new forefront- one that needs nurturing and true fans and a goddamn community in which to foment. No more of this Saturday afternoon, alternate stage festival gig crap that leads a generation of kids to grow up thinking “doing their own thing” simply means going to the same Warped Tour year after year after year.
Punk (or at least punk rock) was once vital. While commercial interests come with successfully reaching an audience, they weren’t paramount more than the ability to play the next show. I’m not advocating pauperism for punk rock musicians here, but the idea of having something to say has to come before getting someone to pay you for saying it. Watching Ex-Cult, I’m already sold, already bought the record. I’m not being asked to buy a video game or a new, slightly more extreme version of Mountain Dew. I’m walking through a few dozen people at a show who’re slowing coming back to the realization their lives are their own, and they made a choice in seeing this band play this music on this tiny stage.
And the beauty of all this is, you don’t have to be a punk to buy into it. You simply have to reject, well, the notion of rejection. It’s a matter of agency, and putting yourself in charge of what you like, rather than relegating your aesthetic decisions to someone, anyone else. I like Ex-Cult. I’m not a punk, but I’m gonna listen to them until they’re big enough to hate and then I’m going to listen to them all the more and revel in their success. I’m going to listen to them as the soundtrack to bad summer decisions and hard, slogging winter tasks, and even though I’m not even punk enough to be a punk accountant from that one Far Side comic, I’m going to rally around the idea that punk isn’t dead. It’s not even dormant. But it is an active, rather than a passive choice. Choose to listen to Ex-Cult.