The last two years have felt like a renaissance for D.C.’s once-legendary hardcore scene. Bands like Protester, Red Death and Misled Youth have been leading the charge, and recently Pure Disgust joined their ranks, propelled by a slew of intense live shows and two solid releases in the space of one year.
Pure Disgust distinguished itself from the start with a 2013 demo that aimed for the gut, relying on defined riffs instead of speed — not too different from influential English Oi! bands Combat 84 and Blitz. That was essentially what Watson set out to do when he and his bandmates decided to start what he calls an “Oi!-type band with D.C. influences.”
Then last year, the band released an even stronger 7-inch record that moved beyond the confines of Oi!’s stereotypically thin guitars and simple riffs, borrowing from anthemic mid-1980s New York hardcore.
In late April or early May, Pure Disgust plans to release what I consider the best 7-inch from this new wave of D.C. hardcore bands. (I got an early listen.) The Chained EP is set to come out on the labels Quality Control and Brooklyn’s Katorga Works, an imprint that’s become a tastemaker for certain segments of hardcore and indie.
Before Pure Disgust plays The Pinch as part of D.C.’s Damaged City Fest Saturday night, I talked to frontman Rob Watson about the band’s influences, his thoughts on D.C. hardcore and why he doesn’t consider Pure Disgust a remotely political band.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Bandwidth: What was it like recording that first demo?
Rob Watson: The demo was rushed. Connor, our original drummer, learned the songs that day. Rodrigo, a guitarist we picked up when Connor couldn’t play the first few shows, decided he would try to record something for the first time. The demo sounds great, and Rodrigo did a great job with it — especially for his first time.
The D.C. hardcore scene just keeps growing in the best ways possible. Bands seem to not only be starting left and right, but also making punk and hardcore that’s forward-thinking. What are your thoughts on this new breed of DCHC? And what about it seems exciting to you all?
The NWODCHC [new wave of D.C. hardcore] is so powerful and on the rise. It’s great to see young kids being in the center of it all as well. It’s even cooler to see that all my friends are [getting] on bigger labels, putting the name of D.C. back on the map. You’ve got Protester putting a record out on Triple-B Records, Stand Off putting one out on Youngblood, Red Death putting something out on Lockin’ Out and even bands like Genocide Pact putting something out on A389. I love it all. My friends are what keep me here, and I love every single one of them and what they’re doing. Be on the lookout for Jåvla and Spite.
I couldn’t care less what white people think of my lyrics. I don’t write it for them. I live to make white people uncomfortable. —Rob Watson, Pure Disgust
What really interests me about Pure Disgust is how direct the lyrics are. On “I.D.O.Y.S,” you say, “You need to listen when we speak our lives/ You must forget what you know/ Don’t reinforce that privilege you hold/ You know it’s keeping you safe.” I think it’s a great move to call out this kind of privilege. Would you say Pure Disgust is a political band?
Also, with a song like “Race War” calling out appropriating culture, how important is it to you for listeners to hear about these issues?
I would absolutely not say we’re a political band. My lyrics come from my life and what I experience. My life isn’t political, it’s just my life. Pure Disgust’s lyrics are just reflections of it. … I would like [white] people to come to understand what it’s like to be a punk/person of color, but honestly, I couldn’t care less what white people think of my lyrics. I don’t write it for them. I live to make white people uncomfortable.
The new 7-inch is a co-release from Katorga Works, a label that has released records from buzzy punk bands Merchandise, Dark Blue, Wart Hog and Sheer Mag. How did that come about?
Adam [Whites], who runs Katorga Works, tried to book us on a show in Brooklyn with Ajax, Jock’s Blood and Leather Daddy last July and it was a good show except it wasn’t all-ages. We don’t like playing [non-all-ages shows] so we dropped, and a thing sort of came out of that.
Adam then later invited us to play another show in Brooklyn in October with Blazing Eye, Hank Wood and Savageheads, and that show was most definitely all-ages. We played a killer set, and pretty recently actually, Adam told me that it was very important for us to play that show because it let the New York punk rockers know that D.C. is not to be ignored. After we recorded the record, we asked and he was more than down to do it, and he’s been doing a great job with it.
Musically the band seems to take aspects from everyone to Negative Approach to Blitz to hints of early Madball and Breakdown. The demo, and even the last 7-inch, is very heavy Oi!. That last 7-inch did seem to mark a sort of turning point that showed the band could hit harder in different ways. Then the Chained 7-inch seems to really take all these influences and spits them out in a way that’s fresh and hard to pin down. Is the direction of the new single where you see Pure Disgust going?
Honestly, we’re not sure what direction we want. I feel like with this 7-inch we got the sound we wanted nailed down. We got a little bit of everything ranging from pogo-punk stuff to straight-up D.C. hardcore. As for what’s next, who knows? But I told the guys for our second LP we’re going in the Second Empire Justice direction.
What I love about Pure Disgust is how commanding the vocals are without overshadowing what’s going on musically. Is that something you think about when writing and recording?
Nah, not really. We just ask for the vocals to be turned down when we’re mixing because I’m too loud. I think that’s what it is, though. Loud actual vocals being turned down.
What are you looking forward to on your upcoming tour?
We’re super excited for tour. All the dates are straight-up bangers and we’re touring with some of our good friends. I’m stoked for being on the road with Barge and Hard Stripes from Richmond, FURY from California and Social Damage from Indianapolis. I take pictures a bunch, so I’m excited for those long roads in the Southwest and the amazing scenery in the Northwest. We’re all just excited to be on the road for five weeks. Hopefully we don’t kill each other.
How about Damaged City Fest, the D.C. festival you’re playing this weekend? How important do you think a fest like that is to the health of the D.C. hardcore scene?
I think fests should be abolished. They make bands lazy, and in other scenes people start bands to be on That Big Fest 2kwhatever… I’m not a big fan. Fests are fun to play, don’t get me wrong, but they stress me out. Then again, here we are playing several fests in 2015. I’d rather have big shows happen than a fest.
Pure Disgust plays The Pinch April 11 as part of Damaged City Fest.