Hardcore Is Where The Home Is

Split by Lagrimas and Habak / Ragdoll Dance by Institute / Fortress Britain by Stingray (clockwise)

One of the pleasures of doing a regular newsletter that I underestimated has been the opportunity to sit down and think more explicitly about the different facets of music.  Not just to enjoy the immediate hit, but to think about it in wider terms.  And one of the aspects that has struck me is what the actual purpose of a split release is.  I must admit I have always been slightly cynical of the motivations behind some – there seems a certain expediency at play.

Yet in more recent years, while expedient examples remain, I have seen an increasing number of split releases where the bands and labels recognise that such projects offer the scope to realise a much more unified vision – one that entwines the participating bands much more intrinsically.  The 2019 Myteri and Procrastinate release on Alerta Antifascista Records is an excellent recent example, and even more recently the Habak and Lagrimas joint release on Persistent Vision is a brilliant illustration of what a well-executed split release can artistically achieve.  So, what makes it such a successful realisation?

First up, both bands have born their sound from the same initial kernel of inspiration, but then evolved this initial influence into a sonic expression that while not entirely disconnected, is certainly recognisably distinctive.  In the case of Habak and Lagrimas both bands are rooted in an emotional hardcore that is infused in equal measure with influences drawn from crust and post- metal.  Each band blend viscerally cathartic hardcore with passages of haunting melody, and harsh, roared vocals with sombrely engaging spoken word.  However, they harness these shared attributes in quite different ways.  Lagrimas deal in fiercely crafted, tightly honed eruptions, while Habak are more expansive in allowing the ebbs and flows of ambient melody to shape their songs.

Second up, both bands have a shared socio-political purpose.  They are deeply imbued with a DIY ethos, and both are explicitly political projects that focus on examining the impacts of current economic systems (and their political enforcement on people’s everyday lives).  What lends even further weight to this shared purpose is that both bands adopt very different lyrical approaches.  Habak, perhaps in keeping with their broader musical sweep, favour more poetic allusive expression, deploying the spectral imagery of an ever-expanding desert to illustrate the rapacious expansion of capitalist rationalities into every corner of people’s existence.  In contrast, Lagrimas favour a more direct, matter-of-fact language that lends a fierce velocity to their exploration of the impact of urban financialisation, gentrification, and economic exploitation on working-class communities in Los Angeles.

And it is the themes that Lagrimas tackle that I’d like to further touch on, linking as they do with some of the same issues that this week’s new arrivals from Stingray and Institute look to address in their songs Inner City and City respectively.  Living in South London it has become transparently clear how urban development, and in particular housing, has become subservient to the needs of real estate capital and a central construct of the governing hegemony.  This has manifested itself in the privileging of developer interests, wholesale privatisation of public land, and people being displaced from their own communities.  Even where communities have successfully resisted, residents have endured over a decade of uncertainty as they have courageously fought off attempts by councils (who purportedly represent them) to demolish their homes.

Now, while the elements of any city’s development are specific to it (Anna Minton’s Big Capital: Who is London For? and City of Quartz: Excavating The Future In Los Angeles by Mike Davis are decent starting points for London and Los Angeles), there are also readily identifiable themes that connect lived experiences and patterns of urban development across major cities.  It is these core underlying forces that Lagrimas’ lyrical approach bring so effectively to life, and they can be as readily applied to London as to their home city.  It began with a process of stigmatisation of working-class housing that was purpose built in the heart of London and framing these communities as undeserving of such location (Illusions of Success) and the wholesale privatisation of much social housing, which has seen the return of an exploitative rental market (Mandatory Overtime) that is wildly disconnected from the economic realities of much modern work.  The result is people being forced from their own communities (I Can’t Afford It) with the inevitable insecurity and instability that this introduces to people’s lives, and already socio-economically marginalised communities (No Resources) bear the brunt of this ‘regeneration’.  As Stingray examine in Inner City, this slow violence of resident stigmatisation and relentless cost-cutting sowed the seeds for the Grenfell Tower fire in West London that resulted in 72 deaths on 14th June 2017.

With those in power (and aspiring to it) mired in a failed consensus that treats housing as a financial instrument as opposed to a social good, it is great to see hardcore bands willing to confront the issue.  Songs rarely change the world, but they can force us to question what we see and, hopefully, increase our understanding of what we need to work to change.