At first glance Club Med might seem like just another Karaoke Club. Its interior boasts all the usual earmarks: scuffed leather couches, drunken gangs of wailing adolescents, and the all-familiar flat-screen TVs that show disparate blend of brightly-coloured lyrics and stock video footage, mostly of tourists gaily kayaking, sunbathing, and drinking cocktails in some Mediterranean city.
Before you rashly determine to leave and never come back, backtrack a little. Club Med sports a darker secret. Upon entering, at one’s immediate left stands an iron-wrought gate, past which is laid a staircase to a musical arena that is fast becoming Cape Town’s premiere alternative music venue.
And if you are like me, you are here to carry out a singular purpose, not least to fulfill a dream whose reality has enticed and eluded you for seven long years: you are here to watch the Brooklyn-based powerviolence heavyweights, Magrudergrind, do their proverbial thing. No, “powerviolence” is not some illicit, underground, bare-knuckle boxing syndicate. Pioneered and popularised by bands like Infest, Spazz, and Man Is the Bastard, powerviolence is a relatively obscure offshoot of grindcore.
What makes it different? Inspired by bands like Brutal Truth, Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, and Repulsion – the forerunners who first boldly married hardcore punk and death metal – it harnesses grindcore’s more challenging elements to maximal effect, but with a greater emphasis on hardcore punk. In simpler terms, the songs are foul-tempered, excruciatingly fast, and mercilessly heavy – which makes seeing a powerviolence band live an absolute must.
Cape Town was the last stop on Magrudergrind’s nationwide tour, organised with the help of NoiseFix, so I was little surprised to find drummer Casey Moore reposing in one of Club Med’s many booths, vocalist Avi Kulawy engrossed in a book in another, and lone guitarist R.J. Ober enjoying a hard-earned beer at the bar. Needless to say, I had no desire to intrude. A little while after, at around 9:30 PM, the first band, Overhex, took to the stage.
Upon seeing them for the first time, Overhex struck me as a crossover thrash band, not unlike Iron Reagan or Municipal Waste, or even Conquest For Death. Up-tempo metal riffage, skank beats, hoarse vocals – more indiscernible shout than pointed scream – and hardcore breakdowns aplenty, to which the gathering crowd reacted positively. It is little wonder I had not heard of Overhex until this point, as this, their opening for Magrudergrind, was their debut, a fact for which they made their gratitude clear.
For some reason, the beginning of Wildernessking’s set was plagued by some manner of technical issue, and as such I could not make out which song they decided to open with. Perhaps their swirling, atmospheric black metal was ill-suited to Club Med’s cavernous acoustics; perhaps I had mistakenly plunged an ear plug too deep; perhaps it was the culmination of one too many musical missteps on their part, although I would think that highly doubtful for a band of their calibre.
I was later informed by vocalist Keenan Oakes that the song was, in fact, the title track from their 2014 EP, The Devil Within. Whatever the case, it was riveting, expertly executed, and immediately corralled the crowd into headbanging formation – and that cannot be contested. True to form Wildernessking continued to enthuse and inspire with ‘Kings’, from their 2014 split with Oak Pantheon, Kess’khtak, and Liber Necris, Elemental Nightmares I; after which they plunged into a host of songs from their latest release, Mystical Future, including the blistering ‘With Arms Like Wands’ and, my personal favourite, the triumphant ‘I Will Go To Your Tomb’. Wildernessking concluded their set by announcing their temporary retirement from the gigging circuit so as to write and record their third full-length album, which was appropriately greeted with rapturous applause.
Since forming and releasing their debut EP in 2014, Dead Hand, the metallic hardcore quartet have not let up; they have gigged and toured tirelessly, and seem perpetually poised to release more and more material, earning them a devoted and rowdy following. In their short but estimable history, Peasant have undergone a series of line-up changes, the most recent of which saw the departure of original vocalist and lyricist Byron Craemer, whose unique and impassioned vocal delivery, unabashedly political lyrics, and unwearying stage presence rendered them truly exhilarating to behold, both on and off record.
With this in mind, I wondered to what effect Bryon’s absence would alter their performance, not least how the crowd might receive this change. While I cannot be entirely sure, from what I could make out in the formative moments of their set, it is possible that Peasant amassed the biggest crowd of the night; the scrap of floor-space that separates the stage from the booths, seated at which were a couple innocent onlookers, became a battleground of note. And with a near-identical range and timbre, I can confidently say that Alain Marthezé (ex-Enmity) is a solid replacement – the band as a whole performed, rather predictably, at their peak. Now, his vocals might not possess the same forcefulness as their previous vocalist, but his growls and sustained shrieks were executed perfectly – almost effortlessly – and his rendition of ‘Ender’, for which Keenan Oakes (Wildernessking) contributed ancillary vocals, was a particular highlight for me. Peasant’s set came to a close and there was a momentary dispersion of bodies, gripped with equal parts dread and nervous anticipation, I impulsively shoved my way to the front, for better or worse.
The powerviolence trio soon descended upon the stage. So, too, did a pregnant silence as a short line-check ensued. I gave a cursory look around, only to find that, as expected, this was to be my home for the next twenty-five to thirty minutes, as a wall of bodies had closed rank behind me. I shakily draped my right leg on the stage, my hands found purchase on an overturned stage monitor, and I located the nearest friend I could – what passes for comfort under the circumstances. Similarly, from my vantage, the stage seemed impossibly small for what was about to take place. Pleasantly lost in my own thoughts during the interval, I was swiftly reminded of my present predicament as the angular crunch of R.J Ober’s guitar came down like a loosed guillotine, which resounded razor-sharp throughout the cramped confines of Club Med. It had begun.
There are very few bands that can inspire the rabid economy of motion that Magrudergrind commands of you – sure, it could easily be attributed to their sound’s inherently frenzied aspect, but, more accurately, I think it has a great deal to do with their preternatural stage presence. Simply put, they are always moving: Avi gracefully vaults off amps, only to scream mid-flight, has a penchant for performing insanely athletic split-jumps, and generally throw his weight around in lock-step with the music, all without missing his cues; R.J. trudges leadenly onstage, in sync with every reverberation, growling into the mic at regular intervals; and their percussive workhorse, Casey, tirelessly pounds away at the kit with a tooth-crushing grimace. If only to survive and or navigate the pit, you will move. You have to – and in ways you did not expect you were capable, but of which you quickly become highly appreciative.
Before I could blink, Magrudergrind had pulverised three songs – a full five minutes’ worth of material – all of which featured on their infamous self-titled record, released in 2009. I did my best to keep up, avoid serious injury and, where possible, scream along in unison with Avi and friends. With less than a quarter of their set dusted, I was winded, hoarse, and covered in the excess contents of someone’s quart of beer, for which the person responsible had apparently found ample reason to dump on the crowd. Undeterred, and with the ground slick with a pulverised slurry of ash, shattered glass, and alcohol, sweat-ridden bodies, appalled and astonished, continued to haplessly collide in furious disarray. Until at last, ten or so punishing songs and one near-fatal crowd-surfing incident later, a brief moment of respite: the noise decayed, tinnitus set in, and Avi took the time to briefly commend the crowd on its enthusiasm before plunging Club Med back into total chaos with a battery of new tracks.
Finally, fifteen minutes later, I was slumped forward in a half-crouched, half-heaving mess on the monitor, unsure if it would ever end; I had one less piercing, a sprained ankle, shin splints, and had bruised—well, everything. Exactly as it should have been. Magrudergrind closed off the set with two phenomenal tracks: what may as well pass for their personal anthem, ‘The Protocols of Anti-Sound’, and the oft-requested ‘Bridge Burner’, a pitiless, plodding behemoth of a track that has more in common with sludge and funeral doom than it does conventional punk. Afterwards, I found my courage. I had nothing left to lose, or so it felt. I solemnly thanked them each, grabbed my wares, and repaired to the relative solitude of the street, broken yet beaming.
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