rebelmatic, the1865, and the veldt rock max fish
By G'Ra Asim
September 23, 2019
The critic attending a punk show is not unlike an anthropologist doing fieldwork. Both undertakings involve the interpretation of social actions and relations, and the pursuit of new ways of looking at everyday reality.
Claude Levi-Strauss, a leading figure in the development of structural anthropology, believed that fieldwork was best conducted from a position of detachment. The critic who aspires to some level of “objectivity” operates from a similar distance. “Never can [the anthropologist] feel himself ‘at home’ anywhere,” Levi-Strauss writes. “He will always be, psychologically speaking, an amputee.”
I considered the symmetry between critic and anthropologist while attending a stacked mid-week show at Max Fish on NYC’s Lower East Side. The bill included funk-punk outfit Rebelmatic, neo soulgaze innovators the Veldt and Sankofa-minded songsmiths the1865 — all bands addressing or tunefully repairing detachments both personal and political.
An anthropologist or critic attending this show, then, would be a displaced person infiltrating a haven for displaced persons. As social dissenters alienated from the mainstream, punks celebrate and aestheticize detachment. By definition, we are people who lack a sense of belonging in traditional spaces and genres, and go about actively building alternative ones to compensate. The metaphor of forced removal is doubly resonant for punks who are African Americans. Descended from people severed from their ancestral homes and condemned to bondage in the New World, we inherit by default the psychological amputation Levi-Strauss believes the anthropologist must cultivate by choice. For the most part, we make it sound pretty good.
“Your conversation is important,” Rebelmatic frontman Creature told a chatty crowd mid set, “but it’s probably not more important than what I’m saying right now.” It was a reasonable bid for undivided attention, and I only quibbled on the following grounds: The mix at Max Fish wasn’t conducive to clearly parsing out the lyrical stylings of a band whose musical lineage locates them squarely as the missing link between Living Colour and Refused. If Public Enemy and Anthtrax’s 1991 thrash-metal-meets-rap collaboration “Bring The Noise,” sounded a call to further the synergy between hesh and hip-hop, Rebelmatic are the shape of punk that came. Between the furious, genre-bending riff multitudes that guitarist Alcatraz contains, thunderous low end courtesy of bassist Karnage, and the funky drumming of skinsman Ramsey Jones, the specific words and pitches that Creature spits into the microphone can at times take a backseat. In the live context, Creature’s most important role is as conduit for the feral energy exchanged between band and audience. His dance moves, stately gestures and frenetic solo moshing anchoring the spectacle, Creature is a dreadlocked waveform who, despite speaking on the lower frequencies, refuses to be an invisible man.
When the vocalist’s words did cut through the mix, they slapped like Jones’s snare drum: “Mama scared when I’m out late/hoodie on and I’m not safe/bullets with no name seal my fate/Is this the world I have to face?” he rhymed on standout “Please Don’t Shoot.” Another reason Creature’s lyrics might not outstrip the importance of conversations in the crowd is that his band’s arrangements damn near make onlookers start speaking in tongues. People rock out to Rebelmatic the way black folks get the Holy Ghost in church. Concert goers who look like they pay taxes and vote in local elections morph suddenly into revved up whirling dervishes, knees and elbows flashing as if they can’t decide whether to form a Soul Train line or a Wall of Death until they end up opting for both at the same time.
There’s also the fact that the homie who accompanied me to the show was so taken with what was unfolding that she used our text thread as a de facto live blog of her appreciation. “Only took 26 years but I feel so cool right now watching punk bands that actually represent me and scream about things I understand existentially,” she tapped out. “This is like shit I could twerk to while headbanging.”
Raleigh, NC’s The Veldt were up next and immediately plunged the stageless, low-ceilinged bar into a haze of pedal-driven atmospherics. Lead singer Daniel Chavis piled yearning poetics over droning, My Bloody Valentine-style guitars that didn’t shred or rip as much as they loitered. The fretwork of guitarists Danny Chavis and Hayato Nako twisted on top of and around each other in a reverb-drenched double helix. A second standalone vocalist intermittently pulled out a saxophone and unleashed jazzy flourishes.
If Rebelmatic’s set distributed uppers in stereo to everyone in attendance, The Veldt were pumping out depressants. Two women sat crosslegged inches from the band in between a mic stand and a pedalboard, their necks craning toward the musicians the way one might lean into the steam at a sauna. The axe-wielding Chavis reclined on top of a pair of combo amps, coaxing shimmering curtains of soporific sound from his instrument with his eyes closed. Extended instrumental song intros allowed the sounds of the bar to commingle with the band’s languid, ethereal melodies to otherworldly effect.
The bruising sounds of the evening’s final act, Brooklyn quartet The1865, shook Max Fish from its repose. Clad in a black snapback perched backward over an electric green natural, oversized horn-rimmed frames adorning her piercing peepers, lead singer/baritone guitarist Honeychild Coleman looked like the protagonist of a cutting edge sci-fi movie. Along with guitarist Sacha Jenkins, bassist Flora Lucini and drummer Jason Lucas, she bashed out a muscular, no-frills punk rock soundtrack that proved it’s possible to be forward-thinking and backward-looking.
Many The1865 songs are written from the perspective of a person living during the Reconstruction era, and the effect is less blast from the past than suture from the future — a musical needle and thread to sew up still-festering wounds. Under the administration of a president who openly campaigned on antebellum nostalgia, there was something powerfully restorative about a band grappling with the lingering impact of traumatic history. “I’m taking my freedom without warning,” Coleman sang on “Buckshot.” The late weeknight hour didn’t stop the crowd from spazzing out to the band’s cathartic mix of melodic vocals and fulsome guitars. Despite the heady subject matter, The1865 delivered subversion with a smile. The strong camaraderie between the band members was on full display throughout the night. Lucini flashed ear-to-ear grins at each of her bandmates while laying down bass lines fat enough to rattle the nerves in your teeth. Lucas punished his kit with an Afro pick cocked jauntily in his mane. The winning combination of Afrofuturism and punk rock kept heads nodding until the last chords of their feel-good jams of the 19th century rang out. Detachment was in short supply. For a few moments, the various forms of sundering that had landed us all here — genealogical, cultural, vocational — had coalesced into a more perfect union.
Get The Latest
Signup for the AFROPUNK newsletter