“Maybe there is something about Sydney, now, that mutes extremity upon its birth. It’s possible that in 2016, Sydney’s musical counterculture is a spectre, relishing the memory of conditions where strange things can happen. But maybe there needs to be violence again—if only purely gestural, if only as a reflection. It doesn’t have to be the most heavy, but it should be the most something.”
– Shaun Prescott, The Scariest Death Metal Band of All Time, 2016
For the past few years, Sydney’s heavy music scene has felt, from an outsider’s perspective, somewhat mild, perhaps a reflection of what seems to be a heavily surveilled and locked-out youth, muted by a brutally capitalist regime. In this zeitgeist it’s no surprise that the most well-known talent coming out of Sydney has been abhorrent—Sticky Fingers and Kirin J Callinan being prime examples of what happens when the only people with the time and money to create music are the sons of the utterly entitled and wealthy, and subsequently the talentless can easily purchase a status and headline festivals.
Last October, NASHO’s Demo EP gave us a much needed sonic-critter to combat these feelings of plasticity. The band’s agitated hardcore-punk felt like outbursts of rage turned into songs, a well fitted ethos to come out of a state where (like many Australian states) the system proudly favours multinationals and heavily sanctions any citizen who raises objection. Fuelled by rampage and scattered in genre, NASHO was at the forefront of properly reflecting the state of paranoia and exasperation that a hyper-capitalist dystopia imposes on the youth.
After listening to their demo compulsively throughout the summer, I spent months wondering who would be the next band to clamber out of the iron-pitch—then DEN’s Deep Cell came out in June 2018.
Deep Cell is a masterpiece that seamlessly intertwines genres as opposing as doom and EDM, crafting a unique blend between cut-throat city drama and bad-trip bush doof. Formed by Micky (vocals and guitar), Greta (synths), Michael (drums) and Tomas (bass), one of the album’s most striking features is each member’s ability to use their gear with emotion and fluidity, allowing their instruments to constantly shift in mood and pace.
One minute the synths are swarming in with wet, dramatic and gothic progressions, the next it’s all dry and sequential beats a la Kraftwerk. Similarly, the guitar fluctuates between guitar-heroesque power-chords to borderline speed metal, but nothing ever feels cheesy or overdone.
It’s the overtly calculated and immaculate production of this record that makes DEN’s unprecedented blend of post-hardcore goth-rave sound sophisticated and poised. It’s an album that feels youthful in sentiment but wise in craft—a rare combination in the 21st century.
One of my favourite music artworks is Mortal Sin’s 1987 Mayhemic Destruction. The iconic trash metal album cover depicts a giant demon sitting atop the Sydney Opera House, its batty wings parting the waters beneath it, tearing apart the Harbour Bridge. The letters used to spell “Mortal Sin” have a retro-chrome style that’s reminiscent of video games fonts from the 80s.
Similar to Mortal Sin’s cover artwork, Deep Cell has a fantasy or even sci-fi demeanor that’s palpable in its progressive composition: a cascade of sounds that unfold mostly forwards, in gradual escalations and with a strong sense of momentum.
Alone and with eyes closed, this record can easily turn into a speed run experience, like watching someone play through a survival horror video game and feeling the adrenaline of the protagonist running through mazes. Unraveling gothic synth-lines, beeping car alarms and samples of monsters, these soundscapes precipitate and swoop past assertively, but also in perfect harmony—a calculated balance that feels simultaneously clogged and spacious. It’s a sedative experience that’s comforting as much as it is distressful.
The heart of so called Sydney has a strange GTA edge. Groups of menacing police officers sequentially appear within your peripheral vision every couple of blocks, as if programmed. Armed with guns and batons, they protect the city’s infrastructure from the homeless and one-hit punch killers. They walk around at night-time, ensuring no venue that sells alcohol is letting in newcomers after 1:30am. Expensive black and purple lamborghinis with customised “PSYKO” number plates vroom and crank up psytrance bangers in an expensive and rebellious loudness against the otherwise dead and rigid night-life.
For those with an abrasive financial disposition and spooky white teeth, this city is a theme park. For everyone else, the air has a sullen and greedy stench that causes traffic jams and trains to run late. It makes the ‘average Joe’ easily want to snap—or at least king hit someone to death, drive their car up the red-carpeted stairs of the Sydney Opera House and crash through its golden gates.
Over the phone, Greta mentions that the band has never identified with the “aussie true blue” spirit. This idiosyncratic sentiment, both in ethos and sonic composition, ultimately spurns what some of the local youth seek each weekend without critical thought; party and aggression, camp at bush duffs, escape through pingas and moshing at punk gigs, drunk on self-centeredness and cynicism. DEN rejects these stereotypes by re-inventing hardcore in a way that’s sincere and vulnerable, delivering EDM without forgetting that we exist in a state of doom.
“I’ve always liked the word cell as its two meanings embrace each other,” Micki ponders. “Cell as a prison but also a biological-something that makes up who you are—the idea that you are in a prison of your own self.” This emotional drive behind Deep Cell seems to be explored by soaking all elements of its production in heavy reverb. It creates an echo-chamber were all negative outbursts might be aimed at the world, but bounce back to you. It’s a tension relief that’s initially liberating but inherently oppressing.
In this sense, Deep Cell is a berserk and inwards journey that begs for intimacy and attention. It’s like being stuck in a propulsive movement, a sucking black hole that’s mixtamatosed in genre, elegantly oscillating between paranoia and madness. It speaks of youth and disenchantment, a generation trying to escape the curse of their carcass city.
DEN – Deep Cell
Released by Paradise Daily in June 2018
Triana Hernandez is a Peruvian writer and film-maker. Her work has been published in Swampland, iD, Noisey and more.
Top photo by Dakota Gordon.