The following is an excerpted feature from the new CREEM Magazine coming Sept. 15. Subscribe now to reserve your copy.
In the 1979 thriller The Warriors, based on Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel of the same name, a New York City street gang must travel nearly 30 miles from the north end of the Bronx to their home turf in south Brooklyn, Coney Island, after being framed for murdering a rival gang’s leader. (No spoilers.) In the decades since, the film has become a cult classic, fetishized by upwardly mobile, middle-class suburbanites desperate to identify with systemic inequality, the same systems that benefited their mommies and daddies, a mentality that exists with each generation, like a Sex Pistols “God Save the Queen” shirt purchased at Walmart and passed down, brother to brother. Naturally, re-creating and referencing the film for a photo shoot with Special Interest, the NOLA no-wave-industrial-art-punk-disco band that is equal parts nihilistic and future-seeking, doesn’t really resonate with them. But they’re into amusement park treats, there’s a lot of bullshit to eat at Coney Island, and they’re down for the adventure.
“We made our tummies hurt because we kept eating candy for the shots,” Special Interest singer Alli Logout says of this photo shoot. “Conspicuous consumption,” synth savant Ruth Mascelli jokes, accidentally (or much more likely absolutely purposefully) naming sociologist and anti-capitalist hunk Thorstein Veblen’s economic theory that investigates the impulse behind purchasing luxury goods to display power and wealth. In two words, they’ve confirmed fears that I am too dumb to be talking to this band, and God help the rest of the idiots tasked with doing the same. (More on that later.)
Special Interest—frontperson Logout (they/them), guitarist Maria Elena (she/her), bassist Nathan Cassiani (he/him), and synthesizer/drum machinist Mascelli (he/him)—tattooed and free of their onstage latex, are snuggled on a paisley couch somewhere in Athens, Greece. (If there were a more fitting European city for them, I’ve yet to hear of it. Athens is a place where history is inescapable, ruins simultaneously represent democracy and collapse, and economic protesters in sinister Guy Fawkes masks are frequently found on the steps of parliament.) We’re speaking over Zoom smack-dab in the middle of their day off. They’ve just played weekend 2 at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound music festival, the “biggest crowd” they’ve ever performed for, says Cassiani, but they’re mostly keen to talk about their musical discoveries (Gabber Modus Operandi from Indonesia, and Duma, harsh noise electronics and black metal vocals from Kenya). Nearly 500,000 people attended Primavera this year; any fraction of that would eclipse the dozen or so spectators at a backyard show in their hometown of New Orleans, powered by a generator, so hot Logout doses their body with a frozen daiquiri.
It’s also a far cry from their last New York City show, days before the Coney Island shoot—in a vacuous, industrial performance space in Bushwick, opening for lo-fi dream-pop band Beach Fossils and America’s hardcore sweethearts, Turnstile. At the oppressively early hour of 7:30 p.m., the sun set high in the sky, the band blasts through a tight 30-minute set on a poorly lit stage, Logout introducing them with a bellowing “Newwwww York,” in the style of Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind,” dropping the last syllable and contorting the “k” into a tight growl. “All this high tech,” they muse, twirling their mic cable, “and we’re sooo looowbrooow.”
“All this high tech,” they muse, twirling their mic cable, “and we’re sooo looowbrooow.”
The sound cuts out. It cuts out again. A group of baby gays dance their way to the front of the crowd, avoiding the arms-folded, basketball-shorts-wearing skate punks who litter the crowd. At least one is wearing a freshly purchased “SPECIAL INTEREST DYKE” shirt. I wonder if they also bought the most interesting and telling merch item—nail clippers with the band’s name etched on the top. So much is said about the band’s political aspirations, very little is made of their overwhelming horniness, their ability to turn an industrial-art-punk-techno detour into the animated distillation of a good, fun fuck. And yet, the sound continues to cut out.
“Of course they would do that to us. Shit like that happens all the time,” Logout says of the venue slicing their soundcheck in half, forcing them to speed through a set in less-than-ideal conditions. “They just didn’t care. I feel like we were put on that lineup to make it more relevant.” Relevant, of course, means more diverse, queerer, a reductive take on representation valued in 2022 only because it’s marketable. And value, honey, is money.
“Being employed to create this thing that happens means they have zero emotional investment in us,” Elena jumps in, noting the difference between that kind of show and the lifelong conscription of DIY punk. It also proves that this band, despite all the politicking done in their name online and elsewhere, really doesn’t buy into the fallacy of safe spaces. Everywhere is a threat, even in punk. It’s why Logout used to grab members of the audience and shake them.
“I’m particularly pissed about the Turnstile show because nobody did anything to help. But it’s not too often where I feel we’re put on a lineup to be tokenized,” says Logout. “We will turn those things down. At this point, we’re very selective.” But there is a benefit to playing unexpected shows. Elena jumps in: “If I have the courage to look at the audience, you see people staring, gape-mouthed. You can tell they kind of dig it; their shoulders twitch a little.”
“We’ve played a few festivals now and, at first, I had the perspective of ‘We’re just doing this for money,’” Mascelli says. “And it is weird because there’s something about festivals that is very bureaucratic.” Adds Logout with a laugh: “We’re arena rockers. But [Pitchfork Music Festival] was awful. I had to thrift my look because we were all displaced from Hurricane Ida. We all evacuated to different places. We had to fly to Chicago [where the fest takes place] early because there was no electricity in New Orleans for a week. It was dramatic. And it was so hot.”
And the thing about basement generator shows? Those work. “We’re from DIY, that’s not chaotic. That’s been our lives for well over 15 years,” says Logout. “What’s chaotic now is being on a massive stage and having technical difficulties.”
To be continued in CREEM #1 coming September 15...subscribe now...