In movies like Taxi Driver and Bringing Out the Dead, Scorsese makes it all look so majestic: The shine of the wet blacktop and sidewalk acts like a mirror, creating a double of every neon sign and stoplight along the stretch of a Manhattan street. In reality the city is not that sexy, and in places like the buzzing Koreatown, the truth is a lot fouler: The city’s not slick with water, in fact the sheen comes from a mix of trash juice and about 1,000 more unnamed discarded liquids.
CREEM is standing in just such an urban cocktail on 32nd Street, sandwiched between towering garbage bags and other groups waiting to be seated at a restaurant, when we finally meet up with Australia’s Speed for dinner at a Korean BBQ spot. This will be the last activity of the day for the band, who landed at seven this morning after 20-plus hours on a plane, so while I can tell they’re hyped to get some meats-over-flame, I can also sense that their energy is dissipating and that our window of full attention is rapidly closing.
Considering the band’s reputation as a high-octane, jaw-clenching hardcore outfit, they must have really gone through the wringer. The Sydney-based quintet first came into the wider consciousness in 2019 with their re-pressed demo exploding during the dawn of COVID. Mixing the fury of ’90s mid-paced hardcore, the vein-bulging terror associated with Infest, and the nihilism of favorites like Crossed Out, the band exploded with a series of music videos, an early EP, and finally the Gang Called SpeedEP, which turned the hardcore world upside down. In an age where all anyone wanted to do was mosh it up (see: Trump administration, BLM, COVID, general malaise), Speed provided an avenue for that.
And tonight, the anticipation is at an all-time high—for the band to play their first East Coast gigs, and for the near mountain of Korean ribs—as we sit down across theopen flame, surrounded by an array of banchan (Korean mini-apps and side dishes). For the record, CREEM’s mind wasn’t so much on the tteokbokki or the japchae but on Speed’s ability to capture the hardcore crowd so quickly and completely—and their future in an ever-changing genre. But instead of getting boasts about the past and big talk about what’s to come, we found ourselves dining with a group of humble, centered individuals. If they weren’t so goddamn sweet and sincere, it would have had me blasting my kimchi over every inch of the table.
The core of Speed is Southeast Asian brothers Jem and Aaron, who at dinner can’t stop boasting about the other in a loving “he’s so cool and I’m so proud” sort of way. Jem, a lifelong fan of hardcore music, wanted to start a project with his brother and felt that the rap-leaning Aaron had a natural swagger for hardcore. So in the wake of the dissolution of Jem’s last band, he recruited his brother to play bass despite him never having picked up the instrument before. Soon enough, along came guitarist Dennis “D-Cold,” drummer Kane, and second guitar player Joshua, who all bonded on Terror and Trapped Under Ice as formative bands. And while many of the usual suspects were present, it was Australian groups like Parkway Drive and Carpathian who really nailed it home that hardcore was a possibility for kids Down Under.
The most fascinating thing about Speed isn’t their well-timed release, how they’ve caught the zeitgeist, or even how over-the-top and fun their approach to brutal hardcore is; it’s the fact that the five-piece have no delusions of grandeur and are just plain happy with where they’ve landed in the world. They’re aware of the dozens and dozens of fallen heroes who “deserved it,” and so they choose gratitude over ego to fuel their momentum. Every once in a while you meet a band that approaches it in the right way. No stories on how you’re the greatest guitar player of all time, or how you’re smarter than your audience? BORING.
As dinner comes to a close, we corral the Speed boys into a quick photo session on the street. Despite clearly being exhausted and now beef-drunk, the band forges on and acts as a good sport for a few pics. And again, they nail it out of the gate. Is there anything these guys can’t do, or at the very least do it and slightly be a dick about it? Give us SOMETHING, man!
For the record, CREEM can state with complete certainty that the mean-muggin’ present in the photo above was strictly for the camera and NOT from indigestion, a sour mood, or anything an iota short of genuine, full-bore positivity.
Speed, you make me sick.