The heinous death rattle of the June sunset had arrested the city as I descended into Mitchell Park in downtown Tempe with vocalist Alec LoCruzio and guitarist Alex Rempel of the nascent hardcore quartet Humiliation. We are not-so-comfortably seated at a still sun-warmed picnic table that's partially pocked with pigeon shit. A pick-up game of basketball continues at the nearby court in harmony with the commotion of parents entertaining their children on the nearby playground equipment; a fairly shameless drug deal goes down between two sedans to the west on McKemy Street, and slowly the cross-chatter of chummy sarcasm and cigarette smoke between the three of us begins to take a more focused tone.
"Humiliation is one of the most damaging and haunting emotions one can endure. It's a pain that sticks, and [in most cases] it requires an audience. The connotation of the name takes the power out of a crowd potentially hating you. It deletes any chance of a 'rock star image,'" LoCruzio says in a calm and sincere tone. The 21-year-old has the classic look of a spectacle-wearing bookish type, but with a disheveled and exhausted tinge that's reinforced by his worn-out shirt and directionless frock of hair.
Rempel continues LoCruzio's thought.
"Being humiliated is a theme embraced throughout the band's ethos -- harnessing this idea of discomfort within yourself. It conquers the notion in a way."
There is a subtle tension to his voice that signifies a sense of belief in his words. Somewhat neatly dressed in a button-down and jeans, Rempel's short-cropped dark brown hair is guarded by a brilliantly positioned bucket hat adorned with a Swans pin on the inner brim which seems supernaturally held in a flipped up position above his face.
To the benefit of their postulations, Humiliation certainly conquers hurdles sonically. Theirs is a studied brand of hardcore that weaves between the ever-inflating cliché trappings of the genre with a dynamic and austere ferocity. For close to a year, the group has gruelingly built a name for itself in the underground DIY hardcore scene, unleashing brief and menacing outbursts on bills with nationally esteemed bands such as NASA Space Universe, Gag and Condition.
Though without a doubt playing a harshly threatening brand of hardcore, Humiliation makes a firm point of avoiding the stigmatizing issues of mindless machismo and hollow ideology associated with the genre. As a band, the members have formed an obsessively focused goal of taking the music in a direction that they see as valuable, in a climate in which the genre seems less and less worthy of defending.
"We attempt to move as far away from the generic as possible and draw from things far beyond hardcore itself," Rempel explains. To this end, the duo -- they admit to being the principal songwriters in the band, but do not neglect drummer Noah Kenyon and Bassist Brandon Forde -- has gone as far as to read the same political theory book (Guy Debord's 1967 The Society of the Spectacle) simultaneously in order to gain a mutually attuned perspective, and admits to a tirelessly revisionist writing process.
That said, LoCruzio is quick to place a retainer on the subject of politics within his lyrics: "The nature of being a DIY hardcore band is, in a way, inherently political. ... It's something that's grassroots-organized and collectivist in the first place, so having consistently brash political lyrics can become redundant. It's a matter of how severely you want to take it. Having too staunch of a stance can weaken your message. ... That said, I do have some politically driven lyrics, but ... delivered more vaguely, wrapped up in topics more personal to me."
Aside from throwing himself into the floor while emitting an inhuman shriek that seems to originate from something twice his size at live shows, LoCruzio also takes on the, at times, thankless burden of booking and promoting many of the shows themselves.
"Some people get bummed out when they come to Phoenix and the crowd doesn't move to their band. There's become some sort of expectation, on warehouse shows in particular, where people will see a YouTube video of a punk show getting insane here, then get pissed off when the crowd folds their arms at them," LoCruzio says.
He and Rempel continue on in relative agreement on the topic of the aloof and blunt nature of the Phoenix DIY hardcore scene and its polarizing Jeckyl-and-Hyde dynamic as a firework-tossing, bottle-flinging, hate-moshing spectacle of mayhem.
"Both aspects stem from the same source, which is the fact that this scene, or whatever you want to call it, is struggling to survive in a hostile city that's got a very limited capacity for culture," Rempel says. "Many other scenes across the country don't suffer the way we do in the sense of when a DIY venue or house shuts down, it's not like, 'Oh ok, well no biggie there's still x, y, z to book at.' It's a major blow that causes everyone to scramble."
The idea is like the decorative cacti adjacent to the park: a hazardous spine covered entity defending its resources in a place where everything is fighting to live.
The average shelf life of a hardcore band in Phoenix seems to be ever-fluctuating. To that end there is no telling where Humiliation is heading other than the fact that they're on their way at an expeditious pace.
"There's a huge undercurrent to hardcore right now, where a band seems to put out a demo of passable punk rock that blows the fuck up on Tumblr and instantly makes them the biggest band in the country, practically overnight," LoCruzio says.
Rempel once again echoes his thoughts: "It creates a trend and image that generates comparisons and live expectations on something that is supposed to be progressing and belonging on the fringes."
The two agree unanimously that their aim is to stand firm against the trappings of the cyber trend and continue to suffer towards something their own. In a world where rebellion is hashtagged and a mutant Black Flag is putting out records straight to iTunes with z-grade clip art for a cover, there's really no way in telling which way is up in this context. But rest assured: Humiliation remains un-phased.
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