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The Lead Review

Ad Cor, Ad Culus: The Passion of Special Interest
Noel Gardner , September 3rd, 2020 08:35

Punk and rave combine to form a heady brew in the latest release by New Orleans' Special Interest, finds Noel Gardner

Dreams of a better world, or any other kind of idealism, are liable to be crushed, minimised and vapourised so brutally that good people can find themselves pitifully grateful for the tiniest crumb offered as improvement to the status quo. But enough about the main opposition parties in the present-day British and American political systems, folks – instead, visualise people free to gather and shout with one voice the lyrics, "SODOMY! LSD! SODOMY ON LSD!" That world would be an objectively improved one, in that precise moment if nothing else, and a world where this didn't necessarily mean being at a Marilyn Manson concert would be better still.

This is a scenario offered by New Orleans group Special Interest, who do not otherwise bear any meaningful resemblance to Marilyn Manson and are in fact a brilliant and inspirational convergence of DIY punk, techno and industrial rock with a queer and Black lens. Alli Logout, the four-piece's frontperson, repeats it throughout 'Disco III', the first proper song (there's a 42-second spooky synthy intro preceding it) on The Passion Of, Special Interest's extraordinary second record. They toured the UK in March of this year, at the absolute latest possible time to do so, and were hugely enjoyable; to date, though, they've not been able to perform to a crowd familiar with more than one song from this album, and when this does happen, well, you imagine that sodomy and LSD might come into play.

Spiraling, from 2018 and the debut Special Interest LP (or mini-LP or whatever, if eight songs in 20 minutes offends your taxonomical standards), is more than worth your time: gaspworthy lyrics about ketamine and menstrual blood and piss-drinking cowboys, written by Logout while hospitalised after a mental breakdown and holler-cackled over rattly synthesised punk electro. Something about it, possibly Nathan Cassiani's basslines, has always given me a Le Tigre vibe, which is fine as far as it goes but if I thought the Special Interest of 2020 were "the new Le Tigre," or words to that effect, I would probably not be reviewing The Passion Of in this section on this website. Production-wise, the band – completed by guitarist Maria Elena and beat programmer Ruth Mascelli – have pivoted to digital in comprehensive fashion, resulting in moments like 'Homogenized Milk' whose sound design renders it one to try out on your Death Grips or clipping.-loving friend.

The confluence of punk and rave has a long and rich history, of course, with notable figures crossing between the two subcultures and making good with the commonality of the mentality. It's also spawned plenty of weaksauce made by people with no aptitude for either form and only fit to advertise hair products. For better or worse, I don't think I've ever heard a song quite like 'Disco III', where Mascelli sets gabber kicks to Logout's vocals, the rhythmic cadences of which foam with the military-grade stridency of anarcho punk icons of old like Crass or Dirt.

Similarly, 'Tina' seems to draw equally on hardcore techno and hardcore punk, its repetitive lyrics delivered like a playground taunt. To what end, we never find out. Special Interest have quantifiable punker grounding – Cassiani played in Mystic Inane and Patsy, two ramalama NOLA-area bands, a while back; Logout has spoken of Bad Brains, D.R.I and Jello Biafra as formative inspirations – but when album closer 'With Love' comes around, and Elena's introductory noiserock guitars are briskly swamped by panelbeating Helena Hauff-like electro, it feels almost like they're thumbing their nose at that part of their makeup.

'With Love' comes with lyrics which make it the only logical end to the album, breathtaking outpourings with what seems like a nihilist or even accelerationist bent. "To smell the sweet rot of society as it rapidly decays/ Shit makes my day," it begins; "We call upon the earth to live again," it finishes. Appeals to Gaia notwithstanding, Special Interest speak of ground-level topics, and widely relatable ones too. We should be mindful of context here: speaking to Stephanie Phillips for tQ recently, Logout said, "The whole reason I've done music is so that Black kids can see me doing what I'm doing," and without it being explicitly stated in the lyrics you can reasonably suppose that a queer perspective is central to 'Don't Kiss Me In Public' (the one song from The Passion Of released before their March tour). Yet for any listener to act like some unknowable alien existence is being portrayed would be counterproductive. "Would you rather have me on my knees?/ Crawling towards you begging you please/ Get inside of me," the song finishes, bearing hints of relationship drama found in canonical pop down the decades.

"Further I sink/ In you," gasps 'A Depravity Such As This…', its rhythm and tone somewhat akin to minimal techno, or the pop-friendly adoption of it that was everywhere in the mid-'00s or so. It speaks highly of both the vocalist and the band that Special Interest can pinball between these moments of body-as-world sexuality, and timely reminders of capitalism's iron grasp and the perma-turning war machine, without either taking precedence or showing up the other. We are living in hell but we're going to party, affirms 'Disco III' (likewise 'Disco' and 'Disco II', which both featured on Spiraling) and the midpaced, droning 'All Tomorrow’s Carry'. "I watch the city crumble/ Arise from the rubble/ Another tawdry condo and a high-rise suite," goes the latter; 'Homogenized Milk' is yet more caustic about gentrification's fallout.

If or when Special Interest find themselves regularly playing to audiences of several hundred or more, The Passion Of's penultimate track, 'Street Pulse Beat', feels like one which will come into its own. Its sonics are clashing, metallic, technoid-industrial, but there is an expansive wistfulness taking it as close as this group have come to a ballad (which is still not that close, to be fully clear). That is until Logout fires off the blasphemous curveball, "I go by many names/ Such as mistress, goddess, Allah, Jah/ And Jesus Fucking Christ!" I mean, it's not that it wouldn't be a wrench for this band to outgrow DIY punk culture, but you want to hear that shit proclaimed on the lip of a platform stretching 50 metres onto the pitch at a stadium gig, right?

Whether anything like that ever happens is a moot point, really: a band's importance should not be seen in direct correlation with their popularity. But very, very few presently active bands have captured something that feels as significant as what Special Interest have given us here.