UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE HARDCORE THAT CAN’T BE STOPPED
It probably seems like I’m always hating on the current generation of little kids who jock 90s bands, and I guess I am (because I’m old as fuck and that’s what old hardcore guys do). But I don’t want to be a hater, so instead of getting butthurt about kids showing off the X Swatch they got off eBay, I’m going to talk about one of my all-time favorite 90s hardcore bands DOWNSET.
It’s pretty common when my friends and I are wasted for us to spontaneously fingerpoint and say “Anger! Hostility towards the opposition!” Also, note Rey repping SSD and Unbroken shirts.
Downset essentially started as Social Justice, a San Fernando valley band who played classic late-80s hardcore that Tumblrsluts would jizz over if it was played by dorky white kids from Boston and came out in 2011 on B9.
That’s right, HARDCORE. I have no idea why they get labeled as “rap metal” or even worse nu-metal, because they are a pure-bred hardcore band who came up in the same scene as legends like Inside Out, Unbroken, Insted, and Chain of Strength. That said, they were among the first to mix rap with moshable hardcore, and IMO definitely the first to get it right. For someone like me who grew up on pretty much equal parts rap, punk, and metal, hearing a band who put them all together so well was completely mindblowing, especially back then when that kind of genre-mixing was unheard of.
If this video doesn’t make you want to mosh your balls off, write your name on someone else’s shit, and punch a cop in the face, you are dead to me!!
Like a lot of other kids, I was into anything that involved breaking rules, which included skateboarding, metal/hardcore, and graffiti. At the time it was pretty rare for anybody to be into both hardcore and graffiti, although there were some West Coast bands like Phobia, Gehenna, Spazz, Dystopia, and Despise You all had graffiti writers in their ranks (see also the matrix inscription on the Dystopia/Skaven 12″ which reads “MONUMENTAL TAGGER METAL“). In fact, I first heard about Downset from an interview in the legendary graffiti magazine Can Control, around 1993 when their first 7″ came out (“Anger” b/w “Ritual”).
CBS was without a doubt the most influential crew of the early/mid 90s, and I jocked them as hard as possible in high school. Fun fact: a former member of Phobia was in CBS!
“Pocket Full Of Fat Caps” takes me right back to 10th grade, stealing Mean Streaks and scribing bus stop windows. I really wish they would have made a video for this song, it would have been so cool to get footage of kids catching bus tags, MEAR doing a wall, etc. Also, sick SICK breakdown at 1:40 — YOU’RE MOSHING!
Their music was awesome enough on its own, but I really fell in love with Downset because they were the purest possible product of crossing the Southern California graffiti and hardcore scenes, with members representing legendary crews UTI, THC, and CBS. For someone like me who grew up fully immersed in both graffiti and hardcore of that era, it’s hard to find a band that does a better job of capturing what the West Coast was like in the 90s for pissed off kids like me. AND they had smart lyrics about self-improvement, being mad, and other stuff that hit home with me– it’s pretty much like you took everything I liked, put it in a blender, and pressed it onto vinyl.
Cheesy but accurate segment on tagbangers from ’93 or so — it sounds ridiculous in retrospect, but you could definitely get shot over graffiti back then in Southern California. I still fucking love that classic tagbanger style though :(
In this photo they are all “Sup, we’re too busy thinking about important social issues to pay attention to the camera.” Also, u mirin dat STATUE shirt? The lowercase serif font means they had hella deep, very emotional lyrics.
Speaking of graffiti, to understand Downset you really need to understand the context in which they came up. Back in the 90s, the graffiti scene was no fucking joke. There was a huge influx of what we called tagbangers — crazy kids who were basically gangsters who also tagged and scared the shit out of everybody, graffiti writers and citizens alike. The whole West Coast was pretty wild, but Southern California was by far the sketchiest when it came to graffiti. If you lived there in the early to mid-90s, you know what I mean: all the freeways were absolutely covered in graffiti, and people like CHAKA and OILER were pretty close to household names.
Although people call Downset a “rap metal” band, their roots were obviously in the hardcore scene as you can see from this flyer. Also, LOL @ fucking FYP playing with Strife!
One of my favorite shows of all time was Downset with VOD and Earth Crisis, I believe in 1996. I think Crown of Thornz opened, which made that basically the most ridiculously amazing 90s hardcore lineup imaginable, but it got even better: I got to interview Rey and Ares for my dumb fanzine! As an 18 year-old hardcore/graffiti fanboy it was a dream come true and I pretty much had to try as hard as I could not to jizz in my pants. They were both super, super nice and answered all my dumb questions, so big ups to them for making my day! You can check out some of the interview here.
This picture = the fucking definition of 90s Southern California fat cap tags. So tight.
While I’m on the subject of old LA hardcore bands who had deep roots in graffiti, don’t sleep on EXCEL (featuring REVS of the legendary crew KSN)
Musically, Downset were way, way ahead of their time and peers, playing a very tight, syncopated style of metalcore that sounded completely unique at the time (in particular the drumming, which I love). Maybe it’s my old man, rose-colored glasses, but if you ask me, they still sound very fresh, original and relevant nearly fifteen years later — something you can say about very, very few bands from the mid 90s. They got a lot of comparisons to Rage Against The Machine, but only from people who don’t know what they’re talking about — to anybody with functioning ears and a little knowledge, they were worlds apart. Downset did this style years before RATM and were always way heavier, tighter, and more legit than RATM.
Their first two albums are especially great, but all their records are keepers. IMO some of their best songs are on “Universal,” from 2004.
I could literally write a whole book about the whole 90s West Coast graffiti/hardcore/skateboarding scene, but for now I will just let you digest how sweet Downset are. I have no idea why the “90s hardcore worship crew” and tr00 hxc kids don’t talk about these guys more often- I can only guess that it’s because the band might not totally click with you if you’re not from the West Coast, but who knows.
If you’re a fan, clear out a few hours from your schedule and check out their official site. It’s got a TON of content including detailed show listings, discography and history, and follow Downset and Krasp on Twitter– tell them SYWH sent you!
U moshing???? Why don’t Tumblrbros jock Downset like they should? Why the fuck would anyone call them nu-metal?? Which timebomb will be the first to blast, 310, 213 or 818???