Dusted Features

Destined: Sex Vid

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Features

Dusted's Doug Mosurak tracks down the elusive and essential hardcore act Sex Vid.

Destined: Sex Vid

  • Download "Exorcism" by Sex Vid.

    Hardcore. Just the mention of the word and the attendant imagery floods the mind of the person contemplating it. Speed. Violence. Male dominance. Aggression. Threats. A semblance of unity with a treacherous undercurrent of disloyalty. Not exactly standard-bearing terms in all cases, not to mention that none accurately convey the sentiments of this stylized corner of punk rock as a whole. Yet these were the images forced into the lexicon following hardcore’s uncovering by concerned mainstream media pundits like Phil Donahue back in the ‘80s, back when the retaliatory, anti-corporate stance of groups like Black Flag and Minor Threat challenged the purpose of the entertainment and leisure industries, and the evolved social order that supported them. Punk rock, commercially, had failed, but this more virulent strain stood for things in a somewhat unified manner, backed up quite literally by muscle, with no product endorsements or media support. The products of broken homes, of shifting familial and social dynamics, those rejected from the flock, had hardened their resolve. Left unpruned, this music promised to be the backbone of society’s undoing, and it was handled as such.

    But the often positive sentiments preached by many of these bands weren’t necessarily adopted by the constituency. The promise of real violence down at the local club took on all comers, from the merely outcast to the legitimately psychotic, making for the likelihood of danger that its participants might not be able to walk off. Most musical forms, particularly when spread to a wider audience, are victims of any initial intentions being processed by an audience larger than its creators had fathomed. And when this instance is applied to music distilled down to sheer velocity, noise, and anger, the interpretations it can carry become increasingly diffuse. Thus, we saw Minor Threat break up, in part, for having created a monster; we saw Black Flag perform all sorts of experiments in slower music, jazz-influenced instrumentals and spoken word offerings in order to increase its career longevity, and many other bands with less to say devolved back into the same morass from which they were spawned. Yet the fan base remained largely inflexible, a symptom of the social conditions surrounding it remaining at stasis or worsening as time went on. As a musician, hardcore can become too rote, its ideas too rigid for sustainability past the first few blasts of songwriting. As a fan, the demand for music that’s harder and faster often outstrips the desire for creativity, or the willingness of its makers to continue along such a rigorous path. As such, every regional dialect of hardcore since its inception – every flavor of sentiment from youth crew to powerviolence, from metallic crossover to esoteric strobe-lit chaos, every blast from Europe, Japan, and particularly the screams of social injustice and tension release from developing nations – added its own spins to the initial formulas, and by and large all have followed a disappointing trajectory similar to that described above, one that savors the moment instead of the career. If hardcore is meant to survive, it does so on the backs of an audience that can look the other way.

    It’s at this point where we come to modern times, and are forced to confront the reality of much of what hardcore is today: stiff re-enactments of the past mostly made by people who weren’t yet born when the music they ape was created, or those who have been in the grind so long that they’re unable or unwilling to do much else. And yet, as always, the real talent is in the margins, which is where we find Sex Vid, from Olympia, Washington. Judd is on vocals, RJ on guitar, Suzie on bass and Sam on drums.

    Formed in 2005, the group has kept their heads down, releasing two seven-inchers (a third is on the way) and two cassettes, all of which fit in stride with the most aggressive classics American hardcore has produced in years. Consider releases like the Void side of the Faith/Void split LP, Die Kreuzen’s Cows and Beer EP and first full-length, the two singles by the Fix, or Poison Idea’s Kings of Punk, and the term “release” goes both ways; more than just the concept of a physical product being made available, these are strenuous, hard-bitten expulsions of repressed frustration played against the brute force that propels them. Sex Vid have constructed efforts that sit eye-to-eye with these classics, except that they exist in the here and now, and the group's hindsight and virtuosity allows them to continue to build upon new ideas within the constraints of the genre. “Both live and on vinyl, Sex Vid exude a certain ramshackle, uncontrived tension. I get the feeling that although they are having a blast playing, their anger, rage, and intensity are immediately beneath the surface, and are driving what they do [into something] more than just an effort to have a good time,” says Stuart Schrader, the man behind extreme music blog Shit-Fi, and one of the group’s earliest supporters. “Their music balances a traditional hardcore sound with an effort to mine other musical realms, like psychedelia, noise, and Krautrock, but the riffs remain central. There is never any question that the music is 100 percent hardcore punk, but [its creators] also refuse to see that as limiting. Unlike bands of the past that tried to spread the boundaries of what ‘hardcore punk’ could entail, Sex Vid, as aficionados of hardcore, know how mistaken that effort often was, and their sound matches. They’re never predictable but it always makes perfect sense.”

    Sex Vid got started some time after RJ and Suzie moved to Olympia from NYC, after spending their respective childhoods on Long Island where, even in that area’s exurban vestiges of ‘90s alternative culture, they often found themselves the outcasts of their peers. Like many in the same situation, the iconography of punk and hardcore took hold in lieu of fitting in. “I would guess it was being at my uncle’s house as a kid and seeing his Black Flag and Saccharine Trust records,” said RJ in a lengthy discussion we shared on music, personal histories, art, and philosophy. “The [Raymond] Pettibon artwork, and the overall vibe just hit me hard. All other music seemed to pale in comparison. [My uncle] started taping me stuff, and it snowballed from there. Suzie was a Phish-head, but was also into shit like [New Jersey hardcore band] Adrenalin O.D. When we met, it developed into a contest to see who could out-weird one another with the music we were discovering.”

    Judd’s trajectory follows across family lines as well as social. “My mom was a punker when she was young, but I got turned onto the music by a pissed off, acne-ridden skater in 7th grade named Legion. I was hustling my old metal tapes out of my locker. He went through my stash and told me all that shit was lame and that I should check out the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. He let me borrow tapes and I was 100 percent hooked. After that he gave me some Negative Approach and Minor Threat and I knew it was for me.” A relative newcomer to playing in bands, Judd found solace in Olympia’s community, if not its by-products. “I grew up in Spokane and after high school I couldn't deal with living in such a sprawled out, meth-ridden dump anymore, so I moved to Olympia, simply because the vibe is nicer. I never had any real interest in the Olympia music scene or any of that, beyond a few bands.”

    Sex Vid’s members quickly found kindred spirits in one another. “Judd and I were pretty much into the exact same things musically,” recalls RJ, who cites examples like free noise outfits the Dead C. and Ultra, and vocal black metal recluse Apator, as well as modern hardcore fringe dwellers Mind Eraser and Dry-Rot, as personal favorites. Close friends as well as bandmates, the members share a singular vision of how to conduct their musical affairs. “In the kind of music we play,” RJ explains, “I think that interaction between the members should be something that you hear and deal with. That’s what keeps it glued together when stuff starts falling apart.” Despite the members’ diverse tastes, the formation of Sex Vid as a hardcore outfit was never contested. “That’s what we intended to do from the start, and if it was not, we would not be in a band together,” claims RJ. “We all listen to tons of different shit, but as far as playing music, hardcore is what comes naturally. Anything else would seem forced.”

    In a town known for progressive social politics as well as a rich history of revolutionary music, from Beat Happening to Nirvana, Olympia’s scene had all but turned on the group at their outset. Undaunted, they continued to write and record songs, six of which ended up on the 2006 EP Drugging. All 500 copies sold out within a few months via Portland mailorder outfit Bistro Distro. The follow-up EP, Tania, appeared in early 2007 on DOM America, a noise and experimental label active throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, resurrected in part by the band. Two live cassette releases filled in the gaps. Praise from Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll and chatter between fans served as the sole publicity for these releases, which are now long out of print; Drugging being the grail, a record that many likely fans missed completely, which now trades hands for close to three figures on eBay. “It's not uncommon these days to see limited editions and test pressings of other modern bands' records go for a lot more than any of our shit does, so I'm not sure why it keeps getting brought up,” remarks Judd. “Maybe it's due to us being low profile so most people saw our record go for $40 and up and thought, ‘OK who the fuck are these guys?’”

    Apart from reviews, high bid notices would serve as some of their only online exposure. Sex Vid eschews even customary nods like a MySpace page or a Google-able name. RJ suggests that such mechanisms are pat, that their name and presence were conceived well outside of the notions of the visibility that can coincide with an Internet meme. “MySpace and all that shit just looks so fucking dumb, so we don't fuck with it. I like the idea of people putting in at least a little bit of effort to find out about us. We are not anti-Internet by any means; we just don't think it's a viable thing for us … [it] seems first-thought and boring. For some bands it seems to work. For us, we know it doesn’t, so why bother?” In short, this decision has given them complete control, through anonymity, over how they choose to present themselves. This concept reaches all the way down to the striking focus of their cover art and layouts, at once abstract and direct, giving the sense that you’re seeing some evidence of a ritual you maybe shouldn’t be witnessing, as well as to the spastic tie-dye T-shirts the band sells on tour. RJ likens it to a code of conduct: “Too many bands beat you over the head with fucking bad artwork, stupid tour editions and all sorts of nonsense. We try to not fuck around with that shit.”

    Much like their East Coast live debut, which I witnessed in the back of a smelly Mexican restaurant in Brooklyn, their cassette releases are comparable to blurry snapshots of a UFO, a hazy assault of sonic imagery slowing down only when a string breaks for a barely recognizable rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Aside from that, and one or two other moments, there was barely a recognizable song from any of their records in their 12-minute set, the sure sign of a band whose creative impulses keep them vibrant. Kevin Pedersen, who runs NYC’s What’s Your Rupture? label, has traveled to Olympia twice in the past year to see Sex Vid perform, bowled over by the band’s presentation and character. “Watching the band play, it’s obvious that the music is hardcore, totally brutal, and incredibly loud ... [yet] descriptions that lend to a bro-down paradise with a bunch of dudes who wanna work it out through blows couldn’t be more misleading,” he states. “Sex Vid play music that makes you look up … like you’re having some meeting of the minds with a ton of people you've never met.”

    The mystery surrounding Sex Vid is relative to geographic isolation and the members concentrating on working hard enough to survive in the day-to-day. These records of theirs, however, fuel that mystery even further. Both releases are as innovative to the informed ear as they are bracing and confrontational to the newcomer. Simple, nagging, memorable riffs and a caustic gash of a tone language, from breathless, snarling vocals to acidic, distorted guitar to the sting of the cymbals, are boldly mounted in a claustrophobic headspace, bolstered by a crowded, front-loaded mix that leverages tape saturation with as much clarity as their sound will permit. Their recordings are realized in an equally crowded basement studio in Olympia, by a man who goes by the pseudonym Captain Trips. RJ reinforces these sentiments bluntly. “We tried recording in a more 'legit' studio and it was a disaster and sounded like fucking shit, so we just stick with what we know. Trips tells us what to do and we listen. He has a good idea of how to capture stuff.” Basic advice, to be sure, and yet so few bands in any genre are able to make it work for themselves that it’s an honest surprise when it does.

    As far as methodologies are concerned, RJ remains understandably cryptic, but remarks that his focus in songwriting on “getting rid of what I don’t like about what I love,” a reductive, open-ended mantra that accounts for the past, but exercises a choice to not relive it. A quick listen to either record, or the new EP Nests (due out in February), reinforce this notion. That all three stand up to repeat spins, that they race past in a way that turn listeners into addicts, that they scratch the itch that no band of their caliber has in years, will be tested in 2008, following a trip to SXSW and a full U.S. tour in June and July, not to mention forthcoming releases on Painkiller and another prominent label to be named later. “I don't think anything we’ve done up until recently has been very premeditated,” says Judd on the uptick in activity. “We’re just playing and writing and doing things as they come to us. I never thought we would end up putting out a bunch of records, but I also never thought we wouldn't, y'know? Does any band know?”

    By Doug Mosurock

    Read More

    View all articles by Doug Mosurock

  • ©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.