The San Francisco band, featuring gender-fluid Richmond native Lucy Xavier on lead vocals, performs at Strange Matter tonight.
Marilyn Drew Necci | April 5, 2018
When you’re queer, the hardcore scene can sometimes seem like an intolerant cesspool, especially on the tougher, heavier ends of the spectrum. Despite a long legacy of LGBTQ involvement in the larger punk scene as a whole, from Bob Mould of Husker Du to the members of Pansy Division, it’s been rare to see hardcore bands that are both unapologetically loud, fast, and heavy; and unapologetically queer. However, the tide has been turning in recent years, most prominently with the brief rise of G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit), who grabbed a ton of positive attention during their brief existence but broke up after releasing only two EPs.
San Francisco’s Primal Rite, who are coming to Richmond to play the United Blood Festival pre-show tonight at Strange Matter, are another hopeful sign from a scene that has traditionally felt less than accepting. The band is fronted by Lucy Xavier, a trans-identified gender-fluid person who uses they pronouns. “The definitions of man and woman are so loaded and outdated,” they told Revolver Magazine. “I know I don’t feel like a man and I can say I am happily exploring and challenging myself and others in that department.”
Xavier, a Richmond-area native, discovered hardcore in high school, accompanying friends from their hometown of Chester into the city to see local acts like Naysayer, who Primal Rite will share a bill with tonight, along with well-known touring bands like Hatebreed and Terror. However, they headed for the Bay Area soon after finishing high school, telling Revolver that their choice of San Francisco as a destination was at least partially inspired by the area’s LGBTQ-friendly reputation. “I needed somewhere to establish my adulthood and explore my identity,” they said. “I think when you grow up on the East Coast, California has a certain mystique.”
While living in the Bay Area, they began singing for bands, joining Primal Rite — members of which had previously been in California hardcore bands Scalped and Permanent Ruin — in 2015. They derived inspiration to be more open about their identity during performances from the aforementioned G.L.O.S.S., telling Revolver, “Seeing G.L.O.S.S. definitely helped make me feel comfortable and confident [in] representing myself. I’ve always been different, but wearing nail polish or makeup is [a way of] expressing that, ‘I’m queer, I’m trans and it causes me much struggle and I need to talk about it and be seen.’”
Xavier, who is half-Korean, sees hardcore as an empowering vehicle through which to assert identities and viewpoints that are marginalized in mainstream discourse. They address their own experiences with marginalization on “Interference,” a song from Primal Rite’s brand-new debut LP, Dirge Of Escapism (released on Revelation Records in January). The song’s title is a reference to social media and its presence in young people’s lives today.
“Young people are processing the world, and ourselves, through the static of social media,” they told Revolver. “Social media can make you feel connected to a community, and be the only safe space you have, but it can deeply, mentally and emotionally harm you. I think for trans people and for people of color, especially black people right now in America — you can be scrolling casually through Facebook or Twitter, only to just constantly see stories and videos of people like you getting murdered for who they are. Who you are. We’re all constantly having to process death.”
Xavier’s lyrics and performance are a big part of what make Primal Rite stand out in the crowded field of modern hardcore. However, the contributions from their bandmates are important as well. Driven by the dual-guitar onslaught of Jake Dudley and Jason Brownstein, as well as the powerful rhythm section of bassist Max Wickham and drummer Jeremy Meier, Dirge Of Escapism not only hits hard but brings memorable riffs to a genre that can sometimes get quite repetitive. The metallic tinges that shine through in Primal Rite’s music are reflected in the thrash-style artwork that graces their new LP, and the band definitely flirts with the “crossover” tag that’s been applied to similar-sounding Texas band Power Trip. However, Primal Rite’s sound is more definitively rooted in tough-guy hardcore, retaining the strong emphasis on slow, heavy mosh breakdowns that dominates that genre.
Thankfully, Primal Rite’s songcraft keeps them from blending in with the mediocre pack. Breakdowns are always smoothly integrated into their musical surroundings — no awkward transitions here — while complex fast parts utilize unusual time signatures in order to keep the listener guessing. Xavier’s vocals are so powerful that they seem to overdrive the mic, even as the guitars are so strongly distorted that they cover the entire album in a layer of blown-out fuzz — which, of course, only makes the whole thing hit that much harder.
Primal Rite are just one of five hardcore bands taking the stage at Strange Matter tonight, but they’re easily the most interesting group on the bill, and worth the price of admission all by themselves. This early all ages show starts at 5 PM, and Primal Rite are second on the bill, so show up on time. Admission is $12, and tickets can be purchased here. Strange Matter is located at 929 W. Grace St. For more info, click here.
Top photo by Wane Ballard, courtesy Revelation Records