Originally published in Plan B magazine, January 2009 – www.planbmag.com/shop
DeSalvo’s take on proggy, technical metalcore is relentlessly full-sounding. Their debut, last year’s Mood Poisoner, tightly demonstrated their abilities: joyfully nasty riffs driven by vocals and drums that conspire like bullies. But with titles like ‘Cock Swastika’, and cover art portraying crying, ball-gagged nuns, DeSalvo are not drawing from standard metal iconography.
“Like a lot of gay men I’m inspired by gay reference points, like (filmmaker Rainer Werner) Fassbinder and (genius writer and quasi-fascist insurrectionary Yukio) Mishima,” elaborates DeSalvo’s ebulliently friendly frontman P6. “Literary and cinematic reference points. But honestly, apart from Sylvester and gay disco, I really have a problem with queer guys in rock, because a lot of the people who label themselves like that are some of the most derivative and least interesting and creative people. There are queer people in music who inspire me, are like Klaus Nomi, out queer people like Jayne County and Coil, trans people like Genesis P Orridge. But within rock music, we’ve always been pretty fucking lame, to be honest, from what I’ve experienced. My inspiration comes from stuff outside and outwith that scene.”
“As a band there are lots of post hardcore bands we all admire, like Helmet or Jesus Lizard, but also more technical and conceptual stuff like Mastodon or Meshuggah,” says Alan Stewart (guitar). “This record is an amalgam of the music we’ve made together since 2001 – ish, though there are a couple of much newer songs.”
“I’m not sure it’s possible to take the record on its own merits without understanding how we perform,” says P6. “We recorded the album live for a reason. In a sense, recorded music has become kind of dead and irrelevant, and hopefully the trade-off is that live music and experiences are gonna become much more profound, much more interesting and much more participative. Streaming sound files and downloading stuff is so fucking passive. Sure, like tape culture it’s freed up lots of music, and tape culture has been central to some radical movements, especially hardcore, but eventually it just becomes part of commerce.”
DeSalvo’s live shows are not only riveting – watching the band tackle their stop-start technical multi-riffs without pause for breath while P6 dons leather butcher’s apron and pig snout to lapdance the moshpit is not your average metal show – but also radical in intent. P6’s take on crowd interaction completely changes the standard power dynamic of metal, making the norm visible by disputing it; suddenly there is palpable tension, social mechanics grinding. Some literally run away. “When we play metal shows – like when we supported Converge – it can be odd,” agrees Alan. “You’re up against the black t-shirt brigades, and they’re quite narrowminded. They’re intimidated by the fact that our singer is gay. They like the music, it’s harsh enough for them, they start moshing or whatever, then [P6] starts doing his thing and they don’t know what to do with themselves. You know, in metal you’ve usually got these guys onstage, screaming and yelling confrontational stuff, but always from the supposition that men in the audience can identify with them. You know, they can raise their fists or give the devil sign or whatever to show that they are on the side of the confronter. That doesn’t actually challenge them at all. This is different. They are being confronted in a way they can’t avoid.”
“Yeah, I’m the Uncle Monty of metal,” jokes P6. “It’s quite a standard surrealist technique, to turn power structures on their heads. But it works. I love the male reaction, that discomfort and shame. Usually women are very comfortable and amused and completely get it. Men tend to get very uncomfortable and leave, or sometimes they try to take the piss. A boy started shouting at me, telling me how sexy I was, and I really didn’t believe a 43 year old obese man was his type. Or when you saw us play at Stereo, that was the night I got a beer thrown in my face. It obviously pushes buttons.
“I think seeing guys losing a bit of power at gigs is something quite exciting, because I don’t think men understand how fucking privileged they are in those spaces, how they control those spaces in lots of ways. And women are, either through the music, or the way it’s set up, or through force of numbers, expected to be submissive in those spaces. That’s part of what I’m playing with. Hopefully it gives men permission to be different. Put on a ski mask and jump around, be a gimp for a night – don’t just stand around with your arms folded, just asserting that you own the space, that’s really boring.”
Mood Poisoner is out now on Rock Action.