Sergio Amalfitano sings for ACxDC, short for Antichrist Demoncore and unrelated to the Australian hard-rock band. The group plays an underground strain of hardcore punk called powerviolence, and he's crafted their aesthetic and ethos: a strange blend of veganism, straight-edge and Satanism, if you can believe that, rounded out with dark humor.
Amalfitano is 28 and from Sylmar, a first-generation Argentine-American who is married with twin infant daughters. Slight of stature and build, he's going a little thin on top and has an infectious smile. It would be enough to make him a pinup candidate — if he weren't in a scene with approximately four guys for every lady.
Today, the band tears it up at their practice space, a garage behind their bassist's parents' house in La Puente, a San Gabriel Valley city that's 80 percent Hispanic. "I kind of hate L.A.," Amalfitano says with a laugh. "I like the suburbs. Everything is so cramped and gray in L.A." Few would call La Puente affluent, but its lawns are mowed, its cars washed and its in-ground pools crystal clear.
But these calm surroundings somehow seem inappropriate for this five-piece, all of whom (other than Amalfitano) are Mexican. After all, the group has earned a reputation for driving hardcore audiences into a dog-piling, stage-diving frenzy. Playing backyards, basements and other semi-legal venues, their typical shows boast a mélange of young, mostly Latino, male limbs, twisted in rage, stomping their way through rowdy mosh pits.
"I tell everyone to move up and get close when we play," Amalfitano says. "[But] the pit might intimidate new kids because they don't feel welcome or they don't want to get hit."
In Ohio, one audience member was punching any inanimate object he could find until his knuckles ripped open. "He was bleeding all over the place," Amalfitano says. "We were all sprinkled with this guy's blood."
Amalfitano riles the audiences to their own white-hot chaos, leading by example. "Our bassist's brother gave me five bucks to play a show naked," he says. He came out in a T-shirt loincloth that quickly disappeared, and brags about smacking a friend in the face with his junk while stage-diving.
Born in the late 1980s, with its roots in various parts of California, powerviolence is distinguished by ultra-fast tempos, shouted vocals and dirgy breakdowns, and is equally accommodating to both cholo thuggery and goofy pop-culture jokes à la punk progenitors The Dictators. ACxDC rule the new wave of young performers right now. A typical show draws a few hundred, while their performance at 2012's Gnarmageddon Fest — a hardcore event in Santa Ana — topped 600.
Formed in 2003 while they were still in high school, ACxDC's original incarnation petered out; Amalfitano and founding bassist Jeff Aldape, 26, got things going again in 2010. The band's popularity has grown since reuniting, which is understandable: They're insanely tight at intense speeds under which lesser bands would fold. It's an eclectic brand of powerviolence, harkening back to hardcore's first wave, the late-'80s New York scene and the mid-aughts' "bandana thrash" movement, with its many Latino followers. ACxDC have three EPs under their belt, two of them on Raleigh, N.C.'s independent To Live a Lie Records.
With an average song length of 30 seconds, ACxDC's 17 recorded tunes amount to about 10 minutes of music. No matter. Their records sell through small runs of 500 quickly, sometimes in less than two weeks.
Part of the group's appeal is their image, which is confrontational, to say the least. The cover of 2005's He Had It Coming features a Vietnamese cop shooting a crucified Christ, and even their name plays in. "If you say it without the 'x,' you're talking about the band who do 'Highway to Hell,' " Amalfitano notes. Sometimes they'll say the initials in their moniker stand for things like "All Cows Die Cruelly" (a shout-out to Amalfitano's veganism) or "Anti-Cop Dorner Crew."
"The Dorner Crew thing really pissed people off," he says, noting that they printed up a T-shirt featuring a picture of murderous renegade ex-cop Christopher Dorner. "It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but people get offended. ... Half the time the shit I do that offends people doesn't seem like a big deal to me."
"The shirts are kind of jokes," puts in guitarist Aldo Felix, who is 23, from the San Fernando Valley, and the band's newest member.
Much like Anton LaVey's early Church of Satan, founded in 1966 in San Francisco, which bashed Christian morality using offbeat humor designed to alienate squares, ACxDC is equal parts social commentary, inside joke and clever self-promotion. Take songs like "Joke's on You," which decries prescription drug abuse ("No matter your celebrity wealth/You face death and personal hell") or the environmentally aware "Death Spare Not the Tiger."
While other songs are less contemplative — such as "Wookies Have Feelings Too" and "Jack's Trippin'," about Three's Company — "We Kill Christians" has been assumed to be about, well, killing Christians. "It was basically meant to be, like, 'Oh, look at how satanic we are!'" Amalfitano says. Lyrics such as "We kill Christians/We're satanic/Fuck religion" were something of an inside joke, but many missed the punch line.
"I don't call myself a Satanist, but I agree with a lot of what LaVey says, like being against drug use," says Amalfitano, who like Felix is straight-edge. He describes his personal philosophy as "individualist, anarchist," adding: "My Satanism is a [casual] Satanism. It's like a high school kid drawing an upside-down cross."
At West Covina High, Amalfitano wore black jeans and T-shirts. He wasn't overtly punk but he was a bit of a troublemaker. After 9/11, he and his twin brother got into arguments with "jocks" over praying for America in school, which the two of them opposed.
Today, a big part of what makes the group who they are is their merch. They've sold everything from a ski mask with the medieval symbol for Lucifer to baby bibs and prayer candles. The band's most controversial item? iPhone cases. "We made 12 and sold them at cost," Amalfitano says. "People were pissed." (Apparently iPhones aren't punk.)
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Amalfitano conceptualizes and commissions the merch himself; he prefers gear that's useful to both straight-edge and non–straight-edge kids alike. "We make cozies, because you can use those for beer and soda. I wouldn't make an ashtray, but I'd make an incense burner that could double as an ashtray." He gets all of ACxDC's merch from a screen-printing company, Grimoire Printing in San Fernando, which he owns with his brother-in-law and where he works full-time.
ACxDC's goods for sale are part of the reason Internet detractors groups complain that the band is all style and no substance. Ill-informed haters speculate that they're getting rich off merch, but all of the group members still work day jobs. In fact, they run a brisk merch business in part so that they don't have to get corporate sponsorship, like so many other groups these days.
"DIY is why a lot of people get into punk," Amalfitano says.
In any case, they certainly don't mind the misconceptions. "Punk-rock bands are supposed to piss normal people off," Felix says. "If you're a punk band pissing off punks, you're doing something right."