The mutants descended on Superchief Gallery in downtown Los Angeles like insurgents from across the hilltop. Their smashing drums shuddered through the warehouse space, while electronic noise whipped up against throaty raps and chest-pumping screams. Audience members responded with chaos: flailing limbs, colliding bodies, delirious smiles. Some took spills against the cold pavement floor, only to jump right back up and rejoin the pit.
It was a recent Saturday night, and ho99o9 were in communion once again with their tribe.
Hardcore punk has gone through innumerable permutations since the heyday of Bad Brains and Black Flag. With each generation, musicians find new ways to push the sound to greater extremes. Now, ho99o9 — whose name is pronounced "horror" — are taking the latest step in hardcore's evolutionary process. Their music features noise and rap, but their anti-establishment, postconformist ethos is 100 percent punk rock.
"We're neutral, man," says Jean, aka theOGM, who founded the duo with bandmate Eaddy. "No masters. No fucking bosses. No gods. No nuthin'. We don't fuck with none of that shit."
The triple 9s in the ho99o9 name are meant to signify an inverted 666 — "999" being an emblem of dispassion toward ideologies and doctrines of all stripes. But of course, in this day and age, it's pretty hard to live completely outside the norm, especially if you're an ambitious band looking to build some notoriety.
Eaddy and theOGM hail from New Jersey, but they moved to L.A. late last year, where they've built a steady cult following on the strength of their volatile sound and spectacular live show. In recent months they've been working with a management team, and they're making plans to play Warped Tour, set up tour dates in Europe and drop a debut LP later this year.
Lately they've been joined by drummer Ian Longwell, who also plays and DJs for Santigold. The duo apparently have other collaborators in the wings, though theOGM won't name them all. "Just know that we got an army," he says, "different factors of the whole ho99o9 brand."
Brand? Not all chaotic bands prove sustainable, but clearly this is one with goals.
A week before the Superchief Gallery show, the pair meet up for an interview at their management team's offices downtown. Sitting on a red leather sofa, theOGM and Eaddy make for a freaky yin-yang pairing. TheOGM, 29, is like a character out of an industrial fetish fairy tale, rocking an enormous blue wig and a straitjacket — yes, like a mental patient might wear, only more fashionable, with black fabric and shiny padlocks fastened across the front. As for Eaddy, 26, he's a punk-rock bruiser with his studded vest and heavy-duty shitkickers.
Ho99o9 haven't put out a whole lot of music, but recent three-song Mutant Freax EP gives an idea of how they roll. On the first two tracks, they do all they can to make the listener uncomfortable, slowing the BPMs to a crawl while conjuring ghoulish synths and demonic, Tyler, the Creator–style rhymes. But then they turn around and knock you in the head with "Hated in Amerika," an anti-police anthem driven by pummeling riffs and feral screams run through a delay processor.
The duo's schizophrenic sound clearly owes a lot to incendiary acts such as Odd Future, Clipping. and Death Grips, and sometimes the touchstones are a little too on-the-nose. But if anything, ho99o9 feel strongly rooted in vintage hardcore. Like Black Flag, theOGM and Eaddy have a penchant for fast tempos but also slow, oppressive brutality. And like D.C. hardcore pioneers Bad Brains, they're elbowing their way into a predominantly white genre, remaking it to reflect their own passions and interests.
Oh, and Eaddy also does a mean back flip — just like Bad Brains frontman H.R.
"I've been doing back flips since I was a kid," Eaddy says. "I grew up in the 'hood, so there was always a fucking mattress outside waiting to be fuckin' thrown away. And as kids, we would take the mattress and jump on it, do WWF moves on it, and eventually it was like, 'Oh, let's try some flips.'"
Eaddy and theOGM both grew up in Jersey — Eaddy in Newark and Union; theOGM, the son of Haitian immigrants, in Elizabeth and Linden — and like many black kids in the area, they were reared not on punk but on hip-hop: DMX, Ja Rule, Bone Thugs. But around the late '00s, they started venturing out to DIY spaces in New York City to check out ultra-raw bands such as Hoax and Dawn of Humans, and that's how they were exposed to the wonders of the pit.
"I'd get a crazy adrenaline rush to be in a mosh pit or dive offstage," Eaddy says. "I just loved the fucking chaos. People falling on top of each other, kicked in the head. It's like a beautiful badness."
Occasionally things got out of hand — at one show, somebody chucked a keg across the room, hitting a girl in the face and sending her to the hospital. Still, the shows gave Eaddy and theOGM an appreciation for performers who go the extra mile. Today, for all their love for rap music, they still get frustrated when MCs rap along to their recorded vocal tracks onstage.
"That's one of our pet peeves, yo. I hate that shit," theOGM says. "If you call yourself a performer, you gotta earn that right, man. You gotta go up there and work. That shit is work. You gotta actually perform the songs, the lyrics."
Around that time they rolled with a crew of friends dubbed the NJ Street Klan (aka the Jersey Klan), and it wasn't long before the crew was bringing the free-for-all punk vibe to its own shows. It was a challenge getting New Yorkers to take the PATH train across the Hudson, but apparently it was worth the ride, as a wildly diverse crowd — college kids, ravers, gangbangers and more — came out to see crazy bills featuring bands and rappers alike.
Salomon Anaya, who at the time ran a gallery space in downtown Newark called Submerged Art, says the Jersey Klan would often throw shows on the space's third floor. With no security or rules to worry about, parties would rage till dawn.
"I used to be upstairs working sometimes, or downstairs just filming some things," Anaya recalls. "I'd just hear glass break all the time and I was like, 'Oh, there goes the other window.'"
Today, ho99o9 bring that same anarchic spirit to their live shows. At the Superchief Gallery, theOGM and Eaddy egged on the crowd with screams and chants and ventured into the pit. The crowd was happy to give back — sometimes literally, as when someone flung a bra at Eaddy, who promptly strapped it across his chest.
Ho99o9 champion a mutant music, with divergent styles colliding to make something new. In order to really make this work, they need to give that extra push to the crowd. Only then can various tribes truly come together, in pain and glory, forever entangled in the blessed and eternal swirl of the pit.
"If you're gonna create this kind of music, when you perform it you have to dish it out that way," theOGM says. "Because how else are they going to fucking believe it?"
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Note: An earlier version of this article listed theOGM and Eaddy's full names. At the band's request, those have been removed.