The first day of Berserktown on Friday was Babylon for underground music freaks. The fledgling festival's venue Los Globos felt like a place where no security guards or gentrifiers could extinguish the fire created by hardcore and noise artists from all over the country.
L.A. may have shut down the East 7th and the Church on York spaces earlier this year, but Berserktown was a giant middle finger to the establishment — but one that was completely legal. There's already talk of part two. But for now, we're still recovering from the first day. Here are some notes on our favorite sets:
8:30 p.m. (based on listed set times)
Bed Bugs are a hardcore band from Mentone Beach. They usually play biker bars and DIY venues. At Berserktown, the lead singer performed his entire set on the faded linoleum tiles of Los Globos. He could be seen grabbing the occasional onlooker and using their shirt like a horse collar, tossing them across the soaked floor and stepping on them for good measure.
At one point, during a hardcore attack that included skin-curdling screams, he impaled his face with the microphone and licked the blood dripping from his brow. He then walked up to someone's dad and cleaned his bloody forehead on his shirt—ramming the poor fool directly into a wall of giggling teens. Everyone had a laugh.
Kansas City's Dirty Work sounded like a Germs-inspired hardcore band that belongs in a basement. Unleashing them upon Silver Lake was like watching a starving coyote walk into a room full of poodles.
At one point, the lead singer took off his pants and revealed his bare ass. He then began to bait members of the crowd into a brawling circle pit. A few of them began to use satin pillows to pummel him into the ground. Someone eventually lifted the mutant lead singer and body-slammed him onto the floor, which resulted in him singing on his back for a moment—like Darby Crash, too high to remain upright. They nearly stole the show.
NASA Space Universe
“Can we hurt each other a little bit more?” asked Kevin Rhea, the lead singer of NASA Space Universe—a hardcore band originally from Santa Ana now based in L.A. On cue, the water bottles began to fly, and Rhea yelled over the barrage of noise being created behind him.
Like Dirty Work, NASA's sound was throwback, inspired by '80s hardcore. But they were more purposeful in their delivery; drawing the crowd in, spitting in their faces, and making them question reality with weird sci-fi speeches. The whole time, Rhea looked like he was going to blow a gasket.
L.A.'s Blazing Eye brought the show back onto the stage. But that doesn't mean things got any less nihilistic. With their bass player wearing a leather bondage mask, they played a song called “Kill You,” which sounded like it was dedicated to the LAPD.
Or maybe not? It didn't really matter, nothing mattered as their lead singer bounced around the stage to tribal-punk-drumming that showcased his rabid stage presence. Blazing Eye proved to be the night's second most hardcore experience—the first was Dawn of Humans.
Dawn of Humans
New York's mutant punk army invaded the West Coast for the first time at Berskertown. Considered one of the best bands in the hardcore scene, Dawn of Humans are also known for their NSFW stage show, which on this particular night included their lead singer wrapping his penis with what looked like a plant that was recently purchased at Home Depot.
Using duct tape to hold it all together, Dawn of Humans proceeded to play a set that included partially-muted roars, followed by screeching drilling noise that stunned the crowd. Emil Bognar-Nasdor, their lead singer, then screamed like a hyena over D-beat and hardcore aggression. It was a massive performance, and those who dove into the pit paid the price with sneakers to the jaw.
John Denney, leader singer of the Weirdos, kept distorting his facial features to look like a giant rodent. It was grotesque (especially up close), but it's part of his DNA. He's the leader of a first-wave L.A. punk band, a pioneer of the scene that started it all in the '70s, and a legend. He performed wearing a “Viva Mexico” t-shirt, a German army cap, and weightlifting gloves. It made no sense.
But he wasn't there to compete with the hardcore bands. The Weirdos provided a laid-back set, which included nostalgic sing-alongs to “We Got the Neutron Bomb.” It was a nice interlude to Destruction Unit, the most mind-blowing set of the night.
Arizona's Destruction Unit not only had Emil from Dawn of Humans on drums, but two more drummers, not to mention three guitar players, a bass player, and a collective noise-making crew that brewed space punk with elements of psychedelia, noise, and grunge. It was controlled aggression executed perfectly.
While lead singer and guitarist Ryan Rousseau used various pedals to create feedback, guitarists Nick Nappa and Jes Aurelius violently swung their guitars around like they were having sex with their instruments. Aurelius, with his sunglasses on, looked like he was experiencing a psychedelic trip.
Even after the house lights came on following various technical difficulties, everyone stuck around to see a rare appearance by Bay Area legends Chrome, a '70s acid-punk band that has evolved over the years into something much more complex. Lead singer and composer Helios Creed, who looked like the grim reaper disguised as a detective, is often credited for pioneering industrial music. But at Berserktown, he struggled to communicate with his band, and at times seemed frustrated that he couldn't hear his guitar. It was unfortunate, and it took about 30 minutes before Chrome was playing a proper song.
I used the opportunity to head towards the exit—where I ran into an old-school punk who is friends with various members of the Hell's Angels. The stout roadie-looking dude told me he was there to see Dawn of Humans. We bumped fists, traded a few war stories (his involved beating people up), and headed home. I'm just glad I didn't run into him during Dawn of Humans.