One never forgets their first Pedal Strike show. The high-velocity Los Angeles bike-punk quartet throw down a supercharged sound — taut, dynamic, intense — but vocalist Gnarly Charly routinely elevates the proceedings to stunningly astral heights. Without missing a beat, he’ll produce a piece of paper from his pocket, fold it into an origami headdress, pull a small wooden crate from behind an amp and proceed to go through a series of gravity-defying handstands before slipping offstage for a course of spectacular backflips across the dance floor.
It’s downright stupefying and quite unlike any other rock & roll presentation in the music’s history — this side of the Nicholas Brothers. As astonishing as this acrobatic prowess is, the manner in which the songs and performance flow, flawlessly uninterrupted, is equally impressive. Each player remains in perfect synchronization with Charly’s never-the-same-stunt-twice methodology.
It’s the result of a long-standing, profoundly intimate mutual bond.
”At rehearsal we can play for hours and nobody says a word,” Charly says. “There’s no need to. We’ve all known each other since we were young kids, playing backyard shows in Highland Park, I was 14 or 15, had a band called It’s the Vermin, and [guitarist] OT had a band called Disrot. We’d play shows together but that scene died, it faded away. So we were all riding bikes, started a club called Iron Horse, and we were all hanging out and just decided to start a new band, and make it about bikes and the revolution.”
An avowed anarchist and activist who teaches acrobatics as an instructor for the Department of Recreation & Parks' kids gymnastics pilot program, Gnarly Charly is a man of kaleidoscopic, unlimited capabilities, fueled by an acute rebel conscience. And the band, which largely eschews social media and favors word-of-mouth, represents a singular, street-level sociocultural force that’s as humble and genuine as it is creative and subversive.
The revolution rolls on with their latest recording, the Sidewalk Surfing EP, a walloping little disc that buzzes with Pedal Strike’s characteristic brand of stripped-down punk insurrection, all put across with a psychedelic tinge, a twist of East Bay Ray’s angular elegance and a heap of “Let’s Go Trippin’”–era Dick Dale bite thrown in. It’s a luminous, vibrant sound, born of freewheeling after-hours merrymaking in Northeast Los Angeles’ shadowy back alleys and freight yards.
“There is a little Dick Dale and Agent Orange in there, but we put all that through our own grinder and it comes out as Pedal Strike,” Charly says. “The new EP has five songs, it’s a whole package illustrated by yours truly — we made it so you can read it while the songs play, like a zine for your eyes and a mixtape for your ears. Like when we play, you hear it but you have to watch us; we really give you both. You can’t catch us with headphones; you have to get it at the shows.”
Like Dale’s stated aim to re-create the sensation of surfing through his explosive guitar style, Pedal Strike’s music has a representational physicality that’s spread across a multilevel platform, using message, fashion (Charly tailors his own wardrobe), sound and presentation. It’s an exhilarating, stylish, unusual and highly effective approach.
“At rehearsal we can play for hours and nobody says a word,” Charly says. “There’s no need to. It’s incredible — we have our own roomful of sound. The idea is to romanticize the bicycle and people who ride. I like to call it traffic punk. I have to release what’s inside, it’s not healthy to keep it in — and it doesn’t hurt if the boys play some tunes that make you shake your ass.”
Pedal Strike cover a broad spectrum of music, all of it sleek, fast-moving and markedly original, and they mix and match it with a dizzying fluidity.
“We have 23 songs now and a lot of the older stuff is a lot harder, much heavier,” Charly says. “We don’t break those out too much, really, unless I want to dance more. We are constantly reinventing our sound and our stage show, so you never know what to expect, but you can know that if you come out it’s going to be fun.”
The music is terrific and the stage show is unparalleled but it’s the entire 10-speed aesthetic and insurgent philosophy of the band that fascinates.
“My bike is the bow. I am the arrow — and the target I’m aiming at is conformity,” Charly says. “A ‘pedal strike’ is that moment where you almost go down, when you take a curve and the pedal hits the ground. It can either fuck you up or you can pull it off and continue riding. This music is the same — you either hit the brake and fall down or maintain your balance and keep going. It’s all about keeping balance, hold that pitch. Stay true.”
Pedal Strike appear at Cafe NELA on Sat., April 21, 9 p.m.