My relationship with Code Orange Kids started with a t-shirt. A t-shirt a friend wore all of South by Southwest in 2011. It was a special year. A lot of special shows happened in small spaces, dupstep bars and pizza shops with an open window. Then a few months after I heard Embrace Me // Erase Me, I was on board. It was as violent as Trash Talk and contained a visceral snarl all Majority Rule and Converge. Then came Cycles, twice as long as the former and coated in new tricks, blends of harmony, sharper changes. Of all the passion and forward thinking that was brewing in the hardcore scene at the moment, Code Orange Kids stuck out. Within a year, four young kids, one a long time member of AbsolutePunk, were the biggest buzzed about hardcore band almost a year after seeing that shirt. In 2012, I watched as they tore a pizza parlor apart. Beer on the ground, miscommunication that almost started a fight, and a thrown mic, and me telling drummer Jami Morgan to put some fucking pants and t-shirt on after blasting through an intense 15-minute set.
As I housed the band this past South by Southwest, they were planning studio time with Kurt Ballou, and you could read the excitement across their faces. It's an excitement I've seen in a lot of faces as of the last few years. It's warming. They talked about ideas, about how this industry should work, and what they're going to do, and what's probably going to happen in reality. As I was sitting across the room from them, sick as a dog, already exhausted from two days of the festival, the band was gearing up to leave for something like their fifth show of the week, only beaten by my other roommates for the week, Former Thieves.
Here we are months later. So much short running releases, now Code Orange Kids had to showcase an LP. Holding someone's attention for 15 minutes is one thing, try at least 30. On Love is Love // Return to Dust, the band have taken the best elements of their two songs off their split with Full of Hell and melded them into magnificent long form. Hearing "Liars // Trudge" out of context of the album says a lot. It didn't sound right on first listen. But follow it with the harmonious "Colors (Into Nothing)" featuring Adam Mcllwee of Tigers Jaw and it's drainage into the harsh textures of "Nothing (The Rat)," and "sense" is clearly made. Writing a group of songs that flow together is one thing, but having them connect into the body of an album is few and far between these days.
A lot of people want to call Code Orange Kids the next Converge. I can see that. I feel like critics will cite Jane Doe in their work in upcoming reviews. I can hear and feel that. The final three songs of the album cement that notion. But I've been wondering who will ever take the next step after Fear Before the March of Flames really deconstructed brash hardcore with The Always Open Mouth. It hit me when I heard "IV (MY MIND IS A PRISON)" earlier this year. It's more than apparent in the thread and dirty needle of Love is Love // Return to Dust. 2012 has been an amazing year for hardcore, and this is the way it needs to be capped off. There are bands giving new harmonies to the genre in albums like Our Home is a Deathbed and Blame & Aging and I've Lost Everything. Then you've got hammers of anguish and hurt in I.V. and You, Me, and the Violence and the upcoming Real Spite. Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, along with Mountain Man's II and Sohns' Ripe/Rot, lies Code Orange Kids' debut full-length. It's emotional, it's unforgiving and most importantly, it's thought provoking and contains forward thinking in a genre that is often scoffed at for its misogyny and violent behavior shown by some that ruin it for many. The challenge has been set by a number of bands this year and 2013 is going to be the next big step. Native. Former Thieves. Caravels.
Whenever I go to a small show and see an up and coming band, a few questions always circle my head. No greater question has circled my head more lately than the authenticity of any sort of new music that I hear. For some of you, right now, you know EXACTLY what I mean, and for the others, I'm going to explain myself. Trends generally start as an authentic thing. A couple of people get together, tell society to fuck off and then do their thing. Gradually, a sea of assholes say, "Hey! I can do that!" They pat themselves on the back, steer their lifestyle in that general direction and eventually latch onto something new as time moves on. It's why "waves" of bands exist. By the fourth and fifth wave, we've heard it, seen it and are pretty sick and tired of it. Not only does the product not sound original, it's just taking direct cues from ones that came before - instead of mixing in new ideas.
This has been the up and down with music for years - and in the punk scene in particular. Thanks to the oh so wonderful Internet, it's easier than ever to grasp an idea and make it your own fruition - simply coloring between the lines. When one thing is beginning to get big, you have to wonder where that line will eventually get drawn as to who's in it to do their own thing, and who's in it to ride the wave of others' success.
Thursday night I drove down to San Antonio to see Xerxes and Code Orange Kids on their winter tour. Xerxes' upcoming album is one my most anticipated of 2012. I've yet to receive an advance (ahem) but the tracks I've heard thus far and the feedback from a few other bands which have heard it is pretty overwhelming. Then there's Code Orange Kids, a band that could be one of the biggest in the hardcore and thrash scene by the end of the year. They're young, and talking with them on Thursday night, they're also very ambitious - and ambitious to take the right steps. Their live show, like Xerxes, is no bullshit game. They're both emotional trainwrecks. Code Orange Kids blows out your eardrums in intense fury while Xerxes violently grabs at your heartstrings. It just feels real. Match that to seeing Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) and Dowsing at a club in the worst part of Austin or The Reptilian and my friends in Innards play a shed (yes, a shed) a couple of nights later - and it just feels like all these things are happening for the right reasons.
This is one of the most exciting times for punk music, but it's also the scariest. There's a lot of "worship" happening - and I'm not saying that it's bad to take an old tune and spin it into something that's your own (not everyone has to reinvent the wheel), I'm just saying that it's statistically impossible for everyone to standout. For every local band that gets moderately big, there are ten local bands that want to do that exact same thing. Not everyone can make it - and most of you will fail in the process.
The cycle is coming back around, and there are going to be a lot of cookie-cutter bands in the next few years that follow - this I promise you. It's already happening with the music just on a local level. Then someone will buy in, and it'll turn into a complete clusterfuck of no one giving a shit. Then there will be bands trying to do something that's not that, until we come full circle to a couple of years like the last two we just had. So head this warning: It is certainly an exciting time to be in a band. I feel like the rock star thing is dead (Thanks Dangerous Summer!) and kids want to be genuine about the music they make. For the most part, they want to do it right. That's a great start. There's no telling how long you will last in this business. The best thing you can do is leave even the smallest legacy on a 7" split or have your only proper full length be something that slightly changes the tide and is held as something special by people who may matter more down the line.
Someone told me something so simple, but verbally slapped some knowledge across my face leaving a mark that is a partial reason I wrote this blog. It's easy to be a follower. There's no thought, and anyone can follow anything. It's harder to be a leader. It's harder to get someone to listen to what you have to say and follow accordingly. Love'em or hate'em, those people are doing more with a week's worth of work than you may do in a year. Be a leader, have integrity and ask yourself if you're setting a precedent or notch in the bigger picture. That's what punk rock is about - the following part is why many people say it's dead. Let's fucking prove them wrong.