Left: Beto O'Rourke with Foss.
Right: Virginia House of Delegates legislator Danica Roem with her guitar.

Hey Right-Wing Jagoffs, Being a Punk Doesn't Make You a Bad Politician

Republicans trying to smear U.S. Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke for his rocker past are way off the mark (also, peep new tunes from Mantar, False Flag, Ruminant, and more).

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Aug 30 2018, 9:25pm

Left: Beto O'Rourke with Foss.
Right: Virginia House of Delegates legislator Danica Roem with her guitar.

Virginia House of Delegates legislator Danica Roem —who I profiled for Noisey before her historic run (and win!) unseated the Virginia legislature’s “chief homophobe,” Bob Marshall—is a lifelong metalhead, having gotten into the genre 20 years ago when she was 14, and has been playing in metal bands for well over a decade. She’s as obsessed with Swedish melodic death metal as she is committed to improving her local community and passing legislation to expand Medicaid access to Northern Virginians, and makes no apologies for her musical preferences; in fact, throughout her entire campaign, she made it a point to talk about her love for metal and her Dean Warbird guitar in general.

So it makes perfect sense to see her coming to the defense of Beto O’Rourke, a progressive three-term Democratic congressman gunning for depraved religious extremist blobfish-slash-Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s Senate seat, when O’Rourke was attacked on Twitter by the Texas GOP for the unimaginable sin of… playing in a punk band in the 90s.

The backstory here is that, earlier this month, O’Rourke refused to debate Cruz, rejecting the invitation because Cruz’s campaign apparently insisted upon choosing the time, place, moderators and discussion topics. O’Rourke is currently nipping at Cruz’s heels in terms of poll numbers, and the contest is getting heated. Cruz’s campaign was unhappy with this turn of events, and, in a fit of pique, whoever runs the party’s Twitter decided that tweeting an old band photo of O’Rourke looking like an extremely cool rock guy whose cheekbones and wispy ponytail were sculpted by the angels themselves was some sort of colossal own. Instead, the internet buzzed with the kinetic energy of a thousand music bloggers frantically looking up old videos from said band, Foss, which was a seminal post-hardcore outfit who served as an early launching pad for Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s music career in At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta (Rolling Stone unearthed a jammy, lo-fi track off the band's The El Paso Pussycats EP if you're curious).

They also tweeted an old mugshot from O’Rourke’s college days (when he was arrested twice, once for trespassing and once for driving drunk; the first charge was dropped and the second one dismissed) and a photo of him holding a skateboard, a devastating reveal that would’ve probably hit a bit harder had a charming video of the congressman skating around a Whataburger parking lot not gone viral recently. The party’s efforts to paint O’Rourke as an untrustworthy, no-good slacker backfired spectacularly, especially when his supporters began tweeting photos of his opponent from the same time period.

Spoiler alert: Ted Cruz has always looked like a fucking narc, and now we have tangible evidence that he has never, ever been cool, even before he embarked upon his horrific quest to rob America’s women, people of color, poor and working class people of all their rights, liberty, and autonomy. Good job, Texas GOP! Now we know that Beto O’Rourke is friends with literal rockstars and loves Minor Threat, while, in addition to being pure unadulterated fundamentalist evil, Ted Cruz was a fucking mime.

The more sobering implication here, beneath all the tomfoolery and nuclear takes, is this perception that being a musician—particularly a rock musician—somehow disqualifies one from participating in civic life, holding public office, or being a “real” adult. That offensive kernel is what prompted Roem to fire back on Twitter, saying “Hey, @BetoORourke: You know what happens when you get attacked in your campaign for being in a band? You get sworn in the following January and then vote in May to expand access to quality, affordable health insurance for hundreds of thousands of people in your state. #RockOn,” juxtaposed with photos of herself with her guitar, at her swearing in ceremony, and her vote to expand Medicaid to 400,000 uninsured Virginians, helping to make quality, affordable health insurance available to 3,800 of her uninsured constituents.

New York City Councilor Justin Brannan (who is also the guitarist for legendary New York hardcore bands Indecision and Most Precious Blood) followed suit, posting, “Hey @BetoORourke. Haters gonna hate. Demagogues gonna dog whistle. That just means you're winning. They did it to me, too,” alongside photos of him onstage, and him speaking about his first bill passed into law, which brought opioid awareness education to NYC public schools. In a nice twist of fate, both legislators were elected on the same day—November 7, 2017—and Roem has fond memories of seeing Most Precious Blood shred at the 2004 New England Metal and Hardcore Fest.

“What Rep. O’Rourke’s attackers failed to understand is in their attempt to imply he’s not a serious candidate is that those who perform music skillfully are resilient, driven, dedicated to their craft, listen well and come up with creative solutions to prevent and overcome problems,” Roem told Noisey over email. “The attackers also fail to understand that we have existing precedent for hard-rocking musicians performing well in office. Last year, I never ran away from any of my identifiers while campaigning on substance—traffic, jobs, schools, health care, equality, land use and government accountability. This year, I followed through by submitting legislation to do exactly what I campaigned on last year, and the votes I cast were in line with those values too.”

She continued: “Bottom line: If you’re well qualified and you have good ideas, bring them to the table because this is your America too and it’s time for you to run it, no matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship if you do, who you love or how you rock. Go run. Go win. Go serve. And keep on rocking.”

As Noisey has reported previously, there are plenty of precedents even outside of Roem and Brannan’s victories for metal and punk musicians to trade the stage for the podium. Taiwanese parliamentarian, founder of the New Power Party (NPP), and former chair of Amnesty International Taiwan Freddy Lim also sings in the legendary Taiwanese metal band Chthonic. Gylve Fenris Nagell (better known as Fenriz, drummer of iconic Norwegian black metallers Darkthrone) sits on the city council at home in Kolbotn, Norway. Indonesian President Joko Widodo is a massive grindcore fan, while UK Shadow Justice Secretary and East Leeds MP Richard Burgon prefers Iron Maiden.

“I would say the time I spent on the road and experiences I had touring the world in a hardcore band gave me two things,” Brannan told Noisey last year. “It definitely gave me a sense of fearlessness, and it allowed me to really see everyone as true equal and see the importance of respecting everyone as a true equal, and removing any of those sort of man-made social constructs of class or that kind of stuff.”

There are a dizzying array of barriers to entry that prevent the vast majority of people—especially those who are women, who are people of color, who are LGBTQ, who are immigrants, and who are poor or working class, i.e. the people who should have the greatest say in the reform, running of, and (ideally) dismantlement of our blood-smeared white supremacist capitalist death machine—from entering the political class and engineering electoral-based change in this country. That’s a huge part of why we’re in the mess we’re in, and have been in since brutal colonizing settlers first set foot on this land; men like Ted Cruz have wielded far too much power for far too long, and caused far too much harm. Those barriers will remain until we tear them the fuck down—but for now, here’s hoping that this week’s dust-up has shown that swinging a guitar or rocking a Black Sabbath shirt may no longer be one of them.

And now, some tunes! Besides the below recommendations, you should also check out Canuck noise rock dons KEN Mode's blistering new album here, and peep UK/Irish doom crew Conan's demented new video for "Volt Thrower" here.

Mantar


I've had a soft spot for this puckish German duo since I profiled them

back in 2016, and their recently released third album, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, does not disappoint. They've streamlined their already stripped-down, meaty black metallicized doom/punk sound even further, and delivered a whopper of an album that satisfies my most primal urges for big, ugly riffs, and spices it up with grimy punk tempos and slabs of enthralling blackened doom. These guys should be huge.

False Flag


I was stoked to cover False Flag's self-titled EP last year, and am even happier to share their latest effort, a split album with Nepalese hardcore punks Neck Deep in Filth. Their contribution here carries through with their most atmospheric, high-minded take on hyper-political crust—this is dark hardcore from the gutter that looks up at the stars. Their short, thoughtful ragers interrogate ideas about about the Body as seen through the lens of media, politics, surveillance and power, while retaining their anti-state fervor. The split is out September 3 via their Bandcamp, with tapes coming from Callous Records (UK) and Le Blast Records (Canada).

Ruminant

Ruminant flew across my radar like a bat out of hell, and sucked me in immediately with their furious crusty, death-speckled grind, contemplative dark hardcore passages, and nasty breakdowns. They hail from Portland, OR, and are releasing a new self-titled LP via Acid Tears Records next month. I'm already dying to see them play live.

Atavisma

Atavisma is a really stellar Parisian death/doom band with very good politics, a serious catacombs vibes, and a fantastic guitar tone. Their latest album, The Chthonic Rituals, is a terribly impressive document of putrid, crawling death, and I can't recommend it highly enough (especially if you've ever wondered what Asphyx would sound like if they loaded up on downers).

War//Plague

Long-running Midwestern crusties War//Plague are gearing up to release their 11th album, Into the Depths, in late May, and have just let fly with a preview track that (predictably enough if you know anything about these gnarly DIY punk lifers) whips copious amounts of ass. Old punks never die, they just get leaner, meaner, and (in War//Plague's case) better.

Harrow

Harrow have been refining their heavily nature-focused atmospheric black metal for almost a decade now, and on their latest foray, A Fire in the Mountains, continue to embrace an atavistic, folk-infused kind of ravishing grimness. It's heady stuff, something worth playing around a campfire in the forest with the fading rays of the sun behind you.

Aradia

I've been listening to this doomy, neoclassical Portland, OR post-rock band nonstop since a kind reader sent their latest album, Omid, my way. They remind me very heavily of Disemballerina (who remain one of the most beautifully perfect bands in existence) in terms of their use of neoclassical instrumentation, with cello and violin working in perfect concert, as well as their fragile, elegant atmosphere. This is chamber music for the revolution, all sinewy melodies and delicate notes and glistening rainfall and darkened corners. Also, peep that incredible anti-fascist artwork—fuck wearing your politics on your sleeve, splash them straight across your album cover!

Sex Messiah

Demented Japanese extreme metal gutter trash inspired by GISM and Sabbat, with harsh edges that reflect their demonic guitarist's "Satanic Blacknoise" project, Moenos—yes, please and thank you.

Kim Kelly is Noisey's heavy metal editor; she's on Twitter against her better judgement.