Hardcore’s always been a little downbeat. Sure, the genre’s long stayers have been gruff motivational speakers for some time—the wonderful Scott Vogel of Terror or Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta—but the music has been playing fun-filled catch-up. Now, even the beatdowns are pogo sticks for the moshers, chanting in unison about how life isn’t always out to get you.
Throwing it back to Turnstile’s early days, the PMA was strong. As now world-renowned pioneers of ‘artcore’ (is that even okay?), they’ve duly shown how hardcore punk can be taken through dance rhythms (they’re a band of drummers after all) without straying too far from its ‘90s crossover thrash and grunge tones. Their contemporaries seem to be following suit with various left-field takes, no less Wales’ XL LIFE.
The name suggests the reclaiming of living to the fullest. It also marks the next venture for Traxx—a Cardiffian familiar on the UK scene, most notably in the hype-worthy and excellent grime-punk outfit Astroid Boys. After teaming up with some old mates, XL LIFE’s own breed of catchy, empowering hardcore punk is a positive statement: The Boogie Down South.
Not that it came from happier places. The record’s first-written album track followed a period of rest following events of broken homes, substance abuse and disabilities; Baby Steps knows that recovery is possible in time, a culmination of the group’s on again-off again situation. Joined by London based duo Bob Vylan, its hopeful message pours out with refreshing candour.
Musically, Baby Steps begins as a chaotic staccato tornado, where the cymbals ring loud and true, while bass tones and post-punk guitar leads ring out over traded verses. Jasper Gaskin’s drumming throughout provides unexpected flavour—a full frontal no-drumhead-left-out assault in Just Do It, as opposed to the jazz improvs that mark the stark minimalism of opener Shout, an impassioned Traxx speech.
Just Do It also explores headbanging moments and ambient electronica. Feeling Away’s intro sounds like Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes levels of chant-worthy arena punk. Grey Place is an expansive, percussive piece breaking down societal pressures while These Days’ washed-out guitar mimics lo-fi bedroom-indie stars, then picks up gnarlier pop-punk sequences that get the insatiable appetite for catchiness started.
All act as successful like breaks from the dancey powerpunk that underpins much of the full tapestry of The Boogie Down South, an event clearly emblazoned by the vocalist across a couple of these cuts. Especially the riotous closing chapter Built To Last, evocatively fading out with a crushing breakdown for eternity.
Fittingly, “XL LIFE baayyybaaaayyyy! Two thousand and forever!” (If You Want It You Can Get It) harkens back to such band-and-year callout gems as Your Demise’s MMX, reimagined for future waves of UK hardcore. With many strings to Traxx’s bow, as shown by his multiple projects, this year really may be the start of a worldwide domination for the revitalised genre. Stirring those outside its usual fandom that want and need its frank and fulfilling positive power, bring on that XTRA LARGE LIFE.
For fans of: Turnstile, GEL, Hacktivist
‘The Boogie Down South’ by XL LIFE is released on 27th January on Venn Records.
Words by Elliot Burr