Special Interest: Everything Everywhere All at Once
It’s the first week of Pride month. Cue an endless barrage of marketing stunts and crypto-corporate rainbow-washing. What the world really needs, at this time of year, is some rage and spit and reassurance that there is more to Pride than influencers and brand sponsorships. The world needs Special Interest.
“Pride was really important to me when I was younger,” says Alli Logout, Special Interest’s human tornado of a vocalist, as we sit in the courtyard of Berlin’s legendary punk venue, SO36. They and the rest of the band – guitarist María Elena, bassist Nathan Cassiani and synth player Ruth Mascelli – will take to the stage in a few hours to unleash their furious strain of no wave punk upon a frothing audience. “But it’s so much about consumer culture now,” they continue, “I mean, we have Budweiser with a Pride flag. It’s still really important to me to be in queer spaces, but also, I don’t want to be in ‘normal’ queer spaces.”
What does Logout mean by “normal”? “Many things. Focused on the family, marriage, living a very individualistic lifestyle that is fully complacent with heterosexuality.” Elena chimes in: “You know, I did once see a lady pull a tampon out of her cowboy boot and give it to someone at a Pride event, which was cool. I mean, it can be fun, but it was a long time until I met a community that I really liked.”
It’s refreshing to encounter a band whose four members lie somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum but do not consider themselves a “queer band” – whatever that means, anyway. Nor are they the hardboiled, dead-eyed nihilists that the media seem hellbent on portraying them as, through dozens of interviews about playing decrepit DIY venues and struggling with late-capitalist malaise. In fact, Special Interest are the best kind of punk band: the kind who are driven by the sheer urgency to express themselves, to disseminate their ideas, and to scream in the face of their audience that, ‘Hey, take a look around, something is terribly wrong.’ They’re not a void, they’re everything: the fiery outrage of punk, the warehouse psychedelia of techno, the mechanical sexuality of industrial, the inflamed angularity of no wave. And, at times, all that everything can get pretty intense.
“It’s funny, nearly every interview we do, nihilism comes up,” laughs Logout. “I’ve had to do a lot of work to not be nihilistic. I don’t see any point in that any more. Everything is compromised – and finally getting out of America for the first time, really understanding what that means, it’s horrible. It’s so vile, I really just had no idea how fucked up everything about how I operated my life has been, and it all comes back to America, and the things I was taught as an American.”
Logout’s expression is stoic and matter-of-fact, their eyes piercing under their coppery blond Afro. As a fellow Black American, I feel the frustration they’re referencing, but also the liberation that comes with realising that, hey, change has to start somewhere. “Liberation has to start within yourself – recognising these things and then moving forward,” they continue. “Because it’s just so easy to be nihilistic, but I have too much love to do that. I don’t have much respect. Like, I’m disrespectful – but I do have a lot of love! As cliché as that sounds, I think that’s what moves people forward.” It’s clear in their music and the message powering it: the band are not giving up in the face of adversity, rather they are looking it square in the face in search of solutions. “Nihilism doesn’t have to be saying no to truth,” interjects Elena. “I don’t think of nihilism as effectively negating everything. I think it’s possible to be cynical and still try to find a way to improve things.” Mascelli perks up at the other side of the table: “Honestly, nihilism just might be… a vibe,” he says, with an irreverent shrug. “That’s exactly it!” adds Logout, chuckling. “Just a vibe!”
Special Interest have two LPs under their belt: 2018’s Spiraling, and their latest, The Passion Of, released in 2020. Both are ultra tight, ultra loud missives about race, gender, America, capitalism, etc, but it’s The Passion Of’s singular blend of aggression and techno-punk that has catapulted the band out of their shared homebase of New Orleans and on to the international scene. In the best way possible, Special Interest sound like four different bands playing at once, an amalgam of everything that makes each member individually compelling morphed into one writhing whole. Logout wails with wild, guttural force; Cassiani’s bass punctuates the mix like steel cables whipping across electrical lines; Elena’s guitars are all sharp edges and post-punk flourishes; and Mascelli leads the charge with his masterful electro-beat production. People have been debating the relevancy of punk for decades, but on tracks like Disco III, which hammers you with a gabber-like beat and screeching, start-stop guitar, the genre has rarely felt so vital.
“I really just think that we’re non-conforming,” says Logout about their sound. “Even just as individuals and in the communities that we’re all a part of, and the music that we grew up on, it just works. The other thing about us is that we’ve never quite had a sound. We just see what happens, and that’s why it’s everything at once. A lot of our influences have been a lot of techno and house, and but even recently I made Maria listen to Kirk Franklin, and she was like, ‘I never realised how influenced you were by Kirk Franklin and gospel!’ I hadn’t even put that together myself.”
“I don’t have much respect. Like, I’m disrespectful – but I do have a lot of love! As cliché as that sounds, that’s what moves people forward”
For a band that sounds so deliberately unpolished, Special Interest have a surprisingly laissez-faire approach to songwriting. Their only official release since The Passion Of two years ago is their recent single (Herman’s) House, a death disco ode to Herman Wallace, the Black human rights activist and revolutionary who was incarcerated in solitary confinement for more than 40 years as part of the Angola Three. The track showcases once again Special Interest’s talent for juxtaposition, taking a sombre political theme and applying it to what might be their most dancefloor-friendly track yet.
“When we get together to make music, whatever happens happens,” explains Cassiani. “Yes, (Herman’s) House is a little dancier, a little more pop, but I think that when we were writing this album, we were going through a lot of changes.” Does this mean that the new record will add more pop and disco to the band’s already varied set of influences? “No,” says Logout with a shrug. “This is just what we do. The songs just come out of us. Like with (Herman’s) House — we play it once and that’s it. And every time it happens it’s the most beautiful feeling.”
Mascelli chimes in to clarify. “We talk about it a little beforehand, about what we want to achieve,” he explains Mascelli. “There’s one song on the new album where we were listening to a lot of drum’n’bass and were like, ‘Let’s do something like that.’ Why can’t something be a punk song and a drum’n’bass song at the same time?”
A few weeks later, it’s two o’clock in the morning and I’m trying not to breathe in the rank mix of festival odours that wafts across Barcelona’s Parc del Fòrum at Primavera Sound 2022. Special Interest are about to go on. After watching them practically burn through the flooring of SO36, I’ve made it my duty to catch them on this towering stage. I can see them milling around the back of the stage, and then, suddenly, the lights are on. They begin to play, each in their own world but utterly cohesive. Logout rolls across the stage, throwing water bottles into the crowd, mesmerising, while Mascelli’s techno beats rattle each and every ribcage.
Towards the end of the set, Logout breaks their mic stand, and without thinking twice, javelins the broken piece of metal directly into the thick of the crowd. Reckless behaviour, perhaps, but in a way, it’s electrifying. At the heart of this seething maelstrom of ear-splitting noise and revolutionary lyrics, of Blackness and queerness and political rage, we can see what we have been searching for. This is urgency, this is community, this is raising a fist in the air and punching the whole bloody mess to the ground. This is Pride.
Endure is out on 4 November via Rough Trade Records