Pun-filled good time
“Sonic Youth? Isn’t there already a band called that?” was a friend’s reaction when I told him about this new Reno band. Not to be confused with the New York noise/art-rock mainstays, Chthonic Youth play a mix of hardcore, post-punk and proto-Goth. Chthonic means “of the underworld,” and the group’s name, in addition to being a cheap joke, gives an accurate idea of their sound: They’re “chthonic” both in the sense of being dark and devilish and of being from the underground punk scene. They also play with a youthful energy and humor.
In a way, Chthonic Youth pick up where the now defunct, Reno hardcore group Arabella left off when it broke up last summer. Chthonic Youth drummer Justin Craperi played in Arabella, as did Josh Hardy, who switched from playing bass in Arabella to guitar in Chthonic Youth.
Arabella was a more straight ahead hardcore band than Chthonic Youth, which has more post-punk influences. The rhythms and transitions are eclectic and unusual. The four band members—Craperi, Hardy, bassist Kate “Jasper” Straight and vocalist Raj Baht—approach the music with hardcore frenzy and volume, but the music has sophistication and humor often lacking in the genre.
Still, Craperi’s rolling, rollicking rhythms are propulsive, Straight’s stop-start basslines are odd and ear-grabbing, and Hardy’s guitar tone provides a thick, reverb-laden, treble-kicking wash of sound.
The proto-Goth influences are from bands like Bauhaus, The Birthday Party and Christian Death, whose “Romeo’s Distress” the band covers. Chthonic Youth’s sound is thankfully devoid of any metal, industrial or dance music influences.
“We’re Goth as in Lord Byron, not Front 242,” says Baht.
The band has a couple secret weapons. One is the mysterious Ben Hydra, a recluse who spends his time working out, hoarding guns and guitars, and rarely leaving the house. He never appears in public with the band (or comes to a practice if a reporter is going to be present) but co-wrote many of the songs and will be playing on the band’s forthcoming demo.
Hardy describes him as “A career criminal and a militant athlete.”
Adds Baht, “He won’t eat anything for lunch but some lettuce and a protein shake.”
Baht himself is one of the band’s most potent weapons. Someone who’s best known to local music fans as Rajbot, a rapper and sound collagist, might not be the first guy you expect to see screaming in front of a hardcore band, but it’s a pretty perfect fit. Though he sang for the 12-person party band the Lords of Rad Success, this is the first time he has fronted a hardcore band. (Writer Brad Bynum was also a member of the Lords of Rad Success.) But Baht’s a natural born performer and incredibly entertaining in this capacity. His between-song banter is funny and often delivered in a satirical religious fervor, and his lyrics are well above average. One song is about the tools needed for the revolution: “Bikes and Tripwire.”
Chthonic Youth will perform Dec. 22 at the Record Street Café with Iron Lung. The Seattle-based Iron Lung is a two-piece grind explosion that features former members of some of the all-time-greatest Reno bands like GOB and Vae Victus. It will be a show not to miss. Also watch for a Chthonic Youth demo to be released in early 2006.