With their back to the camera, Sami Kaiser is lit in that unmistakable fast food restaurant glow. It radiates out from the menu screens at the Sonic Drive-In in Hainesport, New Jersey as they hit their thigh with a mic, ratcheting up the tension as the tangle of bodies before them is taken over by the pit. When the guitars drop, they let out the opening scream of Gel’s undeniable ‘Bitchmade’. There are fireworks. Real life fireworks.
This was last year, right as summer lost the fight with autumn. Stood amid the chaos of the guerilla show was archivist Sunny Singh, on hand to capture sets by Gel and recent Next Noise graduates Scowl for his hate5six channel. The footage of windmilling limbs sent Gel’s music ricocheting across continents, whipping up the sort of social media frenzy that has helped feed hardcore’s current moment, from Turnstile’s crossover success to the unmatched brutality of the Bay Area’s interconnected scenes and Soul Glo crashing Album of the Year lists with the kaleidoscopic ‘Diaspora Problems’.
“We wanted to document it in that way,” guitarist Anthony Webster tells NME of pulling together the show, still a little taken aback by the response. “It’s easy to call it a gimmick, but it’s fun. It’s cool. Yo, we got 300 kids in a Sonic parking lot and somehow didn’t get shut down by the cops. Everyone had a blast. We wanted to see how far we could take it, honestly. How ridiculous can we make this thing?”
One of the real joys to be found in hardcore is the crackle of electricity as anticipation becomes reality – the one hit of Kaiser’s thigh before all hell breaks loose. Over the past five years, Gel have become masters at sculpting songs that tap directly into this vein. They already have a string of feral, grimy scream-alongs capable of immediately igniting a crowd in their back pocket, but their forthcoming debut album, ‘Only Constant’ (due March 31), is something else.
When NME catches up with Gel via Zoom, Kaiser and Webster are sitting opposite one another in the band’s van at a rest stop just outside Indianapolis, ahead of the second night of their US tour with Milwaukee bruisers Big Laugh. 24 hours earlier, on the afternoon of their opening show in Cleveland, the situation quickly progressed from ‘there should be tickets on the door’ to ‘this thing is all the way sold out’.
That sort of momentum has been building behind the band for a little while now, and ‘Only Constant’ will only take things up a notch. It gathered pace during the pandemic as Gel – rounded out by bassist Bobko, guitarist Maddi Nave and drummer Zach Miller – cut through with ‘Violent Closure’, an EP that laid out their credentials in black and white. As Webster and Nave tore through timelessly gritty riffs that recalled ‘80s hardcore greats SSD and Negative Approach, Kaiser reached down into their guts and pulled out lyrics that examined strains on their mental health, disintegrating interpersonal bonds and the shifting sands of existing in a band.
The ensuing cathartic rush meant that when shows became a thing again, Gel and their waiting audience were primed for a chaotic outpouring of emotion. “I feel very connected and vulnerable in a positive way when we play live,” Kaiser says. “I really enjoy the collaborative nature with the audience: giving and then receiving the energy from them and creating that atmosphere together. It’s very fulfilling.”
On ‘Only Constant’ – which is being put out as part of a hot streak from Denver’s Convulse Records, home to recent releases by Militarie Gun, Candy Apple, and Public Opinion – Kaiser has peeled back further layers of experience, revelling in the scabrous noise made by their bandmates. As many hardcore bands have joined the race to become the heaviest thing out there, Gel have clung on to rapidly shifting dynamics and a sound that has grit under its fingernails.
Kaiser responds to each hairpin turn with a performance driven by genuine feeling, their words rebounding off every Dr. Martens-primed stomp, reflecting a perspective that isn’t nailed down. “I’m working through challenging some habits that I’ve developed since childhood, trying to stay present in the moment, learning to embrace change along the way, and not being so derailed by emotional dysregulation,” they say. “My thoughts are split on the record—half of it is just raw expression of emotion, and on the other half I try to be skillful in how I view a situation, keeping a perspective in mind, and not letting emotion derail me and lead to harmful behaviour.”
Gel take the sense of purging behind Kaiser’s words and use it as rocket fuel. ‘Only Constant’ pops because they’ve managed the difficult feat of capturing the sense of release and febrile edge of a show on wax. Engineered by Miller and Trish Quigley at Landmine Studios in Ewing, New Jersey, this visceral spirit is writ large all over the album. “I always like to go for the authentic approach, the expression of the energy and emotion behind it,” Kaiser observes.
Gel are the here and now, but they’ve got hold of the fundamentals that helped this music break out from punk’s shadow 40 years ago: they’re fast, loud, different. “I want the speed and the excitement,” Webster says. It’s like their intro tape from back at that Sonic Drive-In show said: “Hardcore for the fuckin’ freaks. That’s it.”
Gel’s debut album ‘Only Constant’ will be released on March 31 via Convulse Records
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