Grindcore and politics go together like peanut butter and chocolate; sure, you can enjoy one without the other, but they're far more powerful when swirled together by a steady hand. Case in point: Chepang, an NYC-via-Nepal quintet who have just exploded onto the scene with a vicious new album, Lathi Charge, that combinesr grind, powerviolence, hardcore punk, crust, goregrind, and noise with a strident message about oppression and class warfare into a deadly blend they've dubbed "immigrindcore." Recorded by engineer Kevin Bernstein at Developing Nations Studio and mastered at Audiosiege by Brad Boadright, Lathi Charge is a compelling listen for anyone interested in modern grindcore, but doubly so for those who prefer their riffs to come sharpened with political intent.
Chepang also shares members with Sangharsha, another self-proclaimed "immigrant core" band who've been involved in the Noisey-supported Metal for Nepal effort, and their Nepali roots inform everything they do, onstage and off. As vocalist Mountain God explained, "The Chepang is a semi-indigenous tribe from Burma and Tibet living in Nepal. They are considered the poorest of the poorest, as they are like vagabonds constantly moving from one place to another. Their living standard is among the worst in the world if we look at stats. Why did we choose the name? Right now in Nepal, there is a whole lot of class war going on due to the new constitution which is defines who is first class and who is second—utter bullshit. Chepang is considered third class, and we feel like there should not be a class for one to be identified as. We want to define ourselves as the third class and use that medium to voice what is wrong not only in Nepal but also everywhere."
In a sense, the band's decision to self-designate as "third class" echoes Bakunin's interpretation of Marx's lumpenproletariat, the "lower order" whose revolutionary potential has yet to be unlocked; in less theoretical terms, this album is a rallying cry against discrimination, repression, and corrupt political systems. It's a fucking ripper of an album, too, and that's ultimately the most important thing to remember once you press play.
We're streaming Lathi Charge in its entirety below; pick up a copy from Nerve Altar here (or here, if you fancy a physical copy), read on for an in-depth conversation with Mountain God about the album, class war, and where that "immigrindcore" tag came from.
Noisey: Where are you guys based?
Mountain God: We are all from Nepal originally and based in NYC. Our growler (Bhotey Gore) lives in Portland, MN and drummer (Himalayan Chituwa) lives in Dallas. The other half, me, Mountain God (screamer) and drummer (Hammer) live in NYC.
How did you first become interested in the Chepang's plight? Do you have personal ties to the tribe?
It has always been fascinating to us that we are so divided in terms of race, class, and everything else that society has created. Like the case with the Chepang, where they have been basically isolated from everyone due to their race—that is what draws us to them. We relate to them in terms of [our belief that] race or the color of the skin does not dictate the person, and the government and society should not use it as a medium to sell their personal propaganda.
Their situation sounds similar to that of the Roma in Europe; poor, nomadic people whose culture is seen as "alien" and unwanted by ruling governments. Why has Nepal shunned the Chepang? Is this a historical bias, like the Dalits in India, or a more recent political development?
Well, I guess more than a historical bias, it’s the fact that Chepangs live in remote settlements that has contributed to them being neglected. Chepangs are an extremely poor community, they live in remote areas, and there are only around 50,000 of them scattered around various districts in Nepal. They make little difference to a politician's vote bank.
Chepangs who have had a basic education do not number more than a few hundred. I guess that says a lot about how neglected they are. See, until a few decades ago, Chepangs used to be semi-nomads. They didn’t own land then, and few do now. In order to own land, you need citizenship certificates, and the Chepangs were too neglected to even be aware of such documents. Even the land they are compelled to live in is largely arid and inhospitable because much of the cultivable land has been taken over by more privileged communities. The lack of legal documents also means that they can’t access even basic services such as electricity.
Can you tell me about this provision in the constitution that designates first and second class people? I've never heard of such a thing, and am really curious how this came to happen without an international outcry.
A bit of background first—Nepal, ever since its unification (and maybe earlier), has always been dominated by high class Hindu hill elites, called Bahuns and Chhetris. They are the equivalent of the Brahmins and Kshatriyas of the Indian caste system. Despite making up only 30 percent of the country’s population, they control all the high posts in government, they are culturally dominant, and their language is what’s known as “Nepali,” the official language of the state. For centuries they have lorded over Nepal’s other ethnicities, i.e. the indigenous groups of the hills, the Tharus and Madhesis of the plains, and, of course, the Dalits—the lower castes. So, you could call them the First Class people of Nepal—the people in power, the landowners. The rest would be the Second Class.
Around 10 years ago, the monarchy was overthrown and a new constitution had to be drafted. During this time, the Madhesis (people of the plains who share cultural ties with India) started a movement because they wanted equal rights and proportional representation in parliament. Historically, the Madhesis have always been marginalized by the Hill elites (until a few decades ago, they had to apply for a special permit to even enter Kathmandu, their nation’s capital) who see them as more Indian than Nepali. Women too wanted equal rights, particularly when it came to citizenship. In Nepal, a child can be a citizen only through his/her father. No father, no citizenship. Women’s rights groups wanted that changed. Add to that the other indigenous groups who wanted states of their own, so that they could break free from the domination of the Hill elites. The government of that time had agreed to some of these demands, but it was still a contentious issue, so much so that the political parties hadn’t been able to draft a new constitution even a decade later. What existed was only an interim constitution. Then came the 2015 earthquake. The political parties used the earthquake as an excuse to “fast track” a new constitution, one that backtracked from the progressive moves that were made in the interim constitution.
There have a lot of protests against the new constitution since then, including a blockade that lasted months. Many lives have been lost. But the conservative government, made up of Hill elites, hasn’t been serious about listening to the demands of the protestors in creating an inclusive constitution.
Why have you chosen grindcore as your means to convey your message?
What else besides this? Blues? Jazz? Grindcore is loose, open agression, pure unadultered, raw emotion that goes hand-in-hand with the theme of class warfare.
This album has a super raw, paranoid feel to it, with a nasty punk groove and some technical outbursts hidden underneath. What got the creative juices flowing?
It's the frustration of being in a society where everything is impacted by who you are and where you come from. The anxiety that we live in due to this issue. This was the main driving force to write these songs.
What was your main objective in writing and recording Lathi Charge?
"Lathi Charge" actually means the brute force that the riot police uses violently to disperse public demonstration. Our main objective was also to capture the same emotion in the record, to hit the listener with the same intensity and the panic attack that comes with it.
What's your response to the widely-discussed idea that politics have no place in music, particularly metal?
We believe in individual views. As we have our own view, music to us should relate to what we are facing in life currently. It can be politically-charged or not, depending on the person. When you have centuries of monarchy and then decades of useless democracy abusing power and infiltrating personal agendas and years of civil war unrest, these things are natural. It comes automatically through the veins in your blood. We refer to our fellow Nepalese as having "tato ragat" ("hot blood") precisely because of this, and we are angrier than ever.
I noticed that you describe yourselves with the tagline "immigrindcore;" assuming that some of your number currently identify as immigrants, can you tell me about the decision to stick that on there? Was it a light-hearted joke, or a bigger statement?
It was more of a light hearted discovery between us. We are immigrants and we play grindcore, so let's call it “immigrindcore”. Of course we have our own opinions on the current situation here in the states, but as Madball said, "Times are changing for the worse, we got to keep a positive outlook."
How did you hook up with Brad Boatright for this release? How did Nerve Altar Records and Holy Goat Records get involved?
I have been actually working with Brad for the last three releases of my other band, Sangharsha which is how I know him, and of course Mr. Kevin Bernstein, I worked with him before as well for Sangharsha. Both super cool guys and easy to work with. The story with Nerve Altar is that, I approached to Aaron to release it. And he loved the music and said "Yeah, let’s do it—simple as that. We just met him as well to do sort of listening party of our test presses in his apartment. He is a super down to earth guy, carrying the torch of the whole DIY ethics with him.
I met my brother from another mother, Ralf from Holy Goat Records, on the tour Sangharsha did with Blank last year here in the States.The most genuine and calm guy we ever met, love him to death and he is down to release everything just for the pure love of music and brotherhood. All hail the Goat and Blank, the best negative core band on the planet! And the tape is out via Cricket Cemetery Records, Ian is the man.
What are your plans for the band once this album is released?
We would like to play local shows and start writing a full double album; I don’t think any grindcore band has done that. Raising the stakes with a 60-minute double LP of grindcore that will not bore you with twists and turns and spices and double the drums (a concept stolen from Moralized and Completed Exposition). Actually, we have a record release show on Auguest 6 at Silent Barn in Brooklyn, curated by Gerard for ABC No Rio. Come see us, you won’t be disappointed, you will get your money's worth!
What's the most important message that you you want people to take away from this album?
As Triac said, "Grind hard, die young!"
Catch Chepang live at the Silent Barn this weekend (their first New York City appearance!) alongside Organ Dealer and Lucid Terror; details here.
Kim Kelly is grinding it out on Twitter.