Sitting across the East River from Manhattan, the borough of Queens is home to many of New York's 'next hot' neighbourhoods. But with the growth of gentrification and rising real estate prices, many residents in one of the most ethnically diverse urban areas in the world, are getting left behind.
Body War, the debut album for Queens based hardcore band Show Me The Body, reflects some of the the impact of the collapsing frameworks of these communities. It's an album that gives voice to the displacement and frustration of watching family and friends struggling to hold their own.
Lyricist and main singer Julian Cashwan Pratt, bassist Harland Steed and drummer Noah Cohen came together when they formed the band as part of Letter Racer, the music and artist collective they established alongside school friends Ratking.
Show Me the Body's music reflects the members growing up in diverse neighbourhoods and pulls in splinters of rock, hip-hop, and hardcore, (often led by Pratt's distorted banjo) to create abrasive and frenzying noise. There are moments of feeling and spirit—tiny pauses before sharp, sludge-like waves of hip-hop choruses and echoing riffs—coming together to create immediate urgency.
The band are interested in helping have released the short film, Ammunition, about some of the people and stories they encountered on their first national tour.
We chatted with Julian about the makings of Body War and Ammunition, and the changing communities of New York
Noisey: Gentrification plays a big part in Body War. How do you feel about the changing New York?
Julian Cashwan Pratt: It's quite scary. We'd go on tour and come back home to something heaps different. We'd walk around and notice there's always something that's changed, like some old buildings with history that is now closed down. It's hard to say because it's not a new thing, it's something that's always happening—now it's just a trendy thing too. Maybe the future of punk will come and be from the country because the cities don't want us anymore.
Was recording the album a way of reclaiming the things you had lost?
Body War was simply an expression of how we were feeling. The reclaiming happens in the actual actions, especially when we're amongst fans and when people actually face the music and the distractions. Playing in the streets and saying "fuck the venue" is a way of not participating in the world of clubs too. Those actions can be good and work as a way to bring people together where it just knocks you out—getting that rare shock through that party culture which is about something else. It's about protection and community.
The Letter Racer collective holds protection and community as a key value in music. How did growing up in New York impact the way you create?
For Harland and I there was music everywhere. People were jamming day and night, we'd go out and meet at people's cribs, even if we didn't know what music it was. So when people are making music around you as you're growing up, you grow up a different artist and around people who are making it their own. It was tight.
Totally. I'm a firm believer that music doesn't necessarily have to mean something. When coming together to create Body War, how do you respect each other's differences?
I don't think we do anything super specific. We just come together and go from there—we're always certain that the best idea always wins. When something is brought to the table, we break it apart and put it back together again. And we do it, repeatedly. We made Body War, together and with my cousin, Gabriel Millman, who produced the record and was the original drummer of the band.
All these DIY angles definitely allows the band breathing room to fuck around. Do you feel your live performances changes the materiality of Body War?
Absolutely, it changes. Live performances are the most powerful things that we participate in. As artists, we see a lot of things happen sometimes that are unexpected or heightened just through the punk community and people around you. There's an indefinite effect that it has on what we try to make afterwards. If we can share our music and bring together a hundred or so people then you really know it's right.
Camaraderie is an important part of what you're creating. Beyond genre, does your music set out to create a space?
Although we come from different music backgrounds, I've gained the perspective that music is really about the space it's created in—it's more than just a track you can vibe to. Music is about the space you've made: it's deep and facilitated, based from the whole community that has helped shape it. It's more than a crowd, more than the hardcore scene—it's about us coming together and to feel more powerful than just ourselves. Everyone can walk away feeling empowered—that's what it's all about.
Ammunition is compelling in the way it empower people through their stories. What inspired the essay?
It was really about documenting the country from the perspectives in our music and the places we were going to. It was about seeing where we were and being observant in the ways we were seeing. A lot of that footage was filmed with our good friend Sam Puglia. We found ourselves for the first time in the heartland of America; something we'd never experienced growing up. You see a lot of dark stuff. Ammunition was about coming in terms with the difference and how everybody is struggling all over America in many different ways. We often only think about our own struggles but people all over the country are getting kicked down in a lot of other ways. We need to recognise each other.
'Body War' is out now via Loma Vista / Caroline Australia.
Image: Loma Vitsa