“All that you live upon was stolen from us, all that you own upon was destroyed from us” growls Dispossessed vocalist and guitarist Birrugan Dunn-Velasco towards the end of the harrowing “Gaara Yaari Buunming (Sky Has Fallen)”. Singing uncompromisingly both in English and Gumbaynggirr about the colonisation of Indigenous people by “invaders, rapists and mutilators”, the Sydney four-piece are the most unapologetic and important band in Australian metal today.
Citing musical references ranging from Racetraitor to Nina Simone, their debut album Insurgency is a visceral experience that weaves through fast and foreboding influences: from blackened death metal, power violence and punk, to more melodic and subtle melancholic tones of math and shoegaze. Each track screams with anger and pain, mirroring the experience of those affected by dispossession of land - feelings fuelled by the members' blend of Aboriginal, Filipino and Ghanaian backgrounds.
Spit-drenched and raw, they burn a politically-charged message on race, capitalism and colonialism straight into the face of white supremacy in Australia. Dispossessed are a kick to the head of a culture that’s been stuck staring into it’s own privileged white belly button for far too long.
We had a chat with vocalist Harry Bonifacio (20), guitarist/vocalist Birrugan Dunn-Velasco (19) , guitarist Serwah Attafuah (18) and drummer Jarrod Smith (23).
NOISEY: Congratulations on Insurgency, it's a top notch album. What's the response been so far?
Harry: I’ve seen a lot of positive responses. People find it refreshing that in the context of a degree of stagnation in politically-driven heavy music, a band has emerged with an unapologetic tone about racism and colonialism. I think our music fits well in an active global discussion about race, and people are catching onto that. However, that’s also an inherently polarising topic – I’ve heard the message has distanced a few people, but that’s to be expected.
Jarrod: Thank you! It’s just such a warm feeling seeing so many people get behind this band especially for the message we bring and not just the music.
Image: From the Pit
How did Dispossessed form?
Birrugan: Harry and I met at an occupation at March in May. I booked our first gig at the Black Rose in Newtown two weeks before we had even been in the same room with instruments. The line up was very different and we had a bass player that couldn’t even play. I guess we formed because I was sick of time again just seeing four white people on stage singing about fuck all.
Harry: When I met Birrugan we spoke for hours about racism, white supremacy, post-colonialism, and a range of other topics. We decided we wanted to start a band, so he grabbed some other people together and boom, the journey began.
What were you guys up to before you started the band?
Birrugan: I was fresh out of high school, first year into studying Law and Cultural Studies. I deferred and started working at the Redfern Tent Embassy because I felt disenfranchised with what I could learn to fight for my people within the privilege of the academy.
Harry: I was in a fairly dark place, feeling overwhelmingly powerless and voiceless. I was – and still am – studying International Studies but it was one thing to discuss these themes in a fairly privileged context and another to apply them in a creative way. Dispossessed became a valuable conduit for those feelings that had been building up in me for quite a while.
Serwah: I was studying set and prop design.I am no longer studying it but I make art every day.
What made you decide to use metal as opposed to other genres?
Harry: White supremacy, capitalism, colonialism – these are all violent themes. It’s only appropriate that we pay homage to the pain we feel, to the pain we’ve inherited from our respective lineages. However, it’s not all straight up brutality – I feel like we’ve made an attempt to nuance our experiences with feelings of melancholy, of the lament we feel attempting to assert ourselves everyday against such hostility.
Your lyrics are sung sometimes in English and sometimes in language. What's the songwriting process like?
Birrugan: Harry is the main vocalist and sings in English, so I try and sing in lingo when permitted. I sing in Gumbaynggirr, my father's lingo from up near Nymboida in NSW. I learnt it on and off from my dad since I was about eight. My emotional drive when I compose often originates from a feeling from the earth or sky and it becomes a process of translating concepts from a Gumbayngirr paradigm to that of the English one. Ideally, I’d love to have parts in all of our songs in lingo to maximise “indigenising” and making things as Goori as possible to encourage our own cultural revitalisation.
Image: Liam Kesteven
The Australian media seems hostile to Indigenous expressions of anger. What are your thoughts on how to change this?
Birrugan: Maybe it would be helpful if the Australian media’s foundations were not actively sprouted in perpetuating the supremacy and domination of the capitalist white man. The allergic reaction and national amnesia that is ingrained from this culture stems from the fact that they know everything that this nation is built upon is a lie and they are scared that the lie will be exposed and that people will take back what is theirs.
Jarrod: I think the “shock method” has worked best through social media platforms. Facebook and Youtube are the future of this change. Music is really good for changing things too - since we dropped the album and played shows I’ve had more conversations with people opening up about Indigenous issues and our message.
Have you had any racists getting upset at your message?
Serwah: We have a lot of haters for sure. I remember one instance in Northcote, we asked if there were any local mob in the audience and one woman interjected and said "What do you mean? Is there anyone here that owns a house in Northcote?" We have had people turn down our amps to the point of silence, people not letting us into shows based on racial profiling. We have more hate on-line though, as I believe it’s easier for them to hide behind the screen.
Image: Christian Byers
What's the shittiest/best show you've played so far?
Birrugan: One time we went down to Melbourne and played a warehouse benefit gig that we spent setting up for days. Our set got cut short through the third song because somebody lied to us saying that the cops were coming or some bullshit. Unsurprisingly, it felt that our message was being silenced and shit hit the fan. The white supremacy was too real. Best show... I don't know, any show were at least one person goes away and contemplates something before they go to sleep.
What do you reckon would be the best outcome for this upcoming federal election?
Harry: Jesus Christ. Realistically, that we lose the fuckwitted Liberal government. What a circus! Ideally, that it all collapses and Black Parliament can be installed. I’m pretty pissed that we pretty much have to choose between one party that’ll be shameless imperialists, and another that’ll just do it while smiling. What a fucking joke.
Serwah: All politicians wiped from the face of the earth.
Image: From the Pit
'Insurgency' is available now.