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Five Songs Of Resistance: Pure Disgust

From 2013 until when they disbanded earlier this month, the Washington, D.C., group, Pure Disgust, emerged as one of the city’s best punk bands. They used blistering eighties-style hardcore to write songs about police violence, respectability politics, and the realities of being young and black in America.

“When will brown bodies get the respect we deserve?” singer Rob Watson asks on the song “Slander Me.

In interviews, the band makes clear that they consider their songs to be based on personal experiences more than political statements.

“Each song means something to me personally and isn’t a bunch of bullshit jargon,” Watson said in a 2016 interview.

The band recently played its last show, but the sharp rage of their discography ought to live on, especially since within their personal lyrics are some of the most vital protest songs of the past few years.

Below are five songs that call out the world’s bullshit:

“America” (2013) from Pure Disgust Demo

Their first record, the five-song Pure Disgust Demo, is full of stomping punk with lyrics about fascist clowns and white people, who say they’re “blind to race.” Within the first minute, Watson starts the five-song tape: “America / Land of the enslaved / Home of the afraid / Watch your backs when you walk out.” It’s an urgent introduction to the band’s direct way of addressing nuanced perspectives on racism and white supremacy. “You never know who’s running about,” he growls. “Police state’s rising and it’s time to fight back Rise up. Fight back.”

“Denied” (2014) from the Pure Disgust 7-inch

The next year, on the band’s self-titled seven-inch record, they continued making Dischord-reminiscent hardcore with tempo recalling oi! influences, huge riffs, and the occasional sing-shout refrain for melodic effect.

“Denied” opens with thick power chords, and wiry, sirening riffs, plus lyrics about society’s failure to recognize the realities of systematic discrimination: “You think it’s just one / which causes the problems / But it’s the culture and all it upholds.” It’s a powerful two-minute blast that builds into a chorus: “You talk you get arrested / You walk you get arrested / Cops don’t care about you.”

“It feels like at any moment your life can be taken away from you, and you will be demonized from the jump,” Watson said in a 2016 interview. “I don’t feel safe around police and other authority figures with weapons.”

“I​.​D​.​O​.​Y​.​S.” (2015) from the Chained EP

In April 2015, the Chained EP opened with this song—it’s title standing for “I Don’t Owe You Shit,” a line that gets repeated throughout. It builds slowly, opening with a classic-sounding rock riff, before exploding into a straightforward tear into assholes, who are ignorant to their own privilege: “You need to listen when we speak our lives / You must forget what you know / Don’t reinforce that privilege you hold / You know it’s keeping you safe / I don’t owe you shit  / Fuck off.”

When asked about this song by WAMU’s Bandwidth blog, Watson said: “I would absolutely not say we’re a political band. My lyrics come from my life and what I experience. My life isn’t political. It’s just my life. Pure Disgust’s lyrics are just reflections of it… I would [like] white people to come to understand what it’s like to be a punk/person of color, but honestly, I couldn’t care less what white people think of my lyrics. I don’t write it for them. I live to make white people uncomfortable.”

“Pipeline” (2016)

Pure Disgust released a ten-song full-length on Katorga Works, a masterful LP distilling all of the styles and influences they have played with before.

The second track, “Pipeline,” draws from Watson’s personal experiences in the D.C. public school system: “School to prison / Raised to fail / How do you escape the poverty that you’re in when nothing can change status?” he howls, each word sang with purpose. “The government doesn’t help / Look at your surroundings / There is no other choice.”

“White Silence” (2016)

The record ends with “White Silence,” the band’s longest and most expansive song. It is about the violence of white folks, who claim to be progressive but refuse to engage in discussions about racism and white supremacy.

“You stay silent because talking about it would be tiresome… the new racism is the denial racism,” Watson sings. “White silence is compliance / white silence is violence / you claim you’re for equality but only when it affects you.”

President Donald Trump. Photo by the White House.
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Liz Pelly

Liz Pelly