“Punk is doing whatever the fuck you want!” declares theOGM, his dreadlocks bouncing as he sits on the floor cutting out black-and-white printouts of Miles Davis for a collage he’s making for his girlfriend. He’s one half of New Jersey duo Ho99o9 (pronounced ‘Horror’, in case you were wondering) and he’s got no time for purists who might decide that the duo’s decision to use backing tracks rather than live instruments onstage makes them any less of a punk band.
It’s an uncharacteristically overcast day in Los Angeles, and theOGM and his bandmate Eaddy are at home in their apartment in the hipster enclave of Silver Lake. Stacks of vinyl lean against the threadbare furniture, but there’s no sign of any of their stage props, which include plastic tentacle fingers and one of theOGM’s personal favourites – a wedding dress. You may have seen it make an appearance during their recent shows with The Dillinger Escape Plan, during which they also pelted the crowd with cereal and climbed on anything they could find.
“One of my inspirations is Kill Bill,” theOGM says. “That’s one of the reasons I wear the wedding dress. The Bride gets killed and resurrected, and she just keeps coming back. That’s us. We come from the bottom where we didn’t have shit, but we keep coming back.”
He’s right about Ho99o9 carving their own path into the alternative scene. Growing up in New Jersey, theOGM and Eaddy met through mutual friends in 2006 and found themselves inspired by a New York art collective called A.L.I.E.N., which now operates as a streetwear brand. “Eaddy got really close to one of the main dudes and they welcomed us with open arms and gave us this idea of, ‘Oh shit, we can come together as a group to make shit happen in New Jersey’,” says theOGM. “In New York they do that shit, so why can’t we do that?”
The NJStreetKLAN was born, and the pair started making music. At first, they were influenced by the hip hop they grew up listening to, including artists such as DMX, but they soon caught on to the heavier side of things. “Once we started going out to New York, it was punk shows or pop-punk shows, and then we were going to more hardcore, aggressive shit, and that’s what inspired the elements of what we do now,” theOGM explains.
It’s their artfully gory videos – theOGM loves Rob Zombie’s movies as well as Quentin Tarantino’s – and high-octane live performances that have attracted attention. By using guitar tracks that are recorded live in a studio in LA, rather than having musicians onstage with them, the pair have the space to cavort freely and change costumes (and in some cases, undress completely), without sounding any less like a full band. All the hallmarks of punk are there – the breakneck riffs, distorted guitars and roared musings on the ills of modern life – and the influences are real, right down to the band names, like Void, daubed on Eaddy’s leather jacket.
“I’d never wear any clothing or rep something I didn’t know, just because it looks cool. That shit doesn’t fly in my book,” he says. “One of my friends said he’d seen somebody with an Iron Maiden shirt on and asked him if Ride The Lightning was his favourite tune, and he was like, ‘Yeah!’ It’s fucking dumb.”
Eaddy gravitates towards trail- blazers from the punk scene, such as Bad Brains’ H.R., and Texan band the Dicks. “Some people don’t accept the different aspects of us, like wearing a dress and fingernails, but the lead singer of the Dicks is openly gay,” he says. “He used to come onstage wearing drag, and the music was fucking awesome. He’d say, ‘I’m a faggot, so what, I’ll suck your dick after the show!’ That shit is awesome.”
Creative freedom, and recognising that minority groups don’t always have an easy ride in rock, are obviously important issues to Ho99o9, so it’s not surprising that Eaddy struggles to separate art from artist in cases where the artist has been a bit of a shithead. “I’ve got a love-hate relationship with Phil Anselmo,” he says. “I love the band, I love his other bands, but his speech and character sometimes… I’m like, come on, man… It’s really a guilty pleasure for me.”
He says racism, though, isn’t something he’s encountered from punk and metal fans. “It always creeps up in my head but it never comes to the forefront, because I’m so engulfed in the music. The colour of my skin doesn’t matter,” he says. “We’ll be at these festivals and we’ll be the only black dudes, and it won’t even hit me. The fans like it, everybody’s having fun.”
One of those fans happens to be The Dillinger Escape Plan’s drummer, Billy Rymer, who personally invited Ho99o9 to support Dillinger on their final European tour. In keeping with the band’s DIY, haphazard way, the request nearly went unnoticed.
“He saw us in Brooklyn and we exchanged numbers,” says theOGM. “But I had an old iPhone and it was terrible. Then months later, we were in Dallas on our own tour, and we were playing across the street from them. Billy texted me and I was like, ‘Oh shit, the dude from Dillinger!’ Then I saw another text that he had sent me months ago, saying he wanted us to open up for them on the entire US tour. But I’d missed that. So we didn’t do the US tour because of that! It was sold out everywhere, which would have been amazing for us. Anyway, he said they had no one to open up for them in Europe, and we were like, ‘OK, yeah, fuck!’ Billy’s a good dude.”
Ho99o9 had only done a handful of UK shows before the tour, though they played to bemused Download punters on the small Dogtooth Stage last year. Dillinger’s crowd were visibly confused; some threw themselves into the fray with wild abandon, while others were left agape, wondering what the hell they had just witnessed.
“It went down like somebody walking along and a piano smashing onto their head,” muses Eaddy, somewhat confusingly. “It went down good.”
“Nobody’s there to see us – they’re hardcore Dillinger fans,” adds theOGM. “But we had some fans come up to us after the show saying, ‘We came to see Dillinger, but man, since you came out in that wedding dress, I knew I was interested!’”
With their profile rising in the alternative scene, it’s the ideal time to release their debut album, The United States Of Horror. While it might sound like an observation on the current political climate in America, theOGM says they “don’t want to be labelled as political”.
“It’s a hard kick in the balls,” says Eaddy. “It was our plan to do this before Trump was even elected. It’s about everything we’ve seen, from women and partying to racism and the way people of colour or gender are being treated. It’s fucking in your face and real, and what we wake up to every day.”
As far as we’re concerned, that’s punk as fuck.
The United States Of Horror is out in May, via Toys Have Powers