Hardcore means a million different things to a million different people. For Sharpooth’s Lauren Kashan, it’s all about empowerment.
Lauren discovered the hardcore scene after escaping from a cult that she believed to be a treatment centre. Reeling from the trauma of this, as well as past experiences with drugs and sexual abuse, she began to heal through the genre’s explosive power and social activism. The music and community taught Lauren how to fight for a revolution and has given her a platform to speak candidly about her life, helping those also searching to feel heard. So now, as she talks about the denigration of hardcore, you better believe she’s doing so with the genre’s best interests at heart.
“A lot of the spirit I loved when I came into hardcore has been sucked out in a mainstream and corporate way,” says Lauren as she sits down to talk about Sharptooth’s latest album, Transitional Forms. A searingly political record, it gives hardcore some tough love by both paying homage to it and pointing out its faults: namely the rife problems of sexual abuse, misogyny and racism within the scene. Lauren discusses these issues with a combination of compassion and humour, name-checking the likes of Stick To Your Guns, Stray From The Path and Anti-Flag as bands that have encouraged her to be a vocal spokesperson both within her music and outside.
As a queer woman, she feels the power in her platform. “When you’re part of a group whose voice has been silenced, having the opportunity to get up on stage and speak your mind, lived experience and truth is one of the most powerful things about hardcore,” she says. Alongside her bandmates in Sharptooth – guitarists Keith Higgins and Lance Donati, bassist Peter Bruno and drummer Matt Hague – she has written a fearless, varied and inspired album that hits just as hard musically as it does in its message.
On Transitional Forms, Sharptooth make destructive, aggressive music with Comeback Kid-esque riffs and power. Songs like Mean Brain and The Southern Strategy are quintessential stomping metallic hardcore while 153 sees Lauren experiment with an almost hard-rock style clean chorus.
The talking point, however, will be the album’s viscous opener Say Nothing (In the Absence Of Consent) which parodies the way in which violent hardcore has become conflated with having a message – when in reality, it’s often performative vitriol about nothing. The song crashes into a beatdown with Lauren roaring, ‘Mosh call, generic mosh call, it must be nice to say nothing at all.’
But Sharptooth recognise that hardcore wasn’t made for people with nothing to say. The corporate takeover of the genre is turning it into a microcosm of the wider world, echoing problems of inequality, poor representation and injustice. “If you bring up that the hardcore scene is toxically masculine, people don’t know what you’re talking about; they have no idea that they’re participating in that system because it’s normal to them,” says Lauren.
“Racism and misogyny almost never look like somebody yelling at you, it’s more subtle. Most of the time it isn’t rooted in objective hate; it’s ignorance, misunderstanding and terrible conditioning.”
What makes Transitional Forms special is how it targets such issues with a cocktail of nuance, introspection, aggression and subtlety. The standout showcase of this is The Grey. “One of the things I was thinking about is the political binaries that we align ourselves with, or the socio-political woke-a-metre that we put people on. You’re woke or you're problematic, but can’t people just be people?” she asks. “People have this assumption that I’m the kind of activist that goes around like ‘You’re cancelled!’ but I’m not. I want to have conversations with all types of people so that we can change minds. I don’t care about people thinking I’m cool, I care about people learning something.”
For Lauren, there is no alternative but to address problems and handle them effectively – her rights depend on it. It's front and centre of their music and their sound. Consequently, the obvious talking point with Sharptooth will always be their politics, and Lauren will always have to experience the emotional labour of being outspoken and honest. With every interview that passes, she’ll be asked to rehash her experiences with misogyny, sexual abuse and discrimination – a task that often falls on marginalised groups. “At the end of the day, socio-political activism is going to be a part of my life whether I like it or not,” she says. “But yeah, sometimes it sucks because you do just wanna get up in front of people and be a goober, that’s just who I am.”
Goober she may be, but Lauren Kashan is helping to lead the way for a generation of socially responsible bands: ones that act with compassion, look after their fans and use their platform for good. Hardcore has fired Lauren up and now she’s firing back.
Sharptooth's new album Transitional Forms is available now via Pure Noise Records