REVIEW: Total Abuse, Austin TX

Contributed by Jake Holmes


For this week’s installment of my column, I decided to write about something different than the death/thrash/black/doom metal that dominates about 95% of my show-going experiences.  This is for two reasons — one namely because I had a blast at this show and the other being that I haven’t been to a show where I wasn’t part of the bill in some time (as of the time of this writing).  So I’ve decided to review in retrospect a noise/punk show that a few friends and I went to a few weeks ago.


Now dear reader, I will confess, I am pretty much a newcomer to experimental and noise music and its many related subgenres.  While I could talk anyone’s ear off about the merits of ’80’s speed metal demos that were probably recorded on a boombox in someone’s basement, I’ll admit that I am but fledgling to more sonically harsh realms. I’m familiar with some early noisecore, power-electronics, and other noise-related acts, but for the most part I am but an interested party looking to learn more about acts who take sound to its furthest possible extremity.  As such, this review will be more focused on a newcomer’s introduction into a different musical (or anti-musical) world, so consider that your disclaimer.


We arrived at the club at about an hour before doors, and decided to drive around passing time (having grown up in a Texas town with not much to do, this is a familiar activity) until we were able to get in to the venue.  Once we arrived, we observed the uniquely-monikered Breakdancing Ronald Reagan vs. Breathing Problem, who initiated the night’s showcase.  Breakdancing Ronald Reagan vs. Breathing Problem played a five-minute set of harsh noise and power-electronics that is nigh-undescribable to anyone not familiar with the style or the band itself.  The project’s style is an atonal aural assault on the eardrums, with white noise and decibel levels that pushed the limits of the audience’s hearing close to the threshold of pain.  The vocals consisted of single-syllable distorted shouts, the perfect accompaniment to the sonic representation of conflict that came from the electronic contraptions being manipulated by the sole instrumentalist of the band.  The vocalist added to the violent atmosphere by bashing the mic stand against the ground on numerous occasions, allowing a purposefully-unpleasant “thud” to be felt beneath our feet.  The death-by-volume set was extremely unsettling and disturbing, and yet captivating as well, drawing in interested audience members who were fascinated by a physical representation of the answer to “how extreme can sound become?”  As the set was approximately five-to-seven minutes in length, this section of the review is accordingly brief.  However, Breakdancing Ronald Reagan vs. Breathing Problem does play as part of a noise showcase on October 23rd at Chain Drive, so if their performance sounds like an experience you’d like to have, you can check them out there.  After this observation in harsh noise ended, it was time for Officer Problem continued the night’s mayhem with a devastating set of noisecore.

Officer Problem’s biography stated an influence by Sore Throat and early AxCx (R.I.P. Seth), and they were without a doubt one of the most chaotic bands I’ve ever witnessed, bashing and beating their instruments like they’d walked into the wrong neighborhood.  The band used a three-piece bass, drums, and vocals/effects lineup that was about as pure of audio violence as you can get.  For anyone who reads my column regularly, you’ll notice that I tend to notice the bass first and foremost (because as I’ve said before, I am a bassist), and Officer Problem’s bass had one of the nastiest tones I could imagine — assisted by occasionally detuning the instrument while maniacally picking away.  By the end of the set, that bass had suffered just about every cruelty one could imagine outside of being rendered outright FUBAR — the guitar was flung around, thrown down, stepped on, and even headbutted!  If I may provide a personal commentary for a minute; I’ll say that as a performing bassist, I tend to be overly paranoid about breaking a string on-stage even though it A) has never happened to me and B) I’ve never seen it happen to a bassist onstage.  After Friday’s show, those fears were laid to rest, having seen a bass go through hell and back with its four strings completely intact by the end of the set.  The drumming was equally insane, with Officer Problem’s drummer smashing and blasting away at his kit and piercing his skins with drumsticks at the end of the performance.  This hysteric frenzy was brought to a peak when he threw himself into the kit and then the crowd itself, spastically kicking around like a man possessed.  Officer Problem’s vocalist utilized a blood-curdling shriek that amplified the effect of the instrumentalists clanging in clamor.  The anti-music of Officer Problem is clearly not for everyone, but for those open to unconventional approaches to audio violence, I would definitely recommend checking out a show if they are playing near you.  Personally, I loved just about every second of it, so I will be keeping my eye out for future shows with Officer Problem.


Around this point, the venue PA music took a strange turn from Hellhammer to an hour-long barrage of crunk music, so my friends and I hopped outside to relax for a bit.  I’ll use this space to state that I really dug the venue, The Annex at Club 1808.  Club 1808 itself was hosting a rapper by the name of Li’l Keke (whom I actually saw live once during a bizarre night of unplanned youthful shenanigans — long story), and the Annex was the venue right next to it.  The main room was very fitting, with a hallway leading out to a backyard, which gave the show at the Annex a major house show vibe, which I always appreciate.  The sound was also great all night, even when the bands themselves were playing lethally-distorted noise.  We went inside so that my friends could acquire drinkables, which coincided with everyone else on the outside swarming the floor of the venue in anticipation of a beatdown by Austin hardcore band Recide.


The confrontational Recide (whom I misread as “Reicide” for the first few weeks of knowing about them) have been kicking around for a few years now, and I enjoyed the band’s energetic hardcore which had an old-school approach to it (which is pretty much the only hardcore I can tolerate) with a machine gun-speed power chord blasts and punky drumming.  They were able to whip the now-packed room into a frenzy, with people moshing and throwing themselves in whirlwind motions, causing everyone in my group to suddenly find ourselves dodging bodies and beer cans getting flung around.  For punk and hardcore shows, this is the exact kind of atmosphere I have a great time at; where the energy levels are at a youthful high and no one — even if they’re just watching the band — can stand still.  The vocal style was a forceful shout that accompanied their singer distorting his face with rage as he stomped around the floor of the mosh pit while the band played away at their instruments, providing a hardcore backdrop to the frenzy below.  The bass, guitar, and drums worked well in unison with each other in punk rock power, rhythmically locking in throughout the performance to allow Recide’s hardcore message to be communicated with the best possible impact.  The set went by quickly and was highly appreciated by the audience, who reacted positively for the set’s duration.  After Recide’s performance, more crunk music from the PA followed, so we hung out outside until the hour of insanity was upon us; Hell was empty, and Total Abuse was here.


The first Total Abuse show since 2011 was also my first experience with the band, and to say that it was a positive experience would be an understatement to the point of injustice.  The Austin sadists of sound had reunited for this show and proved that they were not even slightly rusty; instead operating on the level of a finely polished blade ready to gut anyone who happened to be displaying signs of weakness.  There was an absolutely dictatorial presence about singer Rusty Kelley, who stood high above the crowd, shrieking and yelling expressions of rage and hatred above the backing of the high-octane band accompaniment.  Musically, Total Abuse played an aggressive combination of hardcore, punk, and noise taken to boundaries so extreme it was almost beyond comprehension — which is meant in the most complimentary way in this case.  The audience was completely enthralled, transforming into a fast-moving pit of bodies that behaved as channelers of chaos, thrashing in line with the commands barked by Kelley.  The stage was only a few inches off the ground, but this did not stop people from diving from the stage, colliding with those who were equally in-tune with the madness that was taking place.  This was punk rock that had been dragged into a dark alleyway and beaten down by nihilistic noise commandos as part of an initiation until joining forces in feedback-laden ferocity.  There were no pauses that could have disrupt the flow of the set, as the band played tightly with almost no silence between songs to deliver their message with maximum efficiency.  The exercise in obscenity ended as viciously as it began, with Total Abuse bringing the performance to a furious finish after striking away at their instruments one last time.


According to the lineup posted on Facebook, there was one more band on the bill, Captive, who feature members of Total Abuse and Rayon Beach.  Unfortunately, Total Abuse’s performance left us completely wrecked, so we decided to call it a night.  My apologies to Captive, and for anyone interested, you can check out their SoundCloud here:


It’s always a good show when you wake up the next morning feeling like you were hit with at least twelve tons of bricks, and my bodily turmoil at sunrise was proof that I had a blast.  Cheers to Total Abuse, Recide, Officer Problem, and Breakdancing Ronald Reagan vs. Breathing Problem, and to Austin Noise as well!  See you around!

Jake Holmes is a Central Texas heavy metal writer who lives by the pen and will (likely) die by the sword.  Originally from a suburban town outside of North Austin, Holmes moved to San Antonio during his college years.  After several years and thousands of miles driven to see shows in San Antonio and Austin, he returned to the Austin area due to his graduation and continued to see as many shows as humanly possible.  His interests include going to shows, blasting Carnivore as loudly as possible on the way to shows, and sleeping upon his return to his home from shows.  His “dislikes” include hearing loss, traffic, and unnecessary bonus tracks on album reissues.
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