If there’s one thing the world needs, it’s more anti-Nazi, pro-worker heavy fucking music for these dire times. Thankfully, Redbait are here to deliver. Birthed out of the current activism and community organising movement in St. Louis, Missouri and dubbing themselves “proletariat crust”, the sextet’s blend of growling guitars, dizzying blast-beats, thrashing riffs and punk-meets-metal dual vocals are instilled by a pure, righteous belligerency.
Their debut release, this year’s Red Tape, is four tracks of blistering metal that’s forward-thinking in both ethos and sound. Combining themes of politics, labour issues and feminism with a multi-faceted style that borrows as much from punk and hardcore as it does extreme metal, the release sees the band join the ever-growing list of bands with an overt social conscious, tackling the genre’s reactionary corners head-on with anarchic music.
As the divide between rich and poor gets bigger, as fascism once again rears its ugly head and as problematic metal artists continue to operate without opposition, the metal scene needs bands who refuse to stand aside and watch the chaos unfold. This is the sort of music that kickstarts revolutions, stick it on and watch the old-world burn.
Tell us about the band’s inception. Was there a shared ethos that brought you together?
W (guitar): A shared ethos is exactly it. Everybody in the band is involved in activism in the St. Louis area, so we got to know each other at rallies, protests, and potlucks long before we played together. Our first show was as a pickup band doing punk covers to support another band who dropped off a show because they found out the venue had some issues that didn’t line up with their own values, so there’s been a thread of organising around political, labour, and feminist issues from the very beginning.
Your bio mentions that you are explicitly in support of workers, animals, and the environment. Do you think it’s important that bands are vocal about such issues?
W: Absolutely. As I fan, I want to know what kind of people are getting my money, I don’t want to fund a white supremacist’s music career. As a band, we want people to know what they’re getting; it’s anti-racist, anti-fascist, feminist, ACAB music. If that makes anybody uncomfortable, we’re not the band for them and we’re fine without them. I think there’s also a responsibility that comes with any platform. Redbait probably won’t change the world, but if you come to our show, you’re going to hear about how so-called “Right-To-Work” is on the ballot next month and we need everybody’s help to vote it down.
M (vocals): An integral part of punk and hardcore is the message. If you have a platform, use it. It’s impossible not to speak out against systemic racism, misogyny, homophobia and class divides when they are so deeply ingrained within our society. What I aspire for our music to do is to start conversations about these topics where they otherwise wouldn’t have taken place and inspire direct action.
N (bass): I have learned long ago that if someone is willing to give you their ear for even a moment, to waste that moment is a tragedy.
R (vocals): It is always important for artists to be vocal about the things they are passionate about. Otherwise, you might as well just stay in bed.
You recently tweeted that people should leave their Nazi-related band merch at home when they come to your gigs. Why do you think so many contentious bands in the metal scene continue to receive support from fans despite their actions?
W: The short answer is that those fans are comfortable with racism. I’m a black metal fan, I understand the struggle of realising music you love was made by a racist piece of shit, but what can you do? You can stop supporting it, or you can continue to give your money and your t-shirt real estate to somebody who’s going to spend it on a Nazi memorabilia website.
That tweet was about a Marduk shirt I saw at somebody else’s show. Maybe the guy was just some edgelord who loves the riffs, and not a “real” fascist, but at this point we know real people who have suffered real harm from real Nazis, so the difference between “Nazi” and “doesn’t mind Nazi stuff” doesn’t mean much to me. So no, I don’t want to see that trash when we’re playing, I don’t want somebody who came out to see us play to have to worry about their safety because of that.
R: I went through a phase in my youth where I would go to the record store and just buy the most offensive looking records I could find. Needless to say, my collection ended up with a lot of problematic shit in it. I was just young and angry at the world and looking for an outlet. It took many years of patient friends, discovering the right bands, and just listening before I found more constructive outlets for my anger. People don’t like to be told what to think and it’s a kind of rebellion in itself to just say “fuck you, fuck the world, I hate it all, I don’t care about anything.” But really that’s the easy way out. It takes much more strength to say “fuck this, it sucks, now let’s fix it.”
W: This is a good point, I think we all have some of that stuff on the album shelf, we were all worse than we are now. It’s reasonable to ask and to give space for people to grow and be better, but there has to be some accountability for that to work, you have to acknowledge that the stuff you’re wearing and promoting is actively hurtful to people.
A lot of people say that we should separate the art from the artist in terms of NSBM and the like. What are your feelings on the matter?
W: It’s absurd. I don’t keep avowed racists in my circle of friends, I wouldn’t give a Nazi a pass if they were great at skateboarding or really know their way around Microsoft Office, I assure you no NSBM riff is so good that I’m going to let it slide. And what’s the point? There’s incredible music out there from bands who are vocally anti-fascist. If you’re buying NSBM records, if you’re wearing merch with that kind of imagery, it’s because you’re okay with those sentiments, and that’s appalling to me.
Astral Noize did an interview with Feminazgul and Maggie Killjoy said something that struck me, something like “Nazism isn’t the abstraction it was 20 years ago.” Fascism has never been acceptable, but when a lot of us started listening to black metal a decade or more ago, we weren’t aware of violent, organised white supremacist groups marching through the streets, but they’re here now and they’ve murdered people who showed up to tell them they weren’t welcome. I don’t know what to say to somebody who’s seen what happened in Charlottesville and still walks around in public with some Nazi eagle shit on their back, except “go fuck yourself.”
N: 20 years ago, racist bands and fans looked like skinheads. Between then and now, the fascist movement realised that telling young white punks that they are losing out on opportunities given to people darker than they was limited, and the strategy changed to scaring white middle-class people of limited property of what they could lose. Yet, the misperception that fascists look like skinheads continues, despite that demographic being minuscule. It’s a safe bet that a white dude in a Burzum shit is a white power dude, just without much visible fanfare.
You tend to see a lot of people claiming that politics have no place in metal, do you think it’s fair to say that those people misunderstand what the genre is about?
W: I think it’s fundamentally a bad faith argument, because advocating for Nazis to have a space in metal is a political stance, but yeah, I’d say that kind of argument shows a pretty limited awareness of the genre. There are plenty of examples of metal with bad politics along with the good, but anybody that thinks politics have been historically absent from metal has missed out on some great records.
You’ve tweeted before about bands like Allfather. Are there any other progressively-minded, pro-worker bands out there you’d recommend?
W: How much space do you have? They’re everywhere if you care enough to look. Panopticon was revolutionary for me into terms of taking a genre with an ugly history, keeping the part of it that’s grounded in a sense of place, and infusing it with care for fellow human beings and the environment. Dawn Ray’d, Twilight Fauna, Propagandhi, Ancst, Iskra and Svalbard are doing great heavy music with values that I think line up with ours. The Allfather boys and Rich from Blackened Death Records have been really supportive of our stuff and they’re admirably loud about their politics. It’s not just in metal or hardcore, either, you’ve got people like Steve Earle and Jason Isbell being vocal about anti-racist work in country music or Americana or whatever you want to call it. Our drummer just put me onto The Local Honeys, a bluegrass duet from east KY that has some badass anti-strip-mining songs.
N (bass): Gather, Newtown Neurotics, The Strike.
B (guitar): My background with progressive-thinking bands is all with vegan straight-edge hardcore bands. The main band that comes to mind, for me, is Trial. Are These Our Lives? really hit me. I loved how wordy and specific Greg was. You could tell he’s well-read and knows what he’s talking about when it comes to things like capitalism, war, animal rights, sobriety, etc., things I was super conscious of in high school when I was discovering them. Their lyrics read, to me, like an essay (in a good way) and I felt like I was getting educated. That band definitely catapulted my interest in lefty thought, especially through music. Recently I’ve been real into SECTXVX and Ecostrike. Racetraitor’s comeback has had me real excited.
There’s a strong punk vibe to much of the EP, were you at all inspired by the rebellious spirit of the genre?
W: There’s definitely an element of punk ethos in there, but for me, it’s more about the DIY ethic. We started out playing in DIY venue/political spaces, we recorded the EP in my basement, and our merch is made by us (with the exception of the liner notes and t-shirts, which were union-printed). We’re all people who work and have bills and families, so that’s the only way this music can get made. But the other side of that coin is that anybody can do what we’re doing, and everybody should. Start a band, start a collective, start a union, it’s unreal what you can accomplish just by organising with like-minded people.
Your sound is a pretty volatile mix of styles. Did you set out with the intention of creating something unique in the metal/hardcore/punk scene?
W: We didn’t have much choice, honestly. We have six very different musical backgrounds, so by the time we cram all those influences into one song, it takes on a life of its own. It’s for other people to say if it’s unique; if we had a goal it was just to make something that’s fun for all of us to play.
M: We’re constantly writing and exploring our sound. One of my favourite things about Redbait is how cohesive we are in the writing process, even though we all have very different musical preferences.
B: Our diverse music backgrounds is my favourite thing about this band. We’ve been making playlists of what we’re all listening to and posting them for people to follow. On one playlist you can hear Panopticon to New Order to Svalbard to My Chemical Romance (https://open.spotify.com/user/jamesonwm/playlist/781htvO77woSFuJpqaNSHg?si=wdEVAeCHS42f6VCzWqU1gg).
R: Not only do we all come from different musical backgrounds, but we have so much respect for each other, everyone is given a voice and space to try things. There aren’t any huge egos, no one is trying to run the show. It’s a true collaboration. I have tried to front bands in the past and it always fell apart before it started because I never felt supported. I have been told to “sound more like a girl” in bands in the past. I have been told not to get so personal in my lyrics. I don’t get that at all in Redbait, and I feel like the results really speak for themselves.
What’s next for Redbait? Any plans for a follow-up release?
W: Well, we’re honoured to have joined the New Age Records family recently so we’re looking forward to releasing some music with them, but we’re just in the writing stage now. Our next local show is a benefit for the Women’s Safehouse of St. Louis, and in August you can catch two-thirds of us and some special guests playing a post-show event for the New Age fest in Fullerton, CA. In the meantime, you can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, check out the pages and join all the folks making the same tired joke about how you can still wear your Skrewdriver/Graveland/Death In June t-shirt, right? Haha (No).
Red Tape is out now. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
If you enjoyed this piece, check out: Smashing Nazism Through Tolkieniest Thematics with Feminazgul