This period of history will likely be remembered first and foremost for the global pandemic currently ravaging the planet, but a defining chapter of the last year that should not be overlooked is civil unrest. Black Lives Matter continues to gather momentum, and protests were seen around the world last year following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. More recently, in the last few months alone we have seen unrest in Myanmar, Hong Kong and even the storming of the Capitol Building in America. No matter where you look on the political spectrum, people are distrustful of authority, hence why some are even willing to reject the word of experts when it comes to masks and vaccinations.
The current political sentiment of a time has always been divulged in part through music, and traditionally punk music has posited itself as the soundtrack to protest and rebellion. Whether it has always stayed true to this ethos is up for debate, but one band keeping that spirit alive in this tumultuous time are Brazilian sludge punks SNOW.
In the band’s home country there is currently a feeling that far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, a former military officer with a history of misogyny, racism, homophobia and anti-environmentalism, is more interested in political jousting than dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Elected in 2019, Bolsonaro campaigned on the promise of a fresh start that would purge corruption and crime by fighting violence with violence. Instead, corruption and scandals have rocked his presidency by implicating him, directly and indirectly, and his conduct is increasingly viewed as illegal. Though it could be said that Bolsonaro’s sinister actions are not as widely reported outside of Brazil as they should be, increasingly news media reports unrest in the country, with many pushing back against the government.
In São Paulo and beyond, the punk scene is reinvigorating the spirit of the Tropicália movement, which began in retaliation to the 1964 coup d’état which led to 21 years of military rule – an event that Bolsonaro deems worthy of celebration. Following the likes of Rakta and Deafkids, Rodrigo “Rod” Neves, the creative mind behind SNOW, is not mincing his words when it comes to his feelings on how things are being handled in Brazil. The band’s new record Fast N’ Heavy Loud N’ Slow is a politically-charged look at the world right now and with songs like ‘Escape From Brasil’ and ‘Paradoxical Conflicts’, Neves doesn’t pull any punches.
When asked to elaborate on the directness of the message in ‘Escape From Brasil’, Neves tells Astral Noize. “We are living really dark times in this world and it’s not news for anyone, but here in Brazil the situation is particularly bad. Our president, Bolsonaro, is a fascist pig that doesn’t care about the lives of Brazilian people and only cares about exploiting the masses to his own benefit. He is neglecting science and trying to convince people that Covid is ‘just a little flu’ and that we should not worry about it.
“That, together with the inspiration from John Carpenter‘s Escape From New York, is what made me want to write this song. So the song tells a little bit about this time, where we are locked in a country filled with bad people and fascist lunatics, free to roam and spread this virus and misinformation.”
However, though there is a political drive to a lot of what SNOW produces, it isn’t the sole focus for Neves. The guitarist/vocalist also wanted to use the project to touch upon some of his passions. With a clear influence on the early ‘90s skate punk scene, the music sounds upbeat and fun as much as the message is aggressive and pissed off. “I always wanted to make music that is also fun. I am not the kind of person that takes myself too seriously,” the guitarist says. “I am always joking and talking shit, and I think that shows in the music I make. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of issues and bad days, and I also write a lot of negative lyrics. Just like I love a lot of ‘negative’ music, some of my all time favourite bands are not so happy. But I tried to make a fun record, that you can play really loud and have fun.”
Taking influence from the likes of Black Sabbath, Melvins, Cancer Bats, Eyehategod, Weekend Nachos and Suicidal Tendencies to name just a few, SNOW bring a frantic and fun feel to punk, but with slowed-down, fuzz-ridden sludge influences in there to boot. In Neves’ music he manages to make the punky energy feel like a shot of adrenaline, before at the flip of a switch morphing into the come down from that same rush.
It’s easy to read a political metaphor into this, the liberating atmosphere of skateboarding hindered by heavier textures, like a skate ramp doused in a thick layer of grime, but one thing Neves doesn’t want his music to be is monotonous, and even though there is a political side to the record, it isn’t the heart of it. “I talk about very different themes, I try not to stay too biased on one subject or another,” he tells us. “There are songs about politics, but also about skateboarding really fast like you have a death wish.
“I am very influenced by movies as well. ‘Nowhere Fast’ is about the motorcycle gang in the movie Streets Of Fire and ‘Escape From Brasil’ is inspired by Escape From New York. Some songs talk about inner struggles and self doubt, some songs are straight-out political rants. I would say the record is pretty diversified thematically.”
Even though SNOW is predominantly a solo project coming from the mind of Neves, he has worked with other musicians in São Paulo to flesh out the sound of the record. And despite SNOW being a project which is in its relative infancy, it is something which Neves has been toying with for some time, messing about with sounds and demos on GarageBand.
It wasn’t until the world went into a global shutdown that he was able to sit down and really hash out what he wanted the project to sound like. “The focus was to create new songs for the other band I also play in, Tigersharks, since the other members lived in different cities and it was our way of sending ideas back and forth to create new music,” Neves explains about how the songs came to be. “Eventually I began creating different music and testing other sounds that I liked, but weren’t quite the sound of Tigersharks, so that‘s when SNOW came about. It was a new project I created to release music that was heavier and more sludge influenced, while still maintaining the hardcore punk foundation I always loved. It was only in 2020, when the pandemic hit, that I decided to focus on SNOW and recording our debut album.”
On the record Neves has collaborated with guitarist Andrez Machado and bassist Rodrigo Borba to give the project a fuller sound. When things started out, Neves was producing longer tracks that he found started to feel repetitive – bringing in Machado and Borba, the band were able to hone their style and produce something Neves could be happy with.
“I had a real steady idea in my mind,” adds Neves. “So when I talked to the collaborators I showed a lot of references to inspire them. Having said that, I also gave them complete freedom to create and play their parts how they wanted and I think the results were amazing. Andrez nailed the lead guitars as well as the production and Rodrigo Borba killed it on the bass, the grooves and the sound is massive.”
With all the pieces of the puzzle seeming to come into place, the other element of the band which Neves wanted to focus on was the aesthetic through which they’d present themselves to the world. On all album art and social media posts, a simple red and black colour scheme is prominent. An illustrator by trade, Neves was keen to channel the skater ethos through his artwork, and thus was very calculated when constructing the project’s visual identity.
Having been into skateboarding from the age of thirteen, it was the graphics which appeared on decks which really inspired him. “All the artwork is inspired by ’80s skate graphics, old school tattoos and urban iconography,” he explains. “My favourite skate deck of all time is the Santa Cruz Duane Peters red and black deck, so that’s why I like to use a lot of diagonal stripes, and then I add some spiderwebs, flames and some other details to give it the SNOW look.
“I wanted to make the visuals a mix of those aesthetic references as well as showing the personality of the band. The colour red always has been my favourite colour and it plays a big part in making the images really pop, to make the artwork stand out like decks on the wall of a skate shop.”
Though it arrives with sludgy riffs in tow, SNOW’s music puts the unbridled fun of skateboarding front and centre in both sound and appearance. But what it also does is back this up with the anti-authoritarian spirit of the sport, pointing out injustices even as it revels in the visceral freedom of skating fast with no regard for your own safety. For Neves (as for many of us right now), things look bleak, but even the nihilist outlook of sludge metal can’t erase the positivity he exudes.
The world is suffering, that’s for sure, but SNOW want to address this in a way that isn’t all doom and gloom. Instead Neves takes a skate or die approach to their music. Yes, it’s a middle finger to authority, but it is also fun – at the end of the day, isn’t that exactly what skateboarding and punk are all about?
Fast N’ Heavy Loud N’ Slow is out now. Order here.
Words: Tim Birkbeck