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  • Writer's picture The Vindicator

Black Artists in the Rock Scene

Five Black-led acts who should be on your punk, rock and alternative playlists.


Written by Benvolio Nichols





Playlist below!



The popular image of rock and its subgenres too often excludes Black artists, despite the Black roots of rock ’n’ roll and the contributions of greats such as legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix and feminist punk icon Poly Styrene. Black artists are changing the landscape of every genre and style you can imagine. In an October 2022 article, Audrey Stratton and I spotlighted pop punk band Meet Me @ The Altar, grunge-influenced singer-songwriter Oceanator and nu metal duo Nova Twins. Bob Vylan and Big Joanie, two U.K. acts, continue bringing their voices to the punk scene with recent releases. Let’s take a detailed look at five more contemporary Black musicians and Black-led projects.


JER


Singer/musician/composer JER has made a mark on ska punk as a creator and collaborator for multiple recent projects. They are the mind behind Skatune Network, originally a YouTube channel dedicated to covering an eclectic variety of songs in a ska style. In terms of recent pop hits, Skatune Network has covered “bad guy” by Billie Eilish, “stupid horse” by 100 gecs and even “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift. They’ve carved out a niche with three volumes and counting of (“Ska"), ("Goes"), and ("Emo") leaving listeners to wonder if scream-along favorites like “Mr. Brightside” and “Misery Business” should have been ska songs all along. JER records and tours with We Are The Union, primarily as a trombonist for the Michigan-based band (though they also play trumpet, bass and saxophone, among other instruments). Last summer, We Are The Union played at the House of Blues in Cleveland, performing songs including the playful and defiant trans-affirming anthem “Boys Will Be Girls.” In 2022, JER released “Bothered / Unbothered,” their first album of all original songs. In the second track, “You Got Yr ----- Card Revoked!” JER speaks directly to the contradictions of being Black and queer: “I shouldn’t have to prove myself within my own community,” they declare over energetic brass and guitar. Bookend opener and closer “BOTHERED” and “UNBOTHERED” tie together this thoughtful and unstoppable album, which lands even more satisfyingly in a front-to-back listening session.


Jhariah


Genre-fusing artist Jhariah Clare, known mononymously as Jhariah, uploaded their first track to YouTube in 2012, when they were just 11 years old. In the wake of the 2020 lockdowns, the 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist has attracted a significant online fanbase, which he credits to the viral popularity of his singles in communities on TikTok. Jhariah’s 2021 concept EP, “A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO FAKING YOUR DEATH,” draws in listeners with its bold and brassy sound combined with rich storytelling. Tracks like “BAD LUCK!” and “Flight of the Crows” hold appeal for fans of fantasy and sci-fi — especially the Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying game fandoms — with compelling lyrics and theatrical instrumentation that feel tailor-made to score any adventure. Also a trained visual artist with a background in animation, Jhariah is known to design their own album covers and animate videos to accompany their songs. In interviews, they have cited Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance as their greatest artistic influence, along with other ’00s alternative acts including Panic! at the Disco, Fall Out Boy and Paramore. His latest single, “EAT YOUR FRIENDS,” is a collaboration with punk band Pinkshift. Jhariah’s fast-paced delivery and impressive vocal range accentuate the rock track’s intense guitar and social commentary on the toxicity of the music industry. After stopping in Ohio on their tour with Pinkshift and Pollyanna in fall 2023, Jhariah’s 2024 headlining tour will return to Columbus on April 5.


The Muslims


North Carolina hardcore trio The Muslims, self-described as an “all-queer, Black & Brown punk band,” have released five studio albums of fast-paced, incisive protest songs in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and presidency. The band was founded in 2017 by guitarist and lead singer QADR, bassist Abu Shea and drummer Ba7Ba7. In their self-titled 2018 debut, The Muslims came out swinging against Islamophobia, anti-Blackness and systemic oppression in all forms, condemning regressive U.S. politics in tracks like “Agent Orange” and “Jihadageddon.” “There Their They’re” from sophomore album “Mayo Supreme” showcases the band’s characteristically irreverent lyrics along with their instrumental talent, building intensity with a bass hook and steady drums before QADR’s vocals and guitar come crashing in. The Muslims take aim at hypocrisy across the political spectrum, calling out the white queer community’s role in gentrification in “Gentrifried Chicken” and satirizing the disingenuous news coverage that scapegoats Islam (and not white supremacy,) for mass shootings in “Blame it On Mohammad.” On their most recent album, “F*ck These F*ckin Fascists” (2021), QADR growls, shouts, chants and croons through a dozen nonstop one- and two-minute songs dedicated to “a Free Palestine and Trans liberation in our lifetime.” On social media, The Muslims have begun teasing a possible sixth album to join the rest of their unapologetically revolutionary discography.


Pleasure Venom


Lead singer and lyricist Audrey Campbell founded punk band Pleasure Venom in 2014. The band’s style draws on many subgenre influences including riot grrrl and garage punk. Along with attracting an active, loyal fanbase in their hometown of Austin, Texas, Pleasure Venom has released three EPs: “Hunt” (2016), “Seize” (2018) and “Pleasure Venom” (2018). “I Can’t Find My Black Lipstick,” from their self-titled EP, features menacing, increasingly urgent riffs as Campbell twists her striking voice into a howl. The 2021 single “Fascist” shows off more of Campbell’s range, from rapid-fire crowing into a dreamy wail and back again. In late 2022, after finalizing their instrumental lineup with Chase Dungan on guitar, Jordan Emmert on bass and Campbell’s partner, Thomas Valles, on drums, Pleasure Venom released their first album “Rebirth/Return.” Their full-length debut includes “Daunt,” a danceable track with a call-and-response chorus. The album’s lead single, “We Get What You Deserve,” sketches anger and disillusionment through visceral imagery and Campbell screaming head-to-head with the guitars. After wrapping up a 2023 tour with shoegaze act Ringo Deathstarr (which made a stop in Akron), Pleasure Venom have announced that new music is in the works.


Zeal & Ardor


Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux said that he founded his musical project Zeal & Ardor as the answer to one historical question: “What if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?” Zeal & Ardor synthesizes the occult imagery and sonic intensity of metal with the rhythm and storytelling tradition of the spirituals sung by enslaved Black people, to create subversive and controversial “Satanic spirituals.” Songs like “You Ain’t Coming Back” and “Stranger Fruit” evoke the history of anti-Black violence with a despair made more piercing by ominous metal instrumentation. In “Blood in the River” and “Church Burns,” intense beats and Gagneux’s powerful vocals alternatively present Satan as a symbol of Black uprising and vengeance against slaveholders. Along with their three albums, Zeal & Ardor released the 2020 EP “Wake of a Nation” as a direct commentary on the murder of George Floyd, rampant police brutality and the centuries of white supremacist violence in the United States.

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