In the world of hardcore punk, where bands tear through explosively short sets in cramped bars and dingy basements, it’s hard for a band to create a legacy for itself. And when it does, it’s usually long after the band has called it quits.
The lucky ones will get the chance to play at some of the scene’s most notable festivals, like D.C.’s Damaged City Fest or Toronto’s Not Dead Yet. Most will flicker out after a few years—its members moving on to start something new—leaving behind a handful of notable demos and 7-inch records. But when D.C.’s Pure Disgust officially disband after their final show on Saturday night, they won’t have to wait to see what kind of legacy—if any—they’ll have left behind. It’s already there.
In four years, Pure Disgust have distinguished themselves not just by playing all over the U.S., on stages both massive and non-existent, but by how they’ve shaped D.C.’s hardcore scene. Of course, when asked about the band’s proudest moment, guitarist Ace Mendoza doesn’t hesitate: “playing the same fest as Solange and SZA” at last weekend’s Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn, he says.
It’s a level of recognition outside the DIY hardcore scene that even the most acclaimed new bands only infrequently attain. While mainstream exposure was hardly Pure Disgust’s objective, it speaks volumes to their talent and dedication—one that they achieved working for the fans they cared for the most.
Pure Disgust formed during a creative boom for the D.C. punk scene. In the years before 2013, when Pure Disgust recorded their demo, a conversation about local punk and hardcore with an average outsider fan was likely to end up with a historical discussion about Fugazi. But as members of the early and mid-aughts D.C. hardcore community began reconstituting the DIY infrastructure and mentoring a new generation, a genuinely new scene asserted itself.
“There was a really big lull in D.C. in 2010 and 2011… then in 2012, all these young kids showed up,” says Ambrose Nzams, a music writer and lifelong D.C. hardcore devotee. Among those young kids were bassist Daniel Peña, guitarist Brendan Reichardt, singer Rob Watson, and drummer Robin Zeijlon, alongside many other core members of the current local hardcore scene. With the addition of Mendoza and Connor Donegan (who drummed on the demo and in some of the band’s early shows), who moved to D.C. from Cary, North Carolina, Pure Disgust—along with sibling bands Protester and Red Death—quickly made a name for themselves. “They started doing bands they wanted to tour with,” Nzams says. “It wasn’t just a weekend hobby, they started taking things a little more seriously.”
In the beginning Zeijlon says the band “had no expectations and just wanted to be in a band together.” But when they released their 2013 demo, it was met with an “overwhelming response.” Blending classic hardcore sounds with the gruff melodies and stomping aggression of Oi!, Pure Disgust picked up on the sounds of ’80s hardcore bands like Life’s Blood or the early 2000s D.C. act 86 Mentality. Far from a simple genre worship project, Pure Disgust added an instrumental and lyrical intensity that was uniquely their own.
At underground venues and gigs, Pure Disgust quickly established a reputation for intense, physical live performances. Watson’s unambiguous and unflinching lyrics about his life experiences, laying out searing indictments of the systemic discrimination and arbitrary violence he and other people of color face on a routine basis, made Pure Disgust one of hardcore’s premier acts.
Farrah Skeiky, a local photographer whose images of Pure Disgust have appeared in numerous publications and outlets, ranging from zine-of-record Maximum Rocknroll to NPR, praises not only the band’s flawless execution of the sounds of classic Oi!-influenced hardcore, but its lyrics that don’t deal in the “vague concepts of brotherhood and unity.” Instead, Watson and Pure Disgust directly address issues like the school-to-prison pipeline and police brutality. “You can mosh to the song,” Skeiky says, “but you better care about what it’s about.”
While Pure Disgust would hardly claim they were the first band to present this potent blend of musical and lyrical fury, their message found an eager audience from within and without the D.C. hardcore community. As a relatively younger band with several musicians of color, Pure Disgust did not just speak to the issues they cared about, but made participation in the scene feel more accessible. “Seeing people three to four years ago first attending shows and now starting their own bands, booking shows, touring, and spreading a message is exciting and motivating in itself,” Mendoza says. “We hope that our existence has inspired someone to become a little more proactive in their own ways.”
Pure Disgust’s impact on the newer generations of punks extends far beyond their DMV roots. Nzams, who joined the band as a roadie on their 2015 West Coast tour, remembers young fans approaching the band to say things like “‘seeing you guys do that made me think I can do a band,’” and “‘your band means everything to me.’” It’s inspiring for the band’s high school- and college-aged fans, according to Skeiky: “‘not only do the people on stage look like me and they’re talking to things important to me, but they’re so close to my age,’” she says of their young fans. “It’s easy to feel like you can do this too.”
Among the countless enthralled young fans and impressed scene veterans, Pure Disgust also caught the eye of tastemaking New York punk label Katorga Works, who released their 2015 EP Chained and their 2016 self-titled LP. Its record—clocking in at less than 20 minutes—was easily one of last year’s best hardcore albums.
So why stop at the height of their popularity and success? “I think we all realized we weren’t going to write something better than the LP,” Zeijlon says. Even with international accolades from the likes of Rolling Stone and NPR for their breakout record, the band resolved to bring their thunderous four-year run to an end. “We had our eyes set on ending, it just so happened that it aligned with people moving away as well,” Watson says.
Earlier this summer, Watson moved to Orange County, California to pursue career opportunities with his girlfriend. And soon, Reichardt will relocate to Austin, Texas. “Everyone’s grown up since the early days of the band,” Mendoza says, “so it’s only natural for us to move on as people from it.”
Between their impressive album and 2016 tour with the breakout trans-feminist hardcore act G.L.O.S.S. (who also recently broke up), it was clear that Pure Disgust had succeeded—not just as a hardcore band, but as a standard bearer for the D.C. scene. Through relentless touring and the cross-coastal connections that helped bring about their later recorded work, Pure Disgust and other widely-acclaimed new D.C. hardcore bands (or, the New Wave of D.C. Hardcore—NWODCHC, for short) did far more than make a name for themselves: They strengthened the national and international ties that helped cross-pollinate local hardcore scenes and keep them vibrant.
By stoking the interest of DIY record distributors and encouraging out-of-town bands to play shows in D.C.—a city that’s not a guaranteed stop for East Coast punk bands—Pure Disgust helped to remind the world that D.C. was, and still is, a hotbed for hardcore punk. “They were figureheads of the scene,” Nzams argues. “A lot of people’s views of D.C. [hadcore] had to do with Pure Disgust.”
As for what kind of legacy Pure Disgust leaves behind? One doesn’t have to look further than the lineup for its final show on Saturday at Rock & Roll Hotel. Los Angeles’ Blazing Eye and Boston’s Exit Order are traveling to D.C. to perform—a testament to the friendships Pure Disgust have cultivated with like-minded musicians across the country. Also on the lineup are the seminal NWODCHC band Protester, who share members with Pure Disgust, and the new local hardcore band making waves, Rashōmon.
After Saturday, Pure Disgust will be no more, but the members will more than make up for that loss in new or ongoing projects. Looking at the bands that members of Pure Disgust are involved in—Red Death, Protester, Kombat, Closet Christ, Line of Sight, Diaspora, and Witchtrial, among others—speaks to the talent and prolificness of the musicians that make up the, er, hard core of D.C. hardcore. It’s a massive musical family tree that extends far beyond the DMV and will keep spreading as long as there are people around to listen. That is the true legacy of Pure Disgust and the D.C. hardcore scene they helped spawn over the last four years.
And as for Watson? “I don’t plan on being super active [in California],” he says. “But I may join a band or two.”