In the six years since 2011’s Big Kiss Goodnight established them as one of hardcore’s household names, Trapped Under Ice have become to punk music in the 2010s what Wu-Tang Clan were to hip-hop in the ‘90s; they’re the homebase for a whole network poised for total domination. Turnstile, Angel Du$t, Down To Nothing and Diamond Youth have almost all become household names of their own within the last few years, and each band contains at least one member from the TUI clique.
However, these aren’t just obvious descendents of TUI’s mic-grab-then-side-jab brand of hardcore. Drummer Brandon Yates fronts Turnstile, who’ve at this point succeeded TUI as the kings of Baltimore, melding Rage Against The Machine riffage with the carefree bounce of 311; vocalist Justice Tripp trades his throat-searing roars for Ramones-esque yelps and croons when he fronts Angel Du$t; and Diamond Youth, which features both guitarist Sam Trapkin and Yates, play sun-baked alt-rock that’s endorsed by Topshelf Records and sounds purposefully distant from their hardcore alter egos.
Oh, Tripp, Yates and Turnstile drummer Daniel Fang also formed their own freakin’ label, Pop Wig Records, which put out Heatwave, the long-awaited follow-up to Big Kiss Goodnight, last month. Pop Wig’s excellent motto, “the same, but different”, also happens to be a fantastic descriptor of Heatwave. Unlike a lot of their earlier material, Big Kiss was loaded with hooks, one-liners and fully-structured songs that often exceeded the two-and-a-half-minute mark—which is long for a traditional hardcore track. Heatwave’s 11 songs zoom by in just 13 minutes, less than half the time of Big Kiss, though just as ferocious.
“I think a lot of hardcore records like to build up into something exciting. It was fun to try the angle of having exclusively exciting moments,” said Tripp over email last week. “If any moment of the record felt low energy, we just cut it out.”
Opener “Backstabbed” is an almost too-perfect example of this “cutting the fat” approach, as Tripp calls it. The band manage to jam multiple verses, a gang-chanted hook, a mosh part, a ripping solo and a two-step-inducing outro into a mere 44 seconds. It’s an absolute ripper of a track that ends as soon as you begin making sense of it, which is indicative of the flow of this record as a whole. It keeps you on your toes.
However, as musically propulsive and lyrically vindictive as Heatwave is, TUI continue to avoid the redundant traps that many others in the genre often fall into. Tempo changes, variations in vocal tone, goofy sound bites and even details like the wonky synth noises in “Throw It Away” and the way the word “edge” echoes in “Oblivion,” all contribute to how listenable Heatwave is. Hardcore that can be thoroughly enjoyed outside of the pit is something TUI did really well on Big Kiss, and their collective experiences in more melodic projects definitely brought an assortment of influences onto Heatwave that other bands of their ilk simply don’t have.
Pop Wig’s mantra is worth referencing again here, as even the packaging of Heatwave sets the ever-heavy quintet apart from both the genre’s conventions and the band’s past. Compared to the morbid pile of skulls on the cover of Big Kiss, the deceptively androgynous closeup of a person with glittery nail polish and a mustache evokes a sense of playfulness before you even hear the first note.
“It’s actually a female friend who happens to have a little mustache. That’s a big part of what I love about it. She is a beautiful girl with a mustache and she knows it,” Tripp said. “I love that the image immediately makes me feel like a hot summer day. I love what cherries represent to a lot of people. The whole image is provocative and raises questions. It’s such a simple, small photo with so many special elements.”
Again, bleakness was this band’s calling card—their first EP is titled Stay Cold and, “I felt your true chill, fucking ice queen,” is one of their most lauded lines.
“I love that certain people have expectations for our band, and I love the opportunity to step away from what anyone expects of [us],” Tripp said.
The gap between records was more than just a catalyst for artistic maturation, though. The notoriously aggressive Tripp came to fully realize his power and influence within a scene of youths, particularly during a time of immense social progress within the underground rock realm.
“As I get older, I recognize the weight of my actions and how they make people around you feel,” he said.
“In the past there has definitely been a lot of misconceptions about us as a band, and me in general. Some of them are probably my fault by representing myself in a way that was irresponsible at the time,” he later added.
Tripp isn’t just posturing here, though. During TUI’s first show back from hiatus in 2015, he told the rambunctious crowd to watch out for smaller attendees and to not “touch somebody inappropriately because you can’t get fucked.” Crude, yes, but it was a message that felt crucial at the time and feels absolutely essential today.
“I think at this difficult time in our country, everyone has a responsibility to acknowledge certain issues and where they stand. I don’t like fence walkers,” he said.
The atmosphere of inclusivity that Tripp’s been fostering is evident in the large portion of women that make up the fanbase of his other band, Angel Du$t. For arguably one of the most male-oriented genres in all of rock history, this long-overdue movement is a testament to the longevity of the scene as a whole.
“It’s so sick,” Tripp said of Angel Du$t’s fanbase. “I don’t think we’ve ever gone above and beyond to attract any specific type of person, but just genuinely trying to be considerate with your language and the way your actions affect everyone around you. I think it proves that it doesn’t take much to create a welcoming atmosphere.”
TUI’s fanbase is a bit different, but the diverse (by hardcore standards) crowds at Turnstile shows, and a mean-ass band like Firewalker (which contains multiple women) getting signed to the family label, indicates that the Pop Wig empire is dedicated to keeping hardcore relevant in this era of dire social progress.
“There is definitely a different vibe at a Trapped Under Ice show that comes with the nature of the music,” Tripp said. “In the past I’ve seen it as less comfortable for some people. Not everything is for everyone and I’m OK with that. However, I’m not OK with bullies going out of their way to make anyone less comfortable. Today, I think the general state of the hardcore community is more self-aware. That gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
Trapped Under Ice will be playing Trickshot Billiards with Fury, Freedom and Meth Mouth on 8/28.