Words and Photos by Michael Long
Walking into The Echoplex this Thursday night to see San Francisco’s Deafheaven was different than any show I’ve seen there in recent memory. The air hung hot and heavy while the capacity crowd navigated metal barriers to gain better vantage of the stage. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors coming through the PA during sound check was whimsical and a severe contrast to the mostly black clad patrons. There was however a varying degree of diversity amongst the show goers that evening. A large number of young women, well dressed men with barbered hair sporting thick framed glasses and the obvious metal fans with sleeveless back patch emblazoned jean jackets. All stuffing themselves ever tighter into one tangled mass that reached to the back bar. As all of the stage lights went down one eerie green lamp illuminated a single microphone stand. Fleetwood Mac gave way to modulating hypnotic synth pads. This was something familiar from their records and continued with swooning delay for an uncomfortably long ten minutes before frontman and vocalist George Clarke took the stage. He was greeted with outstretched arms and genuine displays of star worship. With a straight back and chin up he beckoned the crowd even closer before erupting into Sunbather’s opening track Dream House. Instantly the once motionless crowd broke into a swirling pit. Throughout Dream House’s epic ten minutes George Clarke’s shrill scream had such power and intensity it was completely intoxicating. Throughout the entire set there was constant crowd surfing and stage diving. George routinely gave up the microphone for fans to sing passages and clasped hands with anyone in reach. On more than one song he was pulled down into the frenzy, floating on top of the crowd with a microphone clutched in two fists screaming uncontrollably.
The diversity within the attending crowd speaks to Deafheaven’s music. Everything they have created to date is reminiscent of something. In interviews they have stated that hometown black metal band, Weakling’s, Dead As Dreams is a starting point of inspiration and that their name, a combination of the words deaf and heaven are an homage to the words slow and dive. For anyone listening to hardcore in the 90’s, deeper roots are easily imagined. The combination of heavy emotional guitar parts and violent screaming had it’s own scene with the appropriate moniker Screamo. When listening to San Francisco’s own Portrait’s of Past and nearby Half Moon Bay’s Funeral Diner the historical similarities are blatant. However, what Deafheaven have accomplished is more than the sum of it’s parts. They have somehow taken this history and created something new. Something that transcends the barriers of underground and mainstream, male and female, metal and shoegaze. It’s the bands streamlined image of sleek design, pink vinyl, cropped hair and NPR appearences juxtaposed with huge guitars, blast beats and death howls that just destroys anyone’s preconceived ideas and expectations about this band. It’s obvious that the traditional black metal fan is going to love the sound of Sunbather upon first listen and then feel completely confused by Deafheaven’s total lack of metal persona. In this spirit of no fucks given, Deafheaven have managed to strike out a new path on heavily trodden ground and left in their wake a massive amount of critical acclaim.
Deafheaven have been touring in support of 2013’s Sunbather since January and don’t seem to have lost any steam. They are a band taking the responsibility of music seriously. After having released an album that received so much press, their persona is less about ego and posturing than it is about caring for the art they have created. They present their live performances with an obvious display of love and respect for their fans. This sense of community is the basis for almost all independent and underground music. It’s refreshing to see Deafheaven carry that sensibility into a larger forum.