As Deaf Club took the stage at their first show, front man Justin Pearson paused to introduce the band. “We’re Deaf Club,” he announced. “We have a couple of songs. [We] hope you enjoy. And if you don’t enjoy it, that’s even better.”
The next 15 minutes flew by as the group erupted into a series of blast beats, angular riffs and odd time signatures while Pearson shrieked into the microphone. Less than three months and zero live shows after that July performance, Deaf Club released their debut EP, Contemporary Sickness. Clocking in at just less than six minutes, the five tracks embody the band’s rapid-fire sound and ethos. “We played one show, and then put out an EP,” Pearson says. “Not a lot of bands are able to do that.”
But with a lineup of well-seasoned musicians who’ve played with established bands such as ACxDC, Weak Flesh and Fissure, the feat wasn’t as difficult for Deaf Club as it would be for most new bands. Pearson, who has been performing for nearly three decades, was recently dubbed “the hardest-working man in hardcore” by Alt Press; in addition to being a member of such groups as the Locust, Head Wound City, Swing Kids and Planet B over the years, he runs the San Diego-based Three One G record label, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Pearson has a long history of pushing musical limits. And this holds true for Deaf Club, as well. While there has been a resurgence of blast-beat-centric bands in recent years (whether you want to call it grindcore, power-violence or whatever other niche internet nerds like to argue about), many of these groups seem a bit formulaic. However, that’s the last word that could be used to describe Deaf Club’s music. “I don’t understand why everybody feels like there are parameters,” Pearson says. “I mean, you can do whatever the fuck you want. Maybe people won’t like it, and maybe that’s why people are like, ‘We need to sound like this other band.’ . . . Why do you need to try to sound like someone else? I think it’s weird how people consciously and subconsciously limit themselves.”
Much of the band’s distinctive sound comes from guitarist Brian Amalfitano. While he’s best known as the relentless riff machine for seminal Los Angeles hardcore band ACxDC, Deaf Club allows him to experiment quite a bit more. “He’s really into pedals and making it sound super-crazy,” Pearson explains. “And I’m into that kind of stuff, but I’m also like, ‘Dude, I’ve never been in a band with, like, d-beat parts. Can we just get, like, super-crusty?’ And he’s not willing to do that. So it’s kind of funny, but I think that contrast makes an interesting, maybe a unique sound. We don’t sound like a typical hardcore band; it has this other element added to it.”
That other element is a sonic lushness that’s rarely heard in hardcore. For example, in “Bounced Reality Check,” Amalfitano blazes through panic chords, more traditional-sounding punk riffs and atmospheric noise within seconds. At some points on the EP, it’s difficult to believe he is producing such otherworldly sounds with a guitar.
And drummer Scott Osment sounds as if he has an extra pair of arms. As the group’s engine, he does play some of the d-beat rhythms Pearson was yearning for, but he is constantly switching between odd syncopations and timing. His blast beats are impeccable, with clear, precise drum and cymbal hits. “[Scott] is incredible,” Pearson says. “I’ve been so lucky to play with outstanding drummers, and he is up there with them.”
Pearson typically doesn’t start writing lyrics until the band has finished the music. Although most songs are well below the two-minute mark, there’s so much crammed into them that one can only imagine how arduous the creative process must be. “It’s mainly, from what I hear, just like Scott and Brian arguing for hours about shit,” Pearson explains with a laugh. “They’re both into just tweaking out on shit, so it becomes really complicated music.”
Putting vocals over such frantic music proved to be somewhat of a challenge for Pearson. “What I’ve been doing vocally for a while, working on the Planet B stuff, is almost structurally hip-hop, with a 16-bar verse, and then you have a chorus,” he explains. “[But] with stuff like Deaf Club, I look at it, and I’m like, ‘Where the fuck is the chorus?’ Because it is sort of just like a bunch of absurd parts kind of placed in this linear chunk of music. It’s weird to find vocal placement.”
As a result, Deaf Club’s songs are unpredictable, abrasive and over long before the listener has had a chance to make sense of them. As a whole, the EP reflects a sense of social anxiety. For Pearson, however, having a physical copy is the best way to experience it. That’s why he released Contemporary Sickness on vinyl through Three One G. “I think the whole thing needs to be one thing,” he says. “The five songs need to be five songs in a specific order, heard in a certain way and looked at in a certain way. And you can’t understand the lyrics because I’m yelling them, so the lyrics should be there [in front of you]. I think these are things that tie in. You want to look at it and get a vibe. If you just play the song on your computer, you don’t know the lyrics, [and] you can’t see the art—there’s no vibe beyond just what the audio is. But there is a vibe that’s important. You can hear the song and be like, ‘These are a bunch of fucking jackasses, for all I know,’ so there’s got to be more to it. You’ve got to see the vibe and feel it. This is an all-encompassing, all-senses-involved kind of aspect.”