Adjacent to a highway overpass, in an oft-overlooked part of New Orleans, where col-orful is swapped with industrial, there is a small unassuming building. In the 60s, local folklore purports that the building was once a small hotel where the CIA trained LeeHarvey Oswald to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Here, the aimless chatter of tourists doesn’t reach much beyond the streets of the French Quarter, and the CaesarsSuperdome, while glimmering like a giant bottle cap, feels a world away. Currently, the building serves as an apt extension of the New Orleans DIY scene, where punk bandSpecial Interest has spent the last couple of years creating their third album, Endure. “I think sonically, and lyrically, everything was far more reflected on, I would say, with this album, but it’s good we had time to do things,” Ruth Mascelli says.
To try and describe Special Interest’s music is easier accomplished if you describe the feelings it solicits, rather than the limitations of genre. On the track “LA Blues,” a stomping and thudding beat is tamed by Ruth Mascelli, complemented by Nathan Cassiani’s almost metronomic control of the bass, while the whining feedback of Maria Elena’s guitar soars over the track. All the while vocalist Alli Logout snarls into the microphone, leading the listener through the instrumental chaos with a hoarse yowl. “And if you don’t like it you can fuck right off” belts Logout suddenly, in a mockingly high glam falsetto, before thrusting you back into the grungy world of the song. It’s a rumbling anthem that wraps around the psyche so tightly that you can veritably feel the angst in Logout’s voice.
This intensity is at the heart of what makes Special Interest a standout conduit for the punk sound that has been simmering in the mosh pits of the DIY scene for decades.Not the whitewashed, mainstream punk, pervaded by the influence of industry platforming and the tempting snake of revenue. Rather, the four-piece group shrieks out a powerful note of dissonance against the establishment, akin to power drills building a new venue from the ground up, in their own vision.
Endure, in many ways, is the 4-piece band’s most experimental album to date. The11-track project is an exploration of Black and gay dance hall music, energized by the next ave of abolitionists. “Midnight Legend” is a synthy dream, where Logout channels the spirit of Ballroom MCs in the 80s, while fans may recognize the familiar industrial noise from their previous albums in “Foul,” where the instrumentals are as dirty and grimy as the lyrics themself. “Nathan always call this genre nonconforming, and it’s very true,”Elena comments, “In terms of what to expect—expect to be surprised. I feel like that isa pretty safe way to put it. It’s still sounds like Special Interest, but it’s just like all of the are as that we kind of touched on are more developed.”
The group’s latest music video is the first released under their new label home,Rough Trade. Titled “Herman’s House,” the song invokes the painful story of HermanWallace, known as a member of the Angola Three, who spent over 40 years in solitaryconfinement for murder, before his eventual release, only days before his death, after a judge declared his prosecution unconstitutional. “Herman’s House” is a reference tothe collaborative project between Wallace and artist-activist Jackie Sumell, known as ‘TheHouse That Herman Built,’ in which the artists collaborated for years to create the dreamhome of someone who has been stripped from light, freedom, and the human ability toc onnect with others. The project is known to have rejuvenated the stale dialogue surrounding the American Prison–industrial complex, and the problematic use of long-term solitary confinement.
The idea behind shooting the accompanying music video in a white room was birthed out of an urge to reclaim space. “Gallery spaces, like white rooms, are these really bourgeois spaces and hold a very particular kind of art,” says Logout. “To have your art in these spaces gives you this intense privilege.” In carrying on the legacy of Black revolutionaries like Herman Wallace and Assata Shakur in a previously untouchable space, Special Interest is showing you that they don’t care for how pristine your walls are. They’re going to tear them down.
Piece by piece, Special Interest is dismantling a system that has been selectively oppressive for so long, rebuilding the American dream that they—and everyone else here—were promised. Genre is irrelevant within their deft musical handbook—whether it’s artpunk, no-wave, or hardcore riffs, underneath the pulsating beat and roaring guitar, what’son offer is an atonal battle cry from the dance floor, driven by emotion and survival.