Bravery in the Blackness of Punk

By Marcus ClaytonSeptember 23, 2023

    Bravery in the Blackness of Punk

    LIVE MUSIC: SOUL GLO AND ZULU at The Roxy Theatre, West Hollywood, California, September 15, 2023

    There is an evergreen discomfort in being a Black punk going to the Roxy Theatre. The venue is located in the heart of West Hollywood, where capitalism thrives and whiteness ravages Los Angeles’s streets. But despite the surrounding displays of wealth and disinterest in minoritized people, we enter the warmth of the Roxy to catch the double headliner of Soul Glo and Zulu. My buddies, my significant other, and I—most of us in our mid-30s—head to the bar area to watch the show from a distance, rather than from the mosh pits as we usually do. Then one buddy—mid-forties, Black—does rush the pit. I wish I had his bravery, a bravery akin to that of the opening band, Playytime.

    They perform with the ferocity of a headlining act. They induce a circle pit to swirl below them, as this Black-led punk band from Atlanta dismisses the usual stink in the term “opener.” No warm-up, no time killers here. No. Playytime give us everything, so the punks in the pit give them everything back. As their set ends, and I see the punks fiending for more music, it becomes clear that no one inside this venue is here to fuck around.

    Soul Glo plays next. The velvet curtains rise to reveal the quartet readying their instruments.  A banner with their name in black and white hangs behind them like a monochrome marquee. They open with “Coming Correct Is Cheaper,” facing minor technical difficulties as singer Pierce Jordan shouts the opening lyrics, “I try to listen the way / I wanna be listened to” into a partially working microphone. Still, the band plays, the electronics themselves eventually coming correct, and Jordan’s earth-shaking screams soundtrack the united ruckus of defiantly joyful punks. Punks pogo, femme punks stage dive, a Black punk with golden dreadlocks and white face paint pours liters of sweat onto the floor, a Brown punk with a Maná T-shirt lifts another punk in an Odd Future T-shirt onto the stage to dive left and right throughout the set. The crowd continues their collective ferociousness as Soul Glo plays their trap banger, “Driponomics.” Punks jump and jump and jump with the drums and bass. GG Guerra’s guitar swings wildly, like a windmill, feedback swimming in the air—necessary sound for the “guitarless” track. Even as they play their closer, “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?),” the crowd’s froth continues, a collective howling along to “Can I live? Can I live?” over and over.

    Zulu takes the stage afterwards, to close the show, and we get an answer.

    I only partially know the music of Los Angeles’s own Zulu, but they seemed immediately familiar to me, through the gamut of Blackness on display in their individual aesthetics: alternative flannel, hip-hop chic, ’70s funk, gangsta rap windbreaker, traditional hijab, traditional “punk.” The music is loud, of course, but what is louder is their mission. Visibility, unity, belonging—all of which exude the punk ethos. Between songs, Zulu invites a representative from JusticeLA to speak on prison abolition, to a roar of approval. Then guitarist Dez Yusuf speaks directly to our collective, as though exorcising the white wealth outside these walls. “There are no tastemakers,” he says. “Everything you need [to feel seen] is right here with you right now. To your left, right, behind you. This moment.” Zulu plays one more song, summoning Jordan and Playytime’s front man for a unified collision of shouts. The pit explodes one last time, a frenzy of bodies rejuvenated by the positive energy of JusticeLA and Yusuf’s words.

    Punks catch one another, protect bodies fallen in the pit, and sing along with the final lines of the night—“Blessed in my own skin / I will not bruise.” The show ends. The punks chant “otra.” Members of all three bands come out without instruments. Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in Da Paint” plays over the house lights, signaling everyone to leave. No one leaves. Now, we are all brave. On stage, the punks rap along to the song, hug one another despite the velvet curtain draped over their shoulders. They dance and rap as the crowd jumps and jumps and jumps and lives.


    Photo by contributor.

    LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

    LARB Contributor

    Marcus Clayton is a multigenre Afrolatino writer from South Gate, California, with an MFA in poetry from CSU Long Beach. Currently, he pursues a PhD in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California, has a book of mixed-genre prose titled ¡PÓNK! forthcoming with Nightboat Books in winter 2025, and has published with the likes of Joyland Magazine, Indiana Review, Passages NorthBlack Punk Now, and The Oxford Handbook of Punk Rock.


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