By CHOI JIWOONG
Photo by Choi Jiwoong
The video looks like it was filmed on somebody’s iPhone 3G with a cracked screen. The grey walls are unpainted and the ceiling is unfinished. It’s a concert, but there is no stage. Instead, there’s a single rug for the drums on the cement ground, where the crowd and the performing act huddle under the only lightbulb in this dinky basement. Cans of IPAs precariously dangle over amps as Vans-clad feet avoid the wires on the floor. Hands try not to get cut on cymbals. Guitar headstocks swing a little too close to heads. Arms latch onto the pipes along the ceiling, wrapped around pillars and each other, constantly threatening to fall into and swallow up the band.
At the center is the singer: his t-shirt has ripped at the shoulder of his skinny frame quite some time ago. With his weapon of choice, a bass guitar, he too has to jostle and fight with the crowd, especially since his job is to sing into the mic, which at the moment is occupied by five other guys also singing along to the song. “And what did you think I would do after you left?” they screech in unison, “Would I stay sober? I think it’d be much worse. I cut my arms off. I CUT MY ARMS OFF.”' It looked like the most fun thing in the world.
About ten years ago, I spent the prime of my pubescent adolescence posting on weird online message boards with other fine, fellow-minded individuals, arguing about who listened to more obscure bands and best understood cool and smart black-and-white movies. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Out of this curious little pastime arose a band that I didn’t actually have to pretend to like: a group of four Miller Lite-chugging, bathroom-crying, drunk-driving youths from Philadelphia who called themselves Snowing. Led by John Galm, they played a mix of Midwest Emo Revival, 4th Wave Emo, Emotive Hardcore, and “hardcore screamo” music with the intricate, twinkly guitar work and irregular time signatures of maths rock.
Galm’s guttural and whiny voice crying out his rambling, run-on lyrics, far outside any semblance of a verse-chorus-verse structure, about manic episodes, break-ups, and drinking too much¹, is impossible to decipher among the backdrop of feedback and crashing of the instruments. This serves no problem for the fans, however. In the culminating climax of “Important Things (Specter Magic)”, a girl actually pushes Galm away from the mic so as not to ruin the special moment of a hundred-or-so drunk and lonely losers screaming “Why can’t I see the sunspots in your eyes?”. All the while, Ross and Nate twinkle away on their guitars, with JR’s drum fills and licks spilling over the music while still holding everything together in blistering rhythm. The sheer speed and intensity of the music as it skips and jumps at random, from clean-toned melodies to monstrous walls of distorted fuzz, all contained within short bursts of 2 minute-tracks, leave no breathing space.
By the time I started listening to Snowing, they had already been broken up for two years. Something drew me to these four Americans who had nothing to do with me, whose lives were incomparable to mine. I was a chubby, 14-year-old, sheltered Asian kid; the first time I tasted beer was when my dad let me have a sip while eating outside with the family and I thought it was gross. The biggest worries on my mind were maths and how Manchester United was doing under Moyes. But I thought maybe one day, I would relate to these songs about wasting college years away, drinking in the basement of a “Slovak Center”, dragging everyone else down, or plunging headfirst into a car accident. Maybe I even looked forward to it.
So when I learned that for some unknown reason, nearly a decade after their breakup, they would be reuniting for one last tour all the way across the Pacific Ocean to a dinky basement just about 2 subway stations away from my place, I was shocked. Glam’s hair had somewhat straightened out with age. He had put on some weight and looked like he should be picking up his kids from daycare. Ross was a woman now and went by Willow. Nate had a cool moustache. JR looked pretty much the same. As for me, I had more than football to worry about now. I’d had my fair share of dragging people down, and I loved beer.
This would be the second music concert I ever attended. My first was Taylor Swift’s RED Tour stop in Singapore in 2014... I think I’m going to like this one a lot more.
¹ “Melissa, I f*cked up. I won’t cut my arms off / that won’t keep me warm at night” from the song “So I Shotgunned A Beer And Went Back To Bed” on their first album serves as a follow-up of sorts to his previous declaration that he would, in fact, cut his arms off in “Pump Fake” from their earlier released EP.