Special Interest: the DIY noise-poppers calling for reparations

The New Orleans band, ‘all actively practising homosexuals’, evoke the chaos of today in their whirl of punk, techno and melody – and resist the commodification of queerness

‘I poured a daiquiri on myself, it was so hot,” says Alli Logout, remembering Special Interest’s first basement gig six years ago. Since then, DIY shows in sweaty confinement have become the natural habitat of the New Orleans-based group, which evolved from an initial lineup of Logout and Maria Elena on guitars and electric drills to include Nathan Cassiani on bass and Ruth Mascelli (found at a back-yard show wearing Minnie Mouse ears and playing a pump organ) wrangling an old drum machine.

All four had been drawn to the city for its fertile DIY and punk scene, and the freedom it gave them to create. “It’s cultivated a very intriguing sound that Special Interest can thrive in,” Logout says. “People were ready for this.” Word soon spread, with their debut EP Spiralling and 2020 album The Passion Of finding a transatlantic home on Glasgow’s Night School Records; 2022 will bring an album on Rough Trade.

In an era when even the underground is influenced by the tediously synthetic production of commercial pop, it’s refreshing to hear in Special Interest an energy that comes from pranging noise and communal experimentation. “The music-making is just really fluid,” says Logout. “Ruth will make a drum beat and we’ll play along with it and songs just come out of us. It’s a chemistry and a vibe – we don’t have to force ourselves.” Discord is a key ingredient. “I’m always trying to think about something that sounds like it’s about to break,” says Mascelli. “The speaker’s about to blow – that’s how I want things to sound.”

The result is a gloriously slippery and unholy trinity of no wave, techno and – in the scratchy catchiness of tracks like All Tomorrow’s Carry and Young, Gifted, Black, in Leather – decidedly witty pop. “That’s a big part of our sound,” says Mascelli. “Smashing together all these elements reflects the chaos of the world around us, and the sounds and images that are barraging you daily. I’ve always thought of it as reflecting the insanity of the current moment.”

With that in mind, Special Interest have a refreshingly complicated and unorthodox attitude to how they might be perceived as political. “Redistribution and reparations are really important to us,” Elena says, speaking about the remixes of tracks from The Passion Of released to raise money for House of Tulip, a New Orleans safe space for trans women. “Raising money is a real, concrete thing,” adds Mascelli, “a million times better than any millions of Instagram posts or stupid bullshit. None of that’s important – do something materially for the people around you.”

They also resist being labelled as a queer group. “We’re all actively practising homosexuals!” Mascelli says. “‘Queer’ is reductive, vague and has been so sucked up into advertising and the horrible spectacle of consumerism. We want to be evaluated first on the music we’re making, [rather] than a label.”

This refusal to be categorised, or to allow their identities to be used as a marketing tool, also comes across in how Special Interest is just one part of their collected creative output. “It isn’t the end-all be-all for any of us,” says Logout. “We all have other passions; how could this even be the main thing? We’ve got a million other ways we need to express ourselves.” For now, though, there’s that new album currently in the works and the fundraising for the House of Tulip. “When I think about DIY, it’s a life of service,” says Elena. “You do it, and you keep doing it, and you do it until you die.”


Luke Turner

The GuardianTramp

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