Negative Degree is trying to keep Denver's hardcore scene on a "street level"
Negative Degree is sweating to the oldies.
Tiana Matsuko Bernard
Negative Degree, one of the more active hardcore bands in the Denver punk scene for the past year or so, is part of a small wave of new local bands playing hardcore punk music, which first sprang up in basements in the '80s and has been romanticized and gold-plated in more than a few books and documentaries in the past few years. We spoke with bass player Mark Masters over a pizza the day after a sweat-soaked house show in Five Points about the band, which releases a vinyl version of its demo tape on Saturday at Old Curtis Street (2100 Curtis Street) and the band's upcoming tour.
Westword: Why do you want to play house shows? Those shows always feel like everything's about to fall apart with cops and beer and too many people cramped in a small house, plus a very loud band.
Mark Masters: Yeah, between not knowing anyone at the house, and the cops across the street serving a warrant on the coke dealers, there's a little bit an of element of "what's going to happen next?" And only at a house show would someone dump a half-bottle of champagne on your head.
How does being from Denver and the West shape your band?
I think it gives us an insular quality where we're somewhat ignorant of the happenings in the rest of the country because we're so far removed from it.
Even with the internet and Facebook and music blogs?
That definitely provides a window, but if you can't be there to experience it first-hand, how can you feel like you have a handle on it? We get out of Denver, go on shows and travel and stuff. But this isn't really a band that's toured extensively yet. It's hard to say how that's going to affect things in the long-run I suppose.
How has the latest era of the Denver punk/hardcore scene changed over the last decade or so?
Denver's a lot better than it used to be in terms of punk, absolutely. When I moved here six years ago, there wasn't much. If you didn't like tough-guy Bridge 9 style hardcore, you were fucked.
Any remarks on coming into that scene?
When Guns N Rosa Parks first moved down here, we could either play shows at Sox Place with bad mosh bands from the coasts, or play bar shows with bar bands from in-town. There wasn't anything else. Eventually we were like, "Fuck this! We're not going to do either of these." We started doing Blast-O-Mat shows. It sounds pretentious, but i think that [Guns N Rosa Parks] did a lot to start that scene. I think Negative Degree and the other bands we like to play with in town are reaping the benefit of [Guns N Rosa Parks], and Crawl and Dethbox and Scott Baio Army before us.
What's it like being in a band where you, as the second-oldest member, are eighteen years younger than the oldest member?
[Guitarist Johnny Mather] is going on 47 this year. He's not shy.
But this is a kid's game, most people are long over punk by then.
I think that might be a misconception. It's not completely unfounded, but here are you and I on the brink of thirty.
It was more common a few years ago for punk and hardcore bands to repress their demo tapes onto vinyl. Why did Negative Degree do it?
Usually I really hate it when bands do that. I think it smacks of egotism, but we had multiple offers from labels to do it and it seemed like a it good a good response. We only did 200 tapes. When these French guys [Offside Records] came along and offered to do it. It was cool because we could get distribution in Europe and something a little more substantial than a tape. They just wrote me out the blue one day asking for ten tapes. They took those and sold out of them immediately. If we ever want to tour in Europe, we could I guess.
What's the story behind the the Teen Idles Minor Disturbance cover?
We didn't actually; it was the French guys who came up with that. They emailed us a really basic mock-up of it, and we were like, "Alright." It's only the limited cover version. I'm not even sure what the regular cover looks like. Johnny is doing that, I'm kind of just hoping for the best on that one.
How many original songs has your band written since forming about a year and a half ago? Who have you covered?
Would you ever write a song about Denver? Where is the blatant regionalism?
Maybe not with Negative Degree.
What can people expect to see at your record release show on February 4?
Curtis Street seems to have a pretty rowdy audience usually, and it'll be a Saturday night, so you'll get some townies out on the town. You can expect a lot from the KC rippers [Dark Ages and No Class], and it will be Cadaver Dog's first proper show, so if for nothing else they will be worth it.
A lot of people saw your for the first time at the Speedwolf show at the Marquis, what do you remember about that show?
I didn't know what to expect. We're a band that's not really used to the finer things that most bands get. We're not used to load-in times. Johnny and I were working late at UPS because it was in the middle of December and they wanted us to load-in at 5 p.m. on a Friday. I'm not a [musician] who does this for a living, I work to play music. And we try to make it a point to only play all-ages shows.
Doesn't that limit how accessible you can be? Because you're only playing spaces that -- if you don't already know, you're not going to know about them. Is that intentional or just a result of your ethics as a band?
All of us remember what it was like to be under 21 and not to get to see a band you wanted to see because you weren't old enough. I hear bands make the argument that we're excluding people because we don't play bars, but I think we're including people by not playing bars.
That said, is the Curtis Street show all ages?
That is eighteen-and-up. The promoter really wanted to do the show there, and it's kind of his deal, and maybe most people who want to see us are eighteen or older. Last night was all-ages.
Will the record have the covers on it or just the demo?
It's just the seven-song demo and you will probably be able to buy it at Wax Trax and Twist and Shout. You can also buy the record from us at shows.
You seem to be an active band in Denver.
We're trying to make it a focus to get hardcore in Denver off the ground. We're not leaders of a scene or anything, but we're a part of it. We book shows and play shows and try to keep things on a street level. The people who come to those shows should be able to watch a band and say "there's no reason I can't do that."
You sound like a hardcore band from thirty years ago, and you're in Denver, where there's not that particular hardcore scene established. What is that like for your band? To most, you play obscure music.
I don't really think about. It's a music I've loved since I was fourteen and it kind of comes naturally at this point. It wasn't a concious decision on my part where I wanted to play like it was 1981.
Are you a revival band?
I don't think so. We're not singing songs about Reagan, the arms race or apartheid. Our lyrics are about whatever CJ (vocalist) wants.
About which town is "One-Horse Town" about?
CJ wrote that about growing up in Portales, New Mexico. Johnny and Alex are from the suburbs and they don't have quite the same background, but I'm from Cheyenne and CJ is from Portales, it's pretty easy for me to relate to that. Shit-heads and racist assholes with closed minds. I'm happy to be away from it.
What about the tour you have planned for March?
I'm excited to go out and play the East Coast. I think Negative Degree has a local focus but I'm excited to play the U.S. and abroad. We're all fans of international hardcore, and the hardcore scene in Denver is very small, in terms of what goes on around the rest of the planet.
Describe Negative Degree's worst show.
We played 1.21 Gigawatts with Boilerman from Chicago. We just couldn't hear each other, we fucked up a bunch of songs and came off as total amateurs, which was made worse because we were playing up against Boilerman who are excellent.
Punk seems to be in time-warp where door prices max out at $7 or $8. How is touring viable on that scale?
It's not. We have a sixteen-hour drive to Chicago and a twelve-hour drive from St. Louis coming home. My attitude toward music is that I make money so I can do this. This is what I'm willing to spend my leisure dollars on.
Your demo got a good review in MRR, what was your reaction to that?
That was pretty rewarding to see that. My other bands have gotten good reviews, but it's always a good feeling to see that be a little validated in a way.
How would you describe your band's sound?
It is '81-'82 style Midwestern U.S. hardcore. Pretty basic stuff. It's what Johnny and I would always go back to when when listening to records.
Would you ever cover an old Denver punk band?
We want to cover a Bum-Kon song, but we don't have the lyric sheet in our Bum-Kon records, so please send me one directly if you're reading this. I'll also take your White Trash seven-inch [old Colorado band on Local Anesthetic].
Are you a record nerd?
I am to a degree, which is another way we ended up sounded like we do. When Johnny and I would listen to records we would inevitably keep coming back to those records; sitting in his basement listening Die Kreuzen.
The "No Way sound" was popular going on seven or eight years ago now. Do you fit into that category?
I think we would have been a good fit with a lot of those bands, but honestly I'd rather do it at time when it's not popular. I'm wary of anything that's too easy, I guess. The fact that not as many bands are doing it nowadays makes me think we are doing something right.
What's you opinion on animals at shows? You sometimes see dogs walking around in front of stacks of amps, which is, I think, just awful. Am I wrong?
It really perturbs me when I see dogs walking around in a loud-as-fuck hardcore show. Maybe the dogs don't mind it, but I don't think it's a good environment for beings that kind of dependent. That extends to children as well. When you see someone with their toddler on the shoulders watching a punk band, it makes you worry about them as a parent and where their priorities lie. Especially in Denver, where shows typically start around 11.
Negative Degree plays at 8 p.m., Saturday, February 4 at Old Curtis Street Bar with Dark Ages, No Class, Conjugal Visits, Cadaver Dog and Apex. The door costs $7 and the show's open for audiences 18 and older.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.