This Little Underground: Sadistik upends rap convention, Savage Imperial Death March Tour champions heavy individuality

Melvins Photo by Jen Cray

Some weeks, a theme miraculously emerges. This week, it's the reward of being original, even weird.


Seattle alt-rapper Sadistik (April 6, Backbooth) is one of the modern renegades demolishing rap conventions while keeping it real even by rigid old-school metrics. The guy may sport gear like a Cannibal Holocaust shirt and look more like a heavy-metal frontman than an MC, but homie strafes his rhymes in tight, technical cadences. It's no wonder he's on Fake Four, the label founded by brothers Ceschi and David Ramos, two genre-stretching rap iconoclasts who've set up permanent shop out on the game's artiest frontiers. Alongside a stable deep in underground cred including luminaries like Sole, Busdriver and Florida originals Bleubird and Astronautalis, it's one of the very few natural fits out there for a mold-breaker like Sadistik.

His sound is left-field dope with a very intimate kind of lyricism and expression, the kind that brings you into the soul of the man rather than force-feeding you what he loudly puts out. It's emotional candor that's more provocative and penetrating than what we've been programmed to expect from hip-hop.

Despite good recordings, nothing quite bottles the full intensity and authenticity of Sadistik's live performance. Set against music and dim lighting thick with mood, he opened a vein with a flow that's remarkably liquid despite its density. The affliction, sweat and catharsis he exudes live activate his words and feeling like no studio can.

Like the best indie rappers, Sadistik channels rap's vigor to mine greater pathos. The result is a fresh kind of swagger that doesn't resort to basic schoolyard braggadocio. Throughout, he kept it personal, thanking the audience for turning out with striking humility and saying repeatedly, "I owe you guys."

But maybe he's got a point, because this congregation was a more pumped and tuned-in crowd than seen at most shows. Any real artist would trade size for this kind of depth and true belief in an audience, and Sadistik is one who captures hearts and minds in a way that results in a particular kinship between artist and fan. The inevitable manifestation of this bond is the kind of finale that has him down on the floor, in the heart of the fire, and making it go straight inferno.

The Savage Imperial Death March Tour (April 8, Plaza Live) funneled legendary marrow from the undergrounds of England, America and Japan to form a berserk multinational army of heaviness. Napalm Death was blistering and relentless. Though both the Melvins and Melt-Banana were good as usual, the cavernous room didn't do either many favors in terms of effect. Melt-Banana, despite being stripped down to a core duo, still managed through sheer intensity and freakiness. But the whole setup was a reminder of how truly and deeply I miss the raging Big Business effect in the Melvins.

Much more than any single performance, however, the thing that's most impressive here is the weird boldness that this bill represents in its totality. Individually, each band is notable, with names usually featured in the headlining spot. Furthermore, even though they're all by now legacy acts, they've each consistently maintained status as trailblazers to this day. That's a testament to the eternity of originality – and in the case of the openers, a healthy shot of craziness.

But together, they're a fantastically diverse and sonically insane all-star bill – a three-headed Hydra. It's a rare confluence that gave the show a heightened sense of event and history. To one who goes to a professional amount of concerts and has seen a whole lot a million times over, it doesn't get any more delicious than lineups with this degree of both caliber and intrigue.

For all its joint force, the conspiracy also says something about each of these bands. That they chose to align themselves like this, beyond their respective tribal lines, certifies the fierce independent spirit in them all. Sure, this positioning makes each stand out in style. But, maybe just as critically, it sets them apart in philosophy from even their own contemporaries.


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