The recent unveiling of Prophets of Rage has been met with near universal excitement. It’s damn near impossible not to interpret this positive reaction as a loud — and clear — sign that modern rock fans are craving revolutionary music through which they can channel their frustration with the current sociopolitical climate in the United States.
But the supergroup consisting of members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill aren’t the only musicians jonesing to #MakeAmericaRageAgain. They have dedicated comrades in fellow Angelenos Letlive, a hardcore punk-informed rock band who have been building an insanely loyal following since their formation in the early ’00s.
"I feel like there is a place you can exist in art or performance or whatever it is that you love that can be likened to highs."
Exploding with solidarity-invoking anthems, radical consciousness and what they describe as “soul punk” urgency, the band’s sophomore effort, If I’m the Devil…, is further proof that rock is more than ready to reaffirm its role in the battle for social justice and equality. The album is a call to arms for those looking to push back against the winds of oppression currently gusting across our land and offers a vital critique of the myriad injustices and hardships that persons of color, LGBT people and other minorities are forced to confront every day from the conservative-led assault on our social safety net to police brutality.
The latter is addressed on the powerful (and complex) lead single “Good Mourning, America.” Though the song is a direct response to the slayings of young African-Americans (including Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner) that have become regular occurrences, the song also was inspired by singer Jason Aalon Butler’s arrest. In a candid interview with TeamRock, Butler opened up about how he believed he and a Hispanic friend were unjustly targeted by the LAPD in 2007.
The outspoken Butler — who regularly uses the word “instigator” when referring to his role within the band — makes no bones about Letlive’s uncompromising stance.
“Rock music was birthed in heresy and rebellion,” he toldThe Independent. “From blues to jazz to chain-gangs, dissent is at the heart of rock music. I wish that people would at least respect that heritage. I care about rebellion, I care about subversion, I care about progress.”
Much like Prophets of Rage, who have described their own brand of protest music as “rock ‘n’ roll hip hop fury,” Letlive are a multiracial outfit who have developed an urban-flavored fusion music that boldly transcends color. While the scorching riff-work and careening, post-hardcore rhythms powering If I’m the Devil…fit snugly within the rock continuum, the album’s dark, textural production and gritty funk grooves feel inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (perhaps the most politically impactful record of the last decade).
These transcendent qualities extend to Butler’s acrobatic pipes. He growls and howls with ferocity, yet he also slides effortlessly into smooth, melodic pop vocals that reflect his love of progressive soul and funk. It’s a love he inherited from his African-American father, Aalon Butler, a talented and accomplished singer and songwriter who worked with Eric Burdon, a pioneer of funk-rock, in the ’70s.
Granted, some of the nuances lurking inside their ever-evolving sound have a tendency to be obscured in the live setting — but that’s only because the band’s is so chaotic and manic on stage. A typical Letlive concert is a violent maelstrom of sound. The band consistently teeters on the verge, while Butler slams himself into instruments, collides head-on with speaker cabinets and dangles from towering lighting rigs.
In the past, the singer has likened their explosive shows to a kind of trance state. “I feel like there is a place you can exist in art or performance or whatever it is that you love that can be likened to highs — and this is going to sound crazy — a sense that’s similar to deep meditation or similar to a trip you would take on DMT or on any substance,” he told Noisey.
At the same time, their performances can be viewed as politically charged theater. They offer both performer and attendee an opportunity to collectively vent their rage at the injustices preventing real progress in the U.S.
From studio to stage and back again, Letlive are making rock ‘n’ roll that’s relevant, dangerous and utterly thrilling.