chastity's searing noise music speaks to youth on the fringes
On his urgent new album 'Death Lust,' Brandon Williams sings about police brutality and growing up on society's periphery.
Photography Luis Mora
The town of Whitby, Ontario, 35 miles east of Toronto, is just far enough away from the city to feel like a small town. Brandon Williams, who writes and records noise rock as Chastity, grew up there, and much of his music reflects life in what he describes as “a union town” (General Motors has its Canadian headquarters close by and a high percentage of Whitby’s residents work on the assembly line). Having grown up among Canada’s industrial working class, Williams says, “I just thought that that was everyone’s upbringing.” For most of his childhood he attended church, but like a lot of youth he became disillusioned and longed for something less rigid. He started to become aware of just how indoctrinated he’d become — “I was in this really insular religious setting alienated from a lot of facts and culture” — and found clarity in skateboarding and punk rock.
At the age of 14 he began spending time at a venue in neighboring Oshawa called The Dungeon, a place once described as “one of the dirtiest clubs in all of North America” by the frontman of Whitby metal band Protest the Hero. “It was like a sanctuary for me after the church. I think everybody needs a sanctuary and I found it there,” explains Williams. “I found this fellowship or community, and it felt much better than the church. I think the church for some people can be OK, but The Dungeon was such a relief and such a good place that I’ve kept a lot of friends that I originally met [there].”
The Dungeon closed in 2008 and according to Williams, its departure highlighted the disparity between sport and art in Whitby. “Whitby has 10 hockey arenas, but there’s no community space to see music or to show visual art. There’s no space for the skid kids,” he says, using slang to describe those living on the margins. “That’s why we found sanctuary in The Dungeon.”
On Death Lust, Chastity’s debut album (released today via Captured Tracks), Whitby is the setting but Williams is searching for a different kind of sanctuary. It’s his attempt to understand death by deconstructing all the cognitive layers — suffering, coping, recovering, living. “I think writing this record probably inadvertently helped me organize my past,” he says. “This record is a big coping thing for me. I think that’s what writing generally is for me. It’s a lot of talking to myself about death and figuring it out.”
Initially, Williams intended Death Lust to have a narrative arc, but after some discussion with his label, death is now a central theme. It opens with the crushing single “Children”, a song about destruction, abuse of power, and the need to dismantle white supremacy and rethink white privilege. The video for “Children” (written and produced by Williams) tells the story of Dafonte Miller, a black teenager who was viciously beaten by an off-duty police officer in an unprovoked attack in Whitby. “[It’s] a story that’s way too common,” says Williams. “It’s not just a story that belongs to Whitby, but it hit home obviously, just being there for me. This racial profiling, it’s such a brutal, racist problem in general, but specifically in cops.”
As a person who makes noise for a living, Williams has had his own encounters with law enforcement (the first ever Chastity show, held in his parents’ basement, was shut down by the police), and he advocates for a complete overhaul of the system. “As an institution it’s obviously racist. People in Durham, my region, are like, ‘What about police here?’ And it’s like, no, fuck ‘em. It’s a piece of shit organization. [“Children”] calls for a conversation around reform. More people should know about [what happened to] Dafonte Miller. More people need to be talking about and discussing this shit, talking about reform. I want to move people in that way.”
Beyond “Children,” Death Lust is an anxious record that manifests as a somewhat therapeutic call to arms. Williams filters his emotionally fluid vocals through heavy, clashing guitars and walls of wailing noise. “Heaven Hell Anywhere Else” is an obvious highlight, and positioned in the middle of Death Lust, it’s also a crucial turning point. “Heaven” is quite a happy sounding song but the lyrics are not. “The lyrics almost don’t belong,” declares Williams. “To have a song that sounds sort of happy that has lyrics about dying, that’s a good song to have.”
The downslope includes “Suffering,” a grinding headbanger that sounds more desperate than anything else on Death Lust. “Chains” has a more calculated urgency; a blend of Detroit punk band Protomartyr’s pummeling rhythms and Toronto band Metz’s razor sharp riffs. “Come” is about looking at death and refusing to succumb to it. Williams states that the song is about his first experience with losing someone, and of longing for their return. “I think organizing that was an extremely beneficial part of coping with death in other ways in my life,” he says.
On the ground in Whitby, Williams is working to restore the DIY music scene by hosting shows in a local barn. The space has been nicknamed Ashburn Green and has already hosted Metz. “I think a community obviously transcends the space, but I’m trying to figure out the infrastructure to develop a community,” he says proudly. It’s still a work in progress, but Williams is optimistic. “Whitby, in this sort of macro way, is the perfect stop between Toronto and Montreal. There’s tons of kids in this region, so let’s route tours through here.” He’s wary of the statement coming across as a pitch, but adds, “I wish we could get a few more touring bands, you know.” There are millions of places like Whitby out there and tons of skid kids waiting for bands to show up. Sometimes all it takes is one person to kick-start it, and in Whitby, Williams could well be that person.