flasher's queer-inclusive anthems explode punk and privilege
On debut album 'Constant Image,' the Washington D.C. trio investigates what it means to be punk in a post-Occupy world.
Photography Jen Dissenger
At the start of i-D’s conversation with DC punk band Flasher, drummer Emma Baker takes out her phone to explain a joke that only the band is in on. “The article about the mummy baby, it literally will not stop being the sponsored thing on all my internet feeds,” she announces, before asking, “Have you ever looked at our Instagram? You may or may not have noticed that there’s this thing that appears in a few of the photos.” Guitarist Taylor Mulitz continues, “It’s a mummy that they found in Chile, but there’s all these conspiracy theories that it’s an alien because of the shape of its head… It’s tiny and has all these deformities, but apparently it’s a human,” he says with a level of skepticism that suggests he might just happen to believe in the existence of aliens.
Flasher has just finished a tour with The Breeders and is about to release its debut album, Constant Image, on June 8 via Domino Records. The band is part of a DC music scene that, along with Priests, Hand Grenade Job, Gauche, and a raft of artists associated with Priests’s Sister Polygon record label, is reinventing what it means to be punk in a post-Occupy world dominated by late-stage capitalism.
The mention of aliens perfectly segues into a discussion about a conspiracy theory that the band was personally caught up in during the 2016 election. Baker and Flasher bassist Danny Saperstein work at the DC music venue/restaurant Comet Ping Pong, where in December 2016 a North Carolina man opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle. His actions were fueled by a conspiracy theory known as #pizzagate, in which white supremacists and alt-right trolls claimed the venue was home to a child sex trafficking ring linked to Hillary Clinton and members of the Democratic Party.
By association, all three band members were on the receiving end of #pizzagate-related hate speech, and as a result, they share a different view of what fueled the conspiracy theory than what was commonly presented in the mainstream media, who chose to focus on Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta. “[Comet Ping Pong] is a place where they employ a lot of queer people, and really #pizzagate was a lot about that,” says Mulitz. “It was about homophobia.” After describing the daily abuse that was hurled at the venue and its staff through malicious phone calls, restaurant reviews, and terrorizing comments on social media pages (which still occur with alarming regularity), Saperstein says, “It’s not a coincidence that this conspiracy theory would be about paedophilia at a place that employs and welcomes queer people.” You only have to look at the history of homophobia to see that the accusations are indeed directly linked, and sadly, in today’s political climate, it’s not surprising to see these inflammatory stereotypes still being openly tossed about.
On Constant Image a line can be drawn back to the bigotry aimed at Comet. Flasher is interested in how we share space and interact with humanity, and is diving deep into the debate. The band advocates for the destruction of historic paradigms that center around privilege and white supremacy and is looking at punk rock not just as a form of provocation, but as a starting point. The album hinges on the idea of escape which, without explanation, could be interpreted as a way out. Flasher is not looking for a way out, but rather a way forward.
“It’s about this tension that’s really specific to us, to our identities and where we’re from,” explains Saperstein. “This really serious tension between coping and surviving, and being responsible for cohabitating with other people. But also to escape some of the assumptions that you already have about yourself, and that you have for other people... [It’s about] escaping yourself in order to find yourself already entangled with other people in ways that are way more creative.”
Escaping, or even destroying, your own identity to attain a healthier sense of self is a conversation that’s hard to reckon with via a collection of three-minute punk-rock songs. Unlike some of their peers whose music confronts the situation head-on, Flasher’s songs are more philosophical and they often require a thorough analysis to unlock their ideas. There is no easy way through it all. Take the song “Pressure,” where the band sings, “Go on now you speak of pressure / Take all of mine find another way.” The song contains a motif that runs throughout Constant Image – the idea of looking beyond your own inherent privilege towards a future without a structured binary.
Saperstein further explains, “Some of the songs are pretty open about negotiating death and suicide. When we’re talking about escape, the kind of escape we’re talking about is not, like, reckless escape. We’re talking about intentionally destroying the things you’ve depended on that make you privileged.”
Flasher, in solidarity with bands like Priests and Downtown Boys, isn’t advocating for living on the outside, but rather remaining on the inside and rearranging the power structure. This is where mainstream punk and bands like Flasher often collide. “There are plenty of people that would take those bands [mentioned above] and say they’re the antithesis of punk because they work with people in the music industry,” says Multitz. “I disagree with that. I think that it’s a kind of privileged way of thinking about punk if you are able to exist totally outside [of it]... To be able to not interrogate why you think something is fucked up in the first place when you’re participating in capitalism all the time anyway, it just seems so narrow-minded and dogmatic in a way that I’m just not interested in.”
While there’s been talk of an insurgent punk movement growing out of an opposition to the Trump administration; that very idea suggests a level of privilege that has allowed many white Americans to ignore the challenges faced by marginalized people throughout history. The fact that many white liberals are only awakening now should be seen for what it is: a marker of privilege and a force of great shame. Continuing the discussion about expanding the definition of punk, Saperstein concludes, “For me, the most cohesive part of that and what makes all of us punk today, is seeing it as really important to critique the left in an age where full neoliberalism and capitalism has fully subsumed punk as revolutionary.”