- Text by Tracy Kawalik
It's fucking late – 4am, pitch black – but my phone flashes manically in my face. The City of Angels is calling. From the other side of the pond, lead singer and mate from Shoegaze DIY band Old Coke urges: "Trace, whatever you're doing tonight, cancel it. That band I've been telling you about, Show Me the Body, is playing a secret gig in Brixton Market; they just announced it on IG. It'll be the wildest DIY show you've ever been to, promise. Go, or you'll regret it!"
By 8pm, I'm precariously balancing on top of a bar stool pressed against a jerk joint gripping a beam of plywood for dear life. Frontman, banjo player and guitarist Julian Cashwan-Pratt spits the caustic 2022 A-side “We Came To Play,” as the New York experimental hardcore trio tear into their third album full tilt, propelling the crowd of 200 fans to rip off their tops, toss tins and erupt into a sweat-drenched mosh pit hurling each other in all directions.
A day one fan leaps onto my stool, punches me in the face, then hugs me as she launches back into the pit with a second elbow to my ribs. Show Me The Body has Brixton by the balls from the first chord to the last while continually tugging at the heartstrings. With each body slam to the pavement, there's an outstretched arm from a smiling punk. With each visceral battle cry about capitalist greed, gentrification, grief, police brutality and the dismal state of affairs, there’s punters passionately shouting Cashwan-Pratt’s lyrics back into his face.
Show Me The Body’s fierce blend of hardcore, industrial noise and hip-hop is a sonic elixir for a room of people under the same pressure, desperate for release. Chaotic good. I depart with a freshly inked LP from the band, a black eye and buzzing to announce that I'm their new biggest fan.
Fast forward a few months and I'm on a Zoom call with Cashwan-Pratt, who’s speaking from his kitchen worktop in Queens. Instead of beer whizzing past, oregano, cracked pepper and brown eggs fly over my head as he whisks breakfast for his girlfriend and riffs about how Show Me The Body is an acquired taste.
"I think people come to our shows or hear our music and either go, ‘Hey, this is cool and different,’ or ‘Hey, get this shit out of my face!’" he smirks. "They either like it or fucking hate it, and that's what I like to happen. That's how you work out the freaks from the squares. Even on the underground, in our world of hardcore music, there's a whole bunch of fucking squares who we're at war with. Thankfully, Show Me the Body's music is a quick way to unite fellow freaks across the globe for battle."
When we speak, the band is gearing up for their World War UK Tour, which includes Outbreak Festival in Manchester and a London headline at Village Underground for a victory lap of their most musically ambitious and critically lauded album to date. Released in October 2022, Trouble The Water is a sonic summons to come together and kick off amid the growing unrest across the world, woven together by pounding drums, razor sharp banjo cuts, synth, ferocious lexicon, and some of the thickest, most bracing bass you’ll witness in punk-adjacent music.
"We're always writing, and we have something on the horizon. But I don't know what I'm allowed to fucking say and not fucking say," Cashwan-Pratt winks as he sits down with a coffee and starts rolling a joint. Instead, he's keen to wax poetic about new releases from Symbiote, Posterboy2000 and Dr Slice – artists signed to Show Me The Body's music platform/label CORPUS – and the return of the band's self-defence classes this summer, which aim to build confidence, camaraderie and a positive channel for fans to express complex emotions.
Cashwan-Pratt grew up in a family of music fanatics, which included relatives who followed the Grateful Dead on tour. He became engrossed in New York’s hardcore, underground and punk rock scenes after he volunteered at the Lower East Side's ABC No Rio social space, as well as finding a positive outlet from training in martial arts.
"A big part of my attraction to bands and artists I first discovered was that their music spoke for me. I had these feelings that I didn’t know how to articulate or what to do with,” he explains. "When I started playing music, I think that was the first time I could speak for myself in a way that I felt really good about. I was almost in middle school and still having trouble reading and writing. I thought I was a piece of shit. But if I could play the breakdown from that one Marauder record, or remember the words from Minor Threat's Out of Step, and that was sick. Suddenly, I had a vernacular and I didn't feel like a piece of shit anymore."
This transition was fuelled by Julian's first mentor, who would forever impact his music and personal outlook. "At 8-years-old, my mother started sending me to Michael Pestalozzi's apartment, a gentleman who was a session musician and songwriter. I had a lot of pretty serious behavioural issues and learning disabilities and shit when I was a kid, and Michael also had those problems," Cashwan-Pratt reflects. "He was the first ‘weirdo’ I met who was older, had his own apartment and had his life together. He showed me this ‘out’ through music where I could have respect for myself, love myself and create. I feel really blessed to have spent so much time together."
Stomping into his own at the age of 12, Julian made a rogue move towards his destiny by standing outside gigs delivering "gibberish vocals" and hardcore ad libs over top of the bands who were playing. "At first people were upset because they thought I was making fun of their homies, but I was like ‘nah, nah, chill. I just want a band. I don't have a band, and I wanna sing!’"
Cashwan-Pratt met bassist and Queen's native Harlan Steed at Elisabeth Irwin High School, the 1920s "progressive commy school" earlier attended by Robert De Niro. The pair clicked over Lightning Bolt and Primus, whose thrash funk influences can still be heard in their music.
By 2009, Show Me The Body had formed. They exploded onto the hardcore scene and independently released two EPs, Yellow Kidney and SMTB, while gaining traction and a cult following off the back of notoriously raucous, guerilla-style DIY shows. They played in an alleyway beside Steed's house, under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in basements, at house parties and anywhere else they could cram in a generator and a few hundred rabid kids. In 2016, they celebrated a deal with Loma Vista and the release of their debut album, Body War, flanked by crab tanks in China Town at the Imperial Ballroom Dance Studio.
"Real talk, we had to create our own scene to exist in, and now that scene is very, very big,” Cashwan-Pratt says. “We started out throwing DIY shows and booking our friends regardless of whether the bill made sense to other punks, and there was already a tight, established scene in the city that looked at us like, 'We want no part of that weird shit!' Now, the conversation has flipped and everybody wants a piece."
From the outset Show Me The Body had a natural affinity for cross-pollinating genres in a way no one else was doing. Not only were they playing non-traditional venues, they were carving out a raw sound and a unique lane in hardcore that was heavily influenced by hip hop, noise music, sludge metal and beyond. Sure, there’d be haters with their hackles up who weren’t ready for a change, but Show Me The Body’s disinterest in being boxed into one genre or playing by outdated rules was uniting diverse crowds and injecting life into a scene gagging for new blood.
“Firstly, most of our friends made beats or rapped and shit, so we wanted to showcase the music at our disposal and what we listened to,” Cashwan-Pratt explains. “Secondly, we wanted to play for all ages. As a kid, I couldn't go to mad shows that looked awesome because I wasn't old enough, and I never wanted to put anyone in that position. Lastly, we realised no one wanted to book us because we also still sucked. I think it's important to reiterate that everybody sucks for a really long time! Show Me The Body definitely sucked for a good 4-10 years. And that's part of why I'm so proud of what we built, because we stayed with it and worked hard enough to not suck today."
The band’s relentless drive and expanding talents saw them clock underground and industry clout for their musical dexterity and pulse-racing live gigs. Their sophomore LP' Dog Whistle is a testament to their prowess as lyricists. In between, they cemented their commitment to empowering and elevating their community by launching CORPUS.
Beginning as a recording studio and collaborative mixtape project, CORPUS united like-minded artists and innovators for CORPUS 1 and a two-track EP titled Challenge Coin. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and the future of the music industry hung on tenterhooks, it evolved into a politically charged, artist-run coalition to aid their local community in Queens.
"Suddenly we had time to stop and look around us. We were in lockdown, all in one place, in a neighbourhood I grew up in – an eight-block area with four homeless shelters. So we turned all of our efforts into thinking about how to serve our community in a time of need,” Cashwan-Pratt explains. "It wasn't about, ‘Oh, I have a lofty idea that aligns with SMTB's political beliefs.’ That doesn't matter when someone needs diapers, or to sleep and eat.”
Show Me the Body and CORPUS got to work organising actions such as ongoing food and coat drives for the homeless, mutual aid, funded artist residencies, a book club and Uprising – a day of direct action led and organised by Black women and femmes. As their reputation has increased, Show Me The Body has reached a wider audience and hoards of new fans that have prompted the band to step up their concern to protect their nearest and dearest, which is a big motivating factor behind their free self-defence classes.
"I've always trained in martial arts, but I also spent a lot of time as a youth at hardcore shows, literally sometimes fucking hiding. I don’t think shows should be a safe space, but I think everyone should have each other's back. You should also have the ability to handle yourself and help others,” says Cashwan-Pratt, who often takes matters into his own hands at shows. Last summer he pushed a fan that climbed on stage to take a selfie into a stacked speaker set, causing it to fall over (SMTB posted footage of the antics to Instagram with the caption "NO DISRESPECT"). More recently, at Outbreak, Show Me the Body was the only band that saw someone get knocked out as someone else two-stepped while munching on prawn crisps.
“Looking around, we were like, ‘Yo, the shows are becoming bigger. There are a lot more people coming who we don't even know. How do we mitigate that?’,” Cashwan-Pratt explains. “CORPUS was our way of building a core of people who know how to handle themselves, de-escalate a fight if needed, and defend others."
Another reason behind CORPUS self-defence was to teach kids something positive to improve their confidence “so then they can go to a hardcore show where people are beating the shit out of each other, and they don't have to be afraid if something were to pop off,” as Cashwan-Pratt puts it. “There have been a couple situations where we'll see a kid who has been coming to shows for ages but doesn't talk to anybody or have friends. But once they start coming to defence class, they'll get clicked up with a crew of little homies. That's so lovely and wonderful to see."
As our conversation comes to a close, I ask Julian, the ‘godfather’ more or less of SMTB’s beloved family of “freaks” bound together by mutual respect and care, what his proudest achievement is thus far. "I've always fucked with people who say heavy shit and people who are trying to convey a message,” he says, leaning back and smiling. “But when we started SMTB, in no fucking way did I think, 'I'm going to make music and it's going to save people.' Only now can I look at our music and feel so much joy seeing how kids connect to it. My proudest moment is when we speak to people, and it's obvious that our music is for them and they're part of this wild Show Me the Body family of lunatics in some way."
"We don't play shows so we can stand up there and play rock star,” he continues. “There's no icon shit. Our shows are a volatile ceremony where we're all just freaks in a temple trying to feel something together and, hopefully, we feel something greater than our individual day-to-day experiences. The pit is a dance.”
Find out more about CORPUS.