Nothing - Lee's Palace, Toronto. Photo: Dave MacIntyre

At Lee’s Palace, NOTHING’s music erupts; it doesn’t wait to be asked, and yet it’s the antidote to what ails us and what still feels hopeless tomorrow. Because there is always a new strain, a pop musical pandemic spreading like the one we are exposed to right now. Once in a great while, once in a generation, music may upend the balance and let authenticity, rage, grief, and pure, uncut art blast through to the masses. This time is here and now. There is nowhere to go from here. Pop music’s stars with their dead eyes are more than ever, cynical, manufactured monsters. There’s no fun in pop left: it’s fascism, it’s death. It’s child abuse. Kids need to hear those minor keys and feel the vibrations from the floor of the rock club and be present. Luckily for us, in plain view of the suits, a generation of kids with moms who listened to college radio to get through the longest nights have picked up the guitars and have the sly, innate talent to B & E this rigged musical game.

Only once every few years, something comes along that vibrates the body at a primal level with the feeling of imminent danger one minute, and the flicker of impossible to believe happiness the next minute. Impossibly, this music understands you, speaks to you, slaps you in the face; turns things cinematic for a little while in your little apartment, in your little head, in your little life. For us, love’s gotta be like that: something that has those perfect layered harmonies, that revels in its human fragility, a voice or an instrument that has risen because of need and will, not because they heard they should be up on stage all their life. Maybe, sometimes, like the greatest the game has ever known, too many lost to us now, because they heard no encouragement at all. Maybe they heard nothing, except how to somehow survive, just like they did as kids. Like too many of us kids. Music like this comes from outsiders, from the self-made, from nihilists who are really brokenhearted romantics.

It spills from somewhere tough and genuinely rough, whether the poorest parts of so many American towns, The Ramones’ gritty world view of the Five Boroughs; the decaying English city so far north of the center that London cab drivers stop and ask you why you’d ever want to go there, a place the rags call “STAB CITY”, a place that feels as homey & safe as your own misunderstood rough one. Great music comes screaming out of rainy, starkly beautiful drug-addled hubs that have hidden depths of so many scarred, beautiful souls. It comes, too, from normal looking families that are secret battlegrounds for a hundred different private family reasons.

Nothing - Lee's Palace 2015

When things are dark, we each have our own private darkness. Yet, the dark nothingness is today’s shared cultural touchstone: we’ve all been sad and anxious for a really long time. It’s dark out here in the anti-social media world. Every click, every feed, contains semi-random snapshots that hold potential to delight, astound, cause a belly laugh, anger, disgust, repulse. Baby animals; kids saying the darndest things; Mommy making a Vine instead of reacting humanely to a child’s embarrassment, shame or pain; disgraceful news media showing ISIS pictures before we can agree to look; people who are shamefully wealthy and famous for nothing at all any good. But dat ass… These things all scroll by as if they are all one neutral thing, while we wonder why we can’t sleep anymore.

Music fans are either old enough to remember that new music was an event and trips to the record store a sacred ritual,  or were were born just in time to miss all that; when the last great true organic moment happened in music. For a while, the game board was smashed and 90’s Alternative music ruled, only to have it die too young, leaving a gaping shotgun hole and shoved off screen before the body was even cold, in time for the widow’s makeover for Hollywood, when punk died again and capped its teeth, to our horror. In the void left by Kurt, oppuetunistic wolves chomped down on the scraps and chaos, opening the door to worse, pop music than ever before. Hole’s kinderwhore and the Riot Grrrls, too, were gone and Britney’s glossy porn schoolgirl was the shape the world’s grief took.

Nothing 2016 2But music, even then, was not yet devalued, compressed and made only to be shoved into our ear holes, enjoyed alone on our phones, stolen from digital space, an ineffective tool to survive the daily grind. In the last great Alternative wave of the 90’s, the idea that all the record stores, most of the dive bars, rock clubs and their peripheries- the shared public cigarettes at the side doors of these spaces in all the cities would disappear because of file compression technology was still dystopian Science Fiction. Its become our dull reality. It needs to be burned down. Internet and social media channels are almost all we have. Likes and shares are really less than nothing and invite both indifferent pats on the head and offer a whistling void of indifference if we don’t share a hive mind or have a cute kid or kitten to flaunt, but they’re what we have-and for now, but not forever, have replaced the real tour posters that used to flourish in a city before we were told to see them as wasted dead trees and knew them instead, as necessary, vital fuel, art actually worth buying and stealing and the only news that mattered to us in the street.

Nothing, in May 2014, were unknown to us, and this magazine did not yet exist (was just a title floating on a webpage with a couple of disjointed articles and photos). Dave was shooting a late night showcase for CMW (Canadian Music Week) and was there to see another band. CMW is a really mixed bag and tries every last nerve for devoted fans, naturally overstuffed with all the windbags of the jaded local & visiting media, who are there to gossip and bitch like old women, loudly, arms folded, in small venues while indie musicians work before a wall of indifference.  Bands gig at insane times like 3 a.m. or worse, 2 p.m. Waiting for the headliner, Dave’s expectations were upended with this strange combination of rough looking indie dudes in Depeche Mode t shirts with Morrissey tattoos. As the wall of noise hit him, he turned, gobsmacked, to a couple of Ride or Die fans who were freaking the fuck out, up from Philly. “They’re Nothing. They’re from Philly!” And that was it, the week was over, the night was over, the schedule was over. It was the moment a photographer who became that to pursue his drug of choice, music, found The One.

NOTHING’s music, with its roots in hardcore, authentic music love and natural, raw talent, makes for a tight and exciting live show that infuses the rock club with stadium-sized energy. It knows just when to quit, leaving you wanting another hit. It hooks the listener who knows what it means to be Guilty of Everything and Who is Tired of Tomorrow. This music acknowledges it all, brings it out into the light, and transcends all of that ugly. It comes from dark places and hits us where we live. It takes the bleakness of now and makes it tolerable, even beautiful.

Real rock critics in the old days and biblical power of print could love wildly as well as pan mercilessly, but wielded their power with a deep, uncorruptable knowledge and argument for why they were doing either thing. The media is dead. Everyone’s a rock critic now. So be one. Buy into the Alternative bands you love. Spread the word. Ignore the pop vacuum, even the easy joke. Screw ironic detachment. Break something. Start a riot. Remember what it was the first time you heard The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Cure, Nirvana, or Slowdive. NOTHING in 2015 is transcendent, a light flickering in its own darkness. It’s a long awaited answer to Jane’s Addiction when Summertime Fucking Rolled; the The Cure who’ve always remade genre to their own orbit and are still as dark and rich as your best ever dream despite their subversive pop hits, who bent the world.  Nothing’s music, across two albums now, still new, you can still say you were there, is an illegal fire, an uncontrolled burn to fight our endless winter chill.

Just listen.

A Manifesto By Jacqueline Howell

(This feature, aside from the 2016 pictures, was previously published here in an edited form (as part of a larger piece) on April 3, 2015. More about Step On’s obsession here.)