Hardcore heroes Turnstile’s latest record ‘Time & Space’ is a boundary-pushing reimagining of everything a punk band can be. Tom Connick catches them in the midst of a dizzying world tour to talk taking hardcore to dazzling new heights
Fresh off a long-haul flight, Brendan Yates is away with the fairies. The curly-haired Turnstile frontman – who looks more like an Abercrombie model than a man who earns his wedge screaming into a microphone every night – is back in the UK for a tiny show at London’s Boston Music Rooms, ahead of a massive slot at 2000 Trees Festival in Cheltenham. Just two weeks ago, he was landing in this same airport for a headline slot at Leeds’ Outbreak Fest, straight off the back of Australian and American runs. In the interim, he and his bandmates have been racking up shows across mainland Europe and onto South East Asia. Understandably, he’s knackered.
To what do they owe this worldwide lap of honour? That’d be February’s ‘Time & Space’ LP, the band’s second full-length,debut for Roadrunner Records (who also house Slipknot, Creeper, Korn and more), and one of the year’s most inventive and exciting rock releases. An album with its roots in hardcore punk, ‘Time & Space’ is every bit the boundary-warping record that title would suggest – in just 25 minutes, it fuses bossanova beats and sci-fi synth work, soft-focus grunge and brick-heavy breakdowns. Pop producer extraordinaire Diplo – of Major Lazer fame – even features, adding keyboards to ‘Right To Be’, a paring that was arranged via Twitter DM, after Diplo himself contacted them to say what a fan he was. Classic-rock revivalists Sheer Mag also lend their vocalist Tina Halliday to ‘Moon’. Not since Refused’s seminal ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come’ has a punk-rock record so wilfully played with the expectations of the genre.
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“We don’t like to limit what can influence us, or put what the influences ‘should’ be in some sort of box,” says Brendan. Indeed, while Brendan’s background may lie in the mosh-pits and stagedives of basement punk shows, he’s more likely to be found spinning soul-pop legend Sade or dreamy indie bunch Beach House on his days off. Drummer Daniel Fang, meanwhile, says his listening is equally patchwork – “a lot of trap music, and a lot of really old-school punk music,” he says nonchalantly, as if the pairing were the most obvious thing in the world. The rest of the band – completed by bassist/vocalist Franz Lyons and guitarists Brady Ebert and Pat McCrory – are similarly eclectic. “It’s a real blend of things,” Fang says, “a lot of stuff that somehow culminates into what you hear in the record.”
In lesser hands, such a mixture of influences could spell aimless sonic disaster – thankfully for Turnstile, though, they’ve got hardcore to keep them grounded. The rhythm-heavy punk offshoot captured the attentions of both Yates and Fang when they were in high-school in Baltimore, the pair drawn to its thriving, inclusive community as much as the cathartic, heavy punk sound.
“I felt fortunate that, at a young age, my older brother get me into hardcore,” says Dan. “It just opened me up to a whole new world of things that I could do with my life, and different ways of thinking, too.” Straight-edge and vegan beliefs are part-and-parcel of the genre (three fifths of Turnstile are completely drug and booze-free), and it’s that holistic, inclusive atmosphere that they both found a home within. Fang, who is a few years older than Yates, passed on his brother’s introduction to Brendan – before long, he’d formed modern hardcore cult faves Trapped Under Ice alongside their brilliantly-named friend Justice Tripp. They began playing gigs around their hometown straight off the bat; within weeks, Brendan and his bandmates were hitching rides to out-of-town basement shows, to both play and pit.
“I remember I felt intimidated, but almost in a cool way,” recalls Brendan. “You’d go to a show and people would be going crazy; throwing their bodies around. I think having [Fang and Tripp] to look out for me when I was younger made me want to be a part of it; going to shows, I didn’t feel like I was uncomfortable, because the older kids would make me feel comfortable. I could come over and write songs with them, and they’d invite me to hang out and stuff like that.” It’s that hand-me-down, level-playing-field social aspect that’s hardcore’s strongest asset. “That’s the one thing that sets hardcore and punk apart from rock music and other genres,” says Brendan, “that connection and interaction with the bands and crowd; the community.” It’s an attitude that sticks with them to this day – when Turnstile played Berlin earlier this year, they stuck scores of nearby Syrian refugees on the guestlist.
Turnstile began as a side-project – a way for its members to have more fun with their music, rather than revel solely in the heavier world of their other bands. Their first few releases, 2013’s ‘Step 2 The Rhythm’ EP and 2016 debut album ‘Nonstop Feeling’, were testament to that, imbuing their hardcore background with jump-along choruses and on-the-sleeve influence from everyone from Rage Against the Machine, to 90s hip-hop, the the soundtracks of their favourite skateboarding videos. It’s ‘Time & Space’ that’s Turnstile’s masterstroke, though – a dizzying, fun-first take on hardcore that’s rightfully seen them eclipse the success of any of their other outfits (to this day Brendan still plays in TUI, while the other members pop up in countless other bands).
As a result, they’ve found themselves flying the flag for hardcore across the globe. “We’ve felt so fortunate to be able to do so many things that we’ve been able to,” says Fang, “especially with South East Asia, just because it kinda feels like uncharted territory to us.” To the band’s collective surprise, that South-East Asian tour was “magical”, says Fang. “Showing up there and being embraced by the people in the hardcore community just immediately felt so special. The kids there are just so excited about hardcore in this palpable way that I haven’t felt since I was a teenager, just going to shows in my hometown. I’ve never seen something so fervent – every single kid at the show just exploding with energy.”
If Turnstile’s audience give 100% at all times, then, Turnstile themselves go one further. Fang recalls being brought to literal bleeding point “seven or eight times” during the recording of ‘Time & Space’, while a Turnstile live show will often find Yates swinging from the rafters, or hurling himself about with little regard for his own wellbeing. It’s a cathartic emotional experience for both fans and band. “It’s not something you experience in everyday life,” says Fang of that release, “trying to exhaust yourself in every way, and make sure you’re really putting forward your best effort. It’s really special to me.”
As Turnstile move forward, draining themselves both emotionally and physically, night-after-night, they’re leading a new breed of hardcore bands, whose eclecticism and emotional heft are pushing the genre to places it’s never been before. “It’s just really, really cool seeing a lot of friend’s bands really commit a lot of work and energy to something, and see a lot of cool opportunities come of it,” says Fang. “Code Orange, Vein, Power Trip, Citizen, Title Fight – they definitely take it from a level of just playing shows in people’s basements together, to really exploring this whole new territory.”
Through it all, though, the lessons learned as fresh-faced hardcore kids remain core to Turnstile’s game-plan. “Some people are like, ‘Oh, you guys are playing more mainstream stuff…’,” Fang says. “But it’s 2018 – as the world changes and media changes, I don’t know what ‘mainstream’ even means anymore. It kinda feels like just opening this little world that we had to a bigger audience – it’s the same community and the same special aspects of what makes a little hardcore scene important, but somehow on a bigger scale.” From Baltimore, to Bali, and beyond – Turnstile’s world domination is only a matter of time.
Turnstile’s ‘Time & Space’ is out now via Roadrunner Records.