U-Pistol made sweet, dreamy pop. As Promote Violence, he delves into a dark, painful chapter of his past

Above a shumai joint in Manila, NME witnesses the launch of ‘Joyful’, the latest, rage-fuelled album by Zeon Gomez. The rapper and producer speaks on his past of religious trauma exorcised on the record

A neon red glare pierced the eyes of those gathered in the hall above a popular Metro Manila shumai joint one May evening. Zeon Gomez, known that night as Promote Violence, stood in front of two buzzing speakers, caressing a three-foot-tall wooden cross in the middle of the stage.

A jittery crowd of a hundred or so people surrounded Gomez. They’d arrived to witness the blood-boiling launch of ‘Joyful,’ the second album by Promote Violence.

Wearing a crocheted and horned mask, Gomez paced, clutching the microphone. He launched into a performance of angry electronica banger ‘Believers: The Holy’, and began writhing on the ground amid a cacophony of scratches and shrieks. “I keep a good reputation / Your mom and dad wish they had me too,” he sang sarcastically.

At the song’s conclusion, he knelt in front of the cross, placed a hand on it and bowed – not in reverence but exasperation. The record has taken a lot out of him. Rooted in “unchecked trauma”, ‘Joyful’ is the Promote Violence origin story. A rage-fuelled exercise in hip-hop catharsis, it chronicles Gomez’s upbringing in a Pentecostal community church in Manila.


Gomez says he suffered emotional and verbal abuse justified through fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity, and left the church after its leaders tried to publicly exorcise his ‘demons’. To make the record, he needed to immerse himself in these painful memories and “unchecked trauma” – “forcing myself to relive some scenarios, taking a good look at their faces”.

“I knew what I wanted to say and I didn’t care if there were going to be wordplay or any clever bars, I just wanted to tell these stories”

Speaking to NME a few minutes before his performance, Gomez sits close to the edge of his seat, between beat-up boxes and old clothes, with shoulders pushed back and a tapping foot. He barely drinks his rum and coke, and sounds a little agitated.

“I tap into repressed anger,” he says. “It sends me on a loop, and it’s actually tiring, mentally and physically.”

Gomez endured an entire childhood to make ‘Joyful’, a record that took seven years to produce. Though he mixed and produced most of the tracks, composer and DJ Mocksmile produced ‘Vision: Pre-emptive Sin’ while fellow rapper-producer Calix had a hand in ‘Joyful: House of Hate’ and ‘Slain: The Blind’. Both artists joined him onstage at the launch.

Gomez had been researching the church he was in for years, struggling to process his emotions. But collaborating with both Calix and Mocksmile throughout the pandemic helped him regain a sense of control. Being alongside contemporaries made it easier to create the material.

After that, the songs came easily – each one taking roughly half an hour to write. Earlier this year, Calix mixed and mastered the tracks in one go and Gomez knew it was done.

“I found the courage in the process to produce beats again and I wrapped up the latter half of the album myself. I knew what I wanted to say and I didn’t care if there were going to be wordplay or any clever bars, I just wanted to tell these stories,” he says.

Gomez’s decidedly low-key attitude towards this record speaks to its personally therapeutic nature.The album’s release was equally low-stakes. Gomez uploaded the album on May 19 with no plans for a launch event. “I just posted about it to my 800-something followers,” he said.


Local gig producers Not Bad got wind of his new material and volunteered to put together a show. In a matter of days, they had pulled together a gig, choosing the shumai joint where Gomez used to work as an assistant manager so he could have “an excuse to see friends”.

Gomez also wanted a safe space among community, where he could more easily inhabit “a torture chamber, where there is constant pain, always anticipating the end”.

Zeon Gomez performs as Promote Violence
Zeon Gomez performs as Promote Violence. Credit: Michael Beltran

As the eldest of three kids, a young Gomez “wanted to work extra hard for the church for my family’s salvation” (his brother, now the acclaimed artist No Rome, was too young at the time to remember all that happened).

As a 29-year-old adult, he sees how “extreme” his family and community took their faith, and resents those wasted years. Over funky, metallic grooves in ‘Slain: The Blind,’ he mocks his captors: “Here’s my favour / Where’s my saviour / Follow your word I am doing my best / Am I not worthy / Is it ’cause I am so worldly, am I a sin undeserving?

In the Philippines, where nearly 80 per cent of the population is Roman Catholic, some homegrown strands of Christianity have been known to exhibit cult-like behaviour (a few making for disturbing, dangerous headlines). Gomez says his congregation, a small parish of around 200 families, would speak in tongues and faint in fits of spiritual ecstasy; in the absence of formal authority to articulate their belief system beyond the pastor’s family, they would just “make shit up”, he claims.

“[There was] no internet back then, but today they’d be the anti-vaxxer and ‘Viber Mom’ conspiracy theorists. We lived in fear believing that the rapture was near,” Gomez recalls to NME. “Jesus was arriving to take us into heaven and even the smallest sin could prevent our entry.”

Gomez says the church deprived him of music, movies, and even playing normally like other children. “You end up dedicating most of your days to the church. Instead of being a normal kid, I went door to door like a missionary, handing out pamphlets on a bus, even on weekends.” This only repressed his latent curiosity in music. ‘Joyful’ is his indignation at a lost youth materialised.

Does Promote Violence’s new music invoke any ideas of forgiveness in Gomez? “Only absolute hatred,” he answers flatly.

“[There was] no internet back then, but today they’d be the anti-vaxxer and ‘Viber Mom’ conspiracy theorists. We lived in fear believing that the rapture was near”

This wounded fury is a far cry from Gomez’s previous, well-known work as U-Pistol. For this project, which he began in 2014, he adopted a kawaii aesthetic and crafted danceable pop tunes that he released on the now-defunct and quietly influential label Zoom Lens (once the home of electronic pop experimentalist Yeule).

“I was starry-eyed and wanted to see the world in my early 20s,” Gomez says of U-Pistol. “I wrote about being a hopeless romantic. I wanted it to sound as gentle and dreamy as possible.”

The fallout from his ordeal fractured him into what feels like “two different people in one body”. If U-Pistol was Gomez coping with his issues, Promote Violence is the artist acknowledging and then confronting them. The opener of ‘Joyful’ evokes a looming meltdown. ‘Welcome: Lost Child’, a quick and mostly instrumental number, begins with a hymn over loudly echoing organs as a child repeats “Yes, Jesus loves me.”

It fades to make way for rapidly beating discordant drums and screeching synths, evoking a panic attack, before leading into ‘Joyful: House of Hate.’

At the launch, Gomez rallied a thrashing flock through spiteful praise during the song’s second verse. He scratched his face and screamed into the mic: “Turn up, with the sinners in the back / I might come up, with the sinners in the back.”

When he wasn’t on stage, Gomez mostly kept to himself at the back of the hall. After everyone had gone, he sat with friends and family, listening to them talk.

If Gomez comes across as cold, ‘Joyful’ is his way of explaining his initial distrust in people and even his casual disinterest in promoting his work. And when asked about future plans – or the prospect of another creative transformation – he remains intriguingly taciturn.

“Next is I just disappear again, maybe do something else. I cannot balance my left and right.”

Promote Violence’s ‘Joyful’ is out now via No Face Records


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