“This is a gang called Speed, baby!” As down-tuned guitars ring out across the Factory Theatre in Marrickville, hundreds of people flail their limbs and move their bodies in time with Speed’s authoritative, menacing take on beatdown hardcore. Stage dives are in full swing, mic grabs are dished out and a sold-out room takes in every breathless second of this complete pandemonium.
Most bands who headline this 800-capacity room have hundreds of gigs under their belts. For Speed, they have – at most – a dozen. Days after headlining the mini-festival known as Back On The Map, Speed frontman Jem Siow is still comprehending exactly what his band have accomplished by doing so. “Honestly, I think I’m starting to finally process it,” he says.
“For all of us in the band, it was easily the most insane show we’ve played of all time. It was just unbelievable – especially because of the meaning of this show. For us, this was the thing of dreams – having such a response to a bill of Australian hardcore, and what that means for the broader community. I’ve been feeling this fire in my belly, and I had a feeling others did too – but it’s only when you actually see stuff like this in person that it becomes undeniable.”
Siow formed Speed in 2019 shortly after the quiet dissolution of Endless Heights, the band in which he played lead guitar. Although that group was also born out of the local hardcore scene, they went in a melodic, dream-pop inspired direction that scored them major support slots and triple j rotation – usually the dream of most Australian bands – but it ultimately left Siow feeling unfulfilled.
“At the end of the day, all I give a fuck about is hardcore”
“The last shows we did was this arena tour through the UK and in Europe, opening for The Amity Affliction,” he recalls. “We were on a tour bus, on our biggest-ever tour… I should have been on top of my game. The entire time, though, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I just wanted to be home. I didn’t want to play arenas, I wanted to be playing to 50 people at Valve Bar. It really hit home for me that, at the end of the day, all I give a fuck about is hardcore.”
This small-scale, big-impact ethos certainly informs ‘Gang Called Speed’, which serves as the band’s official debut EP following their 2019 demo and a seven-inch the following year entitled ‘2020 Flex’. Although short-form releases such as these can eventually become relegated to footnotes in a band’s story, Siow points out that they are often revered within hardcore scenes, even achieving magnum opus status.
“They’re real turning points for hardcore bands,” he says. “I feel like I have a lot more seven-inches that I cherish from hardcore bands than I do LPs. Even though this is our first EP, [we’re] sort of approaching it almost like a debut album. That’s why it’s called ‘Gang Called Speed’ – this is the identity of the band. This is what we’re all about. This is Australian hardcore.”
With the EP’s announcement in May came the release of its lead single, ‘Not That Nice’. Even amid churning riffs and slamming drums, the message of the song is emphatically clear, Siow raging against the rise in hate crimes against Asian people: “We’re breaking through / Set fire to a fucked up truth,” he roars. Siow is one of three first-generation Asian Australians in the band, alongside his brother Aaron on bass and Dennis “D-Cold” Vichidvongsa on guitar.
“This was one of the first times that I’ve really seen people that look just like me – that look just like my family – attacked on the street,” says Siow of the hate crimes against Asians that proliferated during the pandemic. “It’s been perpetrated out of fear, and that fear was enabled by some of the stereotypes that Asian people [are subjected to] – which is to be submissive and to be passive. It’s important to me to recognise and say that this is not who we are – and this is not who I am.
“Your perspective of what an Asian person is… that’s not me. There’s some things that I have to draw a line in the sand for, and there are some things that just can’t pass. It’s challenging myself to use my own confidence to stand up for those who feel they’ve been stereotyped a certain way.”
Speed have found themselves at the centre of a lot of attention from outside the immediate bubble of the Australian hardcore community. Their 2021 single ‘We See U’, for instance, has accumulated over 100,000 YouTube views for its music video and nearly half a million Spotify streams – Drake numbers for an Australian hardcore band – and in July they’ll fly to Los Angeles to throw down at Sound and Fury Festival.
Still, Siow has largely been quick to decenter the band – to him, they’re “just another band to fill the bill” and “a spark in the flame of Australian hardcore”. His message is this: If Speed is the first Australian hardcore band you’re checking out, don’t stop there.
“It’s a massive gee-up,” says Siow of the band’s popularity. “That said, the mission of Speed is purely to grow the infrastructure of hardcore – to bring back a scene where people can go to shows and know they have a safe space and a self-sufficient community surrounding it.
“You think what we’re doing is sick? That’s mad, but have you heard A.W.O.L.? Have you heard The Others? Have you heard Deathbed? Have you heard J.O.Y.? We love the spotlight, but it’s so important that it pours over onto the other bands in this scene. We have so many talented, hard-working and unique acts here – we just need more vessels for people to recognise that.”
Speed’s ‘Gang Called Speed’ is out Friday (June 24) on Last Ride Records/Flatspot Records