DEATHRATS at Siesta Nouveaux on Wed, Dec 12. Rating: NNNN
There are a lot of women on the radio and fronting indie rock bands these days, but you'd be hard pressed to find one as ferocious and forthright as Deathrats' singer Christine Cunniff.
Hailing from Washington, DC, Deathrats is a punk band that punctuates their short, sharp songs with elements of metal and grindcore. With only one six-song 7" to their credit (and another on the way), Deathrats have already made a name for themselves within the scene.
They made their Toronto debut on Wednesday night, following four local bands, including Black Faxes, a band that seems destined for Cursed-style crossover success. The crowd, which was as homogenous as the Toronto hardcore scene has ever been, greeted every band with a pit and unrelenting enthusiasm.
So, why did Deathrats' set end after about five minutes?
Things were fraught from the outset. Cunniff started the show by asking people to take care of each other. This show of concern resulted in heckling, including one joker yelling "I like your face" to a woman whose lyrics target street harassment, women hating themselves, and the lack of genuine communication within a scene that prides itself on being progressive.
The irony of the moment was almost laughable.
The second song, a new one, was introduced as being about how Cunniff sometimes wants to kill herself when she goes to punk and hardcore shows. While about a third of the crowd nodded with understanding, the rest couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that what's OK for one band isn't the same for another.
More specifically, despite being on the floor with the audience, not all singers want to be grabbed and mauled; especially when the singer's lyrics say "Everyday I'm confronted with what other people think/What makes them feel so entitled to my body". It's not like she's masking her thoughts in metaphors.
By the time Deathrats played Girl Style, a song that should be required listening for all teenage girls and any woman who thinks the revolution ended with the demise of Bikini Kill, it was obvious they were disgusted by their first Toronto experience.
During the song, the singer from an earlier band tried to grab Cunniff's mic and sing along, a bro-punk move that a lot of bands encourage, but was bafflingly inappropriate in this context. Sure, dude knew the lyrics, but obviously no thought had gone into their meaning or the fact that his voice wasn't going to add anything to a song about female friendship.
After five songs in as many minutes, the band packed up their gear and that was it. For that brief period, Deathrats were a raging, pummeling force and, for the short time they were on stage, one of the best shows of the year.