Apocalypse Now: L.A. duo Ho99o9 are here to finish what Odd Future and Death Grips failed to do

...unless they implode too, which they just might

My first experience of seeing Ho99o9 live was in Berlin’s infamous Berghain nightclub. A place notorious for sweating, often nude, bodies to be crashing and thrashing into one another as thunderous, unforgiving music erupts from a sound system that sends earthquakes rippling through your guts. However, the only real naked flesh I saw that week (during the inaugural Pop Kultur festival) belonged to one man: Eaddy from L.A. outfit Ho99o9. Eaddy stripped to nothing except his socks and threw himself into the crowd, sweat was running down every inch of his body and with every person he crashed into he would just slide down them and crash back to the floor, where he remained until the dying moments of the set, crunched up, screeching into the microphone as sub bass throttled the room with gripping force and tension and the stunned audience absorbed the unsettling carnage that had just taken place all around them.

Ho99o9 [pronounced Horror] consist of Eaddy and theOGM, a New Jersey duo now operating from Los Angeles who are making a fusion of rap and punk the likes of which has not really been encountered before. The 9s in the name represent upside down 6s, an antidote to a celebration of the ideologies attached to the devil and evil – and also a statement that expresses their neutrality. “No masters. No fucking bosses. No gods. No Nuthin’. We don’t fuck with none of that shit.” That’s what they told the L.A Weekly earlier this year.

However, whilst the duo may not answer to any one person, thing or ideology, there is enough of their approach that is constructed as a horror-show aesthetic – violent imagery including necrophilia can be found scattered throughout their songs.

Horrorcore has too many cheap and nasty connotations to it, but Ho99o9 know how to push buttons, sonically and aesthetically in the same way. What makes the group really interesting, though, is not that they are a rap group with an essence of punk to them, or that they are a punk group with flavours of hip-hop, but that they really are a complete amalgamation of the two; a group in which GG Allin and Bad Brains line up as clear cut influences as much as DMX or Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony do.

It was the influence of rap that came first for the duo, growing up in what they describe as tough New Jersey surroundings. “We grew up in the hood, urban inner city communities,” theOGM tells me, who turns up for our shoot in an abandoned zoo with a blue ski mask covering his face. “Pretty much all black people, drug dealers, gangs, fucking fights – ‘hood shit’ as people would say. That’s where we grew up, man, we grew up in hard times.”

The punk shows would come later, but growing up it was exposure to rap that attracted them to music. “Our music – as far as influences go – we grew up on rap and hip-hop, shit like that,” says theOGM. “We weren’t exposed to the sounds of rock or metal or anything like that until our later years. We were going to rap shows and ratchet-ass parties, like frat shit and college shit.”

One spectacle you’ll not forget seeing at a Ho99o9 show is one of Eaddy’s perfect back flips, which he pulls out of the air from nowhere. It was his New Jersey upbringing that brought him those skills, too. “Just being a kid in the hood, your parents and other neighbours throw their mattresses out for the garbage to pick them up – as kids we used to take them and wrestle on them and flip on them. It just came from when I was a kid, I didn’t know gymnastics or anything.”

There’s a genuine sense of ferocity and wildness to Ho99o9 that makes seeing them as exhilarating as it can be perturbing. In Berlin there were people throwing themselves into it head first, losing themselves in the blistering fusion of dark, grubby electronics with scorched-earth vocals hammering against stop start hardcore punk, and there were others who were creeping further and further towards the back. In terms of excitement, its hard not to compare them to the likes of Death Grips and Odd Future, not because they share a similar sonic template (which they do) but because there simply seems to be this blistering ball of anger and energy that has just erupted from nowhere and at the moment Ho99o9 could well end up being one of the biggest groups of 2016 as more people are exposed to what they do. Equally, they could easily collapse in on themselves at their next show and not make it to the end of 2015. I think the former is more likely, but there’s such an eruptive edge to their music and performances, it’s almost impossible to imagine it sustaining itself – a musical moment born from such anger, from such momentary, reactionary and instantaneous circumstances that it seems destined to either explode or implode.

And yet, while for the listeners and viewers Ho99o9 may often shock, surprise and/or terrify, for the group themselves a personal sense of fun is far more important than intimidation, and behind the momentum that is fast building. “From day one we didn’t know what we wanted to do,” says theOGM. “We just wanted to have fun and make sure our friends had fun too, we weren’t meaning to instil fear or have everybody go crazy, we just did it and that’s what it has become.”

He goes on to recall the group’s first ever show.

“It was in somebody’s loft and I don’t think we knew what the fuck we were getting ourselves into; we just went up there and did it. We had told people we had this little project but we didn’t have any drums or a lot of stuff we have now, but we just played and it went pretty good, it got crazy actually from what I can remember as I was pretty intoxicated that night.”

Eaddy recalls it too, saying: “It was good though, people moshed and I got hurt that night – that’s a good thing.”

When it comes to trying to describe what the group do and what sense of feeling it gives them, theOGM references a ’90s action film, “You ever seen that movie Twister?” he asks. “That’s how I feel. When that nigger throws them transparent balls into the twister, that’s how I feel… then I’m just destroying shit.

“People never really know what to expect from us,” he says. “Some reactions are happy, like a ‘oh, shit. What the fuck, I didn’t know this was going to happen, this is awesome!’ But then there are other people that are like completely shocked and don’t even really move because they weren’t expecting that type of energy that comes from rap and punk rock. Then you have people who don’t like it, which is fair enough, we don’t really care. We just go out there and perform and love having fun and having a good time – if people are having fun with us that makes it a lot better. The reactions are usually pretty good though, they usually fuck with it or they’re just really shocked.”

“Then again we ain’t out here playing no fucking Lindsay Lohan, Taylor Swift soft shit man,” adds Eaddy. “This is hardcore shit and if you can’t handle it then you need to get to the back or wait for the next performer or some shit. We ain’t out here singing melodies and trying to be cool, that’s the last thing we want to do, we just do what we do and you just got to fucking roll with it.”

The pair perform with drummer/producer Ian Longwell, but despite having huge amounts of guitar, that dart from intense hardcore speed-riffing to more, almost Prince-like, solo charges, they have no instruments on stage other than drums. Just the two vocalists and a sample pad that spews out some remarkably twisted noises as the two take over the stage, interacting and bouncing and feeding off one another, like demented siblings.

“When we create music we’re pushing the envelope. We want to make dope, progressive music,” says theOGM. “We obviously love the classics, that’s were we’re rooted from and we learnt a lot from them, but we constantly want to push the bar and make progressive music. It’s dope shit.”

Given that much of what the group project is most perfectly captured on stage, I ask them if they write material for that environment?

“Some songs, when we create them we definitely think, ‘live, this shit would be fucking crazy’,” says Eaddy, “and other songs we think of them like movie scores – like a horror film or some crazy ass action film with somebody getting chased and shot at. Our dynamic comes from both our live stuff and real creepy, dark shit.”

The real creepy, dark shit they refer to can be found in some of their music videos, like ‘Bone Collector’ and ‘Da Blue Nigga from Hell Boy’, which utilise their love for horror movies, gross-out imagery and tense action films. The narrative structure of films, as well as the aesthetic, also plays a roll as theOGM tells me. “If you listen to our new song ‘Twisted Metal’, the lyrics are like tension building,” he says, “you can run but you can’t hide, it’s like a chase. When you hear the lyrics you can pretty much imagine that shit as a movie.” The pair have cited both Rob Zombie and Quentin Tarantino as big cinematic influences.

Ho99o9 have something of an entourage, too; a group they call the Death Kult. “Death Kult is our people, the mutants of the Death Kult are our people,” says theOGM.

And the role/function of the Death Kult, I enquire?

“Armed Mutants, raised to kill on any word. If we say go, they go. If we say shoot, they shoot.” Eaddy is joking, but does so with a tone that’s intentionally creepy and menacing. Whilst Ho99o9 are clearly attracted to the theatrics, gore and violent imagery of movies, and have used that to sketch out their own film in which they are living in many ways, the end result is not the hammy, manipulated outcome you may expect. Yes it’s constructed and planned in some respects but their performances have a genuine air of unpredictability and menace, and their music is ferociously brilliant at times.

The last time I saw the group one of their Death Kult members took the form of a man who must have been pushing seven foot tall, was wide and dense and he strolled back and forth along the front row in a balaclava and boiler suit. His sole aim was of course to add an air of fear into the performance, like immersive theatre almost, except when Ho99o9 say go the Death Kult really do go and what erupted within seconds was a maelstrom of a circle pit as the balaclava-covered man whipped the crowd into a mass of flying bodies and beer.

It’s brought a lot of unique people to their shows, too. Given the group’s fondness for studs, metal and wearing multiple sets of handcuffs, it’s not uncommon for the group to go through some probing at customs, but this even led to a new fan. “We actually met this really cool ass border officer in Ireland,” theOGM tells me, “probably the coolest border patrol officer we’ve ever met, and he actually came to our show in Ireland. He was down, front row at the show. We’ve had ups and downs in that area, I guess.”

The group, despite being miles away from the Insane Clown Posse, musically, even found themselves playing the infamous and infinitely intriguing Gathering of the Juggalos festival this year, which theOGM describes as, “Fucking bizarre, man.”

“It’s one of the weirdest festivals you could go to,” he continues. “All kinds of weird shit. It’s pretty fun though – it’s an amazing experience and really cool that they’ve been doing it for 16 years, you just have to be ready to see some weird shit. ”

“Before you continue on to the after life one of your main goals should be to attend the gathering of the juggalos,” says Eaddy.

Ho99o9’s move to L.A has given the band more opportunities for exposure than New Jersey, although the group say it’s still something that requires a tonne of work. “We spent most of our lives in New Jersey and New Jersey is fucking hard,” says Eaddy. “It is right under New York, so most of the dope shit and the traffic is coming out of New York, so when you’re in New Jersey you’ve got to work a lot harder. Being in L.A is good. I’m not saying it’s not hard, it’s still hard and a hustle.”

The group are perfectly content to not predict or shape out the future though, as they are keen to point out, they are a band for now. “We are making progressive music and just styling, it’s all about now. We don’t really know what the future holds, so we’re definitely about the now.”

They say they would even rather just let their music speak for what’s coming next, as it will do on October 30th, when their new EP, ‘Dead Bodies in the Lake’, comes out. Asked to describe it, Eaddy sardonically and slowly mumbles, spitting out one word at a time, “corpses in a huge body of water.” And theOGM says: “We don’t really like to explain how our music is going to sound. Expect anything and expect nothing at the same time.”