In an interview published over a decade ago, Greg Drudy from Level Plane told Delusions of Adequacy he hoped his label would still be putting out records in ten years’ time. These days, the label’s official website doesn’t even exist anymore, and neither does Level Plane. If you check out their homepage, the links provided will send you to discounted rice cookers, or maybe even thousand-watt pump espresso coffee machines in black or, I don’t know, puce and beige? Either way, it’s not music.
When asked how Level Plane got started, Greg seemed to give an honest and rather brazen response, telling the journalist, “One night we were assembling copies of the Saetia 7” and I was also looking through the current issue of National Geographic. An author was discussing photography and the need for a level plane. It seemed like an interesting phrase and we were at a loss for anything else at the time.” I like to imagine Greg began shipping those copies of Saetia from the same dimly-lit basement in New York City.
Saetia was a band formed in that same city back in 1997. This was the year David Bowie performed his 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden before receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. These late nineties’ screamo bands were certainly not influenced by the pop sound of David Bowie; their influences were far more esoteric and subversive. Saetia’s lyrical influences derived from mythology and religion, with the band’s name referring to a brooding musical composition found on Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain where the religious tradition of flamenco music plays dominance. The technical influences of Davis’ jazz music are there too, with Saetia’s softer, melodic hesitations providing a standing ovation to the genre’s historical innovation. Parallels continue with their instrumentals sounding invocative of personal difficulty; the modus operandi of blues music with its shouts and clamour. This is, I suppose, the heart and soul of their brand of screamo, played out to the point where it has found caricature in the cultural mainstream.
Somewhere online, there’s a quote about skramz provided by Jeff Mitchell of Iowa State Daily, who wrote: “there is no set definition of what [this] screamo sounds like but screaming over once deafeningly loud rocking noise and suddenly quiet, melodic guitar lines is a theme commonly affiliated with the genre.”
This is, of course, a simplification of the skramz genre, but a great simplification nonetheless. Whilst the initially jarring and often repellent nature of this sound has found little, if any, commercial success, the influence of these bands reigns supreme across the globe, from Malaysia to Brazil.
Essentially, skramz was a categorical term used to separate the screamo music of the late nineties with the mainstream screamo of today, although the vagueness and sincere validity of the genre continues to be a topic for debate. Aside from Saetia, examples of skramz can be found in bands like Orchid, Pg. 99, and arguably, more experimental bands like Circle Takes the Square. Released in the same year as Saetia’s formation, I Hate Myself’s 1997’s song, ‘Caught In A Flood With The Captain Of the Cheerleading Squad’ is a good example of the soft/loud dynamic utilized by the genre.
More introspective than punk rock, skramz seems like an aggressive sound made deliberately disagreeable; it’s dissident beyond recognition, like how punk would sound if it took itself seriously. Arguably, punk has become a relatively safe genre these days, boasting a proven track record when it comes to mainstream profitability. Really, it’s no wonder punk might just be seeing a resurgence. Skramz, on the other hand, continues to be an object of parody and satire, despite the lasting influence of people like Greg Drudy, Billy Werner and their associated bands.
Drudy himself was integral to the early creation of Interpol, long before the band’s commercial success with their 2014 album El Pintor. In fact, he left Interpol to focus on Hot Cross, a band formed from the remnants of Saetia who went on to produce a similar skramz sound before their indefinite hiatus in 2007.
In a sad turn of events, Level Plane ceased to exist in 2009. Today, the legacy of Greg Drudy’s label continues through the support of a cult following. Within this community, most fans extend their listening habits to the other bands associated with the skramz genre. Fortunately, they’ll never forget where Level Plane started. In a basement in New York City; Greg’s National Geographic laid out between coffee cups and an ashtray of half-smoked cigarettes.
Cover photo by Jonathan Feinstein