The cacophonous, shape-shifting blend of hardcore, hip-hop and noise put forward by New York City’s Show Me the Body is a jolt to the system. The band is led by menacing frontman Julian Cashwan Pratt, who conjures a uniquely demented sound from a metallically overdriven banjo. Joined by the pummeling Jackie McDermott on drums and Harlan Steed on bass, assorted synths and pedal board noise-makers, the trio pays homage to its forebears while sounding like no one else.
“We do what the fuck we want to do,” Julian says when asked about where they fit within the rich tapestry of New York City music history. “I think of it as a lineage of New York Sound, starting from people singing doo-wop on the corner, and then the Ramones making doo-wop into punk songs. Then hip-hop happened. When I was growing up, I was listening to [late Harlem rapper] Big L and no-wave music and stuff. So to me, it’s really all New York Sound, baby.”
Show Me the Body grew out of an adolescent friendship between Steed and Pratt, eventually leading to the creation of a collective of revolutionary youth dubbed CORPUS. “There are a lot of homeless shelters in our neighborhood Queens,” Julian says. “So we do a lot of mutual aid initiatives with the shelters. And then we also throw a free CORPUS self-defense class for kids who come to our shows. And we do a book club.”
In other words, these aren’t some nihilistic, jaded punks.
But you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise after listening to the band’s most recent album, Trouble the Water, which pushes the band’s New York Sound into the red. The record opens with a subdued, yet threatening banjo on opener “Loose Talk” before careening into a blast of barely contained violence. Knife-sharp lyrics throughout the album are aimed right at the broken systems gentrifying our cities, leaving citizens desperate in the face of deadly police violence. Sonically, this release via Loma Vista Recordings finds the band even tighter, weirder, and more titanic.
Show Me the Body attracted major attention in 2019 for their electrifyingly caustic sophomore album Dog Whistle, but just as that momentum was growing, COVID ground live music to a halt. However, the band remained engaged.
“All of our time was spent working on our initiatives,” Julian says. “Obviously, no one was happy about what was happening, and people went through hardships, and some had people [close to them] who died and it’s really awful. But at the same time, it did give us, as Show Me the Body, the ability to really hone in the core group that is CORPUS — not just the community, but the actual working group, and get a whole lot more shit done during the pandemic.”
At this point in the phone interview, Pratt is briefly distracted on the call by a passing friend and takes the time to chat for a minute — an off-the-cuff example of his sincerity and love for this extended community.
“Most of our initiatives cost money for us to achieve, but they’re all free for our community,” Julian says, after apologizing for the interruption. “Most of the CORPUS initiatives are for kids. And then there’s the other side of CORPUS, which is a label, and we throw shows and we put out music. We’ll be putting out Symbiote which is an Atlanta hardcore band, we’re putting out a Dr. Slice record, who is a New York artist, we’re putting out a Posterboy record, who is a New York artist, a WiFiGawd record, who is a rapper from DC.”
But while the collective has been successful in both its musical and mutual aid campaigns, Pratt says the path pursued by CORPUS isn’t the only way for others to make a difference in the communities they call home.
“No one singular vision is ever going to lead to the best result,” Pratt says when asked about the importance of collaboration. “The mutual visions combined can lead to something that not one person could have thought of, and that will always be more sacred and most special.”
Pratt is eager to discuss this community-level work, but he seems particularly excited to talk about the band’s current tour. “This is definitely the best one we’ve ever done,” he says. Part of what he finds so edifying is the reaction he gets from young people at the shows — kids who seem genuinely engaged with the music and the mission of Show Me the Body. “We make this music, but it’s for the kids who listen to it and find shelter within it,” Julian says. “I was a young kid in the scene, but really felt taken care of by the people around me. Feeling like this is a world that I want to be in and I feel comfortable in. Show Me the Body shows are for everybody.”
ON THE BILL: Show Me the Body with Jesus Piece, Swol, Zulu & Trippjones. 8 p.m. Sunday, Mar. 12, Gothic Theatre, 3263 S. Broadway, Englewood. Tickets here.