Drugged Conscience is making Miami punk history

To the outside world, Miami isn't particularly known for its punk history. We weren't part of the first wave (New York City, Los Angeles, London), we didn't invent hardcore (Washington, DC), and we burn through venues so fast we've never managed to forge a long-term institution like Gilman Street Project in San Francisco or ABC No Rio on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

SoFla locals know the real story, though. They can tell you about Mutiny in the Grove, the famed squat at the center of Miami expatriate Erick Lyle's early SCAM zine mythology. They can recount a time when South Beach was overrun by filthy maniacs instead of too-clean guidos. And they can provide a detailed account of the scene back when kids from the suburbs were flocking to all-ages shows at the Alley, a converted warehouse space in Allapattah.

But Miami's punks aren't satisfied with just cataloguing the past. Take 24-year-old Chris Donaldson of Drugged Conscience records: He and his crew are gearing up for an exciting new chapter, full of the hottest nationally touring bands and tons of aurally scorching, ornately designed records.

It all started in 2005 when Donaldson (then a resident of Naples) founded Drugged Conscience to release the debut cassette from hardcore revivalists No Fucking Way. A couple of years later, the label boss relocated his operation to Miami. But he never forgot his Gulf Coast roots. He still cites Fort Myers post-hardcore/screamo outfit Jiyuna as a major influence, particularly its signature packaging which often resembles origami more than a record sleeve. "Their stuff is always really impressively fancy," he explains.

Soon, after a steady stream of releases featuring bands from South Florida and beyond, Donaldson and Drugged Conscience experienced a surge in national interest with the ascendance of Tampa's Cult Ritual, a noisy group featured on the cover of the June 2009 issue of Maximum Rocknroll. One of the major pillars of contemporary punk stylistics, Cult Ritual is considered by many heavy music scholars to be ground zero for the current wave of "mysterious guy" hardcore, a variant featuring the uncaged experimentation and intensity of late-period Black Flag — not to mention post-hardcore provocateurs like No Trend and Drunks With Guns. It's music that's metallic, free-wheeling, and maybe even a little jam-y.

Along with Cult Ritual's unforgivingly blackened sound, Donaldson's label helped spearhead the whole mysterious movement by creating packaging and promotional materials that featured stark-but-subtle, high-contrast images of oft-masked hooligans and thugs. "Artwork sets the mood," he explains. "It helps define the release."

Recently, though, Cult Ritual broke up. It could've been a major blow to Donaldson and Drugged Conscience. Yet, despite the demise of its marquee band, the label hasn't slowed. Quite the opposite, really, as the dismantling of the band resulted in a tidal wave of emerging ensembles riffing on the post-hardcore concept.

The label's newest releases are a pair of LPs from Tampa's Neon Blud and Merchandise. The former is feedback and groove-heavy punk, frequently compared to Sonic Youth. And the latter is strikingly demure, fuzzed-out indie rock that references '90s slacker jams without burying everything under a bunch of reverb.

Already, both records have garnered a great deal of praise on the blogosphere, and it looks as though the Drugged Conscience era of Miami's punk history is just beginning.

 
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