In a 2017 photograph, Donald Trump is seen signing an anti-abortion executive order. An entourage of white, middle-aged men surrounds him. Some wear sinister smiles.
Dan Agacki, vocalist for Milwaukee hardcore-punk band Detenzione, committed the image to memory — a searing reminder of today’s big issues and their high stakes.
“The topics of conversation are so much heavier now because of everything going on in the world,” Agacki says. “I can’t just write about my feelings anymore.”
He sings about seeing the photo on the band’s new album, Vol. II, on the track “Smiling Faces”:
“Open my eyes and see the smiling faces / Hands clapping, back patting /Watch them burn or see them bleed / I can’t decide which I’d rather see.”
Connected in the scene
Detenzione is the product of Wisconsin punk scene connections. Drummer Eric Apnea and guitarist Erik Mayer, for example, performed together in the hardcore group Failed Mutation. The two see Detenzione as a sort of spiritual successor to that band.
“One of the reasons I wanted Apnea to play drums (in Detenzione) is that he’s so creative,” Mayer says. “It’s never going to be straightforward — it’s always going to be unhinged, and you don’t know if it’s about to derail.”
Bassist Amelinda Burich was added to the mix to finally act on conversations she and Mayer had about playing music together.
“I credit Amelinda with a lot of making this band different than previous projects,” Agacki says. “She brings this weird positive energy that I’ve never had in a band before.”
The band made its recorded debut with Vol. I — a snarling attack on consumerism, capitalism and fascism.
Shortly after, the band recorded “New American Dream” for the UNPRESIDENTED: DIY vs. Donald Trump compilation tape. On “New American Dream,” Agacki sings, “In the time of fascism / truth is out of style.” He says the song is on the nose and obvious.
The band’s latest release, Vol. II, takes a subtler approach to its subject matter — except on “Proud Scum,” which contains the lyrics “white, dumb and privileged.”
In hardcore fashion, tracks clock in at less than two minutes. Mayer’s riffs are jarring and articulate — the guitarwork relentlessly powers through chord progressions but takes unpredictable sharp turns into new riffs.
Burich, Mayer and Apnea build tension with rests, only to fly back into the song and repeat.
“It takes twists and turns and turns and feels good on my brain and it’s fun to play,” Burich says. “No matter what kind of day we have, I always feel a million times better when we play.”
Agacki’s energy is constant and his lyrics are refreshing for the genre — they’re worth sitting down with and dissecting.
He notes some of the new songs deal with growing up in a small town — and how toxic the small-town environment can be.
The album came shortly after the band returned home from its first tour, which took the players all the way to Japan for an 11-day tour alongside fellow Milwaukee party-rockers Rio Turbo. It was an ambitious first tour for a band that had been together for hardly more than a year.
“It felt giddy the whole time,” Apnea says. “It was the most vibrant tour I’ve ever been on.”
Audiences’ responses to the shows were enthusiastic.
During one particular show, Agacki was lifted into the air to crowd surf. When he was dropped back onstage, he bumped a PA speaker. Mayer caught the speaker with his back and held it in place, all the while continuing to play guitar. Meanwhile, the crowd increasingly became more active, getting dangerously close to knocking down a display of guitars on a wall.
“Japan completely changed me. The interaction was just completely different from here,” Agacki says. “In Milwaukee, people don’t generally move much at shows. In Japan, people just loved it and went nuts.”
The band hopes to press Vol. II on vinyl and tour as soon as possible.
Whether that takes them outside the United States again is to yet be determined.
The refrain on “Still Waters” reminds the listener that “sickness grows in still waters,” but thankfully Detenzione is here to stir things up.