Dormant, the latest extended play release by Richmond band Hoax Hunters, addresses blurred lines between art and politics. The band’s previous release, 2017’s “SAD!” was a reaction to the virulent political discourse of the 2016 presidential election, but their latest work takes a more nuanced approach to the topic.
The new tracks are ostensibly about art and culture, and were originally written as a lighthearted counter to their aggressive 2015 record Clickbait, but its release was put on hold as the 2016 election progressed. Vocalist and guitarist PJ Sykes, who is also a political activist, said that the songs on the record didn’t match the urgency of the political moment.
Instead, the band released “SAD!”, a turgid, punk influenced number that purposefully steals part of the guitar line from Black Flag’s “Rise Above”, and samples the voice of Dave Brat, U.S. Representative for Virginia’s 7th congressional district. Sykes volunteered with Eileen Bedell’s campaign to unseat the incumbent Brat in 2016, although they were ultimately defeated by a large margin.
“That song was directed at [Brat], but also at Trump and the people he brought into power,” he said. “It’s straightforward, we just want to be part of the conversation.”
Shortly after the election, Sykes was forced to step away from his activism due to a cancer diagnosis. As of now he has beat the disease, but the time he spent in recovery allowed him to take a step back from his political work and see the bigger picture. This prompted him to revisit the songs on Dormant, and reassess the relevancy of art and culture in the current political climate.
“I still think it’s important to take a break and enjoy life,” he said. “What matters the most, after taking care of each other with shelter and food and that sort of thing, the only thing that matters to me is art and culture. It seems almost better to celebrate that right now.”
For Sykes, the end result of his activist work is to get back to creating. The lyrical topics on Dormant range from surrealist painting to connecting with people over art objects, and draws a line between his activism and art.
The band expertly mimics the sound of 80s and 90s noise rock and punk, sharing sonic similarities with indie bands like Sebadoh and Royal Trux, or more current bands like Estrogen Highs. The band uses lo-fi recording techniques to give the guitars a chainsaw-esque buzz that also brings the sound in line with early punk and hardcore acts. “Teenage Message”, the first song on the EP, features Ottawa, Ontario-based singer, songwriter and multi instrumentalist Catriona Sturton on harmonica. Sturton was formerly a member of Canadian power pop band Plumtree.
As DIY punk and indie subcultures sink further into media’s long tail, the tendency to create in a bubble has become commonplace; Hoax Hunter’s willingness to engage with political and cultural topics in a meaningful way while still retaining some artistic merit is atypical of Richmond’s DIY subcultures, and sets them apart from much of the local enclave.
Yet Dormant may be the bands final release. Sykes said that Hoax Hunters is going on an indefinite hiatus after they play several shows this summer in support of the release. He has several other music projects lined up that he will begin working on in the fall, but nothing concrete. His political activism has slowed recently, but he said that he has been able to continue his spat with Brat by volunteering with Abigail Spanberger’s current campaign for U.S. Representative for Virginia’s 7th congressional district.
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