Photo Courtesy of: JWNY 2014
If you grew up in Southern California during the 80’s and 90’s, and were exposed to street gangs and violence anywhere from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, you might have remembered that summers were some of the most violent periods. Famous gangster rappers like Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, Mack 10, and D.J. Quik all mentioned something to the effect of the oppressive summer eras, like the killing seasons in certain neighborhoods. People would hear more gun shots at night and gang members walked around their neighborhoods in the daytime wearing brown-colored gardening gloves to avoid fingerprints on their guns. The visual is so stark in my mind—bald heads, white t-shirts, shrink-to-fit Levis, white sneakers, and the ever-famous “brownies” on people’s hands. Recently I started listening to a band called “Prayers” from San Diego, who recently released an album titled “Gothic Summer.” The album itself is a trajectory of the survival mechanisms and philosophical tools needed in order to have survived such a lifestyle. In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, he maintains that in a state of war, life is nasty, brutish, and short. That is the condensed version of the quote and since being part of a street gang organization is the equivalent to adopting a social contract, it couldn’t be more true for gang members.
Prayers’ front man, Rafael Reyes, has been described physically as a cross somewhere between Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode and Tupac Shakur. Short in stature, Rafael carries himself like a giant with scattered gang tattoos all over his body and the piercing eyes of someone who has endured long-term strife. And like Dave Gahan, he’s definitely the rebirth of cool with his dark sunglasses, earrings, gothic necklaces, vintage cowboy boots with intricate detail, onstage without a shirt while he dances to the sound of a minimalist, dark wave, kill wave synthesizer. The term “Cholo goth” has been thrown around for their heavy use of dark keyboard influence and contradictory street narratives that are often romantically devastating. Quite fitting and introspective for the message being conveyed. The beat maker, David Parley, looks like he stepped out of a dark romanticism-type novel and as soon as he starts playing you immediately think—Pet Shop Boys danceable, yet somber, bleak, and unsettling. It is a perfect blend of the barrio and dark wave in symbiotic union, especially for those of us exposed to both growing up.
The new video for “Gothic Summer,” takes you on a noir journey to the cemetery gates as you enter in a vintage Ford or Chevrolet pick-up as it slams onto the concrete of the underground. Reflections of palm trees and other greenery on the front windshield of the vehicle are a dire contrast of glamorous Southern California in where the topography and climate make the myth of what booster campaigns sold to the world as our main image. However, the band arrives fashionably uninvited to debunk the myth. In the lyrics to Gothic Summer, Rafael Reyes recalls an incident of getting caught slipping and getting stabbed in the face, and when a friend finds out, he engages in the cycle of revenge and now sits in prison for life being haunted by dead souls. The narrative tells of the dangers and high price paid for when you join the social contract of a street gang organization and the plague that follows. As we start a new season of bliss, those of us who were involved in prior gothic summers can put them to rest, yet we recall the age of coldness with anxiety and discomfort. Gothic Summer is this year’s anthem of dark progressivism and should be played all over Southern California radio stations to carry along the regional reality, rather than the dream of how this place was sold.