United Nations at DC9

Screamo collective United Nations perform at DC9 during inauguration weekend. Photo: James Petrozello

WASHINGTON, February, 13, 2012 —For all intents and purposes, United Nations is a vaguely anonymous screamo collective that could, on occasion, be regarded as an indie rock/hardcore supergroup. That is if anyone could figure out who is actually in the band at any given moment. The lone voice consistently leading the charge behind UN’s musical mission statement is former Thursday front man Geoff Rickly who serves as the mouthpiece for the group’s various musings about art, politics and music both on and off the stage.

It’s been four years since United Nations have performed in Washington DC.  In fact, it was during President Obama’s first inauguration when they appeared on stage for the first time. With the current inauguration serving as a backdrop once again, DC9 proved a perfect setting for a band like United Nations. Inaugural events are all about igniting ideas for the future, and United Nations is nearly impossible to separate from their ideas.

That said, they’re not necessarily a political band. Most of their music can be regarded as apolitical, yet they are a band that is concerned with criticism towards various aspects of culture. And now more than ever, our culture is very much intertwined with politics. 

“UN is social commentary, via metacriticism” says Rickly. “The government, friends, art, music, the band itself and its innocent, reflective audience are all under scrutiny here.”

This cuts right to the heart of United Nations’ mission. As a band, their purpose, whether it’s in their recordings or on stage is to critique, poke fun at, or simply point out various points where our culture may have taken a wayward turn. They seem intent on tearing apart ideas that people hold close and may wrongly consider true in order to make way for something new and promising.

This is why screamo is the right musical template for them to get their message across. United Nations isn’t a band that’s going to be subtle about anything. They might mix their seriousness with enough a tongue-in-cheek attitude to blur the lines a little bit, but it’s all right there in front of you. They refuse to be shy about anything they believe in, and it’s that kind of attitude they bring to the stage.

“[Screamo] is highly rewarding as both one of the most maligned, misunderstood genres of the last twenty years,” according to Rickly (see any two bit copycat of early 2000’s), “and also one of the last gasps of ingenuity in passionate rebellious music.”  It’s a genre many people don’t immediately recognize in its purest form the way they grasp a more mainstream genre like punk or metal. The average reaction someone might have when hearing United Nations is a screamo band actually has no bearing on the kind of music they play. In turn, this makes their rush of a live show that much more liberating, not just for the band but also for the audience as well.

United Nations, and by extension screamo, are much more abrasive than anyone might initially imagine.  Of course that’s all part of the point of the band and it’s essential to their mission statement. Everything that happens while the band’s onstage is about pushing forward. Rickly, for starters, only treats the stage as a basic guideline to where he needs to be. He’s constantly moving around and even went so far as to hang from the ceiling of DC9 during UN’s recent performance here.

None of their songs last all very long. But again, that’s the point of the band’s musical direction.  Everything for the most part is a quick burst of energy, a brief guerilla attack that throttles the audience.  Their blastbeats are forceful, their guitars are edgy and jarring, and Rickly’s vocals are piercing.  UN’s music is just as swift and aggressive, much like the ideas surrounding their band.

Screamo is all about stripping away the bells and whistles that have come to be associated with rock music, shile letting the anger and aggression rise to the surface. Ultimately, this is the crux of United Nations’ belief system. For them, music and art in general has become bloated, and it’s time to tear everything away and build anew from the ground up. United Nations’ live show at DC9 was a practical application of those core beliefs.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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