ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS: Gorilla Knifefight, X Harlow

A smorgasbord of talented acts took the stage at Cactus Club on Sunday night. Milwaukee solo project Gorilla Knifefight kicked things off followed by New York-by-way-of-Milwaukee artist X Harlow, Chicago-based EBM project Club Music, and Cincinnati post-punk band The Serfs.

Gorilla Knifefight is the hardcore punk project of Matt Glassel, where he sings with backing tracks. Glassel is known to have several other personal projects in addition to being guitarist for the band Peroxide; he explains how this one began.

“It started right after COVID first hit, and I was going to start a couple other bands but because of quarantine that wasn’t possible, and so all these loose ideas for songs that didn’t fit within the scope of Peroxide kind of glued together as one project…so Gorilla Knifefight was born. It’s been a busy outlet of mine since. The name made sense for this project because it’s a little more aggressive than other stuff that I’ve done.”

Included in Sunday’s set was a cover of “We Will Rock You” by Queen. He released a seven-track album titled “Guerrilla Warfare” this past summer.

“It was a collection of songs and guitar riffs that I was writing and it came out pretty cohesive. It was very introspective, going through a lot of feelings both within my own brain and in interpersonal with people and my distaste for our government especially at the time; a lot of the songs were written when protests were happening left and right because of injustices in our society that sadly still exist, even after a lot of organizing. That album was finding the sound I wanted to give meaning to this project, and since then I’ve been refining over the course of a couple cassingles.”

A new Gorilla Knifefight album is on the way next week titled “Certified High Speed” on Loopy Scoop Tapes. Glassel is also working on a split tape with an artist from California as well another 7″ EP. He plans to tour at the end of February.

X Harlow is the solo project of Justin Schmidt. Their sound fuses elements of industrial, post-punk, hip hop, and electronica. Sunday was their last stop on tour with The Serfs.

“This tour is actually the first time I really felt that I’m really performing the vision I have, and that’s awesome,” Schmidt said.

They grew up in Milwaukee but explain why they’re now in New York.

“I actually moved there when I was 19 to go to school and then I dropped out shortly after, and then I kind of bounced around living in Chicago and Milwaukee, and then I moved back to New York to finish school. Basically what kept me is the music scene and working on stuff out there.”

Their third album “Cathars” came out a few weeks ago. They give some backstory about the record as well as what went into it.

“It’s definitely an expansion of what was going on with “Anchorite” where I was kind of looking back into medieval times, like plague-era stuff. I ended up learning about the Cathars from my mom, who were this sect of people in France who were super intellectual about equality and they went against a lot that was going on with the Catholic church, who felt threatened by them and sent their best cardinals to go debate them in public and the Cathars bombed them. This group that tried to live treating everyone as equally as possible – and they were also vegetarian – were all burned alive and completely wiped off the face of the Earth. I was thinking a lot about everything going on with the pandemic, the movements that have sprung up, and this will that people have to be better and reject things like capitalism. They’re trying to go after something more ideal but may all ultimately end up failing. A lot of the music was written when I went to go take care of my mom in Illinois; she’s been somebody that’s had a lot of mental anguish in her life, and the pandemic caught up to her pretty bad. Me and my partner went out and took care of her for like a month, and I was also really sad struggling with a lot of stuff. At the time my mom couldn’t even listen to her favorite records, so I started making more ambient stuff based on Gregorian music; she’s a medieval studies person so that’s a big influence on how I write and think about harmony and presentation. The last track on the album is actually her playing piano, pretty much deep in the throes of the mental state she was in, and it was this beautiful moment where she kind of came back. The album was very dedicated to her.”

A music video for “Parking Lot” from X Harlow’s last album “Anchorite” was also released a few months back.

“It’s a song about alienation when you’re on the road. Coming back to Milwaukee is always one of my favorite parts about being on tour because the friends that I have here are family. I really wanted to film it here when the pandemic was happening because we got to go to these spots that were basically completely empty – places I grew up going to like the Domes and Leon’s. It ended up being really fun and was a video that I don’t know we could film the same way now.”

X Harlow shares what’s next.

“A lot of the stuff that I played tonight is unreleased, and when I go home I’ll start releasing it. I’m moving much more into the emo rap territory. A lot of people have died in my circle in the last two years and it’s been a constant cycle of grief in New York, so a lot of it’s going to be centered around coping with loss.”

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