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Pushing the Extreme 

Candy are redefining hardcore through electronics and menace.

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“Transcend to Wet,” the fifth song on Candy’s Heaven Is Here, introduces something fairly unusual for a hardcore album: programmed beats. The song is more hyperactive gabber techno than punk—there isn’t even much here resembling an actual guitar—and they take a similar approach just a few tracks later on “Kinesthesia,” casting aside moshpit raveups in favor of something better fit for a goth-industrial club.

But while the methods and medium might not immediately scan as hardcore, the sound is unmistakably harsh, hostile and aggressive. It fits in comfortably alongside Candy’s typically blistering rhythms, searing guitar crunch and Zak Quiram’s harsh vocal barks—usually aimed at oppressive, unjust and corrupt systems. It adds up to an approach that’s uncompromising, but by no means defined by outdated rules about what hardcore is supposed to sound like.

“Guitars aren’t the only thing that make extreme, intense, bleak sounds,” says Candy guitarist Michael Quick. “It was always the goal for us to not be a traditional hardcore band. We were not ever trying to be a point-for-point ‘80s revivalist kind of thing. There are really blatant hardcore influences in the music, and we like that stuff. But the deeper we go in this project…we’re just finding better ways to do it.”

Candy are anything but conventional. While the band thrives on live, all-pistons-firing immediacy, and hardcore punk remains a solid foundation to their sound, the group has, since the beginning, made a point of pushing the limits of what that sound can be—even experimenting with elements such as breakbeats in their early demos. Yet in 2020, when lockdown prevented them from being able to collaborate in real time, in the same room, they further explored those threads. The result, Heaven is Here—released earlier this year via Relapse—is an album at once innovative and urgent, reflective of both their eclectic influences as well as an increasingly bleak outlook that began to haunt them during the lockdown doldrums.

Though the pandemic had a negative psychological effect on the group, from a practical standpoint, working on the album remotely during the early part of the pandemic wasn’t necessarily a major change in operating procedure for Candy. Though they have roots in Richmond—it was Quick’s longtime home as well as the site of the band’s first live show over a half-decade ago—they held their first rehearsals in Buffalo, New York. And everyone in the band is spread out now: Quick lives in New York City, Quiram in Los Angeles, guitarist Steve DiGenio in Buffalo, drummer Andrew Stark in New Jersey and bassist Kaleb Perdue in Atlanta. For a group like Candy, reconvening on tour—in addition to being a major source of income—is generally the best way for them to accomplish anything.

“One of the reasons we try to tour so much is because it’s one of the most efficient ways to get things done—make plans, future stuff, discuss directions for the music,” Quick says. “Basically we just have these interactions. We never saw each other. So, it was just harder to get feedback, because there was no way to discuss what elements people wanted to incorporate into the music. I wrote all the music by myself, and Zak wrote all the lyrics by himself, and then we had to, when we went to the studio, make a Frankenstein’s monster getting everyone on the same page.”

Quick admits that it’s not an easy way to keep a band going, but the challenges that it brings, he says, only make Candy stronger in the long run.

“To be a band operating at the level we’re at, where we’re touring a shit ton and where we’re, in the grand scheme of the music industry, nonexistent, it’s gonna be a challenge,” he explains. “We’re always trying to be out of our comfort zone and pushing past it, so there’s always a sense of discomfort. But I think if there’s not some discomfort, then we’re not pushing ourselves as far as we can, and if we don’t push ourselves as far as we can, it’s not going to be everything it can be.”

More than four decades after hardcore first developed out of punk scenes in California and Washington, D.C., Candy is working to push it into weirder, wilder places. Quick credits Richmond’s hardcore scene as being a crucial influence on the band, but while they don’t deny their roots, they’re not limited by them either.

“I grew up in the hardcore scene in Richmond, and it made me 100% what I am, and it’s so valuable,” he says. “But you don’t have to adhere to any tradition. If you think a techno/rave band should play with a metal band, there should be no discomfort there. It’s all just the universal power that music can provide, and DIY music specifically, and there should be no genre boundaries getting in the way of that.”

Candy perform at Canal Club on Friday, Sept. 16 with Regulate, Living Weapon and Killing Pace. 5 p.m. All ages. $20. thecanalclub.com.

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