It might have come out a couple of years ago, but Stigmatism's self-titled EP is on the best hardcore records to come out in recent memory. The record's raw-as-fuck style is primitive hardcore in the best sense of the definition.
On the 9-track collection, the guitars are punchy and fuzzy, the vocals gruff, and the songs are broken down to only their most potent sections. The formula is effective. As soon as the record ends, you find yourself looping it back again.
I recently chatted with the two musicians behind Stigmatism, Spoiler and Grillo, about the band, their friendship, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (kinda).
Give me a bit about each of your personal backgrounds.
Spoiler: I was born and raised in Belgium, got into hardcore in the mid-'90s. My parents and older brother were white trash rockers and metalheads, so I was never gonna be a regular person. As the youngest, I had to do my own thing, which was getting into hardcore and cutting my long hair off. Hardcore and DIY culture was my way out of a small city in a small country. I moved out, started Justice in my early 20s and it changed my life. We toured and I got to see the world.
A few years later I moved to Montreal, Canada where I still live and have played in a bunch of punk and hardcore bands, booked shows, worked at venues, etc. Omegas, Proxy, Impotentie are the most notable bands, and I did a few shorter lived projects like United Stance, Sanction A, and 1-900’s, which never made it past a demo and local gigs.
Grillo: I grew up in Brooklyn. I was an only child and my parents were either not around or didn’t really care what I was up to bc they were dealing with their own shit, so naturally I gravitated towards death metal, hardcore, and punk from a super young age. I started going to shows on the Lower East Side and in Bay Ridge when I was 13/14, and that was that. Every weekend, I spent either at a hardcore matinee or doing graffiti in black books and playing video games at a friends' house and listening to Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags CDs (it was the '90s).
I’ve been involved in punk and hardcore in one way or another whether it was playing in bands or booking shows ever since. I also play drums in Mati, which is made up of 3 other born and raised New York friends of mine.
When did the idea of starting Stigmatism start and was it always meant to be a 2-person project?
Spoiler: After a couple years of hanging out at Grillo’s house after gigs and talking about doing a band together, we finally did it. We’re both in our late 30s and are share a very wide musical taste at this point in our lives, but we both grew up listening to NYHC and always end up sharing stories from those days. Grillo growing up in Brooklyn in the ’80s and ‘90s means he has tons of good stories from that era, and I got into hardcore in a part of Europe where NYHC was probably bigger than it was in NYC (in the '90s at least), so I experienced all the legendary NYHC bands getting wild on European tours.
So we decided we were gonna do a band that sounded like the Ball of Destruction EP and it all came together very naturally.
I had a few songs written from years before, wrote a bunch of new songs and sent guitar ideas to Grillo. He knew exactly how the drums should be. He flew to Montreal, we practiced for maybe two hours then recorded the drums and guitar for the EP right then and there. We were still writing the songs as we recorded them. We were so excited about this session we told all our friends about it at a big show later that night, and we basically got a lineup for live shows together all in one day.
Grillo: Yeah, to piggyback on what Spoiler said, we were actually seeing the same bands at nearly the same age (we’re a year and two days apart) from across the world at the same time, so when we met it kind of felt like we were supposed to be friends. All the local bands I was seeing in the '90s were going to Europe and touring a lot so chances are we even saw some of the same bands playing the same sets. I think we got shaped by the same kind of hardcore in the same way.
As for the 2-piece thing, we just felt so connected in both how we felt about hardcore and punk and the way that we approached playing it that adding other people seemed unnecessary. We were just like let’s write a record and see what happens.
Why do you think you guys gel so well?
Spoiler: We met back in 2009 at a house show in Brooklyn where my old band Foreign Bodies played. We were both drinking in the kitchen and started talking. A few years later Omegas were playing NY’s Alright, were told we could stay at this guy Marc Grillo’s place and it turned out it was the same guy! We still got along great and stayed in touch ever since.
We gel because Marc is a loud and boisterous Sicilian Jew from Brooklyn and I’m a laid back, stoic Belgian. He’s the Vinnie [Stigma] to my Roger [Miret]. The yin to my yang. The meatball to my sauce.
Grillo: Yeah, we both have the same shit going on in our brains but he’s the big one in the back that doesn’t say as much and I’m the little guy who does most of the talking. Like Danny DeVito and Schwarzenegger in Twins. I don’t think we’ve ever disagreed on anything since we met.
From where I’m sitting, it feels like Stigmatism, and the self-titled record, got a ton of love from the hardcore community. How do you feel about the reaction? Were you surprised at all?
Spoiler: Yeah, we got a great reaction. I didn’t see it coming. I had felt kind of disconnected from hardcore because there wasn’t much of a scene in Montreal for a long time, but there was a great punk scene and I felt part of that. When we recorded the first Stigmatism session, I felt great about it but I wasn’t sure if any hardcore kids were gonna give a shit about that type of intentionally meat-headed NYHC. Turns out the kids still have good taste and took to Stigmatism right away.
Grillo: I feel awesome about it. When you start a band without any kind of goal other than to make the music inside of you come out, that’s when you get the real shit. Once we played the tracks back the day we recorded them I knew we had something. I think a lot of bands can go wrong by setting themselves on a walled path from their inception. That mentality can make your expression and output suffer. The less you expect the better your results, and in this case we expected literally nothing.
Grillo, since Spoiler is such a talented artist, the visual aesthetic tied to Stigmatism is very strong. Do you get involved with that side of things at all, or do you just let him do his thing?
Grillo: In terms of art, that’s something we always talk about. We both have tons of source material from a lifetime of flyer and record hoarding so we bring things to the table, see what works and what we like, and Spoiler draws what needs to be drawn. It’s another thing that’s never been an issue though, we almost always have the same vision, but he’s the one with the talent. If you put a gun in my mouth and told me to draw something I’d be eating bullets.
What’s next for Stigmatism? Will you do some touring once the world gets back into fighting shape?
Spoiler: We have a revolving cast of live members that are ready to rock with us. What’s up Stevie! Jesse! Paulie! Paolo-Jo! Jason! Sasha! All y’all! We did a quick EU tour around Static Shock fest in 2019 and wanna do more when the world is ready. We’re working on a full-length right now, which is almost written. Once that’s out, we wanna go everywhere there’s good food and hard moshers.
Grillo: I’d love to visit Italy and play if the country is able to recover. Much love to my fellow paesans around the world.
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