Soul Glo Brings Hip Hop and Hardcore to DC

2022 put Soul Glo on the map. The four-piece Philadelphia punk band released their first full-length LP Diaspora Problems to widespread acclaim. The album’s punishing guitar riffs, provocative lyrics, and innovative combinations of hip hop and hardcore made it one of the most exciting punk records of the year. After years honing their sound in the underground, the band received praise from outlets like Brooklyn Vegan and the Needledrop and landed a spot on the 2023 Coachella lineup. On top of these critical successes, Soul Glo’s queer, black voices came as a welcome corrective to a punk genre with a long history of whitewashing and racism. So, when our favorite local promoters Unbooking announced a special night for Soul Glo at Songbyrd on January 20 with DC hiphop rapper Wifigawd opening the stage, the show sold out within days.

Wifigawd’s opening slot on this unique bill demonstrates Soul Glo’s commitment to strengthening ties between the hip hop and hardcore scenes. The show, Wifi’s first in the DC area in over a year, felt like a homecoming houseparty, with almost a dozen friends joining the local rapper and producer on stage to dance and share the mic. Wifi’s murky psychedelic Soundcloud rap translated into a surprisingly high energy live performance. At one point, dissatisfied with the lack of hype at the edges of the crowd, the MC sent the pit towards the side of the room, directing moshers like a drum major. Despite the energy and excitement pulsing through the venue, Wifi maintained a charmingly casual demeanor on stage. DJing for himself off of a Macbook Air sitting on a stool, he would good-naturedly curse as he scrolled through files looking for the right song. “Make some noise if you’re having a good time,” he asked the crowd before his last song. “That’s all I really care about.”

If Wifigawd’s set was defined by its easy flow, the night’s headliners took to the stage with a tightly-honed speed and power that refused to let up. From the opening guitar riffs of “Coming Correct is Cheaper,” Soul Glo assaulted the crowd with unrelenting intensity at probably the loudest concert I’ve ever been to. Lead vocalist Pierce Jordan’s shrieking cries of “Fire!!” continued to echo in my ears long after the concert ended. Working without a setlist or other cues, the band chewed through songs off of Diaspora Problems with single-minded determination and ferocity. 

Although the record’s forays into hip hop offer moments of relative calm, such as the closing track “Spiritual Level of Gang Shit,” the band’s live performance channeled the raw moshpit power of traditional hardcore from beginning to end. The spectacle of drummer TJ Stevenson’s shirtless belly, tattooed with the phrase “No Greater Danger,” shaking as he attacked the drums; the feeling of a plain white t shirt soaked in sweat on the back of a mosher in front of me; and the sight of guitarist GG Guerra’s wordless scream, spit flying as he entered another frenetic guitar riff were all reminders of what makes Soul Glo one of the best hardcore bands out there. One surprise was the stomach-wobbling feeling of the howling guitar and pulsing bass of “Driponomics,” perhaps the most hip hop-forward song in the band’s discography.

Soul Glo is a band with a lot to say on issues like race, power, and capitalism, despite the intense volumes of their live show which tended to drown out the vocals. Looking at their lyrics reveals insightful and heartbreaking gems like: “My parents were contorted to build a future where/ Their children get extorted/ And, of course, we can’t bear/ To tell them their efforts/ Were consumed in fire.” So it was no surprise that when Jordan wasn’t screaming into the mic, flailing on stage, or surfing the crowd, his onstage personality was disarmingly direct and earnest. Jordan began offering advice to fellow musicians in the crowd: “All the black and brown people in the room, raise your hand,” he requested. “Keep them raised if you wanna be in a band. If you wanna be in love … Make music with people you trust.”

Soul Glo ended the night with Diaspora Problems opener “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass).” The song started with a jangly guitar riff before the bass and drums entered with a fury capable of whipping the crowd into a frenzy. In a howling storm of instrumental feedback before the final chorus, the band members switched instruments and Guerra took center stage. “Who gon beat my ass? Who gon, who gon beat my ass??” they screamed, hands clinging to the mic and sweat dripping as the pit boiled below them. After the song, as the rest of the band trickled off the stage in the post-rage haze, Jordan addressed the crowd one final time: “You have no idea what’s coming, but I pray that it happens to you very very soon.”

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