Dress Code Helps Expand Houston Hardcore Scene

The men of Dress Code (L-R): Drummer Carson Wilcox; guitarist Esteban Rubio; vocalist Brandon Mahler; guitarist Jacob Duarte and bassist Daniel Ortuno.
The men of Dress Code (L-R): Drummer Carson Wilcox; guitarist Esteban Rubio; vocalist Brandon Mahler; guitarist Jacob Duarte and bassist Daniel Ortuno.
Photo by David Sackllah

While Houston has always maintained a steady roster of hardcore and punk bands to be proud of, there has undoubtedly been a resurgence in the past couple years. The scene now boasts a growing scene of young, interconnected hardcore acts, which have been working to foster a tight community of diverse yet like-minded individuals. On the forefront of that has been Dress Code, an energetic and abrasive young band of five who started playing together in early 2013 and released their swift but brutal demo on cassette this past fall on Schizoid Unit Records.

The self-titled demo contains five songs of heavy, powerful hardcore that hits like a brick to the face. Energetic, forceful and meaningful, the release is one of the stronger to come out of Houston in the past year. Birthed out of the Houston hardcore scene, the songs are about issues going on within it. On standout "I Disagree," the song ends with vocalist Brandon Mahler shouting, "We don't have to get along."

"I feel like with hardcore there a lot of things that separate it," Mahler says. "I feel like we should have unity but it's not going to be there all the time. There are people in hardcore you're not going to agree with. We don't have to get along. You can just be here and it can be cool. Everyone has different issues and things they're trying to get away from."

Other songs on the EP, like the frenzied "12," find the band taking a hard stance on those who want to police the scene. The members of Dress Code believe in having an inclusive environment, and wrote the song as a diatribe for those who throw around the term "PC" as an insult.

"PC is just a pejorative term people throw out when they get upset that you get upset that they say something offensive," says drummer Carson Wilcox.

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"That's one of my biggest issues right now," Mahler offers. "If you get mad at someone for using a derogatory slur, they just call you 'PC.' If I'm not comfortable with it, I'm sure there's someone else who isn't either. People do that trying to be edgy, and it's not cool."

"None of us fuck with shit like that," says bassist Daniel Ortuno. "No one fucks with racism or homophobia."

"If you come to a show and do that, you get shut down," adds guitarist Jacob Duarte.

The five members of the young band have all known each other since high school. Three of them -- Duarte, Wilcox, and Esteban Rubio -- played in an emo-influenced band named Chemistry, but always felt drawn to the hardcore scene. During practice they worked on recordings of what would become Dress Code and sent them over the phone to Mahler, who would become their vocalist. Inspired by their friends in Back to Back, the four of them, with the later addition of Ortuno, started Dress Code to fill a gap in the Houston scene.

"When Dress Code started, the hardcore scene was in this weird, transitional place where there weren't really a lot of hardcore bands," says Rubio. "There were indie and punk shows that the hardcore kids would go out to, but no hardcore shows,"

Seminal Houston bands like Iron Age and On My Side were breaking up, playing less, or aging out of the scene. A new crop of hardcore kids was anxious for more shows, only to find the scene stagnant or dwindling. Out of that came Back to Back, a younger, intense band that pioneered the way for the new wave of hardcore and punk bands popping up in the city.

"We have Back to Back to thank for being a band," agrees Duarte.

Dress Code's first demo was recorded by Back to Back drummer JJ Foster as a school project for the Art Institute, and Mahler credits that group's bassist Hank Doyle for naming them. Alongside Back to Back, Dress Code has been working the past few years to build up the hardcore scene to where hardcore shows only appeared every couple months, they're now popping up bi-weekly.

Story continues on the next page.

 

Dress Code's self-titled EP, released last year.
Dress Code's self-titled EP, released last year.

Whereas once there was a clear division between hardcore and punk shows, Dress Code has been working to bridge that gap and bring a more diverse crowd. Each member's roots in scenes such as metal or punk have helped the band bring people out who wouldn't normally be friends with each other, and their ability to blend into different groups has already helped them.

On Dress Code's first tour last month, they would be on all straight-edge bills that were over by 10 p.m. only to play a punk show the next night that didn't even begin until after midnight. The band feels that ability to appeal to different crowds has helped bring out people who wouldn't normally talk to each other and help break down divisions within the city to a degree.

"There's always going to be a division, but it's a healthy division," says Rubio. "It's not sectarian. It's unity within diversity. Every hardcore band is about positivity and unity, but for us it's a diverse unity. There's always going to be people from different walks of life. That tension is cool I think."

With a growing scene, the band is now among many like-minded hardcore and punk groups in the city, along with bands like Paranoid Chant, Sex Pill, United Races, Common Ignorance and Back to Back. At venues like Walters, Black Barbie, and Mango's, which is unfortunately shutting down, Dress Code has been able to foster a growing hardcore scene in the city.

Having just put out their first EP physically, the band has hopes of recording a 7", but has no definite plans. Tonight, they open a show at Walters with one Texas' bigger hardcore bands, Power Trip, which Dress Code is excited about.

"I've seen Power Trip what feels like a thousands times, and I'll never get tired of seeing them," Duarte says.

Note: this article was altered after publication to correct the label to Schizoid Unit Records.

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