Bas Rotten is About to Release the Grindcore Album of the Year

Though they've been plugging away for three years, Portugal's Bas Rotten is finally preparing to release their debut LP, Surge, and let me tell you: this is some of the absolute finest grindcore that I've heard in years! Mostly powered by ripping speeds and ferocious vocals with an energy that seamlessly melds thrash metal and crust punk, the group explores further diversity through scattered full-on metal riffs and the occasional midpaced breakdown or dissonant twist. As you'll learn in the discussion below, the band pays a great deal of attention to their songwriting and performances, and holy shit does it show!

Surge will be out November 20 on LP through the cooperation of Abnegat (Germany), Aim Down Sight (Germany), Destroy it Yourself (Portugal), Hexerei (Switzerland), Loner Cult (Belgium), Raging Planet (Portugal), and To Live a Lie (U.S.); as well as on cassette through Lower Class Kids (Germany). As you can see, some of the labels are offering pre-orders, so grab a copy now or keep an eye out later this month!

For now, I'm thrilled to premiere a new track, "Self," followed by a lengthy chat with Bas Rotten...

When you contacted me about Surge, you referred to it as your "belated" debut album, and after three years and two European tours, that does make some sense. Talk a bit about what it took to get to this point.

First of all, thanks so much for letting us share our thoughts and introduce the band—this is our first actual interview!

So, yeah, about all that grind in the past three years, you know, thematically a lot of Surge is about pressure, struggle, grind culture, and powering through adversity. And, boy, were there many hurdles to get it out. We started off as a band in late-2016 as a group of good friends from a small coastal town in the south of Portugal, and we wanted to go fast. We were rusty, but we knew what to do: practice, play faster than you can, and then get it tight! It started off beautifully: we had a blast building the ethos of the band. We're from sunny Portugal—Europe's own California—so we're energetic, fast, and even upbeat, and wanted to avoid falling into sounding like so many other bands from the early-2010s wave of dark hardcore/Entombed-core.

We hit the ground running, composed plenty, got good, and created our style: our guitars say thrash metal, the drums go D-beat-blast-beat-skank-beat-two-step-hardcore. We took this formula, added in a big powerviolence singer, increased the speed again and again, and ended up with something verging on proto-grindcore. Repulsion once said that they "co-invented" the blast beat when trying to play speed metal faster than they could. Unhindered by talent, right? You check the definitions of "crust punk," "metalcore," "grindcore," "crossover" and it's all different ways of combining metal with punk. Ours was taking some D.R.I, some of Repulsion's "Driven to Insanity," and general inspiration from those moments in the late-'80s proto-grindcore era when brutal death metal didn't exist to influence it (think of Defecation, Unseen Terror, etc.) and we gave it a modern twist. Again, being from the sunny beach-side, we focused on making songs fun for live audiences, so you may see some Suicidal Tendencies in there—and also some elements of "brocore" like Deez Nuts, sorry.

Very quickly, we were playing live all the time and opening for a bunch of big names. Easy peasy lemon squeezy: practice, make songs, play your instruments fast, and get a rehearsal demo out. We know how to do this. What we didn't know was how to set everything up for a studio recording, that's a whole different animal. Also, we were piss-poor. Fortunately, Sérgio Prata Almeida and Midnight Session Studio came to the rescue. But instead of booking, say, a week of recordings, we were going about our day jobs and once in a while we would take some time to work on the recording. Think about how many hours in a studio you need to pre-produce and record an album. Six good days? That's 72 whole hours. But we were only going there a few hours every other week, so you do the math. All high-quality and low-cost, but really slow.

In the meantime, we sorta ran out of venues and fests to play in the circuit in Portugal. Oops. Closest spot: Madrid. But, if you're crossing the desert to Madrid, you might as well do a small tour, so we did that with our good mates Manferior, who'd just dropped their debut, Birth as Punishment. We fast-tracked the mixing of a couple of tracks to have a demo ready on tape, and away we went.

In early-2019, after having pushed ourselves and the producer to the very limit for a whole year, the mastering was done and we started looking for labels. Going back to the general theme of the record, it's often about grinding on to fulfill what you demand of yourself. That you struggle so much today has you set more ambitious objectives for tomorrow. It can create a snowball effect where your previous efforts justify further effort and higher bars. After having spent two years recording it and having played dozens of live gigs, we demanded of ourselves that we must release it big: 500 copies on high-quality vinyl LP (but we were still dead broke).

Setting up that multi-label deal was again very time-consuming, so in late-2019 we did the unthinkable: a 20-gig, 8,000-kilometer tour without a record to show for it. It was glorious. We played for illegal agriculture workers in subterranean squats in Germany, ultra-packed tiny wine cellars in France, and a huge festival in Switzerland called "Drone to the Bone." We even played under a full moon on top of a 2,000-meter mountain to a community of hermits in the Pyrenees. We drove our nine-seater through narrow shit-roads by huge, sheer drop-offs and nearly pissed ourselves on our way there. Then, they didn't have electricity, so we literally had to power our amps with petrol and build our own stage. They had a dog with a tumor instead of a face, and one of us rolled 20 meters downhill after falling off the stage. We had so much fun together all the time, but this one was really special. The whole tour was a white-knuckle ride: we would go 72 hours straight without sleep. You know, in most countries your host offers you a coffee when you arrive, but in Spain you get lines of speed!

Fortunately, the LP finally got pressed in the Czech Republic and we received the 90-kilogram package with the records in early-October. Only one problem: when we opened up the shipped boxes, there were 500 copies of Irish pop band Pugwash's 2005 album Jollity in there instead of our albums. Ever heard of them? Neither have we. We fixed it and will fulfill the 20th of November deadline for release, but it was just a funny topping for this cake of misfortunes.

I'm curious, over those three years, how were you able to book so many shows with just a four-song demo out!?

We give fun shows—musically and visually—so the word spreads out! Seriously, though, we push ourselves hard to give fun live shows, and then we harness the power of the D.I.Y. circuit! Punks run this brilliant circuit of venues in squats and social centers all over the world—with little-to-no money involved—where bands can showcase even without recordings. It's all based on community, kinship, anarchist ethics, frowning upon greed, and the love of music. In the Netherlands, Germany, etc. there is a huge density. It's a long way to get there, though. Fortunately for us, our growth took place in parallel with a local punk social center called Disgraça, which was created in 2015 to harbor D.I.Y. shows, which injected a new breath into the local scene of Lisbon.

To a large extent, we became involved in the punk community. Some band members set up a promoter called Blackness Promo D.I.Y. to host local shows for touring bands. All of the sudden we were booking BOAK and Ghettö, helping to set up shows by bands such as Sete Star Sept or The Arson Project, but also unrelated stuff like the heavy doom/sludge of Storm{o} and Rorcal, black metal like Myasthenia and Flageladör, and dreamy post-rock such as Des Astres. We would sometimes open for these bands. Our very second gig was opening for ACxDC and Implore, so that was great to make first contact.

We met a guy called Thomas at La Jungla Punk Fest in Barcelona and he got us a couple of shows in southern France, and we got his band Morbid Scum to play in Lisbon and Setúbal. We met Ugo, the drummer, at a Michel Anoia concert and he helped us play in Lyon. Marv from Angstbreaker got us to Leipzig. We got to Genéve with Yan from Agonir. So, there was a lot of word-of-mouth, showcasing, being part of the same community, playing memorable shows, and helping each other out. We must say that there was also an equal amount of straight-up cold-calling people and hoping they'd want us—a lot of them did! We toured with Manferior both times and we had so much fun everywhere we went. We never had a bad gig, and we always had a blast with the promoters and the audience both during and after the concerts.

We've gotta note that once you're in, say, Belgium, there's a punk venue every 20 kilometers, so really the trick is finding a thread from Portugal to, say, Switzerland or southwest Germany. As promoters, we keep working to contribute to cementing this route with good connections in Spain and southern France.

The new material sounds amazing. The production is a definite step forward from the demo. What was it like working with Sérgio at Midnight Session Studio?

Sérgio is our Bob Rock, our sixth Bas Rotten member (by the way, check out his band Don't Disturb My Circles). What we had with him was a D.I.Y. deal done almost for free in his free time, where he barely charged us. Again, the downside was a year-long process where it would be difficult to match our schedule availability, and we ended up being in the studio only once a month or so. The guy is a genius, honestly. He runs the best rehearsal room in town, one of the best equipped studios, and he produced like three Portuguese heavy rock albums-of-the-year in a row in the 2010s. And this is only his side-hustle! His day job is running clusters of supercomputers for astrophysics computations in universities, and he has hidden talents like he can pick any lock in the world. The lad's mad. It's also that we kept getting better and faster as musicians, so often he would allow us to re-track some parts. If you check out our live concerts on YouTube, we now play much faster and with twice the amount of blast beats. The process was exhausting, but resulted in a production tone that blew our minds—especially on hi-fi stereos. There's so much detail in how the overdubs are mixed, dedicated equalization and compression for each segment—it really gives the record a lot of replayability value.

We definitely highly recommend him, but we did exhaust the poor guy—bands shouldn't misbehave like we did, and should pay him properly for what he's worth.

Surge is being co-released by a huge array of eight labels across six countries. How did that all come together?

Talk about international reach, right? That's again the good old bustle and hustle: cold calls, showcasing, demos, etc. After having worked so hard in creating it and achieving such a great result, we wanted it to be distributed worldwide. We decided that for a debut album, the best way would be to have multiple labels in multiple countries sharing the costs, and then each being responsible to distribute some dozen records. Some extraordinary labels were very keen to work with us, and again we had to learn through experience how to coordinate very different work methods amongst them. Finally, it was "Saint" Daniel Makosh from Raging Planet—a great guy—who insisted on helping us. He interfaced with the pressing plant and had the LPs pressed (notwithstanding, the other labels have been great, too). Props to Lower Class Kids Records, too, for doing an excellent job in releasing and promoting Surge on tape, and To Live a Lie Records for being our guys in the Land of the Free.

The song we're premiering is "Self," and what I love about this composition is that it not only represents your musical diversity, but also the fact that your lyrical approach suggests certain atmospheres and meanings, but is abstract enough that the listener still has room to apply their own interpretations to the songs. Share a bit of information about your perspective on this particular track, "Self."

If you take "Self" at a first glance, you may think it's another take on the infamous "only god can judge me" platitude. Or, take it at face value and you can think of Alex Jones and the army of bigots and local populist politicians and commentators ("Mogul" and "Behold" also dwell on the same subject). But, it's not only this. The lyrics in the context of the album focus on how authority is created over you through manipulation. Sometimes it's "that guy" from your circle of friends that always gets everyone to pay attention and slowly but surely plants seeds of hate in your mind, often by leveraging on virtue and righteousness. The song was originally called "Authority Prospection," and it's really about how virtue has been weaponized to meddle with your sense of self and create deep-seated pressures and anxieties and thus an authority over you. "Yellow" has the same focal theme.

The whole album has societal peer pressure turned self pressure turned grind culture as a recurring motif, which interestingly we can connect to phenomena in the current pandemic: the latest buzzwords in corporate jargon—"rise and grind," "resilience," the capacity of grinding through adversity. This word is being jammed into our psyches. In theory, it's just a word, but it is indeed judging virtue and giving us orders to "keep being productive, despite the pandemic."

And on we go: "Spent" starts up with "Blast in!" and "Thrive" speaks of "strike first and strike hard"—the kind of prop-up sports allegories that you get from "grind culture" motivational speeches (also the familiar boasting from toughguy breakdown hardcore bands)—but immediately switches to "buy yourself time," or "the air flows thicker for every hit that lands." You know, in the background of the pressure to thrive or to triumph, there is an underlying seed of self-doubt. You can't win forever and you know it, so you're careful and use these little tricks to keep an appearance of strength. This is true for athletes finishing the last mile of a marathon on a sprained ankle, a 40-year-old punk doing extra bumps at a show to keep up with the kids, or Trump getting jacked up on 'roids to go wave to the crowd on Covid.

Throughout the recording, our members broke arms after pushing themselves too hard in the gym, got stabbed in the face after winning street brawls, and there was this constant sense of powering through. Much of it is self-imposed, but much of it is planted. Some songs are about the escapism from this treadmill gone wrong into further traps and addictions, like "Blow" is about doing lots of coke, "Follow" is about being swallowed by social media, "Violence" is about the dopamine of violence as entertainment, "Safe" is about refuge in apathy. "Worth," "Dissociation," and "Burnout" are about failing and collapsing in different ways. The lyrics for the title song have the same general theme of being trapped in fuzzy lines between self-imposed or society-encouraged obligations and grinding through, but with an added existential sense of end times. Speaking of which, there are a couple of songs about ecological collapse: "Prime Cuts" and "Primate": "You fucking ape, you shat all over the place, now you have to clean it."

So, like we said in the beginning, really "upbeat, sunny vibes."

As a band that has focused so much effort on touring and performing live, what has it been like for Bas Rotten to deal with the current pandemic situation?

We live for the road and live gigs. We are always thinking, "How will this look when we play it live?" We go as far as to simplify riffs so that we can go wilder when performing them. No one wants to see a guitar nerd focusing on a noodly solo at a punk show. We get charged and wild: bullet belts, stage dives, gang shouts...

Some of us saw, promoted, or played more than 200 gigs in 2019. We're focusing on composing—we're hard on ourselves on keeping only the tightest riffs, drum patterns, and structures. We're not really into making music just for it to be broadcasted and nothing else. We're doing it to play live. We're working on a bunch of new songs and they're killer—the blast beats are faster and there are more of them, the breakdowns are punchier, the riffs are catchier, and the vocals are wilder. We're picking up some influence from Limp Bizkit's Chocolate Starfish... era, Bolt Thrower, as well as the south France scene because it's the hottest stuff right now (check out Chiens, Whoresnation, Warfuck, Løvve, Hørdür, Ghettö, Boom, etc.). We're steadily preparing our next work. We already have about 10 minutes of new material, and hopefully we'll compose a couple more, record them, release them, and tour as soon as possible.

It seems you've been heavily involved in shows within the Portuguese scene, so what are some other bands out of Portugal that listeners should check out?

This is our favorite question! There are so many great bands. We'll trim them to recent bands who are active and we think deserve exposure. Huge shout-outs to:


Depending on where you reside, check out Abnegat (Germany), Aim Down Sight (Germany), Destroy it Yourself (Portugal), Hexerei (Switzerland), Loner Cult (Belgium), Raging Planet (Portugal), or To Live a Lie (U.S.) for Surge on LP. Lower Class Kids has got the cassettes. Keep up with Bas Rotten through Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.