[11th November 2013]
[Wake To Reality]
01. New Age
02. Unlike Us
05. Cold Shoulders
07. Elevate (Shikari Sound System Remix)
08. Unlike Us (N Dread Remix)
09. Blades (Live)
If you’d have thrown a rock at a festival line-up this summer, the chances are high you’d have hit a member of Hacktivist. Their seeming omnipresence has consolidated a buzz around the band so loud they may as well be playing in a beehive.
With the band now snaking around the country on a gargantuan twenty date headline trek, it’s an indication of the speed of their ascent that they only have six recorded and released tracks to their name.
Five of the six tracks contained here were originally released last year, with the sixth – “Elevate” – released as a free download in April. Apparently, the initial five have been remastered, but listening to the original EP and this release back-to-back it’s hard to pick up any noticeable differences.
The six tracks have been bundled with two rather forgettable remixes that sound like they were knocked together in an afternoon, and a live recording of “Blades“. There’s nothing really new on offer at all. At best, this could be described as a stop-gap, but the less charitable might call it a cash-in.
Hacktivist’s grime-djent hybrid is definitely turning heads, and live it is an intoxicating combination. However, on record the shortcomings of their small repertoire are laid uncomfortably bare. The band themselves call their sound pioneering, but rap-metal has existed for more than twenty years. Sure, Hacktivist bring 8 string guitars and grime stylings to the table, but neither of these things existed in 1992. A third millennium update, maybe, but that makes them no more pioneering than someone flying to Australia instead of taking a boat like Captain Cook.
Guitarist Timfy James is just a little too in love with his eighth string at the moment, with that open low E being used like punctuation. Whilst this provides a satisfying gut-punch live, on record it means the tracks sound disappointingly samey. His riffs are often overly fussy and leave little room for the bass to breathe most of the time. These grooves are all brute force, with barely any subtlety.
Lead rapper J Hurley is clearly a star in the making, capable of holding audiences in the palm of his hand. But his lyrics often fall short of the ‘intelligent and insightful’ boast of the band’s biography. There are undoubted flashes of inspiration, but for each promising example there is another which is either rhythmically clunky, desperately crow-barring five syllables into a space meant for three, or intellectually questionable.
The lyrics are also self-referential to the point of auto-fellatio, never missing an opportunity to puff themselves up as powerful, influential or generally amazing. The danger here is in drinking their own Kool-Aid. They may well ultimately become all of these things, but they aren’t any of them yet.
Then there is the rather flailingly ham-fisted politics. The most egregious error of judgement being the opening couplet of “Elevate” – “I want to take down who’s in power/like Ground Zero two twin towers”. Ugly. Whether it is deliberately confrontational, or just misguided, they can do better than cheap shots like that. There’s also something comical about a band from Milton Keynes talking about storming the White House.
For anyone raised on a steady diet of Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine and Refused, Hacktivist’s politics are uncomfortably superficial. It’s clear they are building quite a platform for themselves, so it would be nice if they could find something worthwhile to say from it. Someone send them some Noam Chomsky. Or maybe a copy of the first Senser album.
With the band currently working on their debut full-length in between shows, this re-released EP is a largely pointless endeavour. Anyone who purchased the original release is likely to feel conned shelling out for it a second time. There is a grim irony in a band that raises its middle finger to corruption, hypocrisy and The System taking a play from the corporate world and releasing such a flimsy product.
With any luck, the growing pains evident in these first tracks will ultimately vanish. They will come to be almost quaintly naive curiosities, reminders of early beginnings and how far the band have come. Hacktivist have all the makings of a truly great band: the pieces are all there, and nobody can deny that they are paying their dues on the road, but they still have a considerable amount of work to do in the song-writing department. However, that “Elevate” is the best of the bunch is itself a promising sign.
As it stands, the band’s public profile has outpaced their development as musicians. They have the opportunity to claw this back, just so long as they take a leaf out of Chuck D‘s playbook, and don’t believe the hype.