Inside BUGGIN's unplanned, TURNSTILE-endorsed hardcore takeover | Revolver

Inside BUGGIN's unplanned, TURNSTILE-endorsed hardcore takeover

Chicago crew mix fun with fury because "fuck it, why not?"
Buggin live 2023 1600x900, Farrah Skeiky
photograph by Farrah Skeiky

In September 2021, hardcore upstarts Buggin were about to play their biggest show yet — opening for cult-favorites-turned-supersonic-force Turnstile at the 1,100-cap Metro in Buggin's hometown of Chicago. It was a monumental moment for the four-piece outfit — one made more fantastic for singer Bryanna Bennett when they were struck by a strange realization. They were opening for the very same band that just a few short years earlier Bennett had risked a grounding to go see.

"It was a full-circle moment for me. I definitely snuck out of my house to go see Turnstile one night at that venue … but I never got caught!" says the 24-year-old singer with a grin from their bedroom in Philadelphia, where they're intermittently interrupted by their three cats Moshi, Oliver and Pluto.

Buggin unleashed an electrifying set that night, which not only won over the packed crowd, but caused the band — who formed in 2018 and whose current lineup includes drummer Michael Rasmussen, guitarist Peyton Roberts and bassist Dewey Butker — to instantly rise a couple of notches in the hardcore pantheon. The late, legendary Chicago-born fashion designer Virgil Abloh even followed them on Instagram straight after. In every sense, it was surreal.

"We [had mostly] played in people's fucking basements," says Bennett. "The people at the venue were like, 'We have your hummus and your beverages.' And we were like, 'What the hell are you talking about?'" They laugh, adding, "We started this band having no idea what the fuck we were gonna do. Our first show, we were out of tune, Michael dropped his drumsticks like three times — he had literally never played drums in front of anybody before. And a couple years later we're playing a sold-out show with Turnstile."

This spring, Buggin will unveil their debut album, Concrete Cowboys. The new full-length delivers on the excitement generated by the band's 2020 EP (released under their initial moniker Buggin Out) and 2021 single "Brainfreeze," the latter of which included a fiery B-side cover of Beastie Boys' "Gratitude" (featuring a production assist from Jesus Piece's Aaron Heard). Fans of those releases will recognize the same bouncy, aggressive sound and fun-loving, passionate sensibility — but also discover the band playing with new ideas (a little pop punk in "Redacted," a little surf rock in "Youth"), fleshing out their songs more richly, and carving out a distinct identity.

"I think people who have been rocking with us since [the beginning] are gonna be excited to hear how fresh everything sounds," says Bennett. "This is the biggest thing that we've ever done, and I think it is definitely the best stuff we've ever done."

Bennett, who now lives in Philly, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. "I was a really lonely kid. I didn't really have any friends," they recount. "It made me really angry — I hated everything around me." Music was a balm for that isolation and disillusionment. They first fell in love with Fall Out Boy and Paramore. "Seeing Hayley [Williams], I was like, damn, one day I wanna be in a band," they tell us.

When Bennett discovered hardcore punk a few years later, another lightbulb turned on. "Hardcore felt relatable to me; it felt so raw and genuine. It's like, Oh, these guys recorded this on a fucking iPhone 7 in their mom's basement. I was searching for that authenticity, and I found it through hardcore."

As a teenager, Bennett started going to shows in Chicago and Milwaukee. "I literally gave my parents PowerPoint presentations on why they should let me go," Bennett laughs. That's where they met Rasmussen and Roberts. They were the youngest kids at every show, so they naturally banded together. Before long, the trio started to bounce around the idea of starting a group.

"The Midwest area was well known for super-heavy beatdown stuff, but we wanted to see something else," says Bennett, adding that they aspired to emulate the fun, creatively free approach of bands like Turnstile and Angel Du$t. The idea was sort of a joke at first. They weren't experienced and they didn't even own any gear. (In fact, they still don't have much; "I think we're finally getting a drumkit," Bennett tells me). But then, with the "fuck it, why not" mentality that defines the band to this day, they formed Buggin.

Buggin portrait 2023 vertical UNCROPPED , Farrah Skeiky
Buggin, (from left) Dewey Butker, Peyton Roberts, Bryanna Bennett and Michael Rasmussen
photograph by Farrah Skeiky

"We didn't think people were gonna fuck with it that much; we just wanted to hang out with each other and make something that we weren't seeing around us," says Bennett. "Making sure that we stay true to what we started out with is really important to me." As it turned out, their welcoming and fresh vibe resonated with people in their hometown and beyond.

From their first demo, Buggin were a rising force in the hardcore scene, and they eventually earned a place on Flatspot Records (home of Scowl and Speed) for Concrete Cowboys. Rather than posturing or gatekeeping, they're a band that's all about having fun and celebrating individuality. "My attitude on life is that you just don't need to take yourself that seriously," says Bennett. "A lot of people are gonna have things to say to you, but you really have to not give a shit. I want people to step into their individuality, and that's what I try to instill with everything that we do."

Through this band, and the wider hardcore world, Bennett has surrounded themself with the friendship and community they were lacking as a lonely kid. Plus, they've found a vital outlet that has guided and shaped how they find their way in life. "I could have gotten into a lot of trouble as a teenager, but having a community [in which to] figure out, 'OK, what's a healthier way for me to express my anger besides going out on the streets and getting into fucked-up shit' — I think that's really, really crucial," they say. The Concrete Cowboys track "Get It Out," which Bennett describes as a "moshers' anthem," is an ode to that supportive space: "At the show, I see my bros/Escape from work and life's bullshit."

Still young but having grown up in the scene for almost a decade, Buggin are at the vanguard of this new generation's vision of hardcore — something they explore on the record's "most important" track "Youth," on which they snarl: "You can't stop the progress of this generation."

"With each generation we see them bringing new ideas into the culture and the mainstream, and I think that people really need to absorb that," Bennett says, adding that representation and space for people of color, women and LGBTQ folks has been a vital change for the scene in recent years.

That's something they put into action with the Darkside of the Moon West Coast tour, a celebration of the Black community in hardcore on which they embarked with Zulu, Move and Playytime last year. The reaction was stellar; the bands even heard from venue employees that they were blown away by the crowd's energy. "It was almost like a family reunion," says Bennett. "It's not something that's ever been done before. It was so surprising that people on the other side of the country were reacting to us in this way, when we've never been [there] before. People were hanging off the rafters!"

This is just the start for Buggin. They're a band with obvious heart, personality and style — and the brutal hardcore chops to back it up. They never expected to get this far, but they're not slowing down. "If you don't like something, change whatever it is that you don't like, and maybe you'll create something special on your own," Bennett says. "We're just trying to do the most we can while we can — and ride it until the wheels fall off."