Sydney band Speed (comprising Dennis Vichidvongsa, Josh Clayton, Kane Vardo, and brothers Aaron and Jem Siow) are undeniably on the rise, bringing Australian Hardcore along with them. Their sound and approach is deeply rooted in a rich, and often overlooked subculture. The band’s enthusiasm is high, and their mission is clear – they want you along for the ride. As the band’s front man, Jem’s whole persona is infectious and energetic. He is exactly the same on stage, as he is off it – nothing is an act here. Whether they’re up the front attending local shows or playing in front of thousands of people, Speed are, in a word, authentic. Each conversation I have with Jem leaves me feeling motivated and reminds me of how lucky we’ve all been to land in this subculture where self-expression, the sharing of ideas and supporting each other is not only normalised, but championed. I sat down with him to talk about Speed, hardcore and everything in between. After about an hour of conversation, I finally pressed record…
Who’s in Speed? What are their roles?
Speed is just five friends that met through going to shows in Sydney’s hardcore scene. My younger brother, Aaron, plays bass. My best friend, Josh, plays guitar. We have Dennis on guitar as well, and Kane on drums.
What drew you to Sydney hardcore shows in the beginning? How did you find it, and then why did you stick around?
I think my origin story with hardcore is not a very unique one. Everybody finds hardcore through different avenues and people have different gateways – it might be metal, or it might be punk. For me, I found it through metal and, for our generation in the mid 2000s, Australia’s biggest heavy band was – and still is – Parkway Drive.
I went to the Parkway Drive show expecting to just see a metal show. But when I got there, I saw moshing for the first time. It was this whole other element of danger. It was this wild, almost completely liberated sense of violent expression that was unpredictable and exciting. But also stylistic, and so in-sync with the music at the same time. It was an element of the music and the passion that I hadn’t experienced before. And that’s really what drew me in. Parkway Drive was our gateway band at this big concert venue, and there were people there flyering for small local shows. So, I’ve gone from this 1200-capacity venue to now this 200-capacity Youth Center that barely has a stage, and kids that are my age. And there’s all these local bands from the Northern Beaches or from Penrith. I guess that was like my awakening to how hardcore is not just about spectating at concerts – there’s actually a movement behind it that’s hands-on, in a localised way. Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to get at is the word DIY.
Left: Talent’s own jeans, shoes and hat. Right: Aaron wears VALENTINO top and pants; talent’s own shoes, hat and rings. Josh wears STÜSSY jacket and pants from Supply Store; talent’s own top, shoes, hat and necklace.
I feel like that’s such a big part of hardcore – to live it 100 per cent. It’s not something you tap in and out of; it becomes so consuming. It has a big emphasis on community and sharing of ideas, politics and lifestyles.
I’m scared of using the word tradition, because sometimes that can characterise things as ‘not changing’, but one of the reasons why hardcore is so unique, and why it is for many people so difficult to crack, is because when you strip back the sound and you strip back the aesthetic, it really comes down to a very simple, small group of bands and – ‘rules’ is not the right word – but I guess ‘ethics’, which hardcore was built upon.
It’s not written down somewhere like the ten commandments.
Yes, exactly. Understanding and appreciating hardcore is something that can only be done through participation, engagement, and experience. It wasn’t until I went to a live setting, and I started to see the way people engaged with the music, and the way people treated each other – despite it seemingly being aggressive or violent – that I started to understand how nuanced and niche these behaviours are.
What can people expect at a Speed show?
With Speed, what we’re trying to do is capture the essence of exactly what hardcore is. You should expect the excitement, the passion and the liberation of expression for people in that room. I also hope that people can experience an air of inclusivity, where there isn’t judgement for the way they engage with the music or the amount of shows they’ve been to before. Hardcore is a counter-cultural movement. It’s a subculture and a community that attracts the freaks of life; people who don’t fit into the main grid that society places in front of us. And the music is so primitive and tribal and aggressive, that the way that we express ourselves and engage with that music is inherently lawless. If you write all these things down on paper and throw all of these elements into a small 200-capacity room, on paper it would never work. But the fact that it does, I think, speaks to the true essence and beauty of what hardcore is. There are definitely some people who, unfortunately, get it twisted, but for the most part, everyone understands what’s going on and what to expect. This is such a raw, unfiltered means of expression to a type of music that is the same.
Left: Kane wears talent’s own jacket, jeans and hat. Dennis wears talent’s own jumper, pants, hat and necklace. Aaron wears ACNE STUDIOS jumper from Harrolds; CARHARTT jeans from Supply Store; talent’s own headscarf and rings. Right: Talent’s own jumper, top, jeans, shoes, hat and necklace.
What would you like to see more of at Speed shows?
Australia hardcore is going through a really amazing thing right now. Its popularity comes and goes in waves. For the few years leading up to COVID, it wasn’t as hot in Australia, but right now it’s really close to its peak, if not there. It’s amazing and huge. We’re seeing all these new people finding hardcore after COVID, which is incredible, but at the same time, as we’ve said before, you know, what’s so important about hardcore is an understanding of the culture and an understanding of the mentality. I see a lot of people coming to shows now who are discovering it for the first time, and I just hope that a majority of those people stay and find how to engage with the culture meaningfully.
What other ways do the members of Speed express themselves? What other kinds of hobbies or musical outlets or interests do you all have? I know that’s a multifaceted question – it’s not just you in the band, but a group of individuals.
In Speed, we try to promote the individualism of each member. Aaron has a background in hip-hop dancing. His crew won nationals like, twice or something. That’s where the majority of our swag in Speed comes from – and he runs his own clothing brand, Del Saato. Dennis is probably the broadest person I’ve ever met. He’s an actor, he’s a powerlifter… he can cook [laughs]. Josh works in marketing. Cain is a skateboarder. For the last 14 years, I’ve been a flute teacher.
Left: Talent’s own pants, shoes, hat, necklace and rings. Right: Dennis wears STONE ISLAND top and pants from Supply Store; talent’s own shoes and hat. Kane wears STÜSSY jumper from Supply Store; talent’s own top, shorts, shoes and socks. Jem wears VALENTINO cardigan; talent’s own top, pants, shoes and hat.
What were the first moments where you realised the reach that Speed has outside of our community – outside of hardcore?
The biggest show that Speed had played before COVID was to 200 people – and that was a massive show for us. So, what’s happening now has all been just totally unprecedented. The first real, tangible, life-changing moment was when we released our first movie We See U. That was just an Instagram post of a one-minute video clip and that same day we had hardcore bands, record labels, and people that we admire and respect from all over the world, sharing this video. That day was the beginning of reaching circles that we’ve never ever thought would be interested in or connected to what we do.
Your audience is obviously growing and now a lot of people kind of look to you as an educator or a figurehead. How do you feel about people coming to you, as the most accessible part – or as the figurehead – of Speed, to be an educator on everything related to hardcore in Australia?
I feel really blessed to be in a position where people feel comfortable approaching me about these kinds of things, and I feel a bit of responsibility with that too, sometimes. I appreciate people coming up and asking our opinions, but at the same time, Speed is only one band that exists in the greater global scene. We didn’t write any of these rules, and we didn’t start any of these traditions. We’re trying to open up the platform for everybody else. We are just a band that seem to have broken through with a video or two, and we have the light shone on us, but there’s so many other amazing individuals that have so much more to offer.
Left: Jem wears talent’s own jacket, top, jeans, shoes, hat, necklace and rings. Josh wears ACNE STUDIOS jumper from Harrolds; talent’s own shorts, shoes, socks and hat. Right: Jem wears VALENTINO cardigan; talent’s own top, pants, shoes and hat. Aaron wears VALENTINO top and pants; talent’s own shoes and hat. Josh wears STÜSSY jacket and pants from Supply Store; talent’s own top, hat and necklace.
As your band continues to grow, how hard is it to stick to a DIY ethic?
It’s easy and it’s hard. Speed has no aspirations other than to be a hardcore band. We have one clear mission, which is to promote Australian hardcore culture.
I feel like you’re doing a great job of it.
Thank you. Thanks. We’re just trying to keep the culture intact. We want people to listen to the other bands; see what’s happening in their local scene. Just keep coming back.
What’s next for Speed?
We’ve just had, like, the biggest year of our lives. We’ve pretty much toured around most of the world and done so much more than we ever expected. I only thought of doing the seven inch – we thought the band would only do an EP – and maybe play a show in America one day. This year, we’ve been to America three times. By December, we’re going to record our first LP – our first album – which is crazy to think about. Next year, we’ll just be putting the gas on.