10 reasons why you need Speed in your life

Speed might just be the most important Australian hardcore band in a generation. Off the six songs of smashing first EP Gang Called Speed, the Sydney collective have spring-boarded from their local scene to the world stage. And, despite having already achieved more than any of them ever imagined, frontman Jem Siow explains that they won’t be pumping the brakes anytime soon…

10 reasons why you need Speed in your life
Sam Law

This time last year, Jem Siow was earning his keep as a music teacher. Having trained at university in classical flute – an experience he’s likened to the brutal lessons in jazz-school movie Whiplash – the frontman thought his days of hard-touring with bands like Endless Heights were behind him, and had channelled his passion for stoking kids’ energy and creativity into something like a conventional career. Speed was supposed to be the band he “settled down” on: a part-time concern that would allow him to pick up the mic, perform alongside brother Aaron, and spark life into the dying embers of his local Sydney scene.

Like tired bodies on the edge of a circle-pit, however, life found a way of dragging them back in. No-nonsense, highly politicised bangers A Dumb Dog Gets Flogged and We See U got noticed on a global scale. In 2022, their six-track EP Gang Called Speed fuelled their fire. Faster than a flash, Jem, Aaron and their bandmates Dennis Vichidvongsa, Josh Clayton and Kane Vardon were on festival stages and magazine covers around the world. With a first Download set and their just-recorded debut LP looming, we caught up with Jem to hear why they’re still just getting started…

1They’re Aussie hardcore lifers

Growing up in Australia’s isolated, insular scene, Speed watched some of their idols go on to rule over heavy music. Now it’s their time to carry the hardcore baton for the land down under…

Jem Siow (vocals): “There’s a real underdog mentality because Australia’s so far removed from the rest of the world. It’s created that ‘for us, by us’ culture. The first-ever heavy show I ever went to was Parkway Drive about 17 years ago at a venue called The Forum in Sydney. Just before Christmas, we headlined that venue – now called Liberty Hall – with all-Australian support. That was a big full-circle moment. Stepping outside and seeing the fans zig-zagging down the road gave me real déjà vu. Seventeen years ago, I was one of those kids. Now they’re turning up to see us!”

2It’s about continuing to build for that next generation

Having come of age in hardcore themselves, Speed are paying it forward to new kids…

Jem: “When we were kids, Australian hardcore was experiencing a boom that has subsided over the past decade as bands like Parkway have gotten massive, and smaller acts have dropped away. Speed was started with the aim of rekindling that scene so kids now have the same opportunities we did. The self-fulfilling life cycle of hardcore is so precious: going to shows, meeting people, starting bands, playing yourself. If you stick around long enough, you feel this responsibility to help the next generation, kinda like starting out playing sport as a little kid and ending up as the coach.”

3They’re providing a gateway for minorities into extreme subculture

Jem, Aaron and Dennis are proud of their Asian-Australian heritage, and they want Speed to inspire others to step into the world of heavy music…

Jem: “I remember talking to my dad when I was 15 about what I wanted to do with my life. He said, ‘I could tell you to go do your math homework, but I want you to go write some riffs.’ That open-mindedness is why I’m in a hardcore band at 31 rather than being an accountant! Most of my Asian counterparts have a very different experience. We want to pay our privilege forward to open the gates into this scene. Every person has a unique story to tell, and hardcore can be a lot more special if more people feel empowered to get involved.”

4They want to champion the righteous cause

Early singles A Dumb Dog Gets Flogged and We See U found Speed calling out government mishandling of the 2020 Australian bushfires and anti-Asian racism in the wake of COVID. But their main political agenda is love…

Jem: “There are many incredible elements to Asian culture, but there’s also an element of passiveness, obedience, not being outspoken, keeping your head down, avoiding confrontation. I was never brought up that way. So, as this band was breaking out around the time of the bushfires and all of the different [anti-Asian] hate crimes around COVID, it was natural for us to speak up about it. But the main message that we want to convey is compassion. We’re all just human beings, trying to find our ways on this planet. So follow your own path in life at your own time.”

5Chaos is an integral part of their live show

As those present for last year’s incendiary Outbreak Fest set will know, Speed’s blend of old-school aggro and youthful exuberance is utterly spectacular even without literal fireworks…

Jem: “We have a friend who plays in a much bigger heavy band, and he said to us how crazy it is that they have to pay thousands of dollars for a few seconds of pyro during their set, but our pyro is just our friends getting onstage and diving off. We turn up to the venues and ask for the lights to be turned on. We want to see that expression of energy, the realness of all that passion in the audience. We want anyone who sees us to understand that this isn’t punk, metalcore or whatever – this is hardcore.”

6Black eyes are nothing to be afraid of

As positive and approachable as Speed are, when that live show hits full force it can be terrifying. But that’s half the fun…

Jem: “Speed is 100 per cent a violent band. And proud of it. We’re not antagonistic people, but when it comes to hardcore, we will beat the shit out of each other. On paper, it doesn’t make sense. How can you have a scene built on moral codes and helping your fellow man while also being barbaric and lawless, basically inviting in the freaks of society and allowing them to fight each other for fun? I love that duality. It’s something that you can only really understand when you’re there: a primal animal instinct. I remember feeling it at my first show, and how it totally sucked me in!”

7They’ve got fans in seriously high places

Speed might’ve not long emerged from the Australian underground, but their aggression, attitude and authenticity have already attracted the attention of some of the world’s biggest celebrities…

Jem:Post Malone is a fan of the band. He came to Australia twice in the past couple of years and we hung out with him. Dennis used to be a renowned hip-hop dancer, and he just texts Travis Barker on iMessage! I laugh about how Kourtney Kardashian’s partner is wearing a Speed shirt around the house. And we met [basketball legend] Shaq! When we played Sound And Fury 2022 there were all these viral videos going around. One site asked, ‘Who is going to this show?!’ and he commented ‘Me!’ When he came to Australia after that, we got to meet him in person and grab a photo.”

8It’s about quality, not quantity

Everything Speed have achieved thus far has been from just a handful of singles and that one six-track EP. Jem understands that it’s less about how much they do than the impact they make…

Jem: “Speed’s attitude from the very beginning has been ‘minimum input, maximum impact’. It’s about squeezing the most juice out of the least work. The longest tour we’ve ever done is still 10 shows in one run. I never thought we’d ever do anything more than a seven-inch. A lot of great bands like Soul Search and Bad Seed only ever really had seven-inches. Others like Trapped Under Ice blew up off theirs. In the beginning, I had a mindset of, ‘Who the fuck wants to listen to a hardcore LP?’ So, of course, we have just finished recording a hardcore LP which will be out later this year (laughs).”

9That album is going to fucking rip

A full-length record, you say? Translating Speed’s knockout style to long-form signals a serious step up…

Jem: “It’s about maintaining the approach of the seven-inch: trying to be as impactful as possible. But with a different mindset. When we recorded the EP, the biggest show we’d played was 200 people. We had no concept of Sound And Fury or Outbreak sets. At all. So it’s an exercise in making the hardest, most aggressive, brutal set of songs, while also delivering the most substantial body of work possible: a 100 per cent Sydney hardcore album. It felt like a huge mountain to climb, but it’s cool to be on the other side. There’s not a lot more to tell because we only recently finished recording!”

10There isn’t a second to spare

Speed by name, Speed by nature. Now they’re rolling, expect pedal to the metal…

Jem: “Speed has always been a band without time to waste. I remember asking my brother whether it was too early to start planning a Southeast Asia tour just after we’d released our 2019 demo. He was like, ‘Dude, the band’s called Speed. Who gives a fuck?!’ Just like every hardcore act, we have a finite lifespan. So, from here on, if an opportunity arises, we’re not hanging around. There’s no time to waste – let’s grab life and run with it!”

Speed’s debut album ONLY ONE MODE is released on July 12 via Flatspot Records, and Last Ride Records in Australia. The band play Download Festival on June 14 – get your tickets here. This article originally appeared in the spring issue of the magazine.

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