2014 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival – Day 1

Jade Puget & Davey Havok – A match made in Bright Black Heaven

Jade Puget and Davey Havok are an enduring musical duo that have blessed and cursed our ears with quite a plethora of tunes. Starting out together in AFI, the twosome have developed a shit-tonne of mesmerising rock tracks, gone on to create the dance pop powerhouse Blaqk Audio, and most recently re-emerged onto the hardcore scene with yet another side-project, XTRMST. While this sounds like a hefty workload, these two have flown, for the most part, under the mainstream radar, a heavily under-rated musical duo that is deserving of some serious recognition.

When we first think musical duos we might drift towards older crooners like Simon and Garfunkel or Sonny and Cher. If you were born in the last couple of decades you might think of The Black Keys, Daft Punk, or The White Stripes. While Daft Punk’s tenure rivals that of Puget and Havok, their genre-branching career has seen them lay their mark on: punk rock, pop-punk, post-punk hardcore, hardcore, melodic metal, house music, pop and horror punk, just to name a few. That is what sets them apart.

However, it was their constant dedication to evolution and reinvention that proved to be their greatest foundational strength.

Meeting in high school, Puget and Havok remained friends for a long time before making music together officially. While their influences were many and diverse, Havok’s early punk and hardcore stylistics became a mainstay that was constantly in flux; a charming contradiction. He slowly wove in broader influences from industrial and UK circles and, combined with Puget’s multi-instrumental talent and penchant for composition, they proved a formidable team. However, it was their constant dedication to evolution and reinvention that proved to be their greatest foundational strength.

It wasn’t until 1998, seven years into the life of AFI, that Puget and Havok began working on music together. Sharing a passion for veganism and the straightedge lifestyle, the two, along with sticksman Adam Carson and bassist Hunter Burgan, went on to release AFI’s LP Black Sails In The Sunset. The album represented the shift that the band would take toward a fuller, instrumentally layered and darker sound as opposed to the previous punk rock and hardcore releases before Puget’s addition to the group. While AFI was still owned and directed by all four members, Puget and Havok took the fore in terms of publicity and creative stylistics for the band with Black Sails.

…It was these albums that catalysed the creative synergies of the two music lovers and forged them into wondrous artists…

Arguably, with the wondrous gift that is hindsight, AFI’s The Art of Drowning and Sing The Sorrow were the albums that beautifully married Puget’s melancholic and wandering instrumentalism with Havok’s daunting passion for music. Again, in hindsight, it was these albums that catalysed the creative synergies of the two music lovers and forged them into wondrous artists, giving them the secure platform, from which, they could explore their own creativity. It was on AFI’s December Underground that their experimentalism stretched beyond the safety of the previous albums’ successes.

Undoubtedly, December Underground was heavily influenced by both Carson and Burgan, but it represented a blending of AFI’s brutal and aggressive introspection with lighter elements of musicality; it shifted from the utterly ferocious Kill Caustic and Affliction to the electronically-infused and almost pop-ish Miss Murder and 37mm. It was in this up tempo electronica that AFI fans first saw the seeds of Havok and Puget’s first side-project, Blaqk Audio, germinate. While Blaqk Audio was conceived in the early 2000s it wasn’t until 2006 that their debut album, CexCells, was released.

The album reeked of house music and mid-90s techno…creating a Frankenstein of rock and dance that was at once unique and familiar for fans of the duo.

CexCells offered all the electronic and synthetic sounds that were difficult to introduce into a band with such a proud rock-founded history as AFI. Puget even admits that some of the tracks on December Underground were intended for Blaqk Audio. CexCells was a beautiful experiment in the coalescence of divergent musical genres. While certain rock elements remained, Havok’s ethereal falsetto was tempered by his guttural, breaching screams and the heavily synthesised instrumentation provided the electronic core, which was hard, driving and headstrong. The album reeked of house music and mid-90s techno but the brooding musicality of Puget was still present, creating a Frankenstein of rock and dance that was at once unique and familiar for fans of the duo.

When the pair returned to focus on AFI the resultant project was the band’s 2009 release, Crash Love – an album that drove a wedge between AFI fans. Arguably, Puget and Havok returned to the AFI fold with a little too much Blaqk Audio in their veins. While it’s clear that the album built upon those poppier elements of December Underground the album was a step too far for dedicated AFI fans to keep up with, especially those harbouring nostalgia for the band’s punk and hardcore roots. While not without its merits, Crash Love felt like an addendum to Blaqk Audio’s discography, it felt like an anomaly in the annals of AFI history. That said, tunes like Medicate and It Was Mine stayed true to some form of AFI musicality – caught somewhere in the gap between Sing The Sorrow and December Underground.

Bright Black Heaven cemented Blaqk Audio’s idiosyncratic brand of dark wave infused EDM as unequivocally their own.

It was some time later that we heard from Puget and Havok again, resurfacing with Blaqk Audio’s sophomore album, Bright Black Heaven, in 2012. A personal favourite, the album allowed Puget and Havok to explore the theatrics and breadth of their electronic leanings. The heavily reverberated synths of the intro to Faith Healer contrasted beautifully with the Europop choruses of Bon Voyeurs, as Havok exercised the full extent of his vocal range. Bright Black Heaven cemented Blaqk Audio’s idiosyncratic brand of dark wave infused EDM as unequivocally their own.

The following years were a creative blur for the duo as they released AFI’s ninth studio album, Burials, to industry-wide acclaim. While the release maintained some of the electronic synthesis that had dominated Havok and Puget’s collaborations, the album reinstated the unbridled passion for in-your-face rock that dominated the earlier years of AFI’s tenure; it was a successful re-emergence for AFI that reunited fans. Singles like I Hope You Suffer and 17 Crimes offered the telltale AFI contrast between harmonious near silence, throat-searing screams and thundering melodic bridges that we had come to know and love.

Now, it’s 2014 and Puget and Havok are at it again with their latest group, XTRMST – the group that inspired me to write this piece.  XTRMST is a lovechild. It is an embodiment of Puget and Havok’s straightedge ideology and love for hardcore. XTRMST is testament to the fact that these two creators are one of the most dynamic musical duos in history. XTRMST’s debut EP, which dropped a couple of weeks ago, is a return to the Californian East Bay Hardcore that Puget and Havok grew up with, mixed with over two decades of musical evolution, reimagining and reinterpretation.

The duo that have given us so much in AFI, birthed the electronic Blaqk Audio and re-emerged with XTRMST, show us that collaborations are a symbiosis, an Oroboros; and that the creative cycle never truly ends. Thank you Jade and Davey.




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