Democracy Dies in Darkness

Music

Des Demonas: Rock-and-roll band? Or five-man rhythm machine?

September 12, 2018 at 10:00 AM

The D.C. rock band Des Demonas, from left to right, Ryan Hicks, Joe Halladay, Jacky Cougar Abok, Mark Cisneros and Paul Vivari. (Bob Bonehead Planck/)

Jazz genius Cecil Taylor once described the piano as “an 88-key drum.” Bang on it and melody comes out.

Maybe that explains the tuneful womp of Des Demonas, a quintet of D.C. punk heavies, three of whom approach their responsibilities like drummers. First, there’s the band’s actual drummer, Ryan Hicks, who digs into the pocket as if lint were a renewable energy source. Then there’s Des Demonas frontman Jacky Cougar Abok, who also drums for Foul Swoops, and guitarist Mark Cisneros, who moonlights as a drummer for the Make-Up.

That leaves organist Paul Vivari, whose spectral melodies echo ’90s D.C. post-punk acts (the Delta 72, Jonathan Fire*Eater ) and their primordial rock ancestors (the Animals, ? and the Mysterians); and bassist Joe Halladay, who explains how Des Demonas became so casually formidable over the past few years: “It started out like poker night, and then there was a point when we were like, ‘We’re pretty good at poker, huh?’ ”

For real. The band’s superb self-titled album, released late last year, feels brawny and stylish across a variety of rhythms, all of which grow out of the quintet’s democratic brain-sync.

“With this group, it’s a collaborative thing,” Abok says of the band’s songwriting after a recent weeknight rehearsal. “Even if somebody comes in with an idea, they can’t really tell you what to play. They can try! . . . But that’s what I love about this group. It just happens.” His bandmates nod in agreement on the two and the four.

Show: Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. at the Black Cat. $25.


Chris Richards has been The Washington Post's pop music critic since 2009. Before joining The Post, he freelanced for various music publications.

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