w/ Toys that Kill, Scared of Chaka, Pale
Thurs Aug 9
Ask lead singer Joanne Belesiotis when Berzerk started, and she can tell you the exact day: "November 14th, 1995. We celebrate our anniversary. We're cheesy, " Joanne confesses, her emotional attachment to the band obvious in her sheepish grin. She can even tell you the details of their first ill-fated show. "There were like five people there, who were all drunk, one of them being Tyler's dad, who was rooting us on. Even though I knew there were only five people down there, I was so nervous."
Fast forward six years to 2001, and you'll find a seasoned and confident Berzerk playing sold-out shows all over the US, while sharing stages with hardcore heavy-hitters like Ensign, FYP, and Botch. Their obvious personal investment in the band and years of hard work have earned them loyal support around the country, and their latest record, This Silence Kills (Recess Records), is doing well. But they've never had it easy here in Portland. Shouldn't such a long life span--especially for a hardcore band--translate into a big local following?
Joanne says it hasn't been that simple. "We play here, and it's hard. It's because, I think, the people here know us as this little kid band they started seeing when we were 15 and really terrible." She bristles at the fact that they aren't allowed to live down their youthful beginnings. "To a lot of people, we're still a joke, but I swear to God we've grown up."
After a couple of line-up changes and a six-month breakup a few years back, members Joanne Belesiotis, Tyler King, Chad Sellers, and Mandy Morgan have been chugging along, writing songs, and racking up tours. Joanne acknowledges the earlier incarnation of Berzerk was worthy of criticism, but anyone who sees them play these days has to concede that they know what they're doing onstage. Their commitment and history together is visible--like old friends who finish each other's sentences. It's even more apparent considering Berzerk play an angst-ridden and emotionally charged brand of hardcore, pounded out at a feverish pitch that keeps them bouncing around the stage.
But don't confuse their enthusiasm and aggressive sound for the macho posturing that dominates the hardcore scene. Hardcore is traditionally a boy's club for angry guys to work out their aggressions. Berzerk, by their makeup alone, are a challenge to the status quo, and the difference extends into the audience. "There's always a line of girls up front," Joanne states proudly. "When it turns into a football game, we say something. I think we do a really good job of protecting people."
Though they're aware of the gender disparities in the scene and actively address them, Joanne is not content to pat herself and her band on the back for being different, nor is she interested in polarizing their fans. "I don't ever want to say the boys should stay in the back so the girls can come up front. Maybe I should, and maybe I'm expected to, but I'm not going to play that game and keep people so separate." Instead, she chooses to relate to people as they come, following her mother's advice. "My mom always told me not to pick and choose people based on what's in their pants. You have to love people for who they are."