Challenging the local status quo

By Dan Fletcher, Red Pulse Writer

It’s a warm evening for February in Salt Lake City. Marshall Palmer and I are playing a game of word association outside of Baxters Cafe, our conversation lit by the streetlights along State Street and the headlights of late-night cruisers. Behind the shop’s fogged windows, kids pile atop each other to sing along with local hardcore band Reviver.

“Chris Buttars,” I pose.

We can hardly hear each other over the sound of passing sports cars and punk rock.

“Closet homosexual,” he replies with confidence.

Palmer, a senior in environmental engineering at the U, fronts the politically outspoken, hardcore punk band Challenger. In less than a year, the band of full-time U students has made time to tour the West Coast, self-release an album of punk anthems and garner prestigious comparisons to genre forebears Gorilla Biscuits and Propagandhi.

And they’ve done it all without the help of a manager, booking agent or record label8212;all of their music is available for free on the Internet.

“I could care less if anyone were to download any of our music, anywhere, at any time of day for free,” Marshall explained with a laugh. “Record labels are going the way of the dinosaur.” This anti-corporate ethic is apparent in Challenger’s behavior and runs deep in Palmer’s lyricism.

“A lot of hardcore bands talk about what’s going on in the scene, but I hope to inspire people to think about what’s going on economically, socially and environmentally in the world,” Palmer said. “I try to write more hopeful lyrics. It isn’t that we’re f***** and I’m letting everybody know that we’re f*****. I want people to know that there is opportunity to change things.”

Earlier in the evening, as Challenger performed to a small but passionate crowd of Salt Lake City youth, Palmer’s screams critiqued many of these greater dynamics with a wry, punk wit. As the band charged through the speeding-bullet tempos and against-the-grain anthemics of the song “Slash and Burn,” Palmer informed the crowd that, “There’s something wrong when you shop until you drop.”

“”Slash and Burn’ is about the fact that our nation is built on a consumer culture,” he said. “We live in a world where your status is determined by material possessions and superficial things like how much money you make or what kind of car you own.”

Palmer sees these issues of status as one aspect of a much larger economic issue and much like his thoughts on our state’s more infamous local political figures, he’s not afraid to publicly voice his frustration.

“Can you put a price on the kid that only tried to live long enough to watch your stock go through the roof?” shouted Palmer as Challenger performed the anger-fueled “Priced to Sell,” a biting critique of our economic system’s impact on the Third World.

Marshall later vented on the issue as we continued our word association session beside a bustling State Street. “Free market capitalism is one of the great evils of the world,” he said. “It’s just unrestrained exploitation8212;keeping Third World countries in debt so we can have higher standards of living. Debt is just slavery, indentured slavery.”

Palmer and Co. seem fueled by the potential of hardcore and punk to open people’s minds and run on the hope that bands such as theirs can make a positive impact on the world. Challenger plans to spread their gospel as far and wide as possible and is planning to get back on the road soon, as long as school schedules permit it.

After a half hour of hope-soaked discussion regarding the state of world affairs, Palmer’s anger and optimism conceivably seemed the cause of the unusually warm winter weather. I posed the last word in our little game: college.

“Stressful,” Palmer answered.

Challenger is in the studio, recording a new album to be released for free on the Internet by the end of summer. You can catch them Saturday, performing a matinee show at The Boing Collective with Reviver and Nine Worlds or at Baxters Cafe on March 19 with Denver’s Crooked Ways. More information on the band and these shows can be found at www.myspace.com/challenger801.

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