The Totems
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The Totems


Band Alternative Punk


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"The Totems’ “Going Nowhere” Splinters Pretensions with Fertile Filth"

Drums play at the speed of hummingbird wings under a guitar and bass that combine in a synchronized growl, synthesizing into a bolting soundstreak upon which jaggedly bobs a Cockney slur. The listener is sucked into the smoggy rapids of “Going Nowhere,” where he must fully face the dread rearing head of the fascinating monstrosity that is The Totems.

The unimaginative write off this punk culture of spiked mohawks and underestimated power as soulless and freakish, a population of ratty nuisances. Despite its antisocial image, punk’s technique isn’t dissimilar to that of the ancient parable. The mundane details of the parable disguise a crucial life lesson, challenging its audience to look beyond the boring surface of its story in order to earn its invaluable meaning. Punk likewise presents an unappealing introductory phase through which one must pass in order to enter into its deeper reality. Loud and ugly instrumentation screen out the impatient and the hastily judgmental, for those who see humanity as divided into different species will not weather the initiatory repulsion. The bedrock ethic of punk isn’t rebellion, as so many assume; paradoxically, punk’s main mission is solidarity, insisting that one human identify with the other as sharing in the same nature, need, and final destination.

The Totems are attractive because they have the courage to sound unattractive. Their ear-bending agitrock is a perverse and ironic call to decency, for punk rockers call their crowds to decency by being themselves markedly indecent. They want you to notice them, and to be tough enough to hear them out: that, or else leave them the hell alone until you can come back the wiser.

“Going Nowhere” is spitting Sex Pistols brashness with melodic considerations. Paul Gilligan on guitar and Terry Rydzynski on bass assault their instruments almost always in tandem. Singer Darryl Hockings makes sure that The Totems will never be mistaken for Americans, slinging about his limey accent fostered in the crazy/polite streets beyond Victoria Station. His vocals are as if the singer for 80s Brit band The Psychedelic Furs didn’t sound like he just woke up every song he ever sang. Quite the opposite energy despite similar pitch, Hockings cracks and howls through indomitable interludes with pressure cooking rage against those who waste his time and his life with their dreams.

“If I Had A Gun” is The Totems having fun, a sped-up jangly battle march, that strangely militant, yet still anti-authoritative, quality common to so many punk songs. Ciaran Fahy is another phenomenon in that long line of the most dextrous percussionists in the world: punk drummers. Though Fahy overemploys the drum roll (one drum roll per line not necessary, Mr. Fahy), his splintering, relentless drilling imparts exceeding energy to every Totems song. With their longest track clocking in at only 3:32, The Totems are all about density. Their songs are like diamonds carelessly dropped into a grease trap, protesting against the waste to which the hardest of substances is subjected, its beauty ashamedly marred. The group’s performance tightness is almost unnaturally nuclear, wound so as to leave no gap or separation in its fabric. The Totems’ complete unity of sound is unparalleled among independent artists.

“Passer-By” begins with an Ozarkian twang (Johnny Cash is one of The Totems’ unlikely “Likes” on their Facebook page) and proceeds with that curious gothic rockabilly sound found in some humorously haunted “chambers” in urban areas. Hockings’ sloppy, but emotive, vocalisms make most of his lyrics hard to decipher. At times, the grime and soot clear enough for the listener to enjoy such ghetto-poetic lines like, “Your sins are the only thing that interests me, You handle them so easily,” but the generally amoebic character of Hockings’ barely perceivable lyrics are excusable, even if unbreakably encryptic, for in punk, the medium itself (and its attitude) is the message.

“Enough-Tough” is a spiritual call from the fertile filth, a reclamation of young manhood. It’s the black sticker stuck on the lunchbox of a punk rocker working construction, its encircled words rounding the sticker’s inside edges reading, “Don’t Be A P****”, a rare call to necessary risk and a throwback to America’s lost sense of rugged individualism. Ziggy Stardust backing vocals testify to a seedy angst in the Gentleman’s Club capital of the world. “Enough-Tough” is the last song, and the listener at this point has had enough of what starts to grate as invariable Totems tempo. Punk is by definition uptempo and simplistic, sacrificing the pretentious appearance of intelligence as a vanguard past which lies the signification of truth. Even punks need to recline at times, and perhaps The Totems shouldn’t try out any other colors, but rather venture into another shade. Though “Enough-Tough” shows some grunge influences, the punk ethic overridingly and unceasingly prevails. Grunge is a rebellion against that to which one has already forcibly conformed, and from which one can’t (or won’t) escape out of a concern for survival. Punk refuses conformity altogether out of a moral (yes, moral) standard, choosing instead the price of partial starvation, continuing to operate even in an emaciated frame, feisty, squirrely, and combative to the end, like ragtag bladed Scots charging the imperial British at Dunkirk.

Though The Totems are treading the Sex Pistols path with conviction, that breakthrough band ended merely a gesture, limited by technical inabilities and crippling character flaws. The Totems are more musically able than their idols, and are open to a greater sphere of influence. This openness enables them to grow, flourish, and last longer than the duration of the Pistols’ brief rebel yell.

- Indie Music Reviewer


Still working on that hot first release.



Available for full-band or stripped back acoustic gigs.

The spirit of punk with accessible melodies and intelligent songcraft. The Totems are angry, energetic and an overdue nod to traditional British punk.

Production is deliberately raw, all vocals are one take and all instruments use a single effect throughout.

The Totems were formed by Paul Gilligan and Darryl Hockings and played their first gig in 2011. Finding themselves reaching crossroads in their lives amid a climate of national discontent and anger at the establishment, they discovered an outlet in a mutual appreciation for an ebbing British music scene. With a taste for meaningful lyrics, British accents, raucous sounds and simple production methods they set about channeling their growing frustration and angst into making the kind of music they were hearing less and less of.

With the additional energy and experience of Ciaran 'Dreadkey' Fahy on drums (Glastonbury '09, Bestival '09, Mercury Prize '09 with Speech Debelle) and Niall Diskin on bass the Totems sound was complete.