Content Warning: This article mentions sexual assault.
It is hot and sweaty in the dish pit of a Montreal restaurant. The sounds are cacophonous and the air is grimy with food waste and dissonance. Outside, layers of fresh snow coat icy sludge, illuminating the raucous night. The frigid breeze freezes the capitalist sweat on your neck. This place and the feeling it evokes capture the essence of the Canadian post-punk band Dish Pit. Each song on the eclectic three-person unit’s first album DIPSHIT (2021) is embedded with the dirty, crunchy, pulsing sounds of the band’s namesake.
DIPSHIT, which the group released on March 12, breathes fresh life into a genre many music critics claim is dead. Their musical ingenuity and furious flair are at once heartfelt and invigorating—the type of music to jam to in the middle of the night while speeding down the highway. DIPSHIT provides pure joy, pure rage, and sometimes both at the same time. Produced by Steve Albini (of Nirvana, PJ Harvey, and Pixies production fame), the album harks back to the ’90s in many stylistic ways, but all the while injects a sense of 21st-century urgency that keeps the listener engaged.
Dish Pit is an unforgiving and beautiful blend of Kurt Cobain and Kathleen Hanna but with a twist distinctly its own. From vocalist Nora Kelly’s wild versatility and haunting lyrics to bassist Jed Stein’s unconventional style and drummer Ethan Soil’s energy and punky flavor, Dish Pit is ferocious and magical in ways most hardcore rock outfits can only seek to emulate.
Dish Pit is, like many other bands of their ilk, a product of creativity and friendship. The current members, Kelly, Stein, and Soil, met in residency at their university in Montreal. From there, impromptu jam sessions and house shows blossomed into something with more intention and focus. Despite the shift, the group maintained the elements of fun that brought the members together.
In an interview with the Voice, Kelly expanded on Dish Pit’s dynamic. “It’s sort of organic, I think… What I bring is usually the acoustic guitar part and lyrics and vocal melody of the song, and then we’ll go into the jam space and play electric guitar,” she said. “Then Jed, with her musical background, will bring in some really freaky bass riffs. She has a really strange, not synced with 4/4 time signatures, just very outside-of-the-box style, so she brings that.”
The band blends the distinct styles of all three artists, all under the broad definition of “punk.” “I used to play a lot of punk when I was in high school, but I hadn’t since until Nora was like, ‘Can you play drums?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah!’ and I was just remembering how to do it, just channeling that,” Soil said. He noted that as he has played with Dish Pit, he has developed his own post-punk/grunge style within the band’s distinct synergy.
While much of Dish Pit’s sound is a collaborative work, the melody and tone of individual songs come directly from Kelly. DIPSHIT showcases an amalgam of Kelly’s different facets. “DIPSHIT is a character exploration,” Kelly said. “There are a bunch of songs on there that were just parts of myself that I wanted to play around with and kinda turn up to 11.”
Each song took an element of Kelly’s personality or life and abstracted or inflated it to the point of artistic hyperbole. The quintessentially punk banger “Trash Queen,” for example, is “about being a really hardcore bitch. You’re crazy and trashy, which is sort of me, but it’s not the whole picture,” Kelly said.
At times, this personality can be frivolous and raucous, with the spirit of a drunk teenager standing on the hood of a car, but at others, Kelly becomes intensely personal. “The last single we put out, ‘This Time,’ is sort of a #MeToo movement song for me. So that’s been a whole roller coaster, playing it the first time,” she said. “I read a review this morning where they talked about the song, and they were like, ‘Looks like Nora lost her lover!’ And I was like, ‘Ok, people are really misinterpreting this.’” While the songs hold huge emotional significance for her, they are abstract enough that the listener always remains at a distance. Yet Kelly hopes through all the songs together, a listener can glean a picture of who she is.
An 11-song collective, DIPSHIT bursts with crunchy electric guitar, deep bass, and thrilling vocals. Kelly’s vocals range from the classic mumbly grunge of the Pacific Northwest to alternating ebullient and wrathful screaming reminiscent of Riot Grrrl. She switches between whispering, crooning, and screaming, making it hard to decide whether she is a devil or an angel—but she is undeniably fork-tongued. The bass is heavy, the guitar is violent, and the pacing is unorthodox, switching between high energy and slow melancholy. Yet, despite being an amalgamation of grunge and punk influences, DIPSHIT remains refreshingly new. It is a punk album for a new era.
The album is mainly composed of previously released singles, with the exception of “Splinter,” “Serious,” “Fix Your Life,” and “Get Rich or Die.” In fact, many of the songs on the album were recorded and completed several years ago. Kelly explained that this delayed and segmented release was largely logistical. The record label that Dish Pit signed with to record the album suddenly fell out of contact during post-production. This meant that the group had to wait until their contract had timed out before they could release the album on their own. In the meantime, they released singles in order to share their music without crossing legal thresholds.
Despite legal boundaries and gaps in communication, the group found ways to manifest its creativity and add to its music. “It was really fun in the end because we made music videos for each of the songs, and that was a super interesting and cool process and just another way to be creative, and so it kinda worked out,” Kelly said. The music videos for “Plaza People,” “Sold Out,” “This Time,” and “Seven” are posted on the group’s YouTube channel and are as bizarre and wonderful as one would expect, featuring Kelly and Stein stripping in the snow, lighting things on fire, and performing interpretive dance.
Many of the songs on DIPSHIT approach societal degeneration, following in the footsteps of their punk forefathers while adding a 21st-century bite. In “1000 Ways to Die,” Kelly sings about the increasing prevalence and awareness of mental illness amongst our generation, asking, “Is it the hormones in our milk or the video games?” In “Get Rich or Die,” she reflects on capitalist socioeconomic injustice by taking on a satirical voice that remarks, “No one’s poor unless they’re lazy.”
Despite these externally-oriented tracks, DIPSHIT as a whole remains firmly, as Kelly explained, a character study. Though not all songs are as obviously and intensely personal as the aforementioned “This Time,” it is apparent through the vibrance of the vocals and the powerful pandemonium of the instrumentals that Dish Pit puts their still-beating hearts into each track. At times, the listener can even hear Kelly’s snarl through the lyrics.
Because of their absurdist, unusual energy, Dish Pit has had to grapple with their epithets. In online bios, marketing blurbs, and journalistic profiles, the group has been labeled as everything from grunge to punk to post-punk, all with the precursive and ever-present reminder that they are a “femme” band. If you ask them, Dish Pit claims to exist both within and outside the realms of punk, or, more accurately, post-punk.
“I have actually tripped out on ‘post-punk’ and how it’s a nondescript genre. It’s nothing in a way because so many bands are quote-unquote ‘post-punk,’ but at the same time, it’s one of the only genres that feels right,” Kelly said. “I feel like we’re more post-punk in the way that Fugazi is post-punk. Where it’s just punk with a bit more thought in terms of the musical part—the instrumental part—because we’re not just a power-chord band.”
In this day and age, where artists are remixing classic elements of genre and weaving together bits and pieces of the past with the now, the nuances of a hyper-specific genre in rock can be lost. In the case of Dish Pit, whose song “Trash Queen” is textbook punk, while “Serious” emulates a lower, crunchier grunge, the label of “post-punk” serves more as a marketing tool than a dictator of style.
These marketing buzzwords can be somewhat reductive as well. Dish Pit is relentlessly pitched as a “femme” punk, “femme” rock, “femme” grunge group. “On one side it’s extremely important that Jed and I are women, and on the other side, I’m also hoping for this world where everyone has equal access and it’s not an anomaly to be women playing music,” Kelly said. “People have tried to push us to work the women, the ‘femme,’ thing more and trying to get us on board for ‘Girls’ Nights’ and things like that, and I don’t think it’s bad intentioned, but it’s just frustrating.”
Kelly emphasized that very few of Dish Pit’s songs are explicitly about the female experience or overcoming patriarchy, yet feminism is so entrenched in the band members’ lives that it is an inevitable element of their music. To be marked as a feminist punk group is at once an oversimplification of Dish Pit and a statement of fact.
“As a woman that listens to music, I listen to bands because I like the music, not like, ‘Oh wow, it’s a girl!’ I feel like that’s kind of a male lens on femme music in a way,” Kelly said. Still, she noted, the descriptor allows Dish Pit to fill a market that is often overlooked in the world of rock.
DIPSHIT is timely, versatile, and personal all at once. As a whole, it works as an excellent template to demonstrate the group’s talents. It is passionate, grimy, and entrancing in the way that sweaty faces and house fires are beautiful.
It is hot and sweaty in the dish pit of a Montreal restaurant. The grime and life and noise and passion and sweat and hunger that surround you are Dish Pit’s soul. It is simultaneously furious and elated and desolate. If you shut your eyes, you can almost hear the rough and unsteady heartbeat of the bass, the frenetic call of the drums, and the scream of the guitar. This is post-punk at its best and most enjoyable. Dish Pit is revivalist in the warped and creative way of a necromancer, bringing the sound of the ’80s and ’90s back to life in beautiful Frankenstein horror—and their creation demands an audience.
For bonus Dish Pit content, take a look at these outtakes from the interview. Here Nora and Ethan discuss finding cocaine, being an alien scientist cuck, and getting punched by the Dalai Lama.