In January, local hardcore band Gulch headed out to the FYA festival in Florida. Before leaving, they went to Twitter and posted a photo of a hoodie that was to be an exclusive piece of merch with a wholesome Hello Kitty style cartoon that a San Jose fan had made for fun.
When Gulch posted the design on Twitter, fans went crazy. They needed it. As a joke, the band invited people to meet them at the airport in Florida. Six people took them up on the offer.
At the festival, fans lined up at their merch booth hours before the band performed, missing other bands and even Gulch’s set to try to get a hoodie or another piece of their merch. Demand for their merch has gotten so high that if something on a resale site says “Gulch” on it, it’ll sometimes go for hundreds of dollars.
“That’s when I realized what the merch had become. Every time we put merch up online, it sells out within minutes. It’s insane,” says guitarist Cole Kakimoto. “It almost feels like we’re a band and then we’re also some kind of clothing brand—not because we want to be, because that’s what people made us.”
Gulch’s music is also having a breakout moment in the national scene. Their recently released Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress is getting rave reviews on multiple national publications, and fans are clamoring for it.
The group originally formed in Santa Cruz in 2016, though now the members are spread out all over, with only one person living locally. It’s no mystery why Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress has reached a wide range of fans, even beyond the typical hardcore crowd. It’s as unusual as it is intense, with freight train energy, meaty riffs, demonic vocals, and some unexpected twists and turns.
“It takes me a super long time to write. Some people can just sit in a room and start riffing. I wish I could do that,” Kakimoto says. “I’m super-methodical. Even just in what section I palm-mute; the ins and outs of how this is going to interact with drums, interact with the bass. That’s probably why doesn’t sound like a lot of hardcore.”
The band first noticed their expanded fanbase in 2018 when they released their EP Burning Desire to Draw Last Breath, which was well received. Up until that time, the group had barely played outside of the Bay Area. Then in the summer of 2019, they played an epic set at the This Is Hardcore festival in Philadelphia, which was uploaded to YouTube and got a ton of views. They went back to the East Coast in September for a 10-day headlining tour and sold out multiple dates.
“That whole tour was incredible. Every show was so sick,” Kakimoto says. “We weren’t supporting a larger band that already had an audience. We saw what kind of attention we were getting. It just kind of built off from there.”
They recorded Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress in December of 2019 with Jack Shirley at Atomic Gardens in Oakland. Shirley has built a reputation as the go-to guy for loud music, and has worked with everyone from Deafheaven to Jeff Rosenstock. Gulch wanted to capture their intense live energy on the record. Shirley had them play all the songs live, with the singer overdubbing his vocals later. For a handful of songs, they even kept their first takes.
“We had no headphones. We didn’t have click tracks. It was just us in a room as if we were having band practice. And we were just mic’d up,” Kakimoto says.
They released their LP to a post-coronavirus world of no live shows. But somehow, Gulch is still growing their audience.
“People are wanting new music now. They just want anything to do with hardcore,” Kakimoto says. “I think there’s going to be a new appreciation for live music when things come back.”
One thing that’s kept the band going during the pandemic is the thriving merch, which has only gotten more popular since the pandemic.
“That always keeps people interested when there’s not music,” Kakimoto says. “When we’re coming out with merchandise, that will definitely get people talking about us again, which is cool.”
For more info, check out gulch.bandcamp.com.