On a Saturday night this past spring, screeching dissonant guitars and a clashing, heavy-handed beat could be heard filling a dark bar in downtown Oakland. If one were to have peaked their head in, they would have been surprised to find the noise coming from just two people: drummer Ignat Frege (@hand_model) and multi-instrumentalist Felix Skinner (@felixskinner).
The two make up Wreck and Reference, a metal band from Los Angeles that defies most of the traditional trappings of metal bands. There is no guitar on stage, no bassist. Only two musicians, one of who, Felix, elicits piercing, guttural screams into the microphone while striking the pads on an electronic sampler strapped around his neck.
“It was clear early on that the possibilities that it provided were limitless, that it would allow us to run with any mad idea we had,” says Felix, 28, about his use of a tool more closely aligned with electronic and hip-hop music than metal. “We’re typically drawn to sounds that aren’t traceable, that require a bit of wrangling and warping to make just right.”
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Felix began taking guitar lessons at the age of 10. But he was more intrigued in going against the grain with his music than submitting to any prescribed notion of what things were supposed to sound like. He refused to practice the Dave Matthews Band songs his teacher asked him to memorize.
“I was more interested in the strange sounds I could create by hitting the parts of the guitar I was told not to, using my pick to scrape instead of pluck,” he says. “In retrospect, it’s clear this was just a way for me to cope with the fact that my fingers never did what I wanted them to.”
The harsh, unforgiving tones that would eventually make up the sounds of Wreck and Reference go hand-in-hand with the photos Felix likes to take: haunting, captionless images tinted black and gray and red. But when it comes to writing music, it’s more about sensations than images for him, creating songs about unsettling feelings. It’s about tapping into an emotion, no matter if the sound that comes out fits into someone’s built-up perception of a musical genre.
“We’re just as averse to being a ‘synth band’ or an ‘electronic band’ as we are to being a ‘guitar band,’” he says. “As soon as we find ourselves in a box like that we’re overcome by the urge to kick our way out.”