In the 20 years the Hybrid Mutants have been around, the local punk rockers have made five albums, started their own record label, appeared on numerous compilations, and survived both terms of the Bush administration. It’s a little surprising the Mutants aren’t more of a household name in Charleston, especially with their open-armed embrace of a fuck-you blitz of hardcore punk and a consistent presence in the Lowcountry music scene.
Their story’s a slow burn that doesn’t actually start in 1997 like their birth certificate would have everyone believe. It begins in a sea of rocker mohawks and combat boots in the mid-1980s, where a teenage singer named Hermann Mutant was kicking out punk jams with friends in his band Sex Mutants, shaking his garage walls with deafening amps, and having fun. The band played shows around Florence and Charleston, sticking together for two years before breaking up in 1986.
Fast-forward 13 years. While a lot of musicians look to hang up their half-stacks and microphone cables at the age of 30, Hermann was devising his next big project alongside Sex Mutants drummer, Syd Mutant. The two formed Hybrid Mutants and planned to “play a lot of those old songs we had written as kids and actually make them sound good,” says Hermann.
Hermann and current guitarist Chris O’Quinn recall that in 1997 it was mostly grunge bands (with the occasional punk band) playing in the Lowcountry, and there wasn’t a huge market for pop-free punk. So, obviously a band turning venues into a scene from Decline of the Western Civilization was going to earn a niche audience.
While Hybrid Mutant’s crowds grew, they released their self-titled debut in 1999. Amidst all the Y2K panic and Austin Powers impressions, the band created its own label, LEM Records. “The first album was going to be on Transparent Records,” says Hermann. “They released a seven-inch of a few songs, but were taking forever with the full-length so I started LEM.” The label ended up carrying Hybrid Mutants throughout their discography and still stands to this day, even with the band’s current collaboration with Real South Records.
Between 1997 and the band’s 10th birthday, they dropped five albums: Hybrid Mutants, Two on the Table, Escape Velocity, Meat the Mutants, and Me Me Big Boy. Despite not releasing another album after 2007, the band has stayed together and continues to hold fast to their hardcore heritage. More importantly, their music hasn’t lost its bare-knuckle gut-punch.
You can feel the ghosts of nosebleeds past and concussions yet to come when hearing Hermann growl lyrics like, “I need one more beer just to get me straight/ I’m running full speed/ I’m always late” on the electrified “Schizo Blitzo.” The group continues to channel traditional punk rock-tenets with the 30-second rhythm section workout “I Can’t Sk8!” Bassist Farley Cooper lays down waves of notes over Jason McFarland’s drum jolt to the head. It’s all tied together with guitarists O’Quinn and returning original member Johnny Ruin. They drop a guillotine on the necks of all acoustic guitars with “Broken Dishes” and “Rancor Blues.”
According to Hermann, Hybrid Mutants were just trying to “stick to true punk rock.”
Their two decade long eardrum air-raid and willingness to stay low-key has won them a deeply loyal fan base in the local sphere and beyond. This includes (deep breaths) surf-punk maestros Agent Orange. “When we opened for them the first time, I got off stage and the singer [Mike Palm] came up and shook my hand and said, ‘Dude, that’s real,'” recounts Hermann. He responded, “You just made my life.” Who really needs to sell millions of albums when you have the approval of Agent Orange?
Congratulations from punk heroes aside, Hybrid Mutants’ popularity has been simmering under the surface for a while now and, because of their ever-increasing fan club, it’s ready to boil over. Some of those first-wave fans still show up to the occasional Mutants show and bring the youth of America with them. Maybe that’s why their group of admirers has grown so much lately. “It seems like there’s more people coming out to shows now than there was back in the day,” says Hermann. Or it could just be their tenacious attitude and automatic pogo-inducing tunes. “We get told a lot that there’s something about us that makes people go insane,” says O’Quinn. “We’ve seen people we didn’t anticipate going out there and getting wild and crazy.”