Ruby Giles on the rising rap crew’s Australia tour and the crossroads they find themselves at.
“I lived and died by Sem last year, man,” my new friend in the line for the Melbourne Haunted Mound show said. He was wearing a purple Ed Hardy t-shirt, covered with large embellished gold crosses and a requisite pair of low slung True Religion jeans. “Mmmhmm,” I responded, “do you think we have time to have a cigarette before they let us in?”
We definitely had time for a cigarette. The line to enter the small Melbourne venue snaked all the way around the building and encroached along local cafes. It was a bitterly cold night, and older couples kept stopping to ask the line what “band” we were there to see, prompting a lot of snickering in response. The band of course, isn’t a band at all. And the “Sem” referred to is Sematary, alternately known as Grave Man. He also hates it when you call him Sem, militantly guarding against “hella goofy” bastardization of his brand. And tonight was a very interesting night to see the witch-house/horrorcore collective Haunted Mound, at their first-ever 18+ Australian show.
The Haunted Mound consists of seven specters, all of them taking on different roles within the collective. You can roughly view Sematary, Hackle, Buckshot and Turnabout as the main artists and performers, with Grimoire, Gonerville and Oscar18 producing, making videos and featuring on songs. In general, like most DIY collectives, everyone does a bit of everything to further that singular vision. There have of course been important founding members that are no longer associated with the Mound, such as Ghost Mountain, but these are the core players for now.
Haunted Mound can’t be easily shoehorned into a genre or aesthetic. They’ve constructed a web of mythology around their music, propped up by ephemeral Instagram lives and a fanatical fanbase. Emanating from the Butcher House, a sprawling North Californian property (don’t pull up) with red walls, skin-walkers and AK-47s are the hallmarks of their sound: the Ghost Face style Haunatolics: Real-Haunted-Mound sample, the black metal samples, Sematary’s nicotine-drenched huaaaagh. Just as you’re ready to discount them as another S4lem dupe, you’ll recognise an extremely rare black metal track, a Title Fight sample or a forgotten reference to an IRA member. While Drain Gang feels like it’s for the city kids & the edgelords, Haunted Mound is truly for the weirdos. The fans came for the lore but stayed for the bangers.
Sematary – “Slaughter House”
It’s from this perpetual myth-making that Haunted Mound find themselves at a crossroads. Their distinct sound and aesthetic has got a lot of very powerful people very interested. Though Chief Keef originally dismissed them, Zacftp recently confirmed that Hackle and Sematary are working on a collaborative project with Sosa himself. They’re currently on tour with $uicideboy$, which has had a huge amount of backlash from the duo’s decidedly more mainstream audience. At specific Greyday shows, audiences have boycotted Haunted Mound entirely, watching Family Guy in the pit and making TikToks instead. The fans that have been there have been overzealous, pushing boundaries in search of that “funny Sematary” soundbite. In 2023, $uicideboy$ have been scrubbed clean of their opioid riddled past and are considered safe for TikTok, but the chainsaw-heavy theatrics of Haunted Mound remain a bridge too far for most mainstream rap enjoyers. Under the Greyday hashtag, TikTok is riddled with wtf is this videos and Bama Rush looking groups reacting to songs like Sematary’s “Slaughter House.”In a world where most subcultures have been easily subsumed and categorized, some artists still remain tricky to commodify or easily digest.
The boys have also been more open and candid about drug use: Hackle’s Instagram stories from the Australia tour mainly consist of him asking fans for Rikodeine ahead of shows. Fans reference Sematary snippet “Get Money and Die” as if it’s a prophecy, believing the Mound to be on a downward spiral.
For a while there have been stirrings of negativity and the inevitable lament of nostalgia in r/HauntedMound because fans miss the “quiet rural red bull kid vibe” and darkly ponder if “Haunted Mound are turning into fuckboys.” One post states that Buckshot is the only hope for this fucking collective’ with the TLDR a single sentence ‘bring back esoteric HM.’ It’s worth noting that the Haunted Mound members are very young; Turnabout, the youngest, recently turned 19. It seems impossible to hold musicians to standards they set in highschool, but I can understand the desire to protect what differentiated Haunted Mound in the first place: tenets of romanticism made manifest by screaming at the wide open sky, box-cutter in hand.
It’s this sense that something is about to shift, big time, that made me so excited to see Haunted Mound on their first year of international touring. They’re either really about to hit the mainstream, and we’ll be seeing the inevitable move toward TikTok and Dazed Digital explainers, or they’ll move too far away from their early creative direction- alienating the core fandom and losing steam. To see them now felt like a breaking of the fourth wall, the chance to see Bigfoot held captive. It’s difficult to transcend your own hype, especially when it lives largely in the digital realm.
Azealia Banks once called Australia a “mutant penal colony” which is probably why there are so many Haunted Mound fans here. We even have an Australian Haunted Mound member: Grimoire, who is identifiable as an Australian on-sight (it’s a distinct vibe). As a culture, we gravitate towards the extreme. Australians do the most cocaine out of any country, despite our heavily-cut coke being one of the most expensive in the world. Usually by the time artists get here, it’s the tail end of a lengthy world tour and they’re exhausted. For Haunted Mound, Melbourne was the first stop, and the energy was palpable.
The crowd was an indefinable mix. There were old-school hardcore dudes with shaved heads and knuckle duster belts, goth girls wearing corpse paint, swaggy teens in Online Ceramics Silent Hill hoodies, not to mention the world’s final remaining stock of digital cameras and True Religion jeans. It was nowhere near as white as I was expecting. Everyone was talking quickly, excited. A lot of the audience seemed to know each other, exchanging fist bumps and cigarettes while the bouncers kept a close eye on us all.
Grimoire and Gonerville were DJing to mixed success, but importantly were always keeping the energy high. Grimoire as our Australian outpost drew huge amounts of support from his hometown audience. However, when Turnabout took the stage a pit opened up so quickly it felt like divine intervention. He gleefully yelled into the mic “you’re already my favourite crowd that I’ve ever performed for!” His performance wasn’t without its stumbles, everyone missed the drop in just-released track “Grimace,” and he frustratedly stopped the song to let everyone know their mistake, but his energy was elated, like a teen preacher at the Church of Satan.
Hackle smoothly joined Turnabout onstage, prompting screamed chants of nickname “HDOE” and opened with the nihilism anthem “Nothing.” The song’s key refrain is the line ‘Wake up / I feel nothing,’ which the audience screamed. Hackle’s gleeful smile and effortless commandment of the crowd betrays this sentiment. In these moments of the gig, these are young musicians at the very beginning of their ascent, unable to do wrong by the crowd. Everyone sang along and slammed into each other in the pit, smiling up at Hackle from the wall of death.
Buckshot – “Keepe Out”
Buckshot’s entrance and the first stirring riffs of “Keepe Out” caused a euphoric scrambling in the crowd, the pit widened and opened, bodies slammed together and everyone sang at the top of their lungs. I couldn’t help but think of early hardcore shows in the 2010s, and how long it had been since I’d felt such earnest devotion from a crowd. Buck grinned and said “open up the pit, I wanna see someone die.” A song was dedicated to Australian folk-devil Zyzz. I noticed Sydney-based hyperpop wunderkind Daine was near me, filming Buckshot for an Instagram story, tagging him as ‘twin.’ I also noticed I wasn’t annoyed by all the phones at the gig, constantly recording. Buckshot told us to ‘light him up’ and a sea of phone torches shone on his face. For some reason, here, even the use of phones feels authentic, it’s all part of that perpetual online eulogy. Days later, international members of the HM Reddit demanded this footage, and it became canon in real time. (In a classic Haunted Mound twist, Buckshot only performed two Melbourne shows and didn’t reappear for the entire tour. He’s been notably absent from any public Internet activity since. This became one of the only shows of the tour with all of the Haunted Mound members.)
Sematary feat. Hackle – “Haunted Mound Reapers”
Sematary’s entrance and the live performance of “Haunted Mound Reapers” with all four members were the peaks of the show. Gonerville violently sprayed the crowd with water bottles and people were clambering over each other to get as close as possible to Graveman himself, who marked an imposing figure in his New Rocks and signature face-covering black hair. The crowd was almost hysterical. When Sematary moved onto Rainbow Bridge classic “Slaughter House,” it felt like even the heaving walls were singing the words.
Like everything Haunted Mound, this particular show was full of contrast: audiences both queer and straight, awkward kids swaying at the back and hardcore dudes in the pit. There was kind of a place for everyone. It’s yet to be determined what will happen to the Haunted Mound, whether this magic of the small intimate shows and closed communities can pull bigger crowds and record labels, and whether or not they even should. The only certainty is that it’s their authenticity and deep belief in what they’re doing that makes them such a force to see live.
“What a spooky day,” I heard someone say as we spilled out onto the street, our sweaty bodies hitting the icy air. A spooky day indeed, I thought, shoving my new I <3 HAUNTED MOUND shirt into my bag. I walked into the dark night, thinking about skinwalkers. A lone juggalo ran past me towards the train station. I felt a strange pang of longing, and realized to my confusion that all I want is for Haunted Mound to make it, to do really well and make money and have fun, and just maybe come back to Melbourne someday, so I can spend a bit more time in the world they’ve so artfully constructed; the house built with coffin nails and thick red paint.