Surf Curse: From obscurity to scandal through a deal with a major
Nick Rattigan and Jacob Rubeck knew something strange was brewing with their band Surf Curse when they saw a TikTok video on the alleged polyamorous subtext of “Scooby-Doo,” the soundtrack to their single “Freaks” by 2013.
“We have a group chat with our manager, and she kept saying, ‘Oh my God,’ Freaks ‘gets all these coins.’ But to be fair, we were a little numb, ”said drummer and singer Rattigan.
Before this spring, the LA duo had no reason to believe their old garage-punk song, taken from their indie album “Buds,” was going to be the online rock hit of the summer of 2021.
“But then we started seeing all of the TikTok videos the kids were making that were so crazy and absurd,” Rattigan continued. “It was very strange, but I guess that’s why the song has 150 million streams on Spotify right now.”
“Freaks” don’t scream “pop hit”. It is sparsely produced and bordered in red with distortion. The lyrics are morbid: “My head is filled with parasites / Black holes cover my eyes.” But there’s something cathartic and relatable about her lead song – “I’m just a monster” – that lines up with the eternal adolescent angst and formatting of TikTok memes. Unrequited favorites, fashion faux pas: “Freaks” can be the soundtrack of whatever you want.
The reams of “Freaks” videos on the service – at least 400,000 and over – have earned the LA duo hundreds of millions of streams across all platforms, a major record label deal with Atlantic Records, and a post life. – Unexpected pandemic after a decade in DIY trenches.
“We wrote this song when we were 18, so the lyrics and everything was very young, and I guess that’s why teenagers still relate to it,” guitarist Rubeck said (band mates now have late twenties). “We’ll see a guy looking like Adonis on TikTok say to himself, ‘These words blow my mind. “I guess people can relate to that today.
If you walked around downtown LA’s all-ages club The Smell in the 2010s, you’ve probably heard “Freaks” or a whole bunch of songs more or less along with it. Surf Curse, who formed in Reno before moving to Los Angeles, was part of a boom of groups born in the wake of Best Coast and Wavves who performed upbeat and melancholy punk songs about feeling lost. and alone under the SoCal sun.
Surf Curse (and Rattigan’s other project, the Secretly Canadian signed Current joys) had a solid but still underground career, releasing three albums, including “Heaven Surrounds You” in 2019.
Why have the nearly ten-year-old “Freaks” taken off now? Who knows. The group certainly does not.
“We must have cringed our teeth struggling this long, hoping that if we just kept working there would be a cosmic energy that would reward you when you are not looking,” Rattigan said. “Obviously we weren’t expecting it to be a worldwide phenomenon on an app 10 years later, but that’s how it is found out now. “
Adam Schulz, the group’s A&R rep at Atlantic, knows that TikTok’s fame is the motto of pop breakouts today. Like the one in the neighborhood “The season of sweaters”(Another 2013 rock song that recently had a second wind on TikTok),“ Freaks ”is both a nostalgic artifact of a more carefree era and a fresh sound in the perpetual present of streaming.
“When I first heard ‘Freaks’ what struck me was how uplifting the song is,” said Schulz. “This energy is constant throughout the band’s catalog, and once you watch videos of the band live, you realize it translates even better in real life.”
Of course, no one got to see Surf Curse live as the pandemic shut down sites (and fans might have to wait a bit longer – fully vaccinated Rattigan says he’s currently at home recovering COVID-19). Atlantic re-released the single in May and is promoting it on rock radio (it reached No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot Rock & Alternative songs) but also on Spotify’s key Pop Rising playlist. The song has since entered Spotify’s Top 50.
“The biggest challenge is building a story outside of TikTok,” said Schulz. “Many of the recordings that work on TikTok never escape the platform. Luckily ‘Freaks’ was a sticky record on the indie rock scene in LA and the band had a dedicated following long before the TikTok moment we had. therefore a basis on which to work.
The left-field success of “Freaks” comes as a happy surprise to the group, but it also comes at a difficult time for them.
In August 2020, local independent label Burger Records disbanded amid multiple charges of sexual assault and misconduct against acts on the SoCal punk scene. While many young fans made allegations against groups in this scene, two anonymous social media accounts made allegations of sexual misconduct against the two members of Surf Curse. Their label Danger Collective announced that they would not continue to work with the group. (Surf Curse performed at Burger’s Beach Goth Festival in 2016 but did not sign with the label. Representatives for Danger Collective did not return requests for comment.)
“An Instagram account that has since been deleted, post[ed] an anonymous message accusing me of a heinous crime against another human being, “Rubeck wrote on social media in August 2020.” There hasn’t been a moment in my life that even comes close to what has been described in this post… The person who made the complaint, whose identity I do not know and whose privacy I want to respect, voluntarily retracted against me and cleared my name… I want to clarify that we never made any threats against the page, legal or otherwise.
(This accuser, in a now deleted Instagram post on the Creeps in the Scene account, said they were wrong about who attacked them: “It wasn’t Jacob who was assaulting me … I don’t want to ‘ cancel “someone who does not deserve it. In light of this new information, I would like to withdraw my statement.”)
At the same time, Rattigan has also denied two since-suppressed anonymous accusations that he harassed fans at shows. “The conversation about bullying is vital to this community and it devastates me to be put in this position”, Rattigan wrote at the time. “These allegations are simply false. “
“We have learned a lot and it has been a very difficult time,” Rattigan said of the accusations. When asked to elaborate on what they had learned from the experience, he declined. “We got away with it. We feel pretty good about everything now, and that’s really all there is to it.
Surf Curse is writing new music for future release on Atlantic and plans to tour in 2022. While they may not understand TikTok very well, or use it much themselves, Rattigan and Rubeck are hopeful what it means. for the future of the group.
“We are grateful but vigilant,” Rattigan said. “It’s a challenge as an artist because you’re constantly trying to move on to new things. But people don’t like the times they’re living in, and delving into the past is something they do when they feel that way.