XGatekeeperX: Harm’s Way, Decline Members Drop Demo, Discuss New Band (EXCLUSIVE)

Photo: Rick Beaulieu

Allow me to introduce you to XGatekeeperX. The group is comprised of vocalist James Pligge (Harm's Way, Hate Force), drummer Chad Rapper (Decline, Bystander), bassist Kyle Roth (Decline, Noose), and the guitar team of Matt Fletcher (Life Force, Shai Hulud) and Shariq Ibrahim (Decline, Bystander).

If those capital Xs hugging its band name weren't clear enough, XGatekeeperX is united in the name of straight edge hardcore. James, Chad, and Shariq all came up in the Chicago hardcore community, previously playing together in Expired Youth in the '00s.

With the XGatekeeperX debut demo dropping today, I wanted to get the story behind the new project. Chad and James were nice enough to provide the details in this new interview.

How did the idea of XGatekeeperX initially come together?

Chad Rapper (drums): The band started as an idea between Matthew and I during the winter when COVID was in full swing. We are both in various straight edge groups on Facebook and noticed a large contingency of people talking about being straight edge but had no idea what straight edge actually was. Lots of people on there thought straight edge with just another word for being sober so they would often explain how it's actually something that's directly tied in with the punk and hardcore scene as that's where it was born from.

Sometimes the conversations would get a little confrontational so we thought it might be fun to do a more in your face kind of straight edge band. Matthew would send guitar riffs to me and I would put down the drum tracks in my basement. When it came closer to recording time, I thought it might be a good idea to bring on Kyle and Shariq, as it would make the recording process much easier. Matthew then recorded his guitar tracks in Oklahoma and sent them over to the producer in Chicago and everything got mixed together.

What's the story behind the band name?

James Pligge (vocals): I am going to speak for myself on this because I do not want to speak for the other members of the band. That being said, straight edge has a lot of people who come and go or move on from it. People use it as a phase or trend or a stepping stone to being an adult. However, straight edge and hardcore are not for everyone. That doesn’t mean everyone isn’t welcome, but it’s not meant for everyone.

Straight edge isn’t a joke, it’s not something that should be taken lightly. It’s an opposition to the mind-numbing culture and all the agony that drug and alcohol bring into this world. Although straight edge is an individual endeavor, by “gatekeeping” something like that, it removes the people who use and tarnish its importance.

So that’s what the name means for me. As A Chorus of Disapproval says, “this is not for my health, it comes from anger.”

From a stylistic standpoint, XGatekeeperX is a big departure from Harms Way. Was taking a straight forward hardcore approach appealing at this point in your musical journey?

James: For me, music is about constantly exploring new ways of expression. When I got into hardcore I only listened to Youth Crew bands like Youth of Today, Floorpunch, and Side by Side. I’ve always loved straight edge hardcore, but as I got older I seemed to enjoy the heavier aspects of music.

Expired Youth was a very fun time in my life and I loved being in a band with Shariq and Chad, so it was a fun way to work together again and play that style of music.

Photo: Eva Bo

From your perspective, what is the importance of doing a straight edge band in 2022?

James: As the world becomes more chaotic and substance abuse and the use of drugs becomes more mainstream, I think it’s more important than ever.

If we are going to address mental health and bettering yourself physically and mentally, then straight edge needs to be a part of that conversation. I know when I was younger and struggling with anxiety and being a social outcast, it gave me something nothing else could. We need to keep that alive because it may save someone’s life or drastically improve others.

What's your favorite XGatekeeperX song from the demo?

James: "Separation" is my favorite song. It encompasses how I feel about straight edge and separating myself from the common person and how they deal with the hardships in life.

How did you come to work with WAR Records for the demo's cassette and Lathe Cut 7-inch release? The label's dropped some great releases as of late with Last Gasp, Bent Blue, and Fixation.

From what I understand, we were happy with how it sounded and Chad contacted a few different labels. We landed on WAR because we thought it was appropriate and a great label for what we are trying to put out.

Photo: Jeff Lasich

With the music out there now, what's the next step in the XGatekeeperX story?

Right now we are going to try and play some shows when we can and hopefully record a 7-inch. I think we all are really happy how the demo turned out and look forward to making new music together once again.


The XGatekeeperX demo is available on streaming outlets and as a limited edition cassette and Lathe Cut 7-inch via WAR Records at this link.


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Tagged: decline, harm's way, xgatekeeperx