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'We Want to Be a Gateway Band': Meet Escuela Grind, Who Are Out to Redefine Grindcore's Fanbase

Tuesday, 05 September 2023 Written by Matt Mills

Upstaging Napalm Death at their own show would be a Herculean feat. It’s something that Escuela Grind very nearly pulled off the last time they were in the UK, though. Back in March, the American grindcore quartet supported their genre’s pioneers across Blighty and, despite only having half an hour to prove their worth, they smashed it.

Escuela’s 30 minutes condensed metalcore breakdowns and the heaviness of death metal into a no-nonsense, lightspeed attack. Frontperson Katerina Economou introduced a fresh dose of fun to such savage music by twerking and screaming the hook of a Grandmaster Flash song during Cliffhanger. When the singer later dedicated the set to the “trans people, girls, gays and theys” often marginalised in extreme metal, it only reaffirmed that this is a band with a bold new manifesto for where grindcore should go.

“Napalm Death are politically engaged and have done a lot of work with inclusivity, but there’s still the problem of representation [in grindcore],” Katerina says, talking to Stereoboard four months after the UK tour alongside drummer Jesse Adan Fuentes. “So, to have people that look like me onstage and saying those words, it just makes maybe the five people there that really resonate with the message feel included and welcome. Then they’re more inclined to bring their friends to a show or introduce people.”

Essentially, Escuela want grindcore to lighten up, introducing itself to new audiences, and that outlook is reflected in the wide array of champions they have despite debuting a mere three years ago. Napalm Death are obviously fans of what Escuela do, as is Kurt Ballou — the guitarist for metalcore royalty Converge produced last year’s ‘Memory Theater’ album. The band are about to start their first headline UK run —with shows planned in London, Newcastle and Birmingham either side of a set at Manchester’s Fall In The Brawl Fest — and following that will trek across the US on a bill with progressive rockers Baroness.

“We want to be a gateway band for people: the band that brings you into this whole world of grindcore,” Katerina declares. Jesse elaborates: “People from the death metal and hardcore communities are finding out about us and then going, ‘Oh, this is grindcore!’ They’re calling us a grindcore band and the ‘true’ grindcore community, because there’s death metal and hardcore in our music, they hate it.”

Before they started Escuela, Jesse and Katerina were both outsiders to the grindcore world. Jesse grew up in Dallas, Texas, and is more often than not sporting the merch of death and thrash metal bands, like Immolation, Fugitive and Dismember. Meanwhile, Katerina was raised  in Massachusetts while it was dominated by hardcore, chiefly Converge. The two met while the vocalist lived in Dallas, then moved to Ithaca, New York, together so Katerina could study. (The singer’s still avid about all things academic, hence the band name: “escuela” is “school” in Spanish.)

“I was in so many bands when we were in Dallas that I just burnt out,” Jesse remembers. They laugh: “Everybody wanted a piece of me! It was very draining. I’d never been to school, but Katerina got accepted to Cornell [University], so I took that as an opportunity to just get the fuck out of there.”

While Jesse was in too many bands during their time in Dallas, Katerina had the opposite problem: Escuela is their first and only musical outlet, despite them wanting one for years beforehand. The singer explains that, for quite some time, they never felt embraced by the occasionally elitist and insular extreme metal scene.

“I actively tried so many times to be in a band, but I wasn’t taken seriously,” Katerina explains. “Then, when I moved down to Dallas, I had to work all the time. It was hard for me to find that grindcore community and, when I did, it didn’t seem like I was welcome there in a lot of ways.”

Katerina didn’t truly feel wanted by heavy music until Jesse started the band that would become Escuela in Ithaca and the drummer urged them to join. Now, Katerina is out to be a similarly motivating presence in the lives of Escuela’s listeners – hence why they vocally welcome as many people to their shows as possible, regardless of race, sexuality or gender identity.

“I’ve changed so much over the years,” Katerina says. “Now, I want to encourage people to not waste their time like I did and just do what it is that they want to do, because I don’t regret it. I could have done it all along – I just needed someone to welcome me in, and I’m grateful that they even did.”

Escuela formed in 2016 and, in the seven years since, have already released two albums, a standalone single and two genre-specific EPs: 2020’s ‘Powerviolence’ and ‘Grindcore’. They plan to continue broadening grindcore’s scope at a rapid pace, as well. Not only are there the UK tour and Baroness shows to come but, following that, the band are scheduling a death metal EP for a January release. Handily, it’s going to be called ‘Death Metal’. Then there’ll be album number three. Again recorded with Ballou, it’ll be centred around a concept that most people, metal fan or not, will be able to see themselves in.

“I really don’t like when bands write about stuff they’re not experiencing anymore,” says Katerina. “So this next album is hyper-focussing on ‘the algorithm’: we’re constantly on our phones to the point that it affects our lives and our moods. I think it’s something where it can be authentic to us and still be relatable to everyone else. It’s gonna be awesome.”

So many new artists talk a big game then never reach the heights they dream of. But – between the band’s genre-spanning, high-profile supporters and vigorous schedule – Escuela actually look poised to be a force for good. One show at a time, this lot are snarling, riffing and twerking their way towards making grindcore a better place.


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