Music / Features
Track by Track:
P.H.F. - Purest Hell
Words by James Lynch
Monday 30th May, 2022
Following the release of his eclectic new album last week, we caught up with New Zealand songwriter and producer P.H.F to dig into the exhilarating mishmash of noise-punk and hyper-pop that makes up Purest Hell.
Since 2012, Auckland-based songwriter Joe Locke has been crafting his own idiosyncratic brand of shapeshifting pop music as P.H.F (which allegedly stands for ‘perfect hair forever’), amassing a staggering number of releases over the years. If my count is correct, his latest endeavour Purest Hell comes in as his eleventh full-length release, and is a complete whirlwind of a listen; simultaneously electrifying, disorientating and seemingly unstoppable from beginning to end.

Across the album, Locke blurs together a cacophony of sounds that shouldn’t make sense on paper - fiery guitar work meshes with heaving programmed beats, and slabs of dense noise wrestles with soaring pop melodies, all delivered through a warped vocal effect that doesn’t quite filter the emotion out of Locke’s performances. It’s an important note to make, since grief playing as a constant touchstone across the record as Locke explains that it serves as a tribute to his late friend and collaborator Reuben Samuel Winter.

That said, while the album is thoughtful, introspective and loaded with emotional weight, it’s equally chaotic, perhaps indicative of Locke’s personal experiences with grief. Maybe restless is the most fitting term - after the haphazard introduction of ‘Theme Song’, we careen past the addictive hooks of ‘Special’ and ‘Skincare’, onto the unpredictable and scattered ’Treat Me’ and ‘Sabbath Shirt’, and through to the album’s most agitated moments as on ‘Plague Dogs’ and the powerful closer ‘A Letter From Purest Hell’. It’s a wild ride, but one that feels almost transcendent - as if we’re hearing a truly innovative artist making music purely for themselves, and ticking a whole heap of boxes while avoiding fitting into any.

To help us delve further into Purest Hell, P.H.F kindly walked us through each track on the album.
Theme Song

A purely chaotic introduction to an album based almost completely on grief and its process. I have always loved albums that begin with something intense - that just drops you in the deep end and punches you in the face.


This is a love song to my boyfriend at the time. Most of my songs are usually based on negative stuff as a way of catharsis, kind of what music is to me, I guess. I really wanted to write a love song, or at least something that encapsulated that feeling of being in love. It kind of hints at my feelings of being a failure or not good enough though, so I guess I can’t escape the negativity completely.


I wrote this very soon after my good friend Reuben died. This entire album is dedicated to him and was written while navigating that. I went to go see him at his house before the service and he was dressed up, lying in his living room. It’s just strange to think about the human body like this doll, and I used that analogy to describe everything that followed.


This song is a tribute to Reuben and his life, with the production being the music he introduced me to. I had never made a song like this. You might never know of the things people go through, even if you are extremely close with them. He was such a positive and upbeat person, but at the same time dealing with chronic pain. The lyrics, “All the time you were King Kong” is a reference to how much of an impact he had on me, and so many others. I also included two samples of him to bookend it - the song was really heavy, so I wanted to end it with Reuben’s laugh.

Baiter Cell

Specifically, after Reuben’s song I wanted to make something kind of transformative, which to me represents a lifecycle. Whenever I make music it’s always super visual, and this is what I imagine it feels like after you die - your energy is recycled and starts again.

Treat Me

This song is about relationships when you have bad self-image or shitty self-esteem. “Treat me just like that, I’ll just keep coming back, oh baby no, I love it - Just like that”. You get so used to that pattern of feeling terrible around someone and then just identifying with that entirely because you already feel that way yourself.

Sabbath Shirt

This song is a critique of my lack of impulse control when I have manic/depressive periods. Knowing there are things that can give you an immediate release, but never having the ability to apply any control to that, the struggle to find some sort of middle ground rather than just these polar extremes.

Nothing At All

I made this song one day when I was just feeling extremely numb to everything. I had been listening to a lot of Portishead at the time which definitely influenced the sound and overall feel of the song. Lyrically, the song is quite hopeless and it almost just submits to that, like the feeling of falling asleep. This song just kinda slugs along.

No1 Tries

This song I made about three or four years ago as an instrumental and completely forgot about, then slowed it down and compressed the shit out of it. I wanted it to sound like a broken speaker cone. This is one of the most intense vocals I have done for a song before, almost primal scream therapy. I just wanted it to feel overwhelmingly oppressive and confronting to listen to - the dichotomy of the verse and chorus is the opposite of that quiet-LOUD-quiet dynamic.

Plague Dogs

This was originally a song for my other project, autocell, but I think as soon as I added the guitar it just felt different, so it fit. I was watching the movie Plague Dogs I made this song just after. The vibe is like escaping a medical facility at night. After Reuben died, I was just making a lot of music that reminded me of him, so it felt right for the album.


I feel like I always realise a lot of important shit too late, and this song is about how that realisation can hit you. Also, someone told me when I was a kid that moths are made of dust, and I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of that. Like you’re this bug that got hit by a truck, and that being an analogy for grief.

Hello My Destroyer

During the first lockdown I wrote this because I pretty much spent my life on my bed. It’s kind of just a reaction to how comforting it is to just resign to giving up, I guess. Like it does nothing to help you, but at a certain point you don’t really care.

A Letter From Purest Hell

This whole album is about grief to me, and lyrically this song is probably the most blatant. This one as the closer is like a release, specifically the dynamic of it. This indifference to violence spectrum, there is a big release in just leaning completely into your emotions. In a way, I wanted this song to feel like a sigh of relief. The ending of this song also bookends the whole album along with the opener, as they’re both very abrupt and to the point.

Purest Hell is out now via Danger Collective Records - head to to grab the album on limited edition vinyl or cassette.