I’ve decided to spare you the anti-2016 diatribe that seems to have stained just about every corner of digital media recently. Sure, the proportion of ghastly happenings occurring the world over and the bowing out of several musical heroes has definitely made this particular orbit feel like a bit of a shit storm but all is not lost. Trying times fuel creativity and the world of underground sounds feels energised and more poised than ever to kick back against the shackles imposed by the apparent rightwards shit in global politics.
Never has it felt like a more exciting time to be involved with DIY music in any capacity. The vice grip that free music services and mid level venue closures has imposed on the industry’s comfortable middle ground continues to tighten, forcing artists to reevaluate their expectations of what it means to be a musician in the 21st Century. Those that stick with it wander unchaperoned between festival slots and self-produced records, dealers venturers able to embrace unprecedented artistic freedom but remaining burdened with the now dawned reality that careers in music performance and recording are scarcer than ever. We see those that remain committed to their craft, more impassioned and harder working than ever. Musicians embracing the spirit of the underground are today’s truest troubadours, playing for the love of the sounds they create rather than financial gain. Of course, this isn’t the full picture but now isn’t the time or the place to enter the frankly fascinating debate over the digitisation of the music industry. From WFTU’s perspective, it’s nothing but exciting. A changing of the guard, complete with an eroding of the artistic palace, leaving behind pockets of people’s soviets reserved for the most committed.
2016 will of course be remembered for many things and for great numbers of people will be one that is better left forgotten. For me, it’s been one of the strongest years yet, in terms of live music. Starting off in India with an exceptional show delivered by the almighty Death By Fungi and the rest of the Mumbai hardcore scene, then onto Holland for Jera On Air for a weekend of debauchery and red carpet treatment with skate punk powerhouse Dead Neck and the festival’s frankly stellar lineup. Manchester Punk Festival was another highlight of the calendar with simply too many amazing performances to mention here and not least from our beloved domestic promotion teams. Seeing personal friends put on a show as varied, inclusive and professional as this year’s will have been a proud moment for many, myself included. August saw the now annual trip to Punk Rock Holiday in Tolmin, Slovenia and a frankly hedonistic indulgence into international punk rock in the most luxurious of alpine settings. Anarchistic Undertones’s ten year anniversary party ‘March Of The Penguins’ was an emotional retrospective look at Manchester’s most infamous promotions team’s history and featured the one-off reformations of many beloved artists of yesteryear. A real nostalgia fest. As the year began to draw to a close, Sounds Magazine enjoyed a successful online relaunch and welcomed me under their prestigious wing of amateur wordsmiths. This promoted an even greater commitment from myself to hunt of the spirit of DIY music and as such myself and Joshua rounded off the year with trips over the Pennines to see Weekend Nachos bow out at the top of their game and a boozy road trip to Brighton’s Mammoth Festival for satanic theatrics and godless filth.
Clearly, it’s been a busy one but before we’re done with 2016, there’s one last chance to dance. One final look through the cracked pavements of Manchester to glimpse the beating heart of the city’s underground punk rock community. We join a now legendary band for their swansong in an effort to give them the send off that they truly deserve. Ladies, gentleman and humans of all physical shapes, we present to you the dramatic conclusion to the story of one of our city’s most respected and cherished bands, The John Player Specials.
Anarchistic Undertones and MBBP New Year’s Eve Party feat. John Player Specials, Riggots and more
The time between Christmas and New Year is traditionally a traditional time of year and it therefore felt appropriate to stick with our tradition of arriving fashionably late and drunk for shows we are supposed to be covering. With that in mind, we caught a tram through a city centre with a bottle of pre-mixed liquor, gearing up for a party. Through the steamed windows revellers staggered from pub, to pub, to club and were already toasting the past twelve months. Vocalisations on resolutions about timekeeping started early as we slugged at the potent cocktail we’d knocked together, fully aware that we’d likely be playing catch up to some of Manchester’s most renowned sozzlers on their home court in only a matter of minutes.
We arrived just in time to catch the last tunes of ska-core unit Rising Strike from the pavement outside of Gulliver’s but were unfortunately unable to make it through the packed out bar area in time to watch any of the set properly. Instead, we decided to take the opportunity to shake hands with the extended punk rock family who congregate outside all of the shows we end up at. Anarchistic Undertones gigs in Manchester, these days, seem to be run with an almost military-like precision, so it was not long before we made our way upstairs to be presented with local farm-core outfit Livestock Jihad.
The live room was predictably busy as the band kicked off their set of politically charged stomp-a-longs. For those unaware of Livestock Jihad’s music, they’re a pretty eclectic bunch. A six-piece punk rock band who incorporate both keyboards and harmonica’s into their rock-a-billy/country inspired take on the genre’s classic sound. Overtly political, insatiably angry and undeniably danceable, the group provided an ideal theme tune to get the already sizeable crowd fired up. The group’s anarchic soundscape and overriding message of disdain for oppressive symbology, such as the prison system, for example, were briefly punctuated by the announcement that the lead vocalist had recently found out he was going to be a father. This, of course, was met with cheers and rapturous applause from the entire room and only acted to spur the already active crowd on. Whilst, not exactly suiting my tastes, it was obvious why the group had found their way onto the evening’s memorable lineup and a stand out performance from Bobby Murray on harmonica certainly added a strong sense of originality to the group’s overall sound. Simultaneously, the other end of the aesthetic was spectrum was represented and a glance at Joe Farrell’s drumkit, complete with what seemed to be bite marks taken from the crash symbol, amused me with its cliche punk rock style.
Taking to the stage next were ‘Manchester’s most dangerous band’, Wadeye. A gloriously chaotic, sozzlecore (plays punk and likes to drink) outfit, who blend dub and ska influences with threatening resentment to create a harsh, aggressive sonic voice that somehow retains its accessibility. Wadeye are a stalwart of the Manchester scene these days and are fronted by one of Anarchistic Undertones’s founding members. ‘Punkle’ Tom is usually found somewhere at the back of AU gigs, unassumingly collecting tickets and door fees. Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll find a man who lives for the DIY. I’ve never heard the lad say ‘can’t’, it’s just not in his thought process. A true warrior of the scene and the kind of guy who delivers logistics, passion and a chuckle in a neat package. The transformation, however, from front of house concierge to skipper of the good-ship Wadeye is simply remarkable and I have no idea what he does in the backstage area to initiate this chrysalis but he’s clearly got it down to a fine art. They’re another band who excel at generating an atmosphere and, of course, it was not long before the bodies began to fly in Gulliver’s. Tracks like ‘Fighting Crime Protecting People’ are hardly tough to interpret (or master the chorus lyrics for) and certainly work in the band’s favour when it comes to charging a room up with channelled aggression. Tom’s pre-show-Matthew Kelly-inspired transformation feeds a crowd at whichever venue is brave enough to plug them in. I’ve even seen him bark his manifesto in the rain at Piccadilly Gardens in what can only be described as ropey conditions for a live set. The band’s commanding performance sprayed flammables over an already smouldering crowd igniting the entire room. It was now well and truly party time.
Next up, Riggots. Followers of this column may be aware of some bad blood between myself and Riggots. Apparently, critiques of his majesty Tzar Battle, in the press, result in some pretty harsh threats being levied against you but as long as his ability to quash any form of self-expression is hypothetical and delivered through a foaming rage from behind the safety of a computer keyboard, I should be safe enough to slate them here again. Apparent ‘jokes’ about my safety (we’ll leave it at that, rather than go into grizzly – fucking grizzly – details) have abounded since Sounds published my review of their last live performance. We have, however, shaken hands since then and I’ve assured both members that my words don’t reach a big enough audience to damage Battle’s perfectly chiselled public image. Let’s do a proper one though this time. A real look at Riggots, chained apes, genetic experimentation and all that dictatorial imagery aside for the moment.
Put simply the Wigan two-piece absolutely smashed it. Powerful, flamboyant, artistic and all the while refreshingly unpretentious (considering the level of rock star douchebaggery that Battle is sometimes guilty of partaking in). I’m still yet to see the driven duo play a bad show. A shirtless Rob Fairhurst sets the rhythm, a pounding animalistic beat that drives the intricate smear of sounds that Mr Battle provides. The jive I’ve previously made about Riggot’s sound bearing resemblance to Radiohead is a fair one, although it’s important to acknowledge that this is anything but a negative thing. The appreciation of melody and song constructions that the two are able to create with the most basic of tools is truly admirable. Martin obviously appreciates Johnny Greenwood’s mastery of his instrument and this is represented by various nods to the legend’s unorthodox approach guitar based music through the catalogue of tunes the pair perform. What Riggots lack in numbers, they easily make up for in bravado and stage presence. Music aside, watching the two perform is often the highlight of many local shows these days and Battle particularly is such a natural performer that it’s difficult to take your eyes off him as he moshes and thrashes both on the stage and down in the pit area. They’re New Year’s Eve performance was as equally energetic and exceptionally performed as every other time I’ve caught them. Another absolute banger of a show. Hat’s off to you guys and no hard feelings about that last article, eh lads?
Finally, it was time was the headline act of the evening. Before the group took to the stage for the last time ever, the excitement, appreciation and anticipation was thick in the air. A rich platter of sweat, spilled beer and hysteria for those brave enough to step up to the buffet. JPS play a brass-rich, impassioned concoction of punk rock, dub and ska. They’re blessed with a horn section of exceptional talent, in the guise of one Johnny ‘Fucking’ Rogers and Kim Entwistle and not of course not forgetting jimmy Moult (sorry, Jim). This goes a long way to differentiate the esteemed seven-piece’s sound from that of the often generic feeling genre of ska-punk. I’ve seen the group perform on many occasions, in front of both familiar and less so crowds and tunes like The Wilsonator consistently get a room bopping along with the beats. Of course, the final New Year’s show was no exception and fans showed their appreciation in typical punk rock fashion. Human pyramids, an insane number of stage divers and one of the more boisterous shows in memory must have revealed to the group how much the Manchester scene will miss the sounds they create. It definitely feels like a premature departure but orchestrating seven humans as partial to lawlessness and a late night beverage must be a stressful task to say the least. In typical riggy DIY style, an equipment failure completely fucked up the new years countdown but this did little to curb the enthusiasm on the dance floor. Requests to continue after time was called were well received and the band stayed on stage for several extra tunes past the appointed curfew. And why not? It was after midnight on New Year’s Eve. If, like me, you’re an out of towner and still in Manchester by this point, you’d be resting your head on a foreign floor, couch or spare bed, for the luckiest, until at least the second of the month.