For this month’s round up of the sounds from beneath the streets we’ll be heading to a couple of pretty eclectic shows. First up, we’ve got a mash-up tribe of Balkan fascist-smashers all the way from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bringing their infectious rhythms and politically-charged swagger to Manchester’s Band On The Wall, is the Dubioza Kolektiv, a rag tag bunch of misfits who specialise in genre alchemy. Following our trip out East, we’ve got one for the strictly hardcore – a night of speed, aggression, unity and surprisingly few tired cliches. So, paint a cross on the backs of your hands, raise a fist for your fallen brothers and sisters and dig out your dancing shoes for this month’s Words From The Underground.
Skanking on a School Night: Dubioza Kolektiv (November, 29th)
I’d never heard of the Dubioza Kolektiv until browsing through potential shows for this month’s edition. At one time I would have had my finger well and truly on the pulse of the UK’s party-ska-swing events calendar but after one too many trips through the teenage ketamine Mecca that is Boomtown Fair Festival (a few too many years past its fantastically hedonistic peak) my taste for that kind of thing has waned to say the least. Like those infamous mornings where your head swims with leftover liquor and the taste and scent of whatever once glorious elixir that managed to put you into your state of existential despair continues to haunt you for the rest of your living days. Even the thought of resuming a dialogue with Johnny Walker, Mr Daniels or the eponymous ‘Gordon’ can be enough to send your stomach right back to the point that it initially voided itself that fateful morn. This is just like my relationship with that typical festival ‘gypsy punk’ sound but I felt enough years had passed since those wild eyed mornings in Winchester to take another swig of their dancing juice. Distant now are my nomadic ramblings through seas of Brighton Six Form alumni. Posing with pouts for face-painted selfies in the August sunrise, to the sounds of fucking Gogol Bordello or some other toxically dance worthy shit. With those fruitless, frustrating searches for something downtuned and aggressive to sooth my chemically frayed nerves far enough in my past, I thought it was only fair to give the world of Balkan-gypsy-jazz-core another shot.
Besides, a quick browse at the Dubioza Kolektiv’s social media accounts seemed to indicate that this particular crew of mash-up misfits had a penchant for stomping fascists and the toking of the good stuff. To be honest, it seemed like the perfect excuse time to jump back off the wagon and take another foray into the world of traditionally inspired genre smelters from Southern Europe.
As both myself and Joshua are devout fans of the rapid riff and the guttural roar, we felt the necessity for Dutch courage so met up before the gig for a loosener and a quick debrief. A stressful commute into Manchester encouraged the speedy disappearance of my first drink and so it was immediately followed by a second to actually relax with and have the discussion. By the time the doors of the Band On The Wall opened, we were sufficiently lubricated to join Dubioza Kolektiv. Leaving inhibitions and memories of wandering the haunted pastures of Winchester behind us, we approached the evening’s venue.
We arrived promptly, for us, and were ready to hit the bar for a celebratory drink (we had actually managed to join the queue only ten minutes after the first guests were allowed inside) when we heard the unmistakable rumble of a bass guitar vibrating the wall behind us. As we sorted our tickets, we agreed that we’d forego the toast to our punctuality and investigate the sounds coming from inside. We entered the main room mystified to find the Dubioza Kolektiv already whipping up a sizeable crowd into an excitable froth.
The eight-strong tribe consists of drummer, bassist, guitarist, saxophonist, and dual DJs and vocalists. An eclectic line-up of musicians, no doubt, and when combined with the lack of warm up act, one that strongly suggested an appreciation of nonconformity. Suspicions of anything otherwise were laid to rest immediately following the track we had interrupted. The two instrument-less members of the Kolektiv produced a large flag with ‘The Pirate Bay’ ship adorning it. After a reasonably incomprehensible speech (I find it impossible to tell what a charged up front man is actually saying in between songs unless they’re from Wigan) from which I could make out the occasional word relating to piracy and copyrighting, the pair chorused: ‘Our music is for free. You can download MP3!’ As the crowd erupted into cheers, the band kicked into a particularly swinging skank-along number which blended traditional southern European influences seamlessly with hip hop, ska and even techno to create an intensely danceable sound and a great atmosphere. The repeated motif the vocalists opened the track with united the writhing crowds every few bars and was punctuated with movement the likes of which I haven’t seen at a gig in years.
The entire set was a master-class in genre splicing with absolute surgeon-like precision. The band literally never missed a beat. An achievement that Joshua himself commented on as ‘duck arse tight’. He was right too, for such an interesting, energetic ensemble of musicians, as seemingly committed to their visual performance as they were to the soundscape they created, to nail everything with such accuracy and exactitude was inspiring. It clearly also achieved the desired effect on the audience as song after song had the whole room dancing, the likes of which you rarely see at any concert in Manchester, let alone at 8pm on a Tuesday night.
Overtly political tracks and between song addresses to the crowd never ventured into preachiness and the overall message the band convey is one of unity. Even their attire echoed the togetherness they espoused, with all the members clad in matching yellow and black Dubioza Kolektiv football strips. This served to provide a striking visual representation of their overarching, unified ideology. Those enjoying the performance from the upstairs balcony were consistently encouraged to join their brothers and sisters creating madness on the dance floor, adding to an already inclusive and boisterously fun atmosphere.
The one gripe I had with the performance was its early finish. Myself and Joshua both discussed the prompt start in relation to the advertised 11pm curfew and were suspicious that the level of intensity Dubioza Kolektiv brought to the stage would be maintained for a whole three hours. Unfortunately, we were right but this did little to allay our confusion when the show ended by 9:30pm. Thinking we had plenty of time remaining, we were actually outside, catching some air, and discussing Joshua’s photographs when we were joined by the rest of the crowd and the news that the show was over. The feelings of unprofessionalism that we’ve become accustomed to through working together quickly resurfaced and we felt we’d better make a mends by heading to a bar to finish our review of the pictures and discuss our new found respect and appreciation of a genre of music that had once fallen out of my favour.
Home-town Bro-down?: Counterparts, Exile, Landscapes, Knocked Loose (December, 3rd)
For our next adventure through the subterranean depths of Manchester’s live music scene, we opted for something a little different. Scratch that, we opted for something a lot different. Something closer to home. More guitars, if you please and how about a double kick pedal? Excellent. We’re back into our comfort zone. ‘This one’s for all my hardcore bro’s who ain’t with us no more....’ Oh, wait, not quite our comfort zone then.
The bands on offer that evening were Kentucky’s Knocked Loose, Somerset’s Landscapes, California’s Exile and Canada’s Counterparts. Early beers in Manchester’s metal meetup spot Grand Central and hints at the tone of the evening were already being dropped. The proportion of patrons sporting their finest running track attire was suspiciously high. Our conversation turned to the phenomena of ‘crowd killing’ and our various experiences of it.
For those who don’t listen to hardcore music, there’s a wide spectrum of styles, scenes and sounds that comprise the subgenre. I won’t bore you with the specifics here but the point to take home is that ‘slam dancing’, ‘mosh pitting’, or whatever else you want to call it, is permitted, encouraged and enjoyed at all hardcore shows. To the untrained eye, the mosh pit looks like a dangerous, aggressive, animalistic place, where shirtless, bearded brutes collide to an abhorrent accompaniment of animostic sounds. However, this is not the case. The pit, although energetic and boisterous is seldom properly aggressive. Sure, people collide and others get knocked to the ground but rarely, if ever, do people try to hurt each other. It’s not at all uncommon to hear vocalists in the genre exclaim messages of protectionism towards fans engaging in the roughest form of dance. Sentiments like: ‘If someone goes down, you pick them up’. Crowd killing, on the other hand is a very different form of self (ish) expression.
First off, its title is not contrived or conceited. The aim appears to be to collide with as many people and in as an aggressive a way as possible. The most athletic, Street Fighter inspired manoeuvres are actively encouraged and it’s not uncommon to see the skinniest, most agile practitioners 360 spin kicking their way into unsuspecting members of the audience who the perpetrator deems is not moving enough to appreciate his music (I use the gender specific here as I have never personally seen a woman engage in crowd killing, please, feel free to correct me). To myself and many other people I have spoken to, this kind of behaviour is fucking pathetic and is little more than a thinly veiled excuse to let some aggression out on a person without their consent. Whilst crowd killing is far from universal at hardcore shows, there are certain acts who seem to cause this special kind of moron to show up and bare their colours and to be honest, it makes for quite an embarrassing display.
The crowd killer is almost exclusively found wearing a hoody with a tough sounding band name and the word hardcore, a place name and usually a year printed across it. Mobility is key and as such our subjects will often favour a pair of jogging pants over the more typical rock and roll jeans. Completing the look is often a set of very expensive, sweat shop produced, high end sports trainers. The kind Usain Bolt sets world records in, only adorning the feet of a pasty faced dickhead who finds some form of solace from desperate attempts to bench press their own ego in the gym.
However, I digress. The point is the sporty lads were in town. Joshua mentioned his camera’s insurance policy to me. It had already crossed my own mind. The hallmarks of a crowd killer extravaganza were falling into place. We checked the show times. First up, ‘Knocked Loose’. Here we go—
We joined an already sizeable crowd in Sound Control after a mildly irritating exchange with several members of the promotions team over our guest list spot which all dissipated harmlessly enough after a request to speak to the big boss. Knocked Loose were just starting their performance and a great chasm had already appeared between those occupying the very front of stage and those sipping drinks in the rear. As the band starting to rifle through their aggressive tracks, the flailing limbs started in the widening canyon between the audience. The young five-piece’s double seven string onslaught and their crushing breakdown heavy tracks agreed with me. Unfortunately, the juvenile display of amateur martial arts accompanying it did not. Luckily, being the opening act, the room was not yet fully packed out and so the violent menace behind didn’t hinder my ability to appreciate the band’s venomous performance.
Taking to the stage next were the UK’s Landscapes. We decided some liquid courage would help to provide any additional fortification we might need for potential battles that lay ahead. We took the opportunity to refresh at the bar, rejoining the live room as the band opened their set. Surprisingly, numbers were considerably thinner for the second act of the evening. It appeared that well over half of the crowd couldn’t actually be bothered to climb back upstairs to support the group. Both sonically and visually Landscapes occupy a subtly different position in the world of hardcore; a difference that the untrained ear and eye would probably be unable to detect. The iconic sporting apparel of the previous band and their crowd were largely absent in favour of a generally more punky look, accompanied by a slower, more melodic and angstier sound. Atmospherically speaking, they were more my kind of thing than the previous performers but there was just something lacking. The slower more melodic passages had nothing to grind up against and just sounded uninspiringly tame as a result of this. This isn’t to say there was nothing to like about the group, there was some creative songwriting to admire and some interesting musicianship. I just found it hard to truly get behind any of the tracks in a live setting. Again, the gap between the front and the back of the crowd existed, only this time it was completely empty. No swinging legs, no diving elbows. Nothing. Quiet, polite applause from a deeply receded crowd punctuated the songs. Quite a surreal performance, all told. Especially when contrasted with that of Knocked Loose. At least we’d still not had to call Joshua’s insurance company.
We returned from our between set ‘R and R’ to find the crowd had miraculously respawned several times and the room was now looking packed out again. California’s Expire were next on the bill and before even playing a note, the vocalist began to address the ever present divide in the crowd. He demanded that everyone at the back of the room fill the gap up, effectively killing the opportunity for those wishing to get their kicks partaking in unsolicited violence. I was pleasantly surprised, even more so when the request was immediately recognised and welcomed.
The performance itself was pretty much a text book entry for the sound that usually draws in the snap-backs and spin-kickers. Powerful, metallic riffs, the angriest and fieriest of frontmen and a solid driving rhythm section. Very few frills embellished any of the passages. Hardcore-by-the-book but incredibly well delivered. Being Expire’s final UK tour, there were naturally a lot of thanks and nostalgic interaction with the crowd and they exhibited clear appreciation of the other bands who were able to share these last shows with them. The set was great. Tight, punchy and heavy with good songs to match.
Finally, it was time for the headline band. Counterparts hail from Ontario, Canada and the best way to describe their sound would be to say that they’re a seamless blend of the rest of the lineup combined. They fuse Expire’s heavier than lead riffs with Landscapes more melodic, introspective sections and deliver them with the power and force of Knocked Loose. I thoroughly enjoyed their performance and it was evident that the rest of the room did too. Clearly taking heed of Expire’s insistence on packing out the rift between the sea of people, there was once again no crowd kill zone. It was refreshing to be so wrong about our judgemental pre-show presumptions and it meant we could enjoy the band’s performance without the worry of an elbow or Nike to the back of the head. Through a little sweet-talking to the security team at the front, Joshua was able to blag his way stage side and take some pictures. However, he quickly returned saying: ‘It’s shit in there, there’s no atmosphere in these pictures’, and resumed position papping out front. Remember Joshua, I don’t offer hazard pay or any form of funeral recompense for your spouse if you die in the line of duty. He spent the entire show heroically snapping away in the middle of some of the most seething pits the lad will have been that involved in for at least five years.
Even an apparent injury to the lead guitarist’s hand and wrist didn’t seem to phase Counterparts as they tightly fired through track after track of powerful, thoughtful hardcore punk rock. They were joined for cameos from various members of the other acts and thanked bands and crowd alike for coming to support their tour and their music. The unity vibes were strong in the room towards the end of the evening and it never gets tiring watching a venue full of people pay their impassioned respects to their musical idols. The evening was an overall success both for the band’s performing and ourselves. There’d been no trips to A and E and no fights over spilled drinks with gobby wannabe teenage thugs, just some great hardcore bands being appreciated in the way they should be. We left the venue feeling humbled, energised and thirsty and so headed directly for the Retro Bar for a nightcap on me. You earned it, Joshua.