This month we’ve got some absolute crackers for you. First off, we revisited Manchester punk scene’s favourite haunt for an evening of face shredding skate punk with Guildford’s Darko, and out-of-country label-mates, Straightline. We were at Anarchistic Undertones’s ShredFest, as it’s come to be known, billed as a celebration of double-time finger tapping, outrageous spider hands, and the speediest drum work to be found anywhere in the city of Manchester that evening, or most for that latter. It did not disappoint.
Later in the month, we headed down to one of Manchester’s more iconic buildings for an evening of squatted debauchery at the Cornerhouse. Taking to the frankly stunning stage in the old independent cinema would be Hoof, Andy Dazzler (Dead Neck), Natterers, Lab Rats, Tout Suite, Only Strangers, and Wadeye. A more than worthy line-up for a late Friday night. I’ll be damned if I can remember every detail though—
Shred Fest: Darko, Straightline, Fair Do’s, Laughing in the Face Of, The Siknotes, and Upstream Colour (March 18, 2017)
If line-ups could speak this one would be the most arrogant piece of shit you’ve ever met. Just look at the state of it. Every band featured are absolute masters of their craft – be it getting the whole room fired up for a boozy Saturday night, or melting the faces of the audience clean off before they even get chance to pick up their jaw from the floor. Six of Europe’s hardest working, most respected, and up-and-coming skate punk bands would take to the stage, and each proved themselves more than worthy of a spot on the most stellar of line-ups.
We arrived late into Upstream Colour’s performance which was unfortunate as they seemed much sharper than the previous time we covered them for WFTU. Unfortunately, missing the vast majority of the performance leaves me ill-qualified to pass comment. I’ll therefore just say if you’re a fan of technical, metal-inspired, prog-punk, creative arrangements, and a whole lot of twiddling guitar work, you’ll love Upstream Colour. They’re ones to watch for the future for sure, and I can’t wait for a full-length, or EP from the band.
Next up were The Siknotes. An altogether different affair. It’s straight up Fat Wreck Chords stuff. Think skateboards, sunny days, and buckets of melody (and beers). What they lack in shredding, they make up for with infectious hooks, and wicked running basslines, a la Matt Freeman, of Rancid fame. Clearly not ones to take themselves too seriously, songs like “GY ‘til I die” about their native Grimsby are as light-hearted as they are good to move your feet to. The four piece even smashed out a great cover of the Nirvana classic Territorial Pissings, despite joking pleas from their drummer for a ten-minute break between tunes.
Birmingham’s Laughing in the Face Of took the stage next. A band who’ve been together in one form or another since 2002, their wealth of experience is clear as soon as they kick off. Blisteringly fast, technical, melodic hardcore with a pair of exceptionally gifted guitarists, the four piece pay homage to both metal and punk rock influences with their sound. Darko’s Karl Surham commented on the performance as, “next level shit”, whilst our ever-eloquent photographer, Josh, went with “rippin’, that!” I can’t find fault with either of these sentiments. If you like your punk rock rapid, riff-laden, and with more talent than the whole class of ’77, you really can’t go far wrong with Laughing in the Face Of.
You’ll notice a lack of pictures for our next band, and for good reason. Fair Do’s feature our very own Joshua Sumner on the bass guitar, and as much flack as I’ve given him in the past, he’s the only member of our little team capable of operating a camera. It’s all on me for this one then.
Fair Do’s are undoubtedly one of Manchester’s finest bands. Like Straightline, they provide a touch of “the heavy” whilst remaining grounded in a melodic hardcore sound. They’re also master face-melters in their own rights. Put simply, no Anarchistic Undertones ShredFest would be complete without them. Dave Speechley is capable of shaming even the finest of the stellar axmen in the venue. Watching him play is in equal parts inspiring as it is soul destroying. How can he be that good, though? A truly super human talent on the stage. However, that’s not to say that Fair Do’s should rename themselves The Dave Speechley Experience. There’s little weakness to be found amongst the rest of their ranks.
Like Speechley, both drummer, John Holt, and our Josh draw from an eclectic range of influences. Having travelled extensively in the Fair Do’s van in the past I know you’re equally as likely to hear the most toxic, mind shattering jungle music as you are the likes of Converge, Black Dahlia Murder, or Weekend Nachos. This appreciation of diverse rhythms and virtuoso drummers is heavily reflected in John’s playing style. Meanwhile, vocals and second guitar come from AU promotor Danny Cummings. He’s no slouch on the six string himself, and it’s probably his influence and vocal delivery that keeps the whole thing punky, stopping it from descending into crushing death metal.
The show was predictably tight, and packed with energy, being as Fair Do’s have been jokingly nicknamed AU’s house band in the past. I was a little disappointed to not hear more new material from them though. They’ve been working on an album for a while now so I was expecting an entirely new set which didn’t materialise. On the other hand, the limited new stuff they did demo sounded like it’s edging towards a darker, more dangerous sound than your standard skate punk. I’m even more eager to finally hear the rest of the record now.
The band furthest from their home town were next to grace the stage in an increasingly busy Retro Bar. Straightline hail from Munich, Germany, and have an impressive nineteen years as a band behind them. Their sound is a wonderful mixture of all the influences that make modern skate punk exciting. Thrash metal riffery sits effortlessly aside pop punk melody, straight up hardcore beats, and it’s all bound by punk rock angst. It’s a potent cocktail, and the German shred machine’s performance delivered everything their latest album, Vanishing Values, promised it would do and more. Quite predictably there was some classic Fawlty Towers banter between band and crowd with the former “mentioning the war” immediately after jumping on stage. A fun, hardworking band without a single weak member. A perfect addition to the ShredFest’s line-up.
Last, it was the turn of Darko. Absolute favourites in Manchester, the five piece from Guildford have ventured up to our parts quite a lot over the years. They’re another endlessly touring band with a strong DIY ethic. An impressive history of previous gigs makes watching them for £6 with five other bands in the Retro Bar a bit of piss take really. They’ve numerous European tours behind them, as well as visits to Japan, a mainstage appearance at Slovenia’s Punk Rock Holiday, and no doubt much more to come from them this summer.
Of course, there’s more stellar guitar work. This time we’ve got Rob Piper (Lockjaw Records), and Chris Brown working the shredder. Both incredibly accomplished musicians, they’re another thoroughly deserving addition to any ShredFest line-up. Drummer Andy Borg grins from ear to ear as he effortlessly fires out chops from behind his kit. At every show I’ve seen him play, his expression suggests he’s just discovered this wonderful new toy but his playing prowess proves a lifetime of dedication. Darko’s overall sound is right back in the melodic hardcore sphere, only with much more dizzying guitar work intricately arranged by Piper and Brown. They’re songs have become absolute anthems to the right crowd and the likes of “Atlas to Atlantis”, and “Neo Was an Amateur” are easily capable of working an audience up.
A large portion of the show was dedicated to their newest material from this year’s full length Bonsai Mammoth. Hearing how tight they played their fresh songs probably unnerved a few of the other musicians watching in the crowd, and understandably so. In all honesty, despite their jet setting ways, Darko are still a criminally underrated band. It’s only a matter of time before they get the full recognition they deserve as musicians and song writers outside of the niche world of melodic punk rock they currently thrive in.
A Night Out at the Pics presented by Cat Inna Skip, Dazzling Promotions, and Loose Space (March 31st, 2017)
“What should we do for our next gig?” Josh messaged one night.
“I don’t know, man. You have any event invites?” I replied.
“Just this thing at the squatted Corner House cinema in Manchester. Some punk bands on”
That was that. We were going to the movies.
We got to the venue way too early. It seems months of late arrivals, missed support acts, and ridiculously punctual promotors have drilled something of a sense of time keeping into us, and instilled a trust over the advertised running order of a gig. Clearly, we overlooked the fact that we were now on squatted territory, and as handy as the team running the show almost certainly are at repairing dilapidated buildings, time keeping is not their strongest feature. Anyway, we were there. We had drinks, and it couldn’t be too long. There were also some fine hounds trotting around too, as there usually are in squats. These would help pass some time. There are much worse places to wait around than a plush high-end cinema seat with a few mates anyway.
It was much later when the acts finally came on – closer to ten than the eight-thirty advertised kick off time. By now, shit was getting wobbly and it absolutely continued that way. For that reason, I shall forego the usual analysis I try to give over every performance of a show in favour of a more ramshackle approach. Seems reasonable, given the circumstances.
Across the line-up there was a varied selection of punk rock on offer. Performers ranged from the one man, banana-core chancer Andy Dazzler, right through to the crusted, hardcore insanity that is Toute Suite. Celtic inspired, folk punk, two-piece The Lab Rats were particularly well received with mandolin player Adam McKeon giving his own shredding masterclass. One highlight of the night for me was their version of Ramshackle Glory’s “Heart is a Muscle, The Size of Your Fist” – a stirring song, exceptionally delivered.
The opening band, Hoof, featuring Fair Do’s drummer, John Holt, on bass guitar was also a stand out act. It was a shame that even despite their delayed time slot, they were so poorly attended. I for one feel Hoof deserve more recognition for the mighty sound they’re able to create with just three members. A skate punk powerhouse with influences in that unmistakable nineties sound. Loads of melody, and an innovative approach to guitar fills the sound out nicely without the addition of an extra instrument.
Closing the show were the mighty Wadeye. Who else better to stir a squat into full blown chaos? “Manchester’s most dangerous” band, of course, represented. I have literally no idea if they were tight though. My suspicions are that they weren’t, given the fact that they ended up going on after 02:30. In my experience, it really doesn’t matter at that time in the morning if the band is playing impeccably, and frontman Tom’s performances often improve with the addition of alcohol. Either which way, the show was great fun and the crowd loved it. The songs Wadeye sing often closely align with the values and concerns of the squatter community, making them the perfect choice to finish up the night’s live entertainment.