The first six months of this year have felt like the first time that the hardcore punk touring circuit has fully returned to its groove following the pandemic disruption. So, what have been my highlights here in London?
I think the stand-out performance for me was Dawn Ray’d at The Lexington in March for the release of the new album, To Know The Light. I wrote a little more widely on Dawn Ray’d back in May – they are a band I have loved since their earliest incarnation as We Came Out Like Tigers. While this isn’t always the case in such instances, they are a band whose recorded output and live performances have gone from strength to strength. And the intensity of their show that night was immense – visceral musicianship (not least a drumming performance of utterly remarkable velocity and subtlety) skilfully entwined with passages of violin-driven melancholy and delivered with an undeniable political conviction.
That same show also saw a great performance from crossover thrash exponents, Pest Control. As I explored when discussing their thrash metal roots a few weeks back, the pleasure was in seeing how they revelled in the call backs to their inspirations, not as pastiche, but as a vivid reimagination. But, perhaps, the most notable ‘feel good’ gig was a couple of weeks earlier when Gel headlined a sold-out show at the New Cross Inn. Now Gel are a band very much on the up and it felt like this was possibly one of the final times we would see them in more DIY circles. The next phase is always a difficult transition for hardcore bands, but that night there were no such concerns. They are on the crest of a wave, delighted to be playing packed shows on the other side of the world, and their raw enthusiasm for doing so was infectious.
Aside, from Matthew Broadley’s drumming for Dawn Ray’d, what have been the other musical highlights? Two stand outs came at the Savageheads’ show last month. The guitarist from the rather brilliant Permission is now working his magic with Subdued – fast, frenetic, and always just about reined in. But, perhaps, my greatest insight came from watching the Savageheads’ drummer. On their new release Service To Your Country, his drumming is clearly integral to the band’s searing effectiveness, but just how integral is much more vividly revealed in the live setting. The clarity, discipline, and intensity of his work was a pleasure to behold.
The lowest point came at Godflesh’s show at the 229 in January. No, obviously, it wasn’t Godflesh themselves. They were utterly, bone-shudderingly brilliant as always – as hypnotic as they were pulverising. However, I must admit that the support act, Zetra, were not for me – corpse paint, monk’s habits, chain enveloped synths, and electronic-metal ballads. I still shiver involuntarily even now. But no need to dwell, each to their own!
But the best overall gig…I think that would have to go to the Punitive Damage headlined show at the New River Studios in April. An up-for-it crowd, a diverse bill, and some brilliantly high-energy performances. You can’t ask for much more than that.