As my tube rattled north of the river last week, I couldn’t help but feel a growing excitement. I was heading off to see As Friends Rust for the first time in fifteen years at the Boston Music Room. And there is something undeniably powerful about having the unexpected opportunity to again see a band important to you. The unprompted smile that spreads across your face as the band take to the stage. The jolt of adrenaline that surges through your body as the first riff unfurls. The lyrics that form, not as you would expect in your head, but rather from somewhere deeper, more primordial, leaving you hoarse by the end of the night. The unseen force that sucks you into the heart of a swirling mosh pit for the first time in, well, quite a while.
Now it would be easy to dismiss this as the cosy (if somewhat sweaty) embrace of empty nostalgia. And nostalgia has in many ways become a defining force in our society – as things literally crumble around us, it is easy to take solace in things that bring us comfort, that transport us to back to times when life seemed more straight forward. But to do so, I think would be to ignore the values that serve to drive most hardcore punk. Looking around the audience that night, you would have struggled to find many who were not still active in the scene, or conversely, anyone who stopped listening to new music twenty years ago. And it was refreshing that material from the band’s stellar new LP Any Joy (‘roughly a minute of music for every year since our last album’) was greeted (almost) as enthusiastically as their stand-out classics of yesteryear.
I think a more accurate interpretation is to recognise how bands of meaning to us serve to link both our past and our current selves. As the words to a searing rendition of Coffee Black (‘You like your coffee black, your neighbourhood white. Your lights are out at nine o’clock at night. Are you afraid of everything, or just the truth?’) boomed out from the audience, the sentiments spoke to not only why many present were first drawn to hardcore, but why it also remains integral to our way of evaluating the world. It reaffirms our refusal to yield in our desire for change and the spectres of our younger selves remind us why we should not settle for current realities. In other words, as cultural writer Mark Fisher eloquently argues in his book, Ghosts Of My Life, ‘It is about not giving up the ghost – and this can sometimes amount to the same thing – the refusal of the ghost to give up on us’. And it is here that the music of As Friends Rust is powerfully relevant as Damien Moyle’s sardonic dissection of contemporary society, and the band’s melancholy infused song writing, perfectly capture not only the sense of lost futures, but of a fierce unwillingness to accept the distorted replacement that is being offered.
And what if this was your introduction to As Friends Rust? Well, you were simply fortunate to see the vibrant resurrection of a great band. Of course, there will always be the hackneyed cynics who seem to view any band reuniting as little more than an attempt to cash in (a transparently nonsensical idea in hardcore), or as a mid-life crisis playing out in plain view. Now there may be a little more traction in the latter, although not in the way it is intended – it is more a question of mid-life opportunity. Most hardcore bands are to all intents and purposes part-time DIY projects and inevitably as people get older, life finds many ways to make touring as a band that much more difficult. But, as life further progresses, these pressures often begin to ease and the scope to return to doing something you love returns. Anyway, if it is a mid-life crisis, guitarist Joe Simmons (who, unfortunately, had to miss the tour) is doing it in style: 1. Reform band 2. Launch brewery 3. Do both at the same time.
The gig itself was, as you will have gathered, superb. There was a wonderfully celebratory air in the crowd as bodies flew, as songs were bellowed out word for word, and even the space created for debutant stage divers. The band themselves were clearly delighted to be back out in the world, especially with new music to be interweaved throughout the set. And there was also another inspiration for the band – the loss of bassist Kaleb Stewart, whose life the band were clearly determined to honour in the best way possible.
Fingers crossed that the wait until they next hit London is not quite so long this time round…