The band are on fire.
Not in a Bataclan sense, but they’re tearing through their set like a chainsaw through trifle. The crowd are going batshit and no-one will leave without tinnitus. And you’re in the middle of it all, mainlining life.
From nowhere, a boot is thrust into your eyeline like the Grange Hill sausage. It thrashes about and whips at your eyebrow, ayabastard. By rights you should be furious; there’s no reason for a boot to be up there by your head, nor the ankle poking out of it. You grab it, pull it and drag it over yourself. Sweet Jesus there’s a whole body coming with it, a fat fuck of a man punching the air. He’s shovelled forwards, crushing the pink mohican of the lunatic in front.
It’s brilliant and you’re having the time of your life. But enjoy it while it lasts, because they’re coming for it.
Live music is one of life’s few remaining untainted joys. When a band’s on form and the crowd are with them, nothing on Earth beats the feeling of the music going through you. Add reasonable access to the bar and the khazi and I’m dribbling just thinking about it.
So needless to say there are people in the world intent on fucking it up. Two sets of people, in fact.
Firstly, there’s the gig-goers themselves. Your biggest concern is no longer that the tallest bloke in the place will stand directly in front of you. Everyone experiences that every time, which makes you wonder how he manages to be everywhere at once like some quantum beanpole.
Now, though, even the little people can be tall, because what’s the use just watching a band when you can thrust your arm into the sky to capture 30 wobbly seconds of the show to share with the world? Get, your fucking, phone out of my, line of sight, you cunt. Surprisingly cathartic words while repeatedly kidney punching a teenager. Not that it’s easy to land blows when the little arsehole has a massive backpack strapped to himself such that every sideways glance sends more people flying than if it’d been packed with IEDs.
These people prove troublesome because I’m old now, and my days in the pit are sadly behind me. I stand outside the fray, near the bar, surrounded by these prats, alcohol my bulwark against the disappointment that my body can’t handle the mayhem any more. But now I can gaze proudly at the carnage I thrived on for over 20 years. I was a stalwart of the pit, a dedicated mosher and crowdsurfer and a very serious menace to anyone around me. I’ve passed the torch, and all power to youth’s bruised, flailing elbow.
Only they’re a dying breed, thanks to the second group bent on ending gig culture as we know it. Faced with dark, grimy venues, perfect for rock and punk bands and good enough for some of the best acts of the last few generations, a group of entrepreneurs have decided enough is enough. We need to clean these places up, civilise them. Moshing is anti-social. What we need is cocktails.
And if we can make a few quid while we’re about it, all the better.
Two of the venues I’ve loved most in the last two decades have recently been ‘refurbished’ by a cackling conglomerate calling themselves DHP. Of one, the Garage, DHP have said the following:
“Harking back to the filling station stores of small-town America, the newly designed ground floor will now feature The General Store, an all-day café and bar serving craft beer and cocktails. The design of The General Store will feature reclaimed gas pumps, huge beer fridges and superlative coffee. Expect a range of cocktails served from items you’d find in the store, such as cornflakes packets and Campbell’s soup tins, alongside a changing selection of American and British craft beer.
“In addition, at the right hand side of the venue will be a new coffee station and snack bar kiosk, serving takeaway speciality coffees and teas, alongside a range of freshly made breakfast snacks, cakes and sandwiches, all to-go.”
This they describe as “reinventing the space for a new generation”.
Also known as ‘fuck the previous generation because they were doing it wrong’. Cider in a plastic pint cup, most of which you’ll hurl into the air when the band play your favourite tune and you go ploughing into the wall of bodies up front, screaming and windmilling? That is NOT how you enjoy a drink at a live music venue in 2017’s London. Here, have an ‘Electric Lemonade’ in a large upside-down light bulb.
The spirit of Shoreditch runs amok. A venue that has hosted Green Day, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Oasis will soon be opening its doors to ‘Frànçois and The Atlas Mountains’. Search that name online, find a picture. So many jumpers.
The Borderline in Soho has gone the same way. This is a venue where just last year I saw Frank Carter (Google his photo – no jumpers) smash his fist into the nose of a bloke who he’d told three times to stop grabbing at his shirt from the crowd. “To be fair mate, I did warn you”, he said. The guy grinned beneath his shattered beak and that was that. This Wednesday, it’s ‘James Leg & the Bonnevilles’.
Sure, I know not everyone wants physical harm from their live music. Not everyone can hear about the time I had to tear bits off a magazine, gob on them and stick them in my ears to prevent permanent deafness at a My Bloody Valentine gig and comprehend how that night was incredible, not appalling. Some people want pleasantly engaging bands, worthy of the charts, three-part harmonising and singers who think it’s all right to wear a tribly on stage.
It’s not all right. You have enough venues playing insipid shite like that already without needing to co-opt ours. Where the hell do you expect us to go if you start sterilising our filthy toilet circuit hovels?
I can’t imagine this is happening in Cardiff, Glasgow or Hull. Do you think because we have a city full of sockless tosspots there aren’t enough of us left to raise merry fucking hell if you mess with our shitholes? If you move on to the Dome, the Electric Ballroom, the fucking Underworld even, you can fully expect me to stand at the back swearing like a merchant seaman and throwing Strongbow at that duo who have no drummer, even if I have to smuggle all 8 cans in up my arse because you only sell ‘Key Lime Pie Lager’ at seven quid a half.
A couple of weeks ago I was watching a metal band in Portugal. The crowd were leaping about without a care when a bloke on an upper balcony climbed the fence and motioned that he was going to drop himself onto the heads of those below. You’ll catch me, right? Either they would have, and hurt themselves badly off his 5-metre drop, or they would have parted like an altar boy’s cheeks and he’d have gone home in an ambulance. And on stage, the singer looked up and said simply: “Jump”.
This is why we do it, for the madness as much as the music. Sure, you can feeeeeel Future Islands, The Weeknd and good old Ed Sheeran as they drip into your ears. Better yet, it’s the kind of live music experience you could take your mum to, and who’s not looking for more of that kind of excitement in their life?
But as you tap your foot, sip from a jam jar and let your mind drift to chilled out places and oh damn did I remember to book that meeting room for the 10.30 tomorrow?, you’re missing what live music is meant to be about – that point at which power meets soul meets fury meets life.
Music exists to galvanise you. Have you ever been at a gig and felt your skin prickle, because at some point during a particular song you’ve realised you might actually be at the pinnacle of existence? Not if you’re watching Imagine fucking Dragons you haven’t. I briefly had to stop listening to Defeater just now in order to make sure Imagine Dragons was the right reference point here. Forty-two seconds I managed and if I ever find them they’ll be paying that time back in tears.
Your simpering sounds won’t change you, heal you, reinvigorate you. They won’t rip you open and sew you back up again, stronger, better. You won’t remember you were there until you check your phone for the pics you posted on some feed or other nobody looks at because you once took a selfie at a Clean Bandit ‘concert’ and, deep down, even you know that’s unforgivable.
There’s a time and a place for a nice friendly gig in a nice friendly venue.
It’s not Camden at 10.15pm on a Tuesday. That’s ours. Leave us to our horrible venues or we’ll be coming for yours.