Crowd surfing, stage diving, moshing, rowing; there’s so much more to live music than the music. I’ve seen live hip hop, jazz, funk, reggae, classical, and pretty much any other top level music genre you can think of. But metal is my thing and most gigs I go to could be mistaken as a wedding between the Addams Family and the Hells Angels.
My first gig was Killswitch Engage, a metal band that three friends and I drove 250 miles to see at the Wulfrun Centre in Wolverhampton. I remember ripping the sleeves off my band t-shirt before we got in the car because I thought it would look cool. I looked like Aladdin. I also removed precious material that could have shielded me from the brutal cold of a Midlands winter. I am not a smart man.
Killswitch were supported by a band called Johnny Truant, who burst onto the stage shouting the metal-approved, ‘Are you ready to fuck this place up?!’, followed by the singer spitting into the crowd. Not cool. Especially not for my mate, who caught the whole thing with his face. It wasn’t going very well.
A couple of hours later when the headliners were finally on, one of my other friends passed out from heat exhaustion and had to be crowd-surfed to the front of the hall, where he was carried off to a dingy makeshift emergency room to miss basically the whole main event. As first gigs went, it was pretty eventful.
Despite the misfortune of my friends, I would learn that it was a pretty tame show. I was 16 then and now, 14 years on and over a hundred gigs later, I’ve seen some shit.
Like Babymetal, who play intense death metal and are fronted by three teenage girls in tutus; ho99o9, whose frontman performed in a white wedding dress and threw boxes of cornflakes over the crowd; or Alestorm, the pirate-loving party band that share the stage with a 7ft inflatable duck and encourage sitting down and rowing along to their slower songs. The latter are up there with my favourite live bands now; there’s something almost therapeutic about singing sea shanties with hundreds of pissed up pirates.
My top live band though, has to go to The Dillinger Escape Plan (RIP). I’ve never seen a group of people with such an emphatic disregard for their own safety before. Their fire-breathing, audience-running, set-climbing frontman Greg Puciato was just one part of a group putting Guns’n’Roses ‘world’s most dangerous band’ claim to the test. I’m hopeful they’ll regroup one day and I can be part of another one of their frankly insane concerts.
Not all shows are good. Some are terrible. I’d been desperate to see The Faceless for years and in 2018 I finally had my chance to go see a two hour headline set with my brother, Charlie. The usual pre-gig rituals were all in place. I’d listened to nothing but their music for around a week, checked out all the band interviews, read some reviews of their latest album. I was feeling pumped. To add to the excitement, the show was at Underworld in Camden, the venue of my first crowd surf and the only place I’d ever seen a mosh pit happen on stage. It’s very special to me.
Charlie and I decided to get to Camden early and do some catching up in the Devonshire Arms; if traditional British pubs could get skull tattoos and face piercings, this place would be the result. We stumbled out of the Dev a few hours later and made our way in to Underworld, heading straight to the centre of the crowd. Anticipation was high.
We then learned that The Faceless’ bassist had just quit and they’d decided to bring in a reliable performer they’d known for years; the guitarist’s MacBook Pro. I’d been to a few raves before so I knew the guy could play. No big deal. But when after just one song the lead guitarist’s amplifier broke, that was a problem. Especially since they clearly had no plan B and oh the MacBook is fucked now too. We’re watching an MTV Unplugged version of a technical death metal band.
Someone in the crowd summoned all their experience from the football terraces and started chanting ‘Bassless… Bassless…’, a song that carried on for the rest of the 40 minute set. Faceless, if you’re reading this, come back to London soon, we still love you.
After being blown away by the tutu-wearing Babymetal and the swashbuckling Alestorm, I’m now a firm believer that before you decide you don’t like a band or artist, go see them perform.
I was at Alexandra Palace recently to see the five-piece metal group, Parkway Drive, who I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan of. The show was a sell out. 12,000 people had just finished watching the support band (Killswitch Engage, ironically) and suddenly, the whole place went pitch black for a few seconds. War-like drums started booming around the hall. If you’ve seen the first The Lord of the Rings movie, think of the start to the Mines of Moria battle (just after ‘fool of a Took’) and you’ll have a good idea of what it was like.
In the darkness, at the back of the hall you could make out what looked like a small fire. As it got closer and the cheers from the crowd started building, the fire revealed itself as four masked men carrying flaming torches. They slowly made their way through the crowd and when they were close enough I could feel the heat burning my cheeks, I could see in the middle of the flames was Parkway Drive. The whole place was going nuts.
As the band made it onto stage and started playing, it became clear to me that I was about to have my mind changed. The rest of their set was unbelievable. I now have a few tunes of theirs on my Spotify playlist.
If you’re into music and your faves are still touring, go see them if you can. You’re almost guaranteed to have an amazing time, make new friends, and see some weird and wonderful things. Plus it really helps them out, especially the lesser known groups. Streaming has pretty much killed physical album sales and touring is one of the only ways for small bands to keep making music. Get out there and support your scene!
Images by Daniele Fantin, Sebastian Ervi, Thibault Trillet, & Edwin Andrade