The Forum in London played host last Friday to bands with the best names in showbiz during a hardcore alldayer. Due to other commitments (a previously unseen episode of Colombo on TV in the afternoon) I didn't get there until Napalm Death were about to take the stage. I arrived at just about the right time.
In addition to being well named, the three headline bands amounted to a formidably compelling bill. Napalm Death and Agnostic Front are legendary survivor-veterans who've helped define a genre. Hatebreed, who topped the bill, are relative newcomers with ten years under their collective belts.
It says something about the crisis in gig attendance which has blighted the London scene since the bombs last summer that the show, while well attended, was not sold out. I think it also says something about the contemporary punk and hardcore scene which I began documenting about eight years ago. For much of this decade, various punk sub-genres have been phenomenally successful, with everyone from shitheads like Green Day through to grizzled survivors like The Buzzcocks benefiting from incessant waves of mohawked white youth with money to burn on shows, music, and t-shirts. Maybe right now the tide has gone out just a little on that phenomenon. Maybe the average punk rocker today doesn't have the pecs, abs, and ass of yesteryear, and is closer to 25 than to 15.
That will all change again. Like rap and metal, punk is a music genre which remorselessly, phoenix-like, reinvents itself. Punk was founded as a danceable contribution to teenage revolution, a perfect distillation of rebel sex, rebel sound, rebel art, and rebel lifestyle. These due to punk have become timeless requirements for certain people.
Napalm Death, for some reason, did a very short set for a lot of weirdly dysfunctional looking meninblack, a gang of bitter guys, with drink taken, caught up in nostalgia for a lost youth. I don't like nostalgia, it gives me the creeps, it's a nervous disease, but you can't blame a band for its followers. The length of the set, the demographic of their crowd, and their resolute anarcho anti- globalization anti-War on Terror politics made Napalm Death a somewhat challenging prospect but they deserve respect and some new fans.
Agnostic Front and Hatebreed livelyied up the situation. The moshing got fierce but friendly. The Front's appearance was celebrated in a kaleidoscopic panoramic mode.. I met up with a mohawk who'd come to the show just to see them and I ended up covered in punk blood. I got one substantial punch in the eye. That was fun.
After it was all over, people had many different things to say. Each of the three headline bands had drawn their own crowd and these crowds, despite a shared musical taste, seemed to have little in common. This package has been touring around Europe and, I imagine, coalesced better in places like Berlin where the punk politics is virile. I dragged the mohawk home and cooked him dinner. Then we watched The Sopranos and Hill Street Blues.
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.