Why Fucked Up Show Punk Rock Is In Rude Health, By John Robb

Suave and piratical punk rocker John Robb casts the goat's entrails across the linoleum and foresees a genre reborn

It might be much maligned and often ignored, but the great punk rock beast is in rude health. In the UK there is a great scene of young bands and big festivals like the Rebellion festival in Blackpool in August (headlined by Killing Joke this year) and the new Mutiny festival in Bridlington in May. That’s not to mention the global scene and a touring circuit that incorporates America, Europe, Russia, and Indonesia. If the gig offers Gold Blade have been getting mean anything, the likes of Algeria, Morocco and South America could soon be added to the list.

Yet reading the pop dialogue in the posh papers you’d think that we were all living in an indie submarine, and no-one played fast and furious four-to-the-floor rock music any more.

But what’s going on here? I wander into the 2,400 capacity Academy One in Manchester and it’s totally sold out. Hordes are locked outside. Who is on tonight? Is it some pet of the press – the Yeah Yeah Yeahs perhaps? Nope! They barely fill the 900 capacity venue next door.

Tonight it’s four-piece vegan punk band Rise Against, who have taken the ferocious, melodic assault of Minor Threat and twisted it with a harmonic flavour. This has brought the band out of the underground and into the mainstream – their current album Appeal To Reason is in the American top five. Tonight they are packing them in supported by another fiercely political crossover outfit, Anti-Flag.

Rise Against are, of course, fantastic, hitting the stage running, dressed in black. Like all American bands, they have that military unit thing nailed down. Our transatlantic chums always have their bands disciplined, there is not a spare note or a guitar player widdling away pointlessly – this is a ferociously drilled music in the tradition of the Ramones. Their guitars are crisp and do that chugging thing perfectly; their songs squeeze every available variation out of the melodic hardcore style with dark riffing, full-on mosh pit guitar dynamics over those hardcore stop/starts and huge rousing choruses.

You can see why they have become so bit – their relationship with their audience is tight and they have the songs. They have synthesised the right balance between righteous anger and the sort of set list that even the kind of radio stations who claim that the new U2 single is a bit ‘Challenging’ for their ‘brand format’ can play.

Meanwhile their political stance makes a mockery of those pundits who whine on about how music is so apolitical these days, and that no-one has had anything to say.

As I leave there’s a whole pack of skinny punk rock youth surrounding the stall that gives away vegan literature and CDs financed by the band, who are clearly keen to put their money where the non-carnivorous mouths are. If there is one thing true in rock ‘n’ roll it is that it is in a state of constant revolution. Rise Against are turning another generation on to fast guitar thrills and the punk rock politic while the old guard ignore it, or claim it was better in their day. RA prove this wrong.

On Saturday night it’s The Bronx and Fucked Up. It’s a very different crowd for this show – much more of the hipster hardcore crossover crew, lots of beards and American clothing.

Openers are Sheffield spazzcore outfit Rolo Tomassi whose synth driven darkness is really effective. Their fractured songs seem to cram in a thousand styles all at once and are reminiscent of genius Japanese bands like the Boredoms, whose fractured approach reflects the genius internet-hopping low attention span of the modern times where you can listen to 20 different styles of music in about 20 seconds on Spotify. Rolo Tomassi are a crush collision of industrial, synth bleeps, Japcore, metal riffs, dissonance, and hardcore all mashed into one brilliant whole. What a great band!

Fucked Up though are perhaps the best band in the world right now. Their super-intelligent and super-thrilling crossbreed of hardcore and psychedelia suggests a vast palate of imagination and neat referencing of the history of the form.

They are in the tradition of Blag Flag without sounding too much like them – you know the way that Black Flag played ferocious hardcore but turned it inside out with Greg Ginn’s astonishing guitar work. Fucked Up have that same sense of no holds barred imagination that takes their full on twin guitar attack and sends it into the stratosphere.

I love their records – the way that there is so much detail in the music and a no holds bared approach to the possibilities of what this kind of music can achieve. For me Fucked Up are the latest escape route for hardcore – in the mid 80s it was a brilliant new streamlined version of punk, just how great do those Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Black Flag records sound now? As well as lesser feted groups like 7 Seconds, Youth Of Today, Cro-Mags etc. But as time crept on it became much more metal orientated and the smarter bands split in the great schism with Big Black and Sonic Youth taking the adventure of early hardcore somewhere else. Somewhere beyond all that are Fucked Up.

Frontman Damon Pink Eyes is a commanding presence, one of those too-smart-for-this-dull-rock-&-roll-world crazies who is liable to damage himself at more extreme moments. He’s a big lad and last time he played Manchester his stage dive into the mosh pit was an entertainment in itself. This time he’s in a more prowling the stage mode but is still commanding, post show he proves himself to be a fountain of musical knowledge with a deep understanding of the scene.

"We are the Bronx. We are from Los Angeles", announces vocalist, Matt Caughthran. And an avalanche of sound cascades from the PA.

The Bronx have got a tough task following the Fucked Up maelstrom but their twin guitar attack hits the same intensity pitch as Fucked Up, Matt Caughthran, is a hyped up dynamo and his between song banter and speeches cut though all the sonic skree. The Bronx are one powerful band. When the Strokes first played Manchester there were excited media types telling me that this was just like the Stooges, but the band I was watching had a round faced singer standing stock still, zero energy and a bagful of catchy indie tunes – good but not the fucking Stooges! The Bronx would have crushed them for Raw Power. This is a thrilling full on visceral show from a band at the peak of its powers and further proof that the punk rock nation is in rude health.

Fucked Up Pic: Lucy Johnston

Coming soon: full interviews with Gallows, Mick Jones and Wire.

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