For once, my biggest challenge in writing up a gig will not be trying to think of new ways to say “They were great! I liked them!” I have spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out exactly what the Hell happened at Retro Bar Thursday night and I’m still not 100% sure, but I think I’ve gotten to the point of being able to form an opinion on it.
The evening started normally enough, with my friends Wal, Stuart, Ben and me meeting up at Sinclair’s Oyster Bar for a couple of pints before heading over to the gig. I was adamant that we couldn’t be late because I didn’t want to miss Nihilism Incarnate‘s opening set. I’d loved them at Smash Fest in July, and I knew frontman Craig Forshaw was excited about being the support for this gig. When we arrived, Craig was in full Happy Hugging Everybody mode and he promised that he’d be sending me a free NI shirt in the post. Yes!
I listen to Nihilism Incarnate’s Eat, Shit And Die EP on my iPod quite a lot – I love Craig’s rasping growl and the way Graham Clayton’s lead guitar plays out over the heavy chugging rhythms. There’s a lot of melody in there for a non-melodic death metal band. Unfortunately, much of that was lost in their performance on Thursday, with the sound seeming to smother many of the nuances I love so much about their music. However, Craig is a natural frontman with a good patter between songs and I enjoyed them immensely.
Switzerland’s Dynamite Abortion were next and I was fully prepared to like them because I like their name. (No particular reason why – I just think it’s got pizzazz.) And they were excellent. I’m hard-pressed to say anything that was specifically great about them, other than they were tight and heavy. I really liked the pig squeal vocals, but the same could be said about pretty much every band that played that night. This was not an eclectic lineup. We were there to glut ourselves on slams and guttural vocals. I just know I liked them so much I bought a shirt. It has a picture of a woman being mutilated on it. Of course.
After their set I went outside on the steps and talked to their guitarist. I said half of all the German I know: “I studied German for two semesters and I have forgotten everything.” (The other half is, “This morning on the bus a crack lady bit me.”) Having exhausted my Krautspeak I went back inside where I remarked to promoter Joe Mortimer that the room looked really full. I saw a lot of familiar faces, including many of the usual suspects from Leeds as well as Matty (Joe’s cohort in Crepitation and Neuroma) who came down from Liverpool. Joe was very happy, saying that it was the best turnout he’d seen for this sort of gig in Manchester. It was great and the bar was doing a brisk business.
Third on were Acranius, from Germany. I didn’t think they were as good as Dynamite Abortion, having a somewhat sparse sound that was heavy on the drums. But to be honest, I didn’t pay close attention to the music for very long because that was when shit started to get weird. A couple of kids came running up from the back, windmilling their arms and doing spin kicks. There were people standing headbanging at the front and there wasn’t a lot of space, in general. So the karate kids were flailing and kicking right into everybody else. Scuffles were breaking out but were pretty quickly quelled by the crowd, as is the custom at metal gigs. I was like, “What the fuck, do they think this is a dojo?” I had seen videos of kids at hardcore shows doing this sort of thing, but never at a metal show before. I just didn’t know why, all of a sudden out of the blue, some kids started running around and hitting people. I went over to the door to find Joe watching the pit with a concerned look on his face. I said, “Those clowns are pissing me off! I was tempted to just punch that one guy in the nuts.” Well, I’m not actually going to punch anybody – I had been surprised at the level of my own outrage, but I knew that it’s not actually easy to hit such a small target on a windmilling teenager and, also, I don’t like being hit in the face. So I just stood back by the door for the rest of the set. “What the fuck is going on?” I asked, as the set ended and people started going upstairs for a smoke break. “It’s going to be a lot worse during Ingested,” said Joe.
This mystified me. What did Joe know that I didn’t? Up until that very moment, I had forgotten that I’d seen Ingested play at ‘Kin Hellfest back in June. At the time, I enjoyed their set I’d never really heard anything about them since, in spite of their being local, which is why I’d forgotten all about them. I did talk to them briefly in the bar upstairs when I first arrived and they had seemed like really nice guys but I don’t think I’d ever seen any of them around, before. It was like they aren’t really part of the same Manchester metal scene that I am familiar with, and I couldn’t tell you exactly why. I don’t flatter myself that I know every band in Greater Manchester, but it does seem odd to me that a local band that plays death metal doesn’t cross my path more often. What other bands and gigs am I not hearing about? What am I missing?!
I went outside and chatted with friends and was suddenly aware of there being a large knot of people on the opposite side of the street. At first I thought maybe they were people from some other venue or event, but then I realised that they were attending the same gig, and I didn’t recognise any of them. I want to avoid any classist comments or allusions to style of dress, because I think that sort of thing is obnoxious, but there was a distinct feeling that they were somehow “other.” And there was a faint vibe of hostility from them. I went back inside full of apprehension.
Sure enough, within seconds of Ingested starting their set, there was another altercation as the number of people kicking and punching increased. I would say there were maybe only six of them going at any one time, but Retro is a very small space. I think the attendance was just under 150 people, plus the bands, and that completely filled the room. Someone would come up from the back kicking and then other people would get angry and there would be shoving and yelling. Joe Mortimer stood on top of the desk at the door, watching intently, before going onto the stage and saying something to the vocalist. The vocalist then said that if there were any more problems, the club owners were going shut the show down. After that, things were much calmer. I hadn’t really been able to pay attention to the music, having to spend all my time looking over my shoulder in fear of another karate kid coming at me, but I was stood at the back wall and was able to enjoy what was some really excellent music. Ingested are very tight and bring a lot of intensity to their performance. There was another scuffle midway through the set, but the vocalist pleaded for peace again and everyone simmered down. On their last song, he called for a wall of death, which surprised me, but he said to do it “as respectfully as you can.” It went off without too much incident (and in a room that small, it didn’t really go off at all.) Then, before their final breakdown, he said, “If you’re going to do something, now is the time to do it.” Queue more kung fu. But, overall, it did seem as if the worst of it was over and there was the hope that the troublemakers would leave after Ingested finished playing.
I like to stand towards the front and that’s where I was when Cerebral Incubation played. I’m always happy to see Yanks come through Manchester, and these guys from Las Vegas seemed like really good people. Joe had been their tour manager for the past week as they played several European shows – I gather he and Matty had met them when they played Las Vegas Death Fest a couple of months ago. With an endorsement like that, I was all set to like them, and like them I did. As good as the previous bands had been, Cerebral Incubation were in a class of their own. I don’t remember many specifics about their music, other than Andrew LoMastro having the deepest, richest vocals I have ever heard. They’re beyond pig squeals. They’re, like, hog bellows or something. They just kept serving up plate after plate of rich, dishy slam until at some point I was sated, and then saturated. I was left just nodding my head numbly to the music. I thought the unpleasantness was behind us until some kid just came rushing up from the back, fists circling wildly, right into Wal and the other guys at the front. Wal and he started going at it, the kid furious that Wal had torn the sleeve of his t shirt. I’m afraid I have to admit that even I got involved, throwing my drink at him when he barged into me. People got between them and managed to quell a full-blown fight with some difficulty. I went back to the far wall, again, making sure there were plenty of people between me and whatever was going on. And then the lights came up, the music stopped, and there was a shouting match between Matty and some guy who was being escorted out of the gig. The set had been cut about four songs short and it was time to go home.
I had had a lot to drink, and so while I saw a lot of flare ups, I didn’t see much of it in great detail. I just left the gig thinking “What a weird night! What the Hell just happened?” At the time, my impression was that some clique of people I’d never seen before – kids from some other scene – had shown up at a metal gig and behaved inappropriately. I’ve always felt that extreme metal scene is a pretty open, accepting scene. I’ve talked to many security guards at clubs and festivals who all say that metal gigs are the easiest gigs because we’re really very polite and easy-going. I’ve seen misunderstandings turn sour in mosh pits, before, but they are invariably sorted out by fellow moshers before security is even aware there is a problem. This was just unprecedented and I was baffled.
It was on Facebook the next morning that most of the drama actually played out. Matty posted to the event page on Facebook:
What a boss turnout! thanks to all those fucking arseholes for giving all your pocket money to support ace bands, now please never ever come to an extreme metal gig ever again. You impressed no one. And to orange jacket dude, dont go saying “this is manchester” as an excuse for being violent, brought real shame to your city.
Paul Priest (No Fucks Given/’Kin Hellfest promoter) posted something as well:
That was awesome.
Some people did a wrong.
It wasn’t anybody I know.
I had my ear split open whilst half back during ingested, and some people wonder why I kicked off! How about fuck right off. That’s definitely not how it is whether you accept that or not.
These posts sparked a “debate” that was, aside from being highly entertaining, proved rather illuminating. Responses from various members of the faction of “beatdown” attendees ran along the lines of:
….You lot really need spines. Literally biggest bunch of pussies I’ve ever come across! Atleast at a hardcore show people deal with the problems there not run to Facebook crying like fags….
….An so what a kid got punched are you’s still crying because a few people got kicked n punched? Fuck sake how boring do u want a show to be?….
….Come malev [Malevolent] tonight then we’ll show u how it’s done bunch of fannnnnys….
….Cheers for the free entry and drinks! Shout out to all the mongs who got banged out, don’t cry because you got hit….
And so on, for over 500 comments in which some people attempted, using proper grammar and punctuation, to try to explain something as simple as, “We don’t like being kicked in the face at metal gigs” and were met with incoherent gibberish about fags and grebos and greasy hair. (I had to go Google “meaning of grebe.”)
It was funny, as drama often is, and I was glued to Facebook for much of the day, but somewhere along the line I realised that this wasn’t just a misunderstanding between two cultures. You see, my initial thought was that these kids had strayed over from the hardcore scene and were doing what they do, unaware that this was about as welcome as it would be to start a circle pit at the opera. But it soon became apparent that they knew exactly what they were doing. They went to Retro Bar with a chip on their collective shoulders and an agenda. I don’t know if they consider themselves a “crew” (someone said something about a Second City Beatdown Crew) or if they’re just a clique of friends who like this sort of music, but from their comments and demeanour, they definitely seem to see themselves as A) a collective entity, and B) distinct from everyone else at the gig.
To view a scene as “ours” and distinguish between “us” and “them” is stupid, but natural and is done by everyone on both sides. Speaking for myself, I had gone with friends, to a gig put on by another friend, to see what I understood to be “brutal slamming death metal.” I had certain expectations for the evening. I am genuinely thrilled to see new faces at a gig and would never say that someone wasn’t dressed right for the occasion or anything of the sort. If someone came straight from the office with their tie in their suit pocket, I would just assume they really liked metal and thought it was cool they carved out the time to support the scene. But I have always expected everyone to adhere to the general ethos of extreme metal.
Exactly what the “general ethos” of extreme metal is is a subject that occupies a surprisingly robust little corner of academia and I am no academic. But I have given it a fair amount of thought to some of the bizarre and seemingly contradictory quirks of our scene, and I have come to the conclusion that extreme metal deals with certain themes involving our deepest fears and vulnerabilities. Things like death, dismemberment, decay are explored, as well as violence and sexuality vis-a-vis violence (particularly what seems to be a horror of the female body.) These themes are mulled over and explored in vivid, gory depth both in the music lyrics and the visual art on the album covers and t-shirts. However, they are strictly contained within the art, by which means they are controlled, and so the listener is given the freedom to laugh about them. The music is brutal, the imagery is brutal, but the behaviour of people at the gigs is actual quite friendly and playful. Sometimes even the music is silly, such as the case with grindcore, or the ridiculous “wobble vox” vocals of Crepitation. Nobody is “hard.” I don’t know a metalhead over the age of 16 who actually thinks wearing a Dying Fetus shirt makes you look tough. Black metal contains a strong element of theatrical posturing, but death metal does not. The mood at death metal gigs is overwhelmingly jolly and lighthearted. When people shove one another in the pit, they are smiling and laughing. And, of course, nobody ever deliberately kicks or punches anyone else. It simply isn’t done.
So when a group of people showed up and did that sort of thing, we were aghast. I mean, yes, the metalheads reacted in anger and there were punches (and drinks) thrown in retaliation, but there was quite a bit of heavy-metal pearl clutching. “Who does that? What sort of people are you?”
I haven’t been to a hardcore show since the 80’s, but I remember a fair amount of hard man posturing as various factions of punks and skinheads glowered at one another across the room. And then Kevin Seconds would ask us why, if we could walk together, couldn’t we rock together? I was just a teenager and even then I thought it was all pretty silly – that talk of “walking together” and “unity” made me want to ask “Walk where? Unity against whom? What do you actually think you’re accomplishing?” I think they were united in being for or against drinking or for or against racism or something but I never saw them do so much as organise a canned food drive. About the only thing I could remember them doing was starting fights at shows.
It’s tempting to conclude that the hardcore scene hasn’t changed,but it wouldn’t be fair of me to do that because I have been away from it for so long that I honestly don’t know what they’re doing. Superficially, I see things like talk of “crews” and boasting of toughness that all looks very similar, but these kids weren’t even born yet back when I saw Agnostic Front and Sick of It All at Bogarts in Cincinnati. It’s several decades later and thousands of miles away. The only real constant I see is that they are all very young and they think that the aggression is not expressed and contained in the art, but is to be embodied personally, as well.
Quite a few of the people who attended seem to blame Ingested for the problem – either that they’d brought in a bad element of fans from other shows they play or even that they were encouraging the problems somehow. Both Matty and Paul Priest told me that they were certain that this was not the case. “They’re sound,” they said. They both said that they’d been to many Ingested gigs before and never seen this sort of problem, before. But I somehow got the feeling that they were getting a bit of a buzz from the drama, in spite of their admonishments, and I thought I would ask them for their thoughts on it. Vocalist Jay was kind enough to send me this message from the Geneva airport on the way to a gig on the Continent:
Hey Katy, sorry for late reply, we’re currently in Geneva airport haha. We really enjoyed the show on Thursday, obviously there seems to have been lots of drama in the aftermath. In all honesty I’ve seen far, far worse at shows, and it all seems like it’s been blown out of proportion by people arguing on Facebook. At the end of the day metal scenes merge and break apart, this is a cycle that just goes on and on. Yes, there are arseholes in the beatdown scene, but then there’s arseholes in every metal scene. We should be celebrating the joining of cultures, not ostracising each other. This is why our respective scenes will always struggle to get out of the underground. Too much bitching and moaning. If you’re worried about getting hurt or injured, stay away from the pit, that has ALWAYS been the “rule” well before any of this fucking crowdkilling bullshit or hardcore dancing or slam dancing or whatever the new thing is this month. We’re all there to have a good time and IF someone is attacking someone who does not want to be involved then that person should be removed from the venue by security. In the end though, we play death metal, we play violent music, and sometimes it does get pretty fucking rowdy. Everyone needs to start working together rather than pulling apart if we really want see our scenes grow and flourish. Cheers, Jason
I’m not particularly satisfied with “stay out of the pit” because Retro Bar is so small that to do so would have meant everyone who didn’t want to cage fight would have to go upstairs, and also because some people want to mosh without actually being punched and kicked, but it does appear that Jay doesn’t approve of crowd-killing and supports the removal of such aggressors from the venue. And I would agree that the drama on Facebook (in which I was a participant) probably only exacerbates the problem.
And do we have a problem? Was this a one-off? Or will we see more cross-pollination between death metal and “beatdown” via “slam” that brings about more clashes of this sort? Even writing these words, I think it’s all very silly. But I know people who say they won’t be going to see Dying Fetus at Sound Control in November because supporting band Malevolence draws a similar crossover crowd. I really don’t think it’s possible to expect metalheads who want to headbang and shove one another to move aside so that some other people can do roundhouse kicks at face height. Also, what I saw on Thursday was actual crowd-killing – people deliberately targeting bystanders with their fists and feet. At any rate, I know I’m not alone in being apprehensive about what might occur in the future.
(Wal has a footprint on his chest!)