I first saw Amyl & the Sniffers, pride of Melbourne, on the indoor Gloria stage at Roskilde Festival in 2019. I hauled myself over in the middle of the night, sober and very tired no less, because I knew I’d never forgive myself if I missed it. A precious Dice waiting list ticket for the Underworld in Camden followed a few months later. After two years, and for them the world’s longest lockdown in the Australian state of Victoria, it is amazing to have them back in the UK. I was worried all year this might be another sudden postponement so my relief on walking through the doors of the Electric Ballroom, one of my favourite venues, was quite something. Not just that, but the addition of Chubby & the Gang (best band in the UK, best album of 2021) on support, along with the electrifying Shooting Daggers, it was already set to be the gig of the year. To say it didn’t disappoint is an understatement as I’m sure my ensuing enthusiasm will demonstrate.
The first act came in the form of the brilliantly named Shooting Daggers. Not long from releasing double A-side Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Missandra on limited edition flexi-disc in October, this queercore powerhouse trio pack an incredible punch of sonic chaos.
There is a real joy that comes from watching young bands enjoying the big breaks they deserve, and I can’t imagine many greater than sharing a stage with Amyl. I missed Shooting Daggers supporting old favourites USA Nails at the Victoria in Dalston a weekend previously, having been levelled by the flu, so it was great to finally catch them. The opening refrains of No Exit had us running from the bar into a crowd already moving with purpose and energy. When they launch into new single Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the crowd roars back with approval. The driving guitars and unrelenting drums set the pace for the rest of their impressive ten song set. With tunes such as Hostile, Liar and Carnage on offer there can be no doubt that they mean business.
The highlights for me came with further A-side single Missandra– the perfect blend of fraught vocals, frenetic guitars and a mesmerising drum beat that you cannot stand still to- and Humanity Waste, with its unequivocal fuck you to the sweaty personal space invaders. “Is it normal that I’m dreaming of a place I can breathe in?” These dreams are becoming, gig by gig, more of a reality in no small due to Shooting Daggers themselves. Closing up with the defiant You Can’t Kill Us, Shooting Daggers left the stage with a cohort of new fans- myself wholeheartedly included.
Bands like Shooting Daggers are vitally important on the bills of big name live music, they draw in young and diverse crowds, and their music reinforces ownership of these spaces. Independent promotors like Loud Women and Roadkill Records have been essential to this and it’s about time the rest of the industry caught up. For any woman who has endured years of, at best, being pushed out of the way at bars by supine men sporting the latest right-on band t-shirts there is an unstoppable momentum building that if you push us, we’ll push back. Gigs are becoming less spaces where you keep your guard up, and more riotously fun spaces full of solidarity where you help others let their guard down. We have groups at the forefront of this like Shooting Daggers, and of course Amyl, to thank for it and more power to them.
Following on that now scorched stage was the most formidable act in the UK right now. Anyone who’s had to listen to me talk about music this year will know I’m a huge fan of Chubby & The Gang. The Mutt’s Nuts was my album of the year and after eagerly awaiting my preorder it has been routinely caned. Like their debut album Speed Kills, The Mutt’s Nuts was produced by Jonah Falco, the prolific and painfully cool London-based drummer of Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up. Falco has brilliant form for supporting upcoming talent in and out of the UK scene, most recently with punk pedigree act The Chisel.
Infused with all the best elements of the hardcore genre, what sets Chubby & The Gang apart is an incredibly deft aptitude for songwriting. This shines through in the variety on their records, especially The Mutt’s Nuts. Their songs are body-blows not just of noise or melody, but real stories of trying to get through life and love, taxi driving, set-tos and the feelings of helplessness that come with being on the wrong side of the state. They’re also inspiring testaments to breaking out and taking charge. You cannot fake that kind of innate talent just by playing louder, harder, faster, and you cannot cosplay authenticity by churning out “June with spoon” critiques of the Tories or how moving to Peckham and having to pay most of your own rent suddenly made you working class. Plus they have a song called Bruce Grove Bullies, which I like to think is actually about my mum holding down our neighbourhood with an iron fist.
I loved seeing Chubby and the Gang (twice) at End of the Road, especially in the Tipi tent. I have to be careful about my bonce these days as I know first-hand how dangerous taking a whack to it can be. When you live life clinging to the last vestiges of your functioning braincells and neuro-synaptic hardware, you don’t want to risk it all on a misplaced elbow from Overenthusiastic Ollie in the pit. Festivals like End of the Road are fairly safe spaces to dance for rapidly-aging, medium-build 31 year olds like myself, so I had no hesitation about jumping straight in. Being at the front is also great for watching Chubby Charles’ L’Oréal worthy hair reveal. It’s an impressive barnet. This time around however I had shed all my hardcore-crowd fear, while Chubby comes on stage hair untied and resplendent (I’ll stop talking about the hair now) and the band charge into Chubby & The Gang Rule OK! They are frenetic, relentless on stage. Powered by a formidable rhythm section of the iconic Maegan Brooks Mills on bass and Joe McMahon on drums, along with Ethan Stahl and Tom Hardwick on guitar, you can feel in every growl, every note, every riff the inimitable musical skill of a band variously honed in some of the best underground acts Britain, or anywhere, has had to offer.
Introducing lead single Coming Up Tough, Chubby rails against the Met and the brutality of a judicial system that exists to eat up the working class and keep them in their place. Eighteen years old, down for twenty years. “No one ever gave you a chance.” I first heard it on the radio and was floored. It still breaks my heart each time I hear it, and live it is no less a triumph of emotive raw energy and outrage.
I couldn’t help but scream, sorry to the startled bloke in front of me who I’m sure will be reading this, when Chubby announces Moscow, his favourite city in the world. It’s my well-trodden favourite city too, and a highlight for me from Speed Kills. My own enthusiasm culminated in me almost knocking myself out, no aforementioned Ollies to blame, on my poor friend’s head. Worth it, and just enough braincells clung on for survival. Further highlights come from Pressure, a relentless blast of guitar and drums that echoes perfectly the thunderous mindscape of the lyrics, and On The Meter, a tune about taxi driving nightshifts with the moon as your only reliable company. Excellent single Lightening Don’t Strike Twice is a tumultuous riot delivered at breakneck speed, capturing the seething rage of trying to exist in a world that has the dice firmly loaded against your favour.
When they bust out Life’s Lemons, a tender pean to the inevitability of lost love, I was heartened by the lack of chatter in the crowd. It’s tribute to how captivating Chubby & the Gang are for any audience they play to. This band are no warm up act, and no doubt this was a double headline show for many in the crowd whether they expected it or not.
The main event however is the return of Amyl & the Sniffers to London. Fresh out of lockdown and with a genuinely phenomenal second album newly under their belts, anticipation for the gig was high. With the absolutely perfect supporting acts being no afterthought, it was clear the band and promotors had been working hard to make sure it was going to be an unforgettable show. Comfort to Me is a work of real brilliance. It is multifaceted and complex, while staying true to the barebones punk ethos that makes their sound so addictive. Each song could easily be a single but it holds together effortlessly as an album, demonstrating both Dan Luscombe’s invaluable production and the band’s own astronomical capacity for songcraft.
Crashing onto the stage in a purple and orange PVC outfit reminiscent of Geri Halliwell in the ‘Say You’ll Be There’ video (good eye Carys) Amyl and her Sniffers power into lead single Guided By Angels and the crowd explodes into life. I run straight into the middle and am met by a furiously kinetic mass of freaks at the front and it is glorious. Elevating Amyl’s wild energy, her currency no less, is the frenzy of the Sniffers. Featuring Gus Romer on bass, Bryce Wilson on drums and Dec Martens on guitar, all certified haircut heroes in their own right, they blast out a crystal clear freight train of sound as fan-favourite Security sends Amyl rocketing around the stage. One of the big pluses I’ve found with the vinyl revival is bands are far more discerning with what makes onto an album, which also means crowds can enjoy all their favourites at shows like this. Comfort to Me is an album so packed full of bangers every song deserves to be heard with earsplitting volume. Hertz with its lockdown-lethargy defying refrain of ‘take me to the beach, take me to the country’ is sung with relish by the whole crowd, and obstinate anthem Maggot has Amyl imploring all her loyal maggots to be free. They very much are and they are out in force. Don’t Need a Cunt (Like You to Love Me) was a strong contender for my track of the year, and is a great example of the power she imbues in herself and shares with her audience. This is music written and performed to be taken to heart and that’s exactly what the crowd does with every shockwave out of the speakers. Old favourites like Got You and Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled) are still deliriously fun to freak out to and bring a flood of happy memories of those absolutely wild shows from years now gone by. Seeing once-in-a-generation bands like Amyl and the Sniffers at different stages of their career is priceless and that worth isn’t lost on their army of dedicated fans.
The track that really blew me away on the album was Knifey. One of those moments that arrests you with a rush of excitement not dissimilar to falling in love. Experiencing something astonishing for the first time. It was the same feeling all over again when they launched into it towards the end of the gig, there was an electricity in the crowd and it was impossible not to feel genuinely connected to everyone around you. It’s the closest thing they have to an anthem, not in the trite anthemic tradition but in its lyrical poignancy and ardent delivery. “I’d rather be alive and free than in prison, I turn around and backtrack.” This torrid year in news stories has only shined a public light on the thoughts, fears and determination to be alive that is not new, I would wager, to almost every woman surrounding me in the crowd. Surrounded by women I was- every kind from all ages, all styles and backgrounds, all together bouncing and surging and screaming with delight. I even bumped into old friends in the pit! These moments are what make life worth living and power you through the dark times. A prime example of why we have to fight to preserve grassroots music culture wherever we are and however we can.
When lockdown kicked in, me and my mates agreed we would never take another gig for granted and get ourselves out no matter how tired, how skint or how lazy we were feeling. We’ve stayed true to our word with an incredible bumper year of shows. I continued to buy gig tickets throughout lockdown and when I got mine for this I knew when it finally happened it would be unlike anything else. There was an energy in the crowd that can’t have justice done to it in mere words. I am hesitant to describe Amy Taylor as simply a performer, because the magic she works on stage is someone baring their soul, sharing themselves wholeheartedly and sent celestial by the love the crowds give back to her. That energy, her currency, is something she shares with socialist-abandon and anyone lucky enough to witness it will be eternally, gratefully, richer.