What can I say about Moscow Death Brigade, or indeed the last two years, that I haven’t already said before. Well, friends, you and I are about to find out. I am pretty sure I kick off most of my pieces with some kind of mind-numbing reassessment of the global coronavirus pandemic, its attendant lockdowns, my ill-advised dalliance(s) with nutmeg (what??) etc. but unfortunately for everyone I love repeating myself. While the pandemic might be, to all official intents and purposes, over in the United Kingdom- in the immortal words of Timi Yuro ‘it’ll never be over for me.’ So here we go: there were two shows that were postponed for me that were bigger than the rest. The first, the alpha and omega, was Bauhaus. That came on a glorious Halloween eve last year. The second was this. Moscow Death Brigade. Early in 2020 when I saw they were playing in London I got my ticket the day they went on sale. With certain artists I get consumed with panic that their shows will sell out immediately- because they are so good why wouldn’t every cunt in London and its surrounding commutable environs jump on a ticket? My initial horror that I would have to travel to South London for the show was quickly subsumed by sheer gratitude that I would soon get to see them again. I would direct you to my 2020 review of Bad Accent Anthems for my unbridled enthusiasm after seeing them at Boomtown in 2019. A brilliant show that was totally worth running up and down the hill to Town Centre multiple times making sure we were in the right place. They were also announced for Roskilde Festival 2020, the single best announcement on what was otherwise an unconvincing line-up for that year. After I saw they weren’t on the line-up for 2022 I decided to sell my ticket (as much as I would genuinely like to have seen Dua Lipa again.)
While sadly they are a man down from their usual three, they make up for it by joining forces for the UK leg of the tour with the legendary, and utterly lovely, Kieran Plunkett of the Restarts. Rather unfortunately Kieran had broken his arm in a bicycle-related incident just before, but that was hardly enough to slow him down and he gives it his all on stage for what is a brilliant, in the words of the Brigade themselves, punk/rap collaboration.
They are joined on the bill by Jawless, a name seen more and more on bills up and down the country. Fronted by the utterly charismatic Theresa Vendetta, they are a thrashcore band based in London who from the start match the energy and idealism MDB crowds expect. They are part of a thriving hardcore scene but maintain their punk sensibilities sonically and consciously which has helped them rise above the noise on the London live music circuit.
They begin their set with Agony, the first track off their Songs for the Apocalypse EP. They power through to Blood in Your Mouth, as Theresa Vendetta implores girls to come down to the front making more room from swinging kicks and flying elbows. Within about 10 seconds I have lost half my pint and then almost slipped on the fallen liquid. At this stage the only safe option is to down the rest of the pint and move further in. They are brilliant and voracious, constantly engaging with the crowd in a way that is absolutely magnetic. The crowd delightedly cheers back the chorus on Police Bastard, as instructed and with boundless enthusiasm. Throughout the set Theresa Vendetta weaves in and out of the crowd, filling the room with atmosphere both on and off the stage.
As they smash their way through the set it becomes clear they are a real match for MDB’s vitality. Dedications to animal liberation are sung loud and proud, as tunes like Hunters and Until Every Cage is Empty round out their restless set. They have a bunch of new songs they play for the crowd, and hopefully with their frequent gig schedule there will be new music to get hold of soon!
When it’s time for Moscow Death Brigade to take the stage there is no need for introduction. The shellsuits glimmer as if in scouse sunshine under the overhead lights. The ski-masks both material and symbolic of their familiar anonymity. They kick off the show with Renegade Stomp, the storming opener from their instant classic second album Boltcutter. It is a sweet, sweet assault of noise after two and a half years of waiting to see them again. Two years of dreaming about this gig all the time. Two years of nervously waiting for it to happen. There was even a point where it crossed my mind that global nuclear annihilation might pose a serious threat of the gig being postponed indefinitely. Why worry! I was grateful to be there. I was grateful they were there!
It’s Us and Ghettoblaster represent their first album Hoods Up. They are both heavy hitters that bring the old school hardcore metal vibe and as they say themselves “it’s the Moscow Death Killa Beez, ya’ll been warned we on a swarm.” I try to keep my face out of elbow reach and plough into the crowd. In between these tracks are some other killer tunes, and thanks to successfully avoiding mosh pit-induced concussion I can talk about them in the following paragraphs! Forgive me for any lapses in memory, I am as ever working with painfully limited braincell capacity.
If there’s one thing MBD are not short of it’s anthems. They have solidarity and collectivism at their very core, so it isn’t much of a surprise that so many of their tracks possess those perfect sing-a-long qualities that crowds take in with their hearts and give back with their voices. Brother and Sisterhood is the perfect MDB solidarity anthem- it also has the “ski-mask and tracksuit, you know we’re the angry youth” refrain that sums them up so succinctly. “We’re vandals, hooligans, punx and crusties” sums up the crowd (although I consider myself more a quasi-goth sports-mod, I feel completely at home here.)
On a serious note, it is really important that bands like MBD actively shout out the sisterhood in their music. We are activists, antifascists, fans and shy kidz all the same and that’s all we want to be treated as. The sisterhood is there in force at the front of the crowd jumping, screaming and dancing with our punk compatriots of every background. Plenty of music, not just punk and its genre-cousins, is political but also utterly, blatantly, tediously performative. We don’t want blokes on stage singing about why sexism is bad while their fans treat women like shit in the crowd and at the bar. We want a diversity of artists recognising us and opening up spaces to us as equals. This is one of the many things that make MDB shows so fucking fun- they make a difference with their music and they attract sound people.
Anne Frank Army, Pt. 2 was a set highlight for me. It’s one of the best songs ever written about antifascism, and it is painfully salient in 2022. Dedicated to those who have died and continue to die at the hands of hatemongers and the fence-sitting bastards who washed, and still wash, their hands (tho they often won’t wear masks) of responsibility in resisting violent racism, homophobia, sexism and discrimination of all kinds.
Bad Accent, another favourite, and Feed the Crocodiles bring us our first taste of their most recent album Bad Accent Anthems. Both Bad Accent, the global dialect of renegades, and Feed the Crocodiles are furious blasts of circle pit hip hop and a great examples of the stomping techno-fusion they developed further on their last record. I thought Bad Accent Anthems managed to produce even more bangers than Boltcutter which was quite an achievement. The frenzy in the crowd as the sweat flies is more testament to its smash hit prowess.
On the night the group lead the crowd into an acapella of Flares Are Burning, their 2021 single about the struggle to make music and why they do what they do. It’s a beautiful song, one for the hooligans, and a chance for the crowd to show them love. The EP itself contains acoustic versions of Sound of Sirens, a fantastic BAA track that they smash out here in New Cross too, and the aforementioned Ghettoblaster. What’s remarkable about the EP is how good they are totally stripped back of the driving beats and hardcore stylings that make them so unique. They maintain that same intensity even with just an acoustic guitar. Though there’s no acoustic guitar in sight on stage (thank god) you can’t help but think that they might manage to turn even Wonderwall into an antifascist anthem if they put their minds to it. Although I could definitely live without hearing this.
Tearing up the stage they break into Never Walk Alone, another of my favourite tracks and a real highlight from the set. It’s a fucking genius tune that would go down a storm as much in a nightclub somewhere in Belgium as central Europe. Schengen to new iron curtain. If they needed a tune to truly unite the brother and sisterhood across borders this is the one. I took a break while writing this to dance around my living room with my cat to it, who thankfully has equally good taste as his mother and doesn’t mind a bounce of epic Eurobanger-proportions. At least I think he doesn’t.
Bringing it back to their second album, they start to round up the set with What We Do. It was hearing them play this live for the first time that sparked my now well-documented MDB obsession, and my abiding memory of the show is jumping around in the arms of fellow fans as we hugged and laughed and smashed the hell out of each other to this crowd favourite.
They end on Papers, Please! a pro-immigration pro-refugee tour-de-force against a system that allows the worst elements of humanity to move freely while children die at borders. There is a new urgency to this track, with another manufactured humanitarian crisis bubbling at the edges of Europe’s crumbling fortress. They take their signature crowd shot, deftly captured by my esteemed editor, before launching into Boltcutter. They bring out the boltcutter. All is good.
Bad Accent Anthems deserved the proper tour that it was sadly robbed of by the circumstances around its release. Though that was a shame, the album still knocks me sideways two years after its release, and I hope to hear more of its songs live in the future. Tracks like Whack-A-Mole and Shy Kidz 2020 are so, so good they deserve being aired to crowds as often as possible. It is greedy and I appreciate the artists have to leave the stage at some point, it remains a dream for me to hear either of those tracks live. I will continue to dream, continue to keep the faith that we will get to see them many more times in the not so distant future.
By the time this review is out their epic tour will have finished up in the United Kingdom and they will be heading home, back to all the uncertainty and state-inflicted menace that hangs over the Russian Federation, and indeed its neighbouring states. Years ago I was set to move to Russia, but in the end gave it up because I was so nervous of the political situation- unsurprisingly I am not that brave. As the drawbridges go up for another tragic chapter in our collective history, it means so much to see the best of its culture break out of the borders imposed on us by demagogues and so-called democrats alike. For groups like MDB, and others similarly using music to confront the state, the risk to their freedom is real in a way that is hard to fully grasp in the West. Current events like those we see now can suddenly and rapidly exacerbate that threat. Yet that only increases the urgency of their message, the importance of their movement across borders. Their message is essential enough that it cannot be silenced, and they do not let the threat of the state and its obedient goblins in the far-right stop them. Not all heroes wear capes. Some of them wear ski-masks and tracksuits.
Photos: Guy Smallman