Rolo Tomassi round off a hectic year of touring in Hackney’s Oslo
It’s quite scary when, casually browsing through social media on your way home from a gig, you learn of unspeakable horror happening at another such event – even if it’s 200 miles away. If Friday 13th November’s attacks in Paris have shown anything over the last week or so, it’s that artists – from all nations, across all styles, and at all levels – are on edge. Shows are being cancelled or postponed left and right, and the sacrosanct forum of live music feels less safe to many. The comfort of standing in a room, with your mates, maybe having a drink and probably a bit of a boogie, has been violated.
But it will be back, and the worst thing we can do is allow fear to enter our safe spaces – so here’s where I was that night, in the hope you’ll not choose to stay home
Hackney’s Olso is a new venue for me, and first impressions are good. Despite hobbling up the stairs in my hefty aircast to the 375-cap room – sold out, this evening – there is a lift, and most importantly, the sound is fantastic.
Even without the headliner on the bill, I would have been eager for tonight’s show just for the opening act. I’ve seen Employed To Serve twice in the sweaty confines of The Unicorn earlier this year, but here at Oslo they’re given a much nicer stage and a different set of people to almost literally bounce their music off – and bounce it does. Under the mast of hardcore, their razor sharp and acerbic style is brimming with energy. Riffs chop and change in a much more technical fashion than you might initially expect from a band this aggressive – main vocalist Justine barks over a violent, impudent tone, with guitarist Sammy interjecting periodically with harsh vocalisations of his own – but you soon learn to expect the unexpected.
Above all, their music just bounces. For the final song, bassist Jamie Venning joins the increasingly energetic crowd in the moshpit – goaded into action as they have been by Employed To Serve’s vitality – with a presumed friend of the band stepping into his place on stage. Exactly what you want from an opening band, and more than worth your time the next time they play near you.
All long hair, moustaches and attitude, there’s almost no doubt before they’ve even played that Dutch punks John Coffey are going to be fun. But this fun? Hard to predict.
Dauntingly, they begin their set facing a giant empty wedge of floor space from stage front and spread out through an unsure crowd, but over the course of eight songs the band indelibly earn the audience, and ultimately their raucous send off. Progressively they make forays into the crowd – vocalist David climbs onto the bar at the back of the room early on, while guitarist Christoffer van Teijlingen takes up residency on the floor; and climactically, all four of the members with a mic (everyone bar drummer Carsten Brunsveld), buzzing around the floor, around the crowd and infecting everyone with a beaming grin by the set’s end.
Their music is nothing flashy from a technical standpoint, but that’s punk, the performance is impeccable, mixing parts Every Time I Die with a kind of family friendly vibe. That’s not to say there’s no edge, but they just seem like genuinely good guys, and their set is an absolute heap of joy.
Tonight is also the third time I’ve seen Rolo Tomassi this year. The first, on the final day of UK Tech Fest, was absolutely electric, but poorly received by a festival-weary crowd. The second, supporting The Fall Of Troy this summer, was hampered by shoddy venue sound. Third time lucky?
Absolutely. With a crowd primarily there to see them, and the sound as good as it is, there’s not much to go wrong for a band as experienced as this, and bar guitarist Chris Cayford snapping a multitude of strings throughout the course of the night – it is the last show of a week-long tour, to be fair – technical issues are kept to a minimum.
The set takes much from this year’s seminal Grievances – fan favourites “The Embers“, “Opalescent” and “Stage Knives” go down an absolute treat – but with time on their side, a few choice older songs get a good run out too, including “Howl“, “Ex Luna Scientia“, “Empiresk” and encore “Illuminare” from Astraea, “Kasia” from Cosmology and even “Adrasteia” from last year’s split EP with Stockades. As a new fan, it’s nice to hear some of the older material after gaining quick familiarity with the newer stuff.
As ever, it’s a wonder to watch drummer Tom Pitts at work. On the Grievances material, the mix of arty hardcore and black metal styles is invigorating and he executes it superbly. Up front, vocalists Eva and James Spence – whose keys are thankfully louder than I’ve heard them before – bark like demons; vocals which are contrasted starkly by Eva’s almost angelic cleans.
In particular, the main set’s final salvo of “Funereal” and “All That Has Gone Before” are catastrophically apocalyptic, and it’s this truly light/dark dynamic that really sets Rolo Tomassi apart from their more straightforward peers – and even from the likes of genre heavyweights like The Dillinger Escape Plan, with whom they are often compared. While Chris and bassist Nathan aren’t especially exuberant performance-wise, there’s little to criticise and a bustling hour passes all too quickly.
It’s nights like these in which common interest, companionship, and often a fair amount of beer can bring people together to forget the horrors happening elsewhere in the world. Goodness knows we need them at the moment, so don’t let your next chance go wanting.