Following a successful 2015 tracking every show he went to, London resident Simon returns with the lowdown on live music in 2016.
If you do a thing once, it’s just a thing – but if you do it twice, it’s starting to become a tradition. For the second year running, I’ve managed to keep a list of every single band I’ve watched. I know, I’m as surprised as you are. So now 2016 has drawn to a close, it seems only right to do a bit of number crunching and again take stock of exactly what I’ve seen.
Just in case your memory isn’t strong enough to remember last year’s article, there’s one simple rule for including bands on The List: that I must see a minimum of three songs, or around 10-15 minutes of the set, for it to count. As was the case last year, there were a good few bands who fell below this criteria, either through being not my cup of tea at all (sorry, black metallers and identikit metalcore bands) or just unutterably terrible (and their names are probably best forgotten anyway). To make this article feel like even more of a tradition, I’ve also kept the same section headings from last year’s article. If I can keep this going, I’ll be able to start doing some proper trend analysis from next year. Look out for 2017′s PowerPoint presentation.
It’s definitely been a busy year, packed with plenty of memorable nights out. It’s been busier than last year (we’ll get to the numbers in a minute), and would have been busier still had it not been for a thoroughly infuriating number of clashes. Sometimes, as I said last year too, London can be a bit too awesome. Or at least, a bit too awesome all on one night. I can immediately think of a handful of occasions where there were no fewer than three separate shows I would have happily attended, were they not all happening simultaneously – and the number of two-gig clashes is truly fantastical. Had these shows been more spread out, my numbers would surely have been even higher than they are.
One final point before I dive into the specifics. I fully acknowledge how lucky I am – I live in North London and have both the disposable income and available free time to invest so many evenings and weekends to watching (more often than not) small groups of men making enormous amounts of noise. I do hope that sharing some more detail about what I’ve actually seen will encourage a couple more people to spend a couple more nights out watching bands, but it’s in no way meant to be an attempt to admonish people who can’t make it out to shows, nor an attempt to put myself on some kind of ‘King Gig Goer’ pedestal. This is just what I do, you’re more than welcome to join me. Bring earplugs.
In 2016, I went to a grand total of 69 events, which included two weekend festivals and four all-dayers, across 33 different venues, where I saw 195 different bands play a grand total of 289 sets. And breathe.
This is up on nearly all counts from last year, when I saw 62 gigs in 28 venues, with 184 bands playing 251 sets. The only difference is I went to five all-day events in 2015 and four in 2016. At the end of last year’s article, I set myself the target of seeing 300 bands this year. I didn’t quite make that, which is a bit of a pity – and I think those clashes I spoke about earlier played their part in me missing my target, as well as actually having band practices of my own to go to. Never mind. Maybe 2017 will be when I break the 300 barrier.
The keen-eyed amongst you will have already seen that I visited five more venues in 2016 than in 2015. But I still only went to nine events outside London, including UK Tech Fest and Euroblast, and the gigs I went to in Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol, Guildford, Leeds and Southampton were all worth the extra travel. Now that the Night Tube is properly up and running, weekend gig-going outside London is even more possible for me, as it won’t include either a mad dash through the station to catch the last tube, a ruinously expensive cab ride or a ride on a night bus more readily measured in months than in hours. Good times.
2016 has also seen the effective end of one of my regular haunts, The Barfly in Camden. Shortly after Camden Rocks (more about that in a bit), the Barfly shut its doors and reopened them as the Camden Assembly. The change in name and refit of the venue was accompanied by a conscious shift in booking policy, with it being made very clear (especially with the cancellation of pre-booked shows) that anything even remotely heavy was No Longer Welcome. This is a dreadful shame. Although it wasn’t the best venue in the whole world, and it might have felt like a mad fire-risk during sold out shows, I’ve seen a whole heap of great bands there – including Monuments‘ first show with Matt Rose singing, the Basick Records 10th birthday party, and an especially sweaty Skindred festival warm-up show back in 2013. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I go to venues because of the actual bands that are playing, so the decision by the new owners of the Assembly to actively limit the types of shows they put on seems thoroughly bizarre to me. Who knows if it will work for them or not, but as it stands, The Qemists will remain the last band I watched play on that stage, and it was a most danceable unwitting send-off.
However, all is not lost. It has been increasingly clear that the Boston Music Room in Tufnell Park has stepped up to take its place. The Black Heart remains my single most-visited venue, having seen no fewer than 39 sets across 12 gigs. The Boston now comes in second place, with 31 sets and 8 gigs. It’s also at least three times louder than the Barfly, easier to move around, the door staff are nicer and the drinks are cheaper. So that’s probably a win all round for metal punters mourning the loss of The Barfly.
One of our favourite shows at The Black Heart; The Colour Line in 2014. Photo Credit: Katie Croft
The majority of the new venues I went to in 2016 were outside London, so I guess they don’t really count. The only really notable new London venues for me being the New Cross Inn, where the Techabilitation all-dayer was held in November, and Electric Brixton. I did also find myself at the Bethnal Green Working Man’s Club for hip-hop crew The Mouse Outfit, which in a splendidly weird fashion felt like it had fallen out of an eighties episode of Eastenders, but I can’t imagine having much cause to go there again.
For anyone who knows me, it will be completely unsurprising that – for the second year in a row – Sümer is the band I’ve seen the most number of times. Slightly freakishly, I saw them seven times in both 2015 and 2016. Weird. Not only that, but they ended up being both the very first and very last band I watched this year. Maybe, just maybe, after seeing them a grand total of sixteen times now, 2017 will be the year in which they actually play some new material for us – but even if they don’t, I’ll still go and watch them at every chance I get. I love those guys.
Sümer’s Ian Hill. Photo credit: Luke Batman
Coming in a close second was Brutai, with a total of six shows in 2016 (up from four in 2015) and a cracking debut album to boot, and then No Consequence and Harbinger with five each (I saw NC four times in 2015. Harbinger only played their first show at the tail end of last year, and have come on leaps and bounds since then – I’m really looking forward to seeing what 2017 holds for them)
I saw a clutch of half a dozen bands four times each – with Polish proggers Disperse‘s shows making their outstanding new material my single most anticipated release for the coming year. There was also the unstoppable heaviosity of Osiah and A Trust Unclean, riff attacks from Bad Sign and Zoax and noodly prog-metal from Decapod.
I saw twelve band play three sets, and a staggering thirty three bands play twice, up from eight and twenty one respectively last year. So I’ve managed to see more bands, and more bands play more often this year. I think this says that we’re both getting fresh blood, and that there are still bands working hard year in, year out – which speaks to a pretty healthy scene, all told.
One final note for this section is that 2016 is the first year since 2010 that I haven’t had the opportunity to see Devin Townsend play live. This feels a bit strange. Nevertheless, a ticket for his London date in March, with TesseracT supporting, is already sitting in my inbox, so I don’t have long to wait.
Some of you might have already spotted a link between five of the bands I’ve named here, so we’ll move swiftly along to the next section….
I am sure that the single event that will live longest in my memory from 2016 will be the inaugural The Monolith Curates all-dayer. Held on a Sunday in late August at Dingwalls in Camden, we were fortunate enough to have nine of our most favourite bands come and play for us, and a couple of hundred friends. I collected my thoughts on the day in the immediate aftermath here, but it was every bit as magical as we had hoped. Topped off with the very best set I’ve seen from Agent Fresco (which is saying A LOT), every band played a blinder and it was particularly gratifying to see friends enjoy the rush of excitement you get from experiencing a great band for the first time. Hopefully, we’ll get to do it again in the not too distant future.
Our show aside, it was still a great year for gigs. Here’s a quick sprint through nine more of my favourites, in date order:
Dan Tompkins of TesseracT. Photo credit: Hannah Cole
TesseracT/Nordic Giants @ Koko – OK, The Contortionist played as well, but for some weird reason they don’t really float my boat. Sorry. I was always going to go to this show, but when Nordic Giants were announced as the opening act, I booked my ticket within 0.34 seconds of reading the announcement. It was the only opportunity I had all year to watch either band, and they made it count. Nordic were thoroughly magisterial on the big stage, and TesseracT continue to amaze with the pin-sharp quality of their live show. I also got that nice fuzzy feeling watching them stride out to a hero’s welcome in a room this size, having first watched them play to a couple of hundred folks some six years ago now. Well played, lads.
Battles @ Brixton Electric – 2016 presented me with plenty of opportunities to witness my heroes at work, and watching Battles means watching John Stanier smack the living shit out of his kit. On record, Battles are a bit of a curiosity, but live their loop-based electro-rock hybrid is bewitching and hypnotic. A reintroduction to the set for this tour of early track “Hi/Lo” really made my night.
The Hirsch Effekt @ The Unicorn – Fresh from a great set at UK Tech Fest, The Hirsch Effekt squeezed their big sound into the cosy confines of The Unicorn’s little live room. I dont think any of us that gathered to watch them were expecting it to be quite as good as it was. Clearly accustomed to playing much larger shows in their native Germany, we were treated to a show fit for a thousand people in a room a tenth of the size. And it was free. Incredible.
Monuments @ The Boiler Room – It’s fair to say that the last couple of years have been tough for Monuments. Coming to the end of a punishing run of shows in support of The Amanuensis which caused physical harm to more than one member of the band, they could now see the light at the end of the tunnel. With Daniel Lang behind the kit, Chris Baretto back to full voice and a sold out venue packed with die hard fans, the show was both a riot and a timely reminder of what a potent force Monuments are in full flight.
Gentleman’s Dub Club @ Koko – A bit of a change of pace this one, but few bands kick out dub jams as infectious and danceable as GDC. After having a good old skank to the first half of the set down on the floor, we made our way up to the very top of the venue for the second half. From that vantage point, I could only spot five people in the entire, sold out venue that weren’t dancing. It was a hell of a sight, and a 99.95% success rate, I guess.
Jonny Hall of Heck. Photo credit: Rachael Griffiths
Heck/Raketkanon/Zoax @ The Borderline – watching Heck is always an experience. I admit it was a close-run thing for inclusion here between this show and another later in the year with Black Peaks, but I think this one was slightly crazier, and also included gloriously bonkers Belgians Raketkanon. Is there a purer embodiment of the rock n roll spirit than Heck out there? I doubt it. Now, I really want to experience a Heck show where the audience dont really know what’s coming. I think that would be hilarious.
The Dillinger Escape Plan @ The Old Blue Last – I still can’t quite believe that I squeezed my way into this shoebox of a venue to witness the raw, unhinged majesty of my favourite band in such a tiny space. Ironically, given the postage stamp size of the stage, the band themselves were able to move far less than they normally do, but at times it felt like the whole room was a single, seething, sweating ball of humanity. Given that the end is nigh for Dillinger, I doubt that such an opportunity will arise again. I am blessed that there are wonderful people looking out for me.
Earthtone9 @ The Anvil, Bournemouth and The Underworld, Camden – After their reactivation a few years ago, earthtone9 shows have become increasingly rare. Vocalist Karl Middleton decamping to the States hasn’t helped on that front, so with two shows in three days announced, it was a no-brainer for me to go to both of them. At the first show in Bournemouth, I took the gamble that the crowd would be a bit too elderly for a vigorous moshpit and planted myself right in front of the stage. I was treated to what felt like a personal performance, running through a set of favourites almost chronologically, including a couple of tunes they’ve not played live for many moons. Getting to see it all again two days later, with the chaos of seeing Heck, Black Peaks and Bad Sign on the night in between was deeply pleasurable.
No Sin Evades His Gaze @ Euroblast – Obviously, Euroblast as a whole was very special but this particular set deserves a special mention. Turning up in the dark and dingy downstairs stage moments before their set, the crowd felt a little bit sparse. Wanting to show my support, I positioned myself at the front, so they’d at least have a full row of faces along the monitor line.
I needn’t have worried. As the band launched into their set, absolute and total carnage broke out behind me. I couldn’t have gotten out of there even if I wanted to. The band played the set of their career, and I might have emerged afterwards battered and bruised, but grinning like an idiot. It was thoroughly brilliant watching this band get the attention they deserve. Look out for new material from them in 2017, which if there is any justice will make these types of shows the norm rather than the exception for them.
Tosin Abasi of Animals As Leaders at UK Tech Fest 2016. Photo credit: Evie Murphy
There was plenty more fun to be had outside of those shows, and shows that are worth commemorating for more reasons than the quality of the actual performances themselves. I’ll just quickly dash through a few highlights.
There are few things more enjoyable than spending a whole weekend surrounded by splendid people as well as splendid bands. In 2016, we got to enjoy this at both Tech Fest and Euroblast. We might have spectacularly failed to deliver our standard post-match analysis for these festivals this year, but the community which supports and regularly attends them is hugely important to us. We’re already looking forward to what these festivals have in store for us in 2017.
There was also Camden Rocks, which saw me charging through the tourists along Camden High Street between the Barfly and the Underworld a frankly ridiculous number times in an effort to catch as much as possible, and still only managed to see 5% of what was on offer. The day was capped off in fine style with Justin Hill’s last performance with SikTh before handing his mic to Joe Rosser. You can read more about my day here.
There were a couple of special one-offs, including: the mighty Jane’s Addiction playing their seminal album Ritual de lo Habitual in full; an extraordinarily rare outing for Metallica bass monster Rob Trujillo’s funk-metal-allstar-jam outfit Mass Mental; and a tiny debut UK show for Rage Against The Machine bass monster Tim Commerford’s jazz-punk side project Wakrat. My inner teenager was positively dumbfounded by all three, and more so by the opportunity to sit and talk to Tim while he was in town. You can read that here, with most of the fanboy over-enthusiasm tastefully edited out.
We had a night of double firsts at The Black Heart, which saw not only drummer Mike Malyan’s and bassist Bartosz Wilk’s debut live performances with Disperse, but also the very first time Destiny Potato‘s David and Aleksandra had played with their touring rhythm section anywhere at all. We saw both bands again about a week later at Tech Fest, more practiced and on a much bigger stage, but this still felt like a very special night.
I had the pleasure of watching Three Trapped Tigers play twice, which given the quality of latest album Silent Earthling would have been enough on their own, but both shows added a little something extra. The first, at Scala in King’s Cross, saw them supported by the excellent Mouse On The Keys, a Japanese quartet comprised of three pianists and a drummer, which absolutely captivated me. The second was held at Heaven, confirming to me that it is the venue with the very best sound in London. I’d love to see Nordic Giants play there sometime.
One of my last shows of the year was Black Peaks’ Brighton homecoming at the Concorde 2. To cap off their extraordinary year, they also hand-picked a splendidly varied collection of supports together, which made the trip down a no-brainer for me. Sadly, openers Press To Meco had to cancel on the day, but we still got an utterly bewitching set from Bossk a powerful yet, for me, slightly underwhelming set from Krokodil and a top-to-bottom run-through of debut album Statues from Black Peaks themselves. Jamie Lenman popped in reprise his role in album closer “To Take The First Turn“, and the crowd went suitably mental throughout the whole set.
So there we go. I think it’s fairly obvious that I’ve had a great year watching bands, be they hoary old favourites that I’ve been watching for twenty years or more, bands whose sparks of promise are beginning to be fanned into larger flames and brand new discoveries. That last one is always the purest thrill for me, and why you’ll almost always find me amongst the often rather thin early crowd at any show, ready to watch the first band. It’s always a bit of a gamble, but the times that pay off more than make up for the (probably more numerous) times that it doesn’t. You really never know what you’re going to see, and it could just be your chance to get in on the ground floor of something very special.
So I now see no reason why I won’t carry on this little tradition into 2017. I already know that January will bring me two final opportunities to watch The Dillinger Escape Plan devastate stages and to have my face sandblasted by Meshuggah‘s live sound. Cambion and Core of iO will be playing the wonderful Chaos Theory’s birthday bash in February, and I’ll be pretending to be a DJ at the afterparty. Frontierer, A Trust Unclean and Mardrommar (look out for them) will be turning my bones to dust in March, and then a bag containing my remains will be soothed by Devin Townsend and TesseracT a couple of weeks later. Tech Fest and Euroblast’s first announcements are both very tantalising, and I’m sure there’ll be much, much more to be announced. Busy, and exciting, times. Do come along and – as I said at the beginning and will continue to say to the point of tedium – bring earplugs.