It’s a bright and early evening as I leave Brixton station and head up the road to the Electric, to see what I originally thought was a co-headline show by Full Of Hell and The Body. As it turns out something even more exciting is taking place: I’m here to witness hardcore royalty Converge perform their new show Blood Moon.
I’d left work early, determined to get a good viewing spot. The doors open at 6pm. It’s 17:50. I’m in plenty of time. Except, turning the corner onto the venue’s street, it seems I’m not the only one with this plan. A long queue of heavily bearded men greets me, and my heart sinks a bit. I glumly join the end of the queue before noticing a sign indicating this is the ticket-holder queue, while I have special guest list privileges.
I, somewhat smugly I must admit, leave the queue and walk past them all to the other side, where the only people ahead of me are a much older couple who look like they started drinking sometime yesterday and haven’t stopped, and who also seem to have every single item they own with them, all stuffed into two giant hiking backpacks with various shopping bags tied to them. As I join they turn to smile and nod, which I return before looking back at my phone. I can sense their eyes still turned my way, but it’s far too early in the evening for me to try to navigate this type of social situation, so I turn my music up and find a sudden and intense fascination with every single stone and bit of dirt I happen to see on the floor beneath me, praying that the doors open soon and I can escape to a safe haven.
They eventually do and yet again I’m stuck behind the same couple as before, while the bouncers go through every single one of their hundreds of bags. The ticket queue begins to be let in and soon the venue entrance is swarming while the fury inside me reaches boiling point. The woman in front keeps turning round and offering an apologetic smile which on the first instance I accept, politely nodding back, but afterwards is only met with an exasperated stare and a strengthening tapping of the foot.
Finally, I am in. I’ve never been to Electric Brixton before and I marvel at the size of it. It’s similar in size and layout to the Kentish Town Forum, which I’m a big fan of. Despite what I initially thought were a lot of people entering before me, there’s still plenty of space inside, and I lean up on the upper tier against the rail (I’m trying my hardest to enter mosh retirement for my own aching body’s sake but it’s proving a real challenge, so I resist the urge here). I’ve got my pint of coke, I’ve got a good view and my body is ready. And boy oh boy, I was not disappointed.
Full Of Hell lumber onstage with more amps and gear than there are musicians and are met with more cheers than you’d expect for an opening band. Their recent joint album with The Body (who are on after) is a huge, chaotic, head-ringingly loud piece of work and I’m excited to see how it will transfer to the stage. While I prefer their first, more hardcore-tinged album (The Roots Of Earth Are Consuming My Home), the more noise-orientated sound they’ve been going for has grown on me, and here it’s evident they’ve perfected it in their live show.
The best way to describe it is to liken it to the Lars von Trier film Melancholia, the very ending in fact (YES THERE ARE SPOILERS COMING HOWEVER IT’S BEEN OUT FOR OVER 5 YEARS NOW SO YOU’VE HAD YOUR CHANCE), when the huge planet Melancholia crashes into the earth and completely destroys it. Yeah actually, listening to Full Of Hell here is like having a huge planet crash into you, and you know what? You don’t even really mind.
The Body are on next, and for them I change position, heading to a higher tier so I can get a completely bird’s eye view of the show. The Body begin their set with, and this seems like the only appropriate and succinct unit of measurement here, a metric fucktonne of tone. Comprised of just two members (Lee Buford and Chip King on drums and guitar/effects board/vocals, respectively), I wonder just how much noise these two can make. For the answer I refer back a few sentences, dear reader. A metric fucktonne.
They begin their set sounding like a lone car sliding on the road in the night rain, its breaks unable to grip the soggy asphalt. At the moment of impact the first drum beat kicks in and we, the willing passengers for the ride, are left broken and bloody in the wreckage. Their whole set followed in the same vein, forming a colossal beast of pure noise. I didn’t know their songs so soon they merge together so it sounds like one huge piece of work, the duo truly getting the crowd vibe flowing and the heads banging.
Grime are so far tonight’s most sociable band, actually giving us a small intro as to who they are and where they’re from (Italy I believe) before launching into their own brand of heavy noise. Their sound however is much sludgier and more melodic. Gone is the constant drone from Full Of Hell and The Body, replaced with slow and muddy riffs, as if a pit of quicksand had suddenly grown a brain and a body and decided to start playing music.
The next band up are Crippled Black Phoenix, a band whom I’ve no previous experience of. Easily the biggest band on stage (in terms of members, not bellies), they fill the entire width of it. A children’s choir in a foreign tongue introduces them, growing in volume and intensifying until Crippled Black Phoenix take over.
They bring out a guest singer (I’m really sorry but I didn’t catch her name, if anyone knows please tell me) and perform a song about the decline of humanity to precisely no reaction whatsoever from the audience and I get the feeling I’m not the only one here who doesn’t really know any of Crippled Black Phoenix’s past work. If anything the song points out how little the audience are into them as the soft intro only makes the cacophony of conversations happening all around stand out more. The band themselves eventually clock onto this and during the announcement of their last song, they get a little haughty.
“OK we’ve got one more then we’ll get out for Converge.”
“Thanks for paying attention…some of you.”
“Stop talking.” (This was said with quite some anger and exasperation.)
Don’t get me wrong I ABSOLUTELY HATE going to a gig just to hear the moronic braying of some loud berk behind me, but this time I’m sort of on the audience’s side. This is entirely the wrong show for this band, and it’s a real shame as they do have some genuinely beautiful moments during some of their songs, great arches of post-rock and cosmic noise belching forth from them, but tonight it’s just not enough. Plus, getting bitchy at the audience does absolutely nothing to improve their likeability; it just makes them seem petty, like a child without any attention. Some people may not like your music guys, you’ve gotta be able to deal with it.
The standing area is well and truly packed out now, ready for Converge to arrive. The vibe in the air is palpable and electric. The stage is cleared to only a few amps and the venue music is faded out. Two guitarists, Kurt Ballou (the regular guitarist of Converge) and guest musician Stephen Brodsky, take to the stage and start riffing together in sync, and the crowd goes wild. I will just make a statement now: I personally don’t know that much about Converge, and my knowledge of their songs in limited. They have always been in my peripheral; as a fan of hardcore music they are easily one of the most important bands in the scene (and it’s a big scene) so I have a huge respect for them, despite never having sat down properly and listened to their material. Just bear that in mind. The rest of the band (Ben Koller on drums, Jacob Bannon on vocals and Nate Newton on bass) and special guest Ben Chisholm (keys/programming) join the stage and the cheering of the crowd is almost enough to drown out the music.
The first thing to say about Converge is that despite not knowing them that well, they are absolutely incredible live. Like, ridiculously good. Although this is their special ‘Blood Moon’ show (the band are effectively playing covers and reworks of their previous material, the slower and lesser known songs, turning the usual mathy hardcore efforts into almost-post-rock anthems), they are still completely intense, everyone hanging on their every movement. Even after 25 years (just take a moment to let that sink in, 25 years as a band) they are still ridiculously tight and the best thing about tonight’s show is that they look like they’re having as much fun, if not more, than the audience.
Chelsea Wolfe is introduced midway through their set (after a gorgeous, haunting and unexpected cover of ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure) and the crowd welcomes her with open arms. She shares vocal duties with Bannon and they are a perfect match, her quiet whispers and dreamlike crooning a wonderful contrast to Bannon’s howling bellows and gruff screams. Their rendition of ‘Last Light’ is particularly incredible, the ending reaching new, beautiful swirls of thrashing post-rock (like an evil Sigur Ros) before coming crashing down on the entire audience, leaving us all speechless.
Converge close the show with the epic 11-minute ‘Jane Doe’ which sends tingles travelling around my body, Bannon clearly pouring his whole soul into the microphone as he sinks to his knees, the audience and fans his crutch. It’s truly a breathtaking moment. Despite not knowing a lot about Converge, I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve managed to catch this show, especially as it’s one of only four European appearances. I’d be interested to see if they record their reworked material for a physical album, but for now the blistering memories will have to do.