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Anti-Fest @ Hatfield University Forum

| On 05, May 2012

May 3rd

The fact that Americans have pretty much always seemed to do Punk Rock better than Brits has been something I’ve been trying to explain to people for a very long time and no-one seems to have quite caught on yet, which is annoying. They’ve always seemed to be in it for better reasons than most British punk bands, or if they aren’t, then write better songs or have a lasting influence on them. Contrary to popular belief, the first ever punk rock band was American, they were referred to as The Stooges and they released their first single in 1969, a whole Seven years before The Damned was the first British Punk act to do so with New Rose. Even at the same time, while most British acts were at best made to shock and at worst made up of working class people manipulated by privileged art school students to sell clothes (Hello, Sex Pistols!), American punk acts, by and large, have had vital messages about the plight of the working class and other social comments. And when they didn’t they were The Ramones. No complaints here.
Anti-Fest, while not the culmination of the American punk movement, is a pretty good summation of its state of affairs currently (with one band on the bill acting as a massive exception but we’ll get to them later). Kicking off is Oklahoma based quartet Red City Radio, who get a lukewarm reception from the still mostly empty forum for their slightly by the numbers Hot Water Music impressions but things heat up with the deployment of their single Spinning In Circles is a Gateway Drug. The odds are not stacked in their favour as the crowd is so thin and disinterested that one could get a centre space on the barrier without much effort or energy, but they still pull it off to a reasonable extent and provide some good warm up thrills for the long day of punk rock ahead of them. However, If Red City Radio are the kind of band that put on a nice show but don’t inspire much thought either way, The Computers are the exact opposite.
Dressed entirely in white, the Exeter five piece set out to make an impression no matter what the cost. From their Ariel sponsored wardrobe to Alex Kershaw’s hyperactive onstage habit of singing from wherever he can, on stop of the speaker stacks, the photo pit, the audience barrier and finally from inside the crowd itself, to their wildly unique form of 50’s Rock n Roll spiked with a dash of modern hardcore, everything is tailor made to get people’s attention. It certainly works, but the crowd seems to be baffled by it all, a small smattering of applause greets the end of every song before a deafening silence, that Kershaw actually references halfway through the set with a pantomime, finger on the lips “Shush!” As a performance, however, they are on fire, the quintet rip through their set, their sound seemingly built to feel as energetic as possible, and if Kershaw misses a couple of lyrics or sounds slightly quieter than most it’ll only be because he’s singing from the top of the piano or he’s having a roadie hold the microphone stand to his mouth from the photo-pit to sing into.
The fact that everything seems so tailor made does mean that it can feel slightly staged, but Kershaw has enough eccentric charm to pull it off, at one point thanking the audience for showing up by saying that “Hollyoaks is on now, if you left now you can catch the twist ending, so thanks for staying with us!” Unfortunately the crowd of died in the wool punk rockers don’t quite get it, which is more than understandable, and while they make an impression, it might not be the kind that they’re truly after. Following them is the first great band of the day, the most notable thing to happen to Scranton, Pennsylvania since being name-checked in The Rhythm of Life, The Menzingers. A lot more casual and normal-looking than a lot of the bands on the bill today, to the extent that I honestly can’t tell whether they’re manning their own merch stall or not, but in terms of sound, it’s more developed, mature and crafted than pretty much every band on the bill, tonights headliners included.
At a glance, it could be said that The Menzingers rely on their songs to give themselves personality, while it’s far from immoral to do such a thing, Jimmy Eat World built a career out of it, it still sells them far too short. While the songs are by and large breath-taking, last year’s single The Obituaries bringing the first genuine sing-along of the night, the band are a pleasure to watch. Singer/Guitarist Tom May bounds about the stage looking as pleased as punch in a way that most bands who bound around the stage don’t and his banter with co-singer/guitarist Greg Barnett is priceless. They might not look like much but in many ways they give you everything a band should give you, great songs with meaning and soul, a great live sound, and an all-round entertaining show. The crowd agrees as well, the numbers greatly swelling since The Computers lacking turnout and the band leave the stage to the first big ovation of the evening. Being a cult band in their own country, Brits don’t get to see them all that often, so when they do show it’s always an event, but this swell of goodwill toward them might also stem from how two days before the gig, in Manchester, three personal bags of the band, including passports, all the money made from the tour thus far, lyrics books and journals, were stolen from their van. It would be a shit situation for anyone but the fact that so many people have helped to get them back on their feet is a really inspiring thing for the punk rock community, showing that while it may have changed from what many remember it to be, the core ideal of supporting independent artists has always remained the same.
Y’know earlier, when I talked about how there was one band on the bill completely and utterly different from everyone else? Well, they come on after The Menzingers, they’re called The Skints and they continue this streak off quality by being one off the bands of the night, in a completely different way to how anyone else on the bill even attempted. Y’see, The Skints, are very much a ska band, and I don’t mean in the Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish way, we’re talking more The Specials, early King Blues and Gentlemen’s Dub Club. Besides being quite possibly the best dressed band on the bill, they’re also easily the best musicians, the titanic rhythm section of Jon Doyle on the Bass and Jamie Kyriakides on the drums and pitch perfect vocals doing the impossible and making a room almost entirely made up of white punks try their hand at skanking. It’s an astonishing, made even more astonishing by the fact that, again, this isn’t ska punk. The tempo very rarely rises above a laid-back strut and Joshua Rudge’s guitar lines are as clean as a whistle, but the spirit of all-inclusiveness that infuses the band and the reckless inventiveness that characterises their songs is pure punk, and means that while the music unlike anything played tonight, it’s not out of place by any stretch of the imagination.
It’s actually quite inspiring how much the audience gets behind The Skints, there are an abundance of Bouncing Souls and Anti-Flag T-shirts being sported around the place, and The Menzingers have their robbery upping the already abundant goodwill for them, but The Skints get the place going in a way none of the bands up until this point have. People dance, people sing along and there’s a lot more people actually watching them than before, maybe the drinks have started to kick in, maybe more people are actually in the building, but something happens during The Skints’ set that turns this gig from a pretty good punk show to a night to remember. Then the Bouncing Souls come on and everything goes mental.
Pretty much every band on tonight’s bill is a cult act in some way, The Bouncing Souls are a cult, end of. Their re-appropriated “Olé” football chant rings out in full force in the half an hour they have before their stage time and in that time the room fills up to as full as it will get tonight, it’s not quite sold out but the sheer devotion is as clear as a bell. As something of a newbie to The Souls I find myself slightly under whelmed. The Menzingers, The Skints, and pretty much everyone that came before them seemed to take punk in new and more interesting directions, and The Souls, while still good at what they do, seemed slightly sedate, slightly safe. Not that the crowd mind, they eat it up for breakfast and beg for more, bouncing up and down and howling along to the evergreen likes of opener Manthem and East Coast! Fuck You! Not knowing much about the band also meant I wasn’t ready for their slightly bizarre stage presence, after so much hyperactivity and movement, the closest singer Greg Attonito gets to the same resembles a rhythmic practice of his golfing technique while bass player Bryan Kienlen struts the more standard punk movements stage left. In many ways they’re the band of the night for most, and they’re definitely a lot more unique than some bands on tonight’s bill but personally they never quite achieve full lift off, maybe it’s the samey nature of some of the songs (and in this line up “It’s punk, they’re meant to sound the same” is an even worse argument than normal), maybe it’s the comparably sedate stage presence but I’m not quite convinced by the admittedly legendary New Jersey four piece.
And finally tonight’s headliners take to the stage to a disappointingly thin crowd seemingly there for The Souls and make it their own. A full back drop is lowered showing an angry young man in a face-mask, fitting considering Anti-Flag have always been a defiantly political band, leading to some slightly askew supporters of last August’s London riots in attendance tonight (tellingly, none of them actually *from* London) but they’ve at least got an admirable message going for them. Justin Sane is a firebrand of a frontman as always, leading the band through their Clash-meets-Green Day missives, unlike the likes of Sum-41, and the aforementioned Green Day, Anti-Flag have always been purveyors of radical politics, so the somewhat uncanny resemblance to American Idiot that some of their songs seem to have is purely coincidental, and doesn’t half make for an exciting live show. Bass player Chris #2 is the groups focal point, hurtling around the stage with his bass embossed with the words “This Machine Kills Fascists”, while it’s highly unlikely that he’s actually killed a fascist with it (although it would be bastard cool), it’s an admirable sentiment, and one that his band are good enough to pull off without seeming silly, stupid or fake.
Which is something of a miracle because it could have gone so horrible wrong, it’s highly debatable whether a true punk wears as much hair product as Justin Sane and the songs are so accessible that accusations of “selling out” have probably riddled the band for a while now. But that, in particular is where American punk got it gloriously right, especially in the case of most recent bands, as most know that “selling out” is not the same thing as “writing accessible songs” or “having lots of people like your band”. Tonight is proof that, despite the fact that is wasn’t a full house, and some might say that some of the acts are irrelevant, none of that needs to matter if you have enough people who believe in the redemptive power of rock and roll. Everyone here knew that this was their night, and they could make it anything they want, so they made it a night to remember for a very long time.

Red City Radio:
The Computers:
The Menzingers:
The Skints:

Will Howard