Tonight Brixton showed its true colours and they were red, white and blue. Undeterred by the previous night’s atrocities in Paris, a few thousand fans and four rock bands congregated in the O2 Academy to show solidarity, defiance and camaraderie in the face of terrorism.
Yashin were tonight’s opening act and they seemed to have brought along some of their die hard fans in the front row. The two pronged attack from their singers was delivered fantastically, the screamo style being perfectly counteracted by the clean vocals. The band are back in business after two years off and they seemed to have a new lease of life because of it. All the members were running and jumping around the stage, having the time of their lives. After dedicating a song to the victims of the Paris attacks, their short but energy filled set comes to a euphoric end.
(hed)PE were the second band to grace the stage on this windy Saturday night in the capital. Over the years of their long career they have changed their sound quite a lot – gone are the nu-metal stylings of the early days and in their place are punk-esque beats with much more politically motivated lyrics. This latter change doesn’t sit too well with me personally but every band must evolve into the beast of their own design. Jared, the charismatic frontman, walked onto the stage with his melodica in full flow. An unusual accompaniment but it worked well to kick the show off.
Their set seemed to start off quite slowly and took a while to get the crowd going. The set list was a little bit all over the place and seemed very divisive at times, with the reggae style interludes detracting from the pace, but as soon as they kicked into some of the hits, the atmosphere stepped up a gear and it was much more enjoyable to watch. Songs like Blackout and Bartender threw up huge beats and everyone responded with gusto. Every band is entitled to forge their own path, however, at the end of their set I was left pondering whether they would have been headlining venues like this if they had stuck to their guns with the nu metal.
Next up were Crossfaith, a massively popular Japanese metalcore band from Osaka. For some of the fans there, they were as big a draw as Skindred were. When the time came from them to uniformly stride onto the stage and their lights started strobing, you couldn’t help but feel that the evening was just starting. The band were like energiser bunnies on the stage, loud, ferocious and unrelenting.
As their bassist sipped whiskey and their DJ leapt around like his equipment was electrocuting him, the power emanating from this band and the control they have over the audience was quite mesmerising. The mix of electronic dance beats with crushing metal riffs complemented the other acts of the evening perfectly. There was something for everyone tonight. After revving the crowd up with new song Xeno and old favourite Monolith, a guest singer appeared on stage and received a somewhat godly welcome. Benji Webbe had strutted out to help singer Kenta rip through the collaborative Wildfire. It was fantastic to see these two different styles clash in front of our eyes. Benji has a way of making anything work, even if it sounds like a crazy idea on paper.
After playing the ubiquitous Prodigy cover of Omen, we were treated to a finale of Countdown To Hell, which was an epic way to end an epic set. Crossfaith brought Brixton to its knees, literally at one point. You’d have sworn the Academy had pumped Red Bull vapour through the air vents to make everyone go that crazy. The lights, sound, energy and performance were near flawless. This band has a very bright future indeed.
So the time had come for one of the most unique bands in rock today to take the spotlight. Skindred are very popular and very well respected, both by their fans and peers alike. They are always trying to sound different to anyone else but still keep the core roots of alternative music. This philosophy and determination makes them one of the most exciting bands to watch on the planet.
Tonight we had the bonus of material from their latest album, Volume, to listen to. As the lights dimmed and the Star Wars entrance music blared out across the room, the excitement was palpable. A lone mic stand draped in the Union Flag took centre stage as Benji and co appeared from the darkness to a rapturous welcome. With a stellar back catalogue to draw upon, the band threw out hit after hit. The catchy rhythms of Ninja turned the crowd into a sea of bouncing bodies and new song Sound The Sirens, is fantastically heavy and groove laden.
Frontman Benji was as about as far away from camouflaged as one could get, with a bright red shiny jacket and over the top, spiky sunglasses but that’s him; he’s as recognisable from his look as he is from his unique vocal abilities. Who’d have thought that a black guy with dreds, a spangly jacket and a Welsh accent would be a good pick to front a rock band? But as he proves again and again, he is more than ready to go toe to toe with the big boys. The rest of the band were on top form as well, especially Mikey Demus who seemed to constantly be stood in a rockstar pose. Dan Pugsley was propping up the other side of the stage and was playing as tight as ever.
This show was being filmed for Scuzz and they really pulled out the big guns for them. It was very loud and Cause Ah Riot felt like the apocalypse. There was a moment of respite when Benji slowed things down to give a speech about following your dreams before launching into a personal favourite of mine, Trouble. In the latter half of the show, the flag on the mic stand was replaced with a French Tricoloré out of respect for the Paris victims. It really felt like everyone was there for a common reason and were united.
After throwing out Pressure, amongst other crowd pleasers, the end of the night loomed. But rather than have one famous closer to finish on like most bands, Skindred now have two. Everyone was waiting for the intro to Nobody, arguably their most famous song. But it’s the Newport Helicopter that everyone is waiting for. This is Skindred’s own created monster that sees everyone take their shirts off and wave them over their head during the chorus to Warning. It’s a fantastic sight to see and I only wish I was on the balcony above to have witnessed the full scale of the madness.
After the dust settled, it was time to leave and reflect on the night. From what started out with a slightly nerve-wracking feeling after the French atrocities, it turned into a magical night of togetherness, solidarity and respect. The bands complemented each other well and played their arses off. Just shows what we can do in the face of adversity if we don’t give in.
SkindredBrixton Academy, London - 14th November 2015
Photographer: Colm Browne