Gig Review: Snuff @ The Underworld (19/05/2017)

UK punk legends Snuff with Youth Man and Not Tonight & The Headaches in Camden’s favourite basement.

At 28 years old, it’s entirely possible that I’m the youngest person in the room for tonight’s Snuff show, but you wouldn’t know it from the sheer energy and enthusiasm buzzing through the audience. Down the front I’m rubbing elbows with greying, toothless punks who no doubt know a great deal more about being in a pit that I ever will. While waiting for the band to come on, I get chatting to a guy who is at least 20 years my senior, who is lamenting the fact he wasn’t around to have caught Snuff when they first formed in the late ‘80s. He assures me that it doesn’t matter how long it took you to discover the band, what matters is that you’re here now and you’re ready to throw down.

And throw down we do: enthralled as ever by the magnetism of the mosh pit (why is it so appealing to leap into a brawl of sweaty strangers?) I find myself dancing, jumping and wrestling my way through a high-octane set of shout-along classics, danceable instrumental romps and rarities from Snuff’s extensive back-catalogue.

I’ve since discovered that I’ve sustained some of 2017’s most putrescent pit-bruises. As I write this my wrist is seizing up, my ears are ringing and there’s still a faint waft of flying-Carlsberg in my hair. Nonetheless, I’m brimming with envy for everyone trudging out to do it all over again the following day, as this is only the first night of the band’s Camden Double Bubble two-night headline extravaganza.

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The night gets off to a slow start, no doubt due to The Underworld’s frustrating insistence on an early weekend curfew to allow for their club night at 11pm. My mates and I rock up at the advertised 6.30pm start time to find that it has been pushed back by 30 minutes. The combination of sub-zero air conditioning and eerie silence leaves the normally-lively basement venue feeling more like a mortuary, although the lack of bar-queue was a bonus.

Openers Not Tonight & The Headaches make the most of it, playing a tight set of straight-forward UK pop punk. These Grimsby boys have a sunny old-school vibe, full of rhymes and accompanied by a blindingly glittery drum-kit that wouldn’t look out of place at a carnival. The bassist and both guitarists take turns delivering clean lead vocals, demonstrating a range of song-writing talent.

Having not heard much of Youth Man before, I’m very pleasantly surprised to find myself faced with an original, energetic and intense blend of genres. They serve up suspenseful art rock, fortified by angular guitars, edgy vocals and heaps of attitude.

They kick off with a blast of hardcore energy, and it’s a pleasure to watch singer Kaila Whyte own the stage and her guitar, while tearing the lyrics from her throat. I most enjoy their slower, sludgier tunes that manage to be heavy in a way that is interesting and different, without just piling on the distortion. Their versatile array of songs is underpinned by a satisfying rhythmic flow; it’s refreshing to see an accomplished drummer leading the band without any crazy fills or showing off.

Halfway through, they jokingly ask the crowd if they can play a pop song, saying that they’re trying to break through because punk doesn’t pay the bills. “How can you support an industry that forces a terrible drug habit up on you, and then doesn’t give you the money to pay for it?” quips drummer, Marcus Perks. Their subsequent songs have a more accessible, poppier feel without losing any of their originality; I hope to be hearing Youth Man on BBC 6 Music soon (other broadcast networks are available).

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I’ve got to admit that I was late to the Snuff party. In 1996 I was 7 years old, practicing Spice Girls dance moves in the playground and trying to stop schoolboys peeking up my skirt. By that time, Snuff had already been going 10 years, broken up, reformed and were about to release their third studio album, seminal Fat Wreck release Demmamussabebonk. Nowadays, I’m incredibly glad that I did eventually get into Snuff – they’re consistently lively and entertaining, and completely unmissable live.

Tonight’s set is a colourful history of Snuff: their top albums are as well represented but they also play an eclectic mix of B-sides and EP tracks. Rarely-played Bottom of the River (off 2000’s Numb Nuts) and thrasher Punchline (Demmamussabebonk) are unusual live treats. Overlooked second album, Reach (1992) gets a look in with Ichola Budda and Sweet Dreams. Relatively new tracks from 2016’s No Biting! EP also go down an absolute storm, particularly Galloping Home (the Black Beauty theme), starting off with a group whistle-along that’s fast becoming one of my favourite features of a Snuff show.

It’s great fun dancing to all the instrumental numbers (usually a risky move for any band, but always a solid winner for Snuff fans), particularly headbanging and generally making a mess of myself for older tracks Hellbound and Night of the Li’s (Snuff Said…, 1989). It’s a frenzy of limbs and hair, damp t-shirts and spilled beers down the front, with the hits like Sunny Places and Somehow stirring up the biggest fuss.

Some classics are notably absent, clearly being held in reserve for the second night of the festivities. One wanker chap in a shirt, carrying a rucksack in the pit apparently hasn’t clocked onto the two-night deal, and spends most of the set obnoxiously yelling, “I’m an arsehole!” in my ear. Given that Arsehole (1998’s Tweet Tweet My Lovely, if you’re keeping up) is usually a set-closer, to my mind it sounded like he was inadvertently asking them to pack up and go home early.

The thing which makes Snuff’s live shows stand out above their albums, and the reason people have been coming back to see them for more than thirty years, is their sterling sense of humour. Tonight is no exception, with as much discussion of terror wanking (“Corbyn’s a terrible wanker, uses his teeth and everything”), personal insults (“This one’s written by Prick Wakeman here”) and anally-inserted Curly Wurlys as you could possibly ask for. Trombonist, Oli has to be shown how to play the keyboard on one song shortly before the stand breaks – Lee winds up keying it while squat-lunging on the balcony, but Snuff are totally un-phased. It’s all part of the fun; they could fill with jokes and 90’s references for an hour and the crowd would still be pleased as punch.

The result of all this casual chaos is a lively, entertaining evening of nostalgia in the company of seasoned pros, who somehow still manage to sound fresh and exciting. Although Snuff are magnificent as always, there is something missing from the show overall: the crowd for most of the evening. Although it’s early doors and the supports are relatively unheard-of, it’s not de rigueur to show up 10 minutes into the headline set anymore. Maybe I’m spoiled by smaller DIY shows, but the one thing that could have made the night better would been seeing an older audience who were open to discovering something new, in the same way that I’ve enjoyed exploring something from before my time.

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