Article by Sarah Williams.
Warning: this article is 70% ambitious, 20% self-indulgent and 10% late. Also, trigger warning: some mention of sexual assault.
The beginning of the year is the perfect time for big, sweeping generalisations. How many times have you recently heard that ‘2017 has been a great year for music’?
In 2016 the big news in the entertainment industry was the unprecedented number of celebrity deaths. Last year focussed more on the aftermath of two disappointing votes: in wake of Brexit, Trump and the disappointing UK general election I found my ever-dwindling faith in humanity diminishing further, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
The world of DIY punk was even more uplifting than usual in the context of the depressing political climate. The creativity, talent and camaraderie present in our insular music haven is what gives me hope for society as a whole, and it has flourished in response to the shitstorm around us. I think that creative growth is likely to continue in the new year, which made me consider what else might be on the horizon for 2018.
Through a process of extreme guesswork and mild narcissism, below I’ve compiled my top predictions for 2018. I would love to know whether you agree and what your predictions would be.
#5: We’ll see some weird and wacky merchandising ideas
I encountered a plethora esoteric merch in 2017: miniature vinyl, hats based on obscure in-jokes, a band-branded jars of vegan honey…. There is a tradition within DIY punk to offer something other than the mainstream, but the rise of digital formats and pay-what-you-want releases pushes bands to invent new ways of staying afloat financially.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having more band t-shirts that will actually fit in my wardrobe (I recently spent 30 minutes debating whether to organise them by genre, alphabetically or by size – suggestions welcome). Although I want to financially support small bands at every opportunity, there are only so many shirts I can handle. Patches and badges are obvious; lighters and hats aren’t uncommon; Pizzatramp and Wonk Unit have baby-grows but I don’t think they’ll fit.
Colourful vinyl variants are now standard issue, satisfying the need for a physical product to accompany an album release however, with legions of DIY bands out there vying for our attention, there’s a demand for more unusual products.
I like to think that Andy Davies of Revenge of The Psychotronic Man is ahead of the curve in terms of creative and utterly ridiculous merchandising. In 2017 they’ve brought out an EP on cassette only, created a lift-up and reveal Mr Blobby themed t-shirt (below left) and produced two lines of baseball caps based on a drinking in-joke (below right). That’s on top of their epic ‘it’s fucking booze time’ clock.
Andy’s not alone in his endeavours. In 2014 Darko included ‘essential’ beard oil in some US releases of Sea of Trees, although I’m still waiting to be sold a Bonsai Mammoth plant. In 2015 Random Hand proved that punks love mugs, and yet I haven’t seen a DIY band selling mugs since (Mug are seriously missing a trick on that one).
Some things will be cost prohibitive but we can dream big. Matilda’s Scoundrels branded inflatable dinghy, for all your crowd-sailing needs? A plastic bobble-head version of Faintest Idea’s trombonist, Robin ‘Bobble’ Smith? Grand Collapse could have the monopoly on Jenga knock-offs. On the other hand, perhaps bands like Shit Present should stick to t-shirts…
As printing and production methods have become cheaper and more accessible, and there’s a greater requirement for bands to be funded through their merchandising, rather than their music, I believe we’ll see some increasingly silly and unique ideas in 2018.
#4: A lot of bands will break up
In 2015 there was a wave of ‘final’ tours and ‘hiatuses’, so it’s been over two years since we’ve had a significant spate of splits. As such, I predict that in 2018 we’re due for a landslide of tragic break-ups.
This prophecy looks like it’s already coming to pass. Not long after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Vanilla Pod and Bear Trade both called it a day. Vanilla Pod will be treating us to a farewell tour but Bear Trade have just quietly buggered off. I suppose it’s not a huge surprise from a band who have never played live often enough to satisfy the demand for them, but it was still quite a shock when I opened my phone at 11:45pm on New Year’s Eve. I’ve heard rumour that members of the band are working on a new project with Helen Chambers, which is reassuring.
There are a lot of bands from 20 years ago who are still slogging away at it, all of whom will have to give up at some point. Seriously, how long can Lagwagon keep at it? Strung Out are as old as I am. Surely Anti-Flag must have better things to do than making the same ‘woah-oh’ noise over and over again? At least Propagandhi are showing no signs of throwing in the towel.
Admittedly, those are all big festival headliners. I would be neither heartbroken nor particularly surprised if any of them split. It’s the smaller bands that are regulars on the live circuit that would make me curse indignantly at my newsfeed. I don’t want to tempt fate, but I’d be most gutted if Gnarwolves called it a day, or other bands that I’ve got a personal love for, like Roughneck Riot or Red City Radio.
At least we can all be assured that The Kirkz will still be going strong for centuries to come, with all their original members, no less.
#3: We’re all going to wind up at The New Cross Inn
One of the great pleasures of 2017 has been watching The New Cross Inn (or NXI) transform from a lesser-known pub into a venue at the forefront of the London music scene. Sure, there have been gigs there for years, but it’s accelerated greatly in the last 12 months. With the number of new bands they’ve booked for 2018 it’s only going to get bigger.
The venue is a great, high-ceilinged pub with a stage shoved against the back wall, affording passers-by a view of the bands through the steamy glass windows. It boasts a welcoming, unpretentious vibe; there’s a pool table, a quieter downstairs bar and an open smoking area. It’s normal to stand on the tables to get a better view of the bands, which the barstaff don’t seem to mind. The lack of pretence means that small bands suit the stage, but the capacity is great enough that well-established bands look equally at home.
There’s no denying the fact that The NXI is a great venue, but it’s located in a South London borough that’s harder to get home from than the classic Camden Town haunts. The distance has been known to put spoilt Londoners off the trip, but once your foot is in the door you quickly realise it’s one of the top DIY punk spots in the country.
This year The NXI are stepping things up a notch. They boast three major 3-day punk festivals:
- Dugstock – March 30th-April 1st – Organised by Umlaut Records, this year boasting Counterpunch, The Murderburgers, Fair Dos, Almeida, PMX, Captain Trips, Burnt Tapes and many more… skate-punk ahoy, basically.
- Polite Riot – June 22nd-24th – So far only two bands have been announced but they’re cracking: Teenage Bottlerocket and A Wilhelm Scream. This new festival is a collaboration between Be Sharp, Umlaut Records and Kick The Crutches, which aims to bring you a mix of different punk genres – think techy melodic punk, pop punk and heavier hardcore. Over the three days there is guaranteed to be something for everyone. This is going to be an an absolute banger.
- Level Up – July 20th-22nd – Three days of solid ska-punk madness. Last year was brilliant and this year is going to be hell of a lot bigger. Again, so far it’s only headliners announced, but they have managed to land two major heroes of the ska-punk scene: Lightyear and Random Hand. I don’t get more excited than this.
There are also plenty of individual gigs popping up. In the next 6 months NXI will be hosting Mute, Great Collapse, Get Dead, FOD, Ray Rocket & Sam Russo, Svetlanas and The Bennies to mention just a few.
P.S.: I can definitely assure you that the trip to the venue is not as much hassle as it looks. 20 mins to Liverpool Street, 10mins to London Bridge. There is even a reasonable hostel upstairs if you get stuck overnight. It’s clean, cheap and quiet (after the pub has closed). How often do you get to stay in the venue itself when attending a music festival?
#2: Greater accountability from bands regarding women’s safety and comfort
This has been consistently improving for the last few years and I reckon it is going to grow even further in 2018. The #metoo movement and the Silence Breakers have made headlines, but there has also been a notable shift in our smaller punk community that I think will continue to thrive.
As anyone who identifies as female will tell you, although our glorious punk bubble is more respectful than other environments, there is still a problem. I watched Jeff Rosenstock halt a set at The Underworld last year to stop a guy who was repeatedly hitting a girl in the front row, only for him to stumble over and lay his hands all over me and two other girls when the show resumed.
In October 2017 the UK pop punk world fell apart when staggering number of bands were called out for sexual misconduct. Brand New’s apology for Jesse Lacy’s actions (asking a 15 year old fan for nude photos) felt like a betrayal. Evan Stephen Hall, frontman of the world’s most innocent-sounding band, Pinegrove, issued an apology for sexual coercion that really surprised me. Even Max Weeks from Gnarwolves apologised for a milder incident that occurred in 2013.
I think that Gnarwolves was one of the most interesting accusations, not simply because I’m a fan of the band. The victim hasn’t accused Max of assault, but she said that he acted in a way that made her feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Behaviour of that variety is much more common than full-on assault and, therefore, presents a bigger problem. It is my opinion (without being directly involved or having all the information, I admit!) that Max may not have realised the impact of this actions at the time (to be clear, that still doesn’t excuse them.)
From personal experience, I think people often don’t appreciate how their actions can make others uncomfortable, and I think they would stop if they understood. It is addressing this accidental (rather than malicious) behaviour that I believe will bring the biggest changes in 2018. I know that recent news has made more of my male friends take notice of the issues that are omnipresent for women, and it has given them some consideration for what constitutes appropriate behaviour.
It feels like there’s a lot of force within the scene to drive out unacceptable behaviour, eradicate gender bias and to ensure that women (and other more marginal groups) feel safe, comfortable and welcome. Organisations like Safe Gigs For Women have already made amazing strides in ensuring that women are welcomed into music world, but there’s still work to be done. Increasing awareness can only lead to further improvements, and I predict that in 12 months time we’re going to be in a safer and more protective scene. Until then, though, it’s going to be an uncomfortable journey.
#1: In 2018 we will have a Summer of Ska-Punk
The seeds of this prediction have already been sewn, with reunions from major ska-punk acts cropping up in late 2017. Lightyear have reformed permanently and are releasing an album (so it’s rumoured) and a documentary and touring and playing festivals. Random Hand are making a reappearance at a number of festivals and small shows, plus releasing Change of Plan on vinyl. Stand Out Riot played a storming New Years Eve set in Manchester and there’s hope for more. Beat The Red Light are reuniting for small run of dates around the UK and possibly Europe as well, and they’ve even managed to get together for a band practice.
That’s not to say that ska-punk was dead in the first place. There is a thriving scene, particularly in the South, where you’ve got upbeat bands like Popes of Chillitown, Barstool Preachers and King Punch all flying the flag for brass and jumpy upstrokes. Faintest Idea are still going strong, as are P.O. Box and there are still plenty of interesting ska crossovers like Captain Accident & The Disasters, Atterkop, Tree House Fire and Millie Manders.
There are a number of potential flaws with ska-punk compared to your bog-standard hardcore. Firstly, not everyone goes in for brass, or dancing, or being happy. Secondly, if you want to get two ska-punk bands on tour together you’ll need to find accomodation for 18 people and a Ben Carr-type skanking accomplice. It’s not the easiest genre to make work, which I think is why it goes through such pronounced fluctuations in popularity.
Last year saw the first Level Up Festival at The New Cross Inn (see #3) and it’s only bound to get bigger this year, selling a heap of tickets purely on the strength of the two headliners they’ve announced: Lightyear and Random Hand. Manchester Punk Festival’s line up for 2018 is riddled more ska-punk than my chequerboard heart can handle; there’s enough for a dedicated ska-punk stage. With so many big name acts active, festivals like Boomtown, Outcider, El Topo Goes Loco, Slam Dunk and Bearded Theory will no doubt be jumping on the train to skaville, bringing us a beautiful summer of ska punk revival.
I believe there will be enough energy in the ska punk scene in 2018 to ignite a spark that leads to a further ska-punk movement in a couple years’ time. Seeing these fantastic acts is enough to inspire new and upcoming musicians to bring some ska-punk sensibilities into their songwriting…. So perhaps not the greatest prediction for 2018, but one to look forward to in the future.
Go on then… have you got any predictions for 2018? Let us know in the comments.
Check out our other Top 5s here:
Article by Sarah Williams.