Four Days Following A Wilhelm Scream On Tour [Column]

Sarah spent a long weekend following melodic hardcore legends, A Wilhelm Scream, on their UK tour with Darko. This is her personal account of the sweatiest weekend of the year.

Article by Sarah Williams. Images from Cold Front Photography, taken at The Star & Garter, Manchester.

It’s sweltering. I’m screaming. There’s a crush of bodies all around me, elbows and fists and softer parts, heaving and desperately scrabbling for space. Every surface is slick with sweat. I turn around just in time to catch a boot to the face, as singer Nuno Pereira is hoisted above the pit, trailing the mic cable, still belting the lyrics out.

He circles above the crowd before being gently propped back onto the the stage, where he immediately bounces back to scream out the chorus. I’m crushed against the edge of the stage and, when I look up, he’s literally dripping a waterfall of sweat straight on to all of us in the front row.

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It’s the longest, hottest day of the year, and the air feels ripe with anticipation for the chaos that A Wilhelm Scream bring on tour with them, unleashing raw, unbridled energy on stage every single night. This 5-piece melodic hardcore whirlwind have journeyed from their hometown in New Bedford, Massachusetts for a month-long tour, beginning with 7 dates in the UK with Shout Louder faves Darko.

I’ve been known to go to absurd lengths for the love of punk rock and this weekend will be no exception. Taking every chance to see one of the world’s most incendiary live bands, I decided to catch them in Manchester, Norwich, London and Stafford. Fortunately, I managed to convince Tree (of MPF/Anarchistic Undertones fame) to join me, so I wasn’t alone for the ride.

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Friday: Manchester

Manchester’s show at the Star & Garter is unquestionably the best gig I’ve been to this year (and I’ve seen Propagandhi twice). Perhaps it’s the intense heat. Perhaps it’s the crush of friends at the front. Perhaps it’s the insanely good performance from one of my all time favourite bands…  or perhaps it was the excitement of knowing I get to do it all again for the next three days.

The evening opens with Fair Do’s, who I am even more excited to see than usual. They’re releasing their album Leopards soon, and having gotten hold of an early copy, I’ve been blasting it at every opportunity. Getting to hear those songs played live now that I’ve learned the words was immensely exciting and I can’t wait until everyone’s heard it.

Old favourites like Hostile Company and Candleman still stand out, but getting to hear new songs like Cowabunga and Royal Flush live, having become so familiar with the tracks on record, brought this band into the next level for me. That’s not even beginning to mention the joy of witnessing such jaw-dropping technical skill on stage. They’re vying for the crown of best melodic hardcore band the UK has to offer, without a doubt.

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Local hardcore act Throwing Stuff are next to tear the room to shreds. It’s starting to heat up and the crowd are beginning to get into it down the front, as the tension builds. As a band who don’t play that often, I forget how heavy they are and how energetic their vocalist is, jumping offstage into the crowd and getting up close into people’s faces. It’s an enthralling watch.

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Guildford’s fast, technical punks, Darko, are the perfect booking for this tour. The first time I saw them (many years ago), I went along to the show because someone told me they sounded like A Wilhelm Scream. They bring a lot more to the table musically than that one comparison, but they match the headline act perfectly for on-stage energy, shredability and a hard-working but fun attitude. Darko never give less than 110% live and they always have the best time doing it. That’s probably why I always have the best time watching them. Friday’s show’s a blur for me, bouncing around and shouting along; when they finish I’m shaking with excitement for A Wilhelm Scream.

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I quickly grab some water and babble excitedly people outside; everyone’s turned up to this show and there’s a palpable buzz in the air. There’s uproar as A Wilhelm Scream climb onstage, a pit instantly opens, it rains beer and I already know my lungs will be hoarse from screaming in an hour.

The thing that sets Wilhelm apart from other bands, particularly in their live show, is the raw, tangible passion you can sense in everything that they do. Nuno oozes charisma in his performance, as well as his banter between songs, beaming constantly and giving so much life to the stage – he’s one of the strongest frontmen I’ve ever seen. As he crouches, one foot on the monitor, one fist raised in response to the crowd’s, there’s a tangible sense of unity in the room as we all recite every single word.

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That Wilhelm have a treasure chest of fist-in-the-air anthems in their back catalogue is a major advantage – they tear through it relentlessly, playing a well-considered greatest hits set that spans every album. Early on, Last Laugh and Killing It get a massive reaction, as do Me vs. Morrissey and 9 to 5. Watching the crowd become incensed in the anticipation-laden intro for The King Is Dead and The Soft Sell is enlivening. For me it’s Ice Man Left A Trail that wins it. In every song, watching Mike, Trevor and Brian shredding is jaw-droppingly fun; I feel oddly privileged to be watching such talented musicians play in our tiny sweatbox of a venue.

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It’s hard to pick an highlight from such a stunningly good evening, but Boat Builders just takes the trophy for me – I’ve recently gained a tattoo of the lyrics on my back, which suddenly made hearing the song live all the more special. Darko’s bassist, Karl Sursham, told me after the gig that watching the look on my face during A Wilhelm Scream’s set was almost as good as watching the band play, which I think sums it up nicely.

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Saturday: Norwich

After the Manchester show, Darko crash at my house, so we drink and talk music into the early hours. We get a decent hangover breakfast in before heading out on the road in the blazing sunshine.

I’m driving Tree, who’s looking as much of a casualty as I feel, having put Wilhelm up at his house the night before. Nonetheless, we spend 5 hours having the kind of nerdy music debate that I can usually only dream of: figuring out our favourite Wilhelm Song, trying to rank the top 5 UK bands and debating whether Bring Out Your Dead is overrated. Norwich is sweltering when we arrive; I meet up with friends and we amble along the river to the The Waterfront, sharing swigs from a plastic bottle full of off-brand Pimms.

Opening the gig in Norwich are local lovelies Other Half, who provide a brilliant melodic punk set. I always enjoy their shows, however it’s their signature awkward stage banter that always makes it for me. Singer, Cal, asks everyone what their favourite wilhelm scream is, going on to explain that it’s a famous sound effect. I think it’s hilarious, but it slightly flies over the heads of the rest of the crowd.

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I’m stoked for Darko. They play their usual blistering set, still looking like they’re having the time of their lives, although the crowd’s notably sparser than last night. They achieve a dynamism that’s akin to Wilhelm’s style – alternating from subtler guitar introductions (like that on Life Forms) to intense vocals blasts (like Lifeblood), seasoning the set with their signature, technical dual-guitar pieces (like I Should Have Taken The Left Turn…). Having seen Darko a lot this year, I’m extremely familiar with their set, and it’s never falls short of flawless – they’re unbelievably well-practiced.

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As A Wilhelm Scream get onto the stage, the room ignites. Although the reception is lukewarm in comparison to Manchester’s sweat-fest, Norwich is one of my favourite nights of the tour for different reasons. Firstly, it’s not claustrophobically cramped, nor oppressively hot. Secondly, I manage to drag Tree away from his traditional perch at the back of the venue to come party down the front for once. That said, we’re absolutely, catastrophically smashed by this point, so I’m looking back on it all with beer-tinted spectacles.

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The highlight of tonight’s show is an unexpected one: there’s an issue with one of the guitars which temporarily halts the set. During the wait, they deliver some hilarious on stage banter and a brilliant, unexpected cover of Summer of 69.

After the show I drunkenly profess my love to A Wilhelm Scream, fully unleashing the fangirl in me. Usually, I try to (barely) mask it under a facade of cool professionalism, but I figured they’ll already know I’m a fan from seeing me dancing on the barrier every night. Fortunately, they’re extremely cool about it, one of the friendliest and most-approachable bands I’ve encountered.

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Sunday: London

Having once again partied with Darko (I really do need to stop drinking gin anywhere near that band), the journey from Norwich to London on Sunday morning is a challenge. I shamelessly listen to the entire Wilhelm back-catalogue in a valiant effort to remain awake, fuelled by two cans of Monster than barely touch the sides of my hangover. Tree’s folded into the passenger seat, snoring violently. He wakes up briefly just to say, “Did I imagine them playing Summer of 69 last night?” Navigating elusive right-turns in central London is not the answer to my problems, but some loud music at the New Cross Inn definitely is.

We’ve arrive on the Sunday of an exciting new three-day festival: Polite Riot. Organised by Be Sharp, Umlaut Records and Kick The Crutches, the previous two days have seen bands like Apologies, I Have None, Teenage Bottlerocket and Eat Defeat rattling the floorboards.

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Sunday promises a decent roster of faster, techier punk bands carefully curated match to Wilhelm headlining. Local Mad Man are an early hardcore treat, however Ships Down pull a huge crowd – surely one of the biggest they’ve ever played to. Having announced a split a few months ago, this is their last show, so people have made the effort to turn up early for them.

They’re a great, fresh melodic hardcore act with some impressive technical skill, buoyed by Joseph Guthrie’s unique Killswitch Engage-esque vocal. They admit to A Wilhelm Scream being one of their main influences, joking that they often cover The Horse but that they didn’t feel comfortable doing it with AWS watching them.

Tree and I are thoroughly impressed, although I do have a giggle noticing that we’re the only ones sporting sunglasses indoors; clearly it’s a Manchester look.

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Eat Dirt and Zombies No switch their set times but are equally exciting. I love singing along to Eat Dirt; it’s punk rock done properly – with a lot of swagger and energy. Finally getting to catch Venezuelan/French skate-punks Zombies No after six months of listening to their album was also thoroughly enjoyable.

On A Hiding To Nothing are similarly enlivening, however they had to substitute their regular guitarist Hassan for Eat Dirt’s Richie Cooper (who fortunately used to play in OAHTN) due to a busted elbow. It’s great to see the love Richie gets from both the band and the fans.

Although we’ve still got Darko and Wilhelm to look forward to, my excitement peaks for Drones’ set. I’ve been enjoying their recent album Exiled however it’s my first time seeing them live. I can’t help but sing along, encouraged by Lois’ strong onstage presence, as she prowls around the stage, the dancefloor and the bar. It’s easily the best set of the day for me.

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Where Manchester was A Wilhelm Scream’s best show on this jaunt, London turns out to be Darko’s. Although they live a stone’s throw away in Guildford, Darko don’t often play London, instead considering Euro mainland tours a better use of their annual leave allowance. Many friends and fans have turned up to see them, and it’s refreshing to watch the band thrive off the energy of the enthusiastic audience. When you’re as slick and practiced as Darko, it’s the reaction of the crowd that turns a good show into a great one, and this is a great show.

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Having filled-in for Eat Dirt and Drones, guitarist Rob Piper’s now on his third set of the day after three days of hard partying, and he’s not even remotely showing signs of it. In Tree’s words: “Absolute bad man G.” Bassist, Karl, is still bouncing like Tigger despite a busted ankle, and vocalist Dan’s voice sounds better than ever. I’m surrounded by other enthusiastic women down the front. It doesn’t really get better than this.

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It feels like the whole weekend of Polite Riot has been leading up to A Wilhelm Scream. New Cross Inn is a small venue for the calibre of the band, and there’s a brawl of bodies a the front again, shouting and dancing with fists in the air. The band feed off every single reaction from the crowd, getting more and more incensed and playing a riotous, rollercoaster of a set.

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There are two major highlights tonight. Firstly, they invite Joe from Ship’s Down to perform The Horse with them. It’s a great gesture that’s an immediate winner with the intimate crowd but, more importantly, Joe absolutely smashes it. It’s a heart melting moment. The second highlight comes in the form of the encore, when they play We Built This City On Debts and Booze. It’s the first time we’ve heard it this week and it’s mind-blowingly good. Every night, Wilhelm have achieved a truly enthralling, fun live presence that doesn’t get old.

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We hang out at the venue as long a we can, but fortunately we’re dragged away from Jagerbombs (Tree) and embarrassing drunken babbling (me) before it goes completely West. In true DIY style, Paul from New Cross/Be Sharp is kind enough to let us crash on his couch although I’m too buzzed to sleep.

The drive from London the Manchester in the morning is a swelteringly hot blast up the M6. I’ve got a feeling of elation in my bones that only ever comes from weekends spent enjoying your favourite bands with your favourite people. It’s accompanied by a sinking feeling that I need to go do my day job for a while before the next show, but it’s nothing six coffees won’t fix.

Tuesday: Stafford

Having unleashed the fangirl on Wilhelm on Saturday and gotten it out of my system, it now feels normal to have a chat with Nuno about Cometbus and Die Antwoord before the gig. It’s a great way to kick off the final date of our little jaunt, soaking up the last of the day’s sunshine before the bands begin.

The Redrum is a brilliant venue, but in this oppressive midsummer heat it’s stifling inside before the bands begin. This Is The End, Funeral Shakes and Darko make the best of it, but it’s overwhelmingly hot. I want to have a dance during Darko’s set but I’m so hot I have to take my shoes and socks off in order to do it!

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A Wilhelm Scream approach the sweltering room with cool professionalism; Nuno’s got a shit-eating grin plastered on his face as he analyses the heaving mass of the audience tumbling over each other in front of the stage.  The heat doesn’t seem to have stifled anyone’s enthusiasm for The Horse, Last Laugh and Jaws 3, People 0 – every lyric is screamed back, every riff is air-guitared.

It’s a small club show on a Tuesday night in Stafford, on a tour where they will also be playing festival stages to thousands of people. You wouldn’t blame the band for having an off night, but for A Wilhelm Scream there is no such thing.

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There’s rivulets of sweat beading down everyone’s faces, my dress is stuck to me, the arms I brush up against in the pit are slick and slip away. As the band play an instrumental intro, Nuno walks to the back corner of the stage, calmly removes his vest and wrings a river of sweat out of it before putting it back on again and resuming the show. My friend Daggi deliberately pours beer down my back in an effort to cool me down.

The highlight from tonight’s show was a very personal one. Guitarist, Trevor, catches my eye when he sings the chorus on Boat Builders, clearly remembering that I’ve got the lyric tattooed on my back. It’s silly, it’s small, but it made my night.

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A Wilhelm Scream are now six days into a month long tour, but it’s the fourth and final day for me (until KNRD Fest). On stage they’re full of unrelenting energy and in every conversation I have with the band they’re brimming positivity. It’s a genuine pleasure to watch these five guys perform every single night, feeding off the energy the crowd returns to them. It’s easy to see why they’ve seen the success they have: their songwriting and their live presence are second to none, but it’s their affable, relaxed and professional attitude makes them greater.

You can see it in their faces on stage every night: they love every moment of this just as much as we do.

Article by Sarah Williams. Images from Cold Front Photography, taken at The Star & Garter, Manchester.

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