A jarring howl of feedback rips through the building. Ear-splittingly loud in the venue upstairs, it’s an instruction to anyone in the downstairs bar to stop chatting, like a call to worship at the hardcore church.
Going Off are the first band in a stacked line-up, drawn together by Anarchistic Undertones to celebrate the release of Incisions ‘new’ album Bliss. I say ‘new’ because Bliss has been out since April 2021. This gig’s been rescheduled twice. It’s also sold out twice – it was originally billed for Gullivers, but it sold out so fast that it was upgraded to the Star & Garter, where it sold out once again. This is one of those gigs where anyone and everyone is going to be there, and there are even plans to get fucked up afterwards. A meeting of Manchester fuckhead minds.
Going Off play good, solid hardcore and the assembly reacts appropriately, drawing close to the stage. It’s hard to concentrate on the band past the performance of the vocalist, who strips off his Gulch t-shirt two songs in to reveal a demonic chest tattoo that’s glaring at us almost as viciously as he is. The band conjure a rich black abyss of bass and rhythm guitar, with a current of four-string treble drifting over the top like fleeting chinks of light in the darkness.
One of the best things about watching this homegrown Manchester hardcore act is the excuse for everyone to make the requisite joke… “It’s all going off!” The room behind me fills rapidly with a sea of black, beanies and band t-shirts. The floor and my ribs are rattling. Going Off sound large even when opening a club show like this; if they hone their brutality a bit further they’d slot in nicely to an Impericon stage bill.
The buzz in the room is palpable. Further local hardcore band Fatalist are the second of five bands tonight; with a more esoteric, post-hardcore take on the dark rhythms we heard from Going Off. The fretwork is frantic and the pace is urgent, racing to the dystopian foregone conclusion that’s their namesake. Whilst the crowd are a little more subdued, the music is a frenzy.
Set to release a new EP in the next week, Fatalist introduce some fresh material to their set. Newer songs are like a black, viscous liquid sliding down your spine, punctuated with attacking fists of feedback and discordant licks. The straining vocals scrape for air out of the drowning, going under. This is the kind of music that is felt rather than composed, cultivating tension and sinking deeper with every resonating chord and thrum of the kick drum.
Burning Flag are a panzer tank of acerbic political hardcore, of the vintage 80’s variety. This older-school style is more accessible than some of the fierier stuff we’ve heard so far, slowly churning on until full pit’s formed; a circle of punks being pushed into each other with grins on their faces. They play a new single titled Hecate, in homage to the Greek goddess. This track rouses the most dancing we’ve seen from the crowd so far, including a human pyramid, because when in Manchester ….
Providing hard proof of the power of on-stage representation, there’s a cluster of women going crazy down the front, empowered by the femme presence on stage. The conviction with which vocalist Holly Searle delivers the politically-charged lyrics lends her the gravitas of a mythical Amazon, the daughters of the god of war who formed a women-only society that used men only for breeding purposes. The queer, feminist bent of Burning Flag’s newer material complements their more traditional instrumentation: for an established band, they’re bang up to date. Everyone and their dad’s crammed into the upstairs room of the Star & Garter now and, when their set reaches its end, the people clamour for one, two, three, four more songs.
Bouncy posi-punks Casual Nausea burst onto the stage like a Duracell bunny, Tigger or one of those little glittery bouncy balls that you just can’t stop playing with. Uptempo and characterised by twin shouty vocals, their trip up from Ipswich is the furthest any band has travelled today. Known as one of the friendliest groups of punks around, Casual Nausea exudes happy energy, like ADHD with a hug and a high five. They’ve got a suitcase full of simple, earworm choruses that are fun to shout to; we all waggle a finger in the air and dance along.
Apart from their non-stop energetic performance, and the equally hyper jostling of the crowd, Casual Nausea are pitch-perfect examples of everything good about the DIY ethos. Their song DIY or Die has everyone yelling the chorus, Another Way is a clarion call to alternative living, and there’s even a tune that extolls the joys of a busted tour van. They close out their speed trial of a set with a socially distanced wall of death that stretches right back to the sound desk.
Finally, we come to the reason we’re all here: the official launch of Bliss. During Casual Nausea’s set, Jordan Lloyd from Incisions leans into my ear and say, “It’s looking promising.” It might actually happen, now! It’s been cancelled and delayed enough.
Incisions take to the stage with a long squeal of feedback that lasts for more than a minute, so loud that it actually hurts to listen to. The waves of it take me a bit off-balance as I walk down to the front. “Camooooon,” someone shouts.
The band charge through the tracklist of Bliss at a startling pace, barely leaving a beat for the pit-dwellers to catch their breath between songs. It’s riotous. The twanging riff from Repeat Prescription stands leagues above the other songs, inscribed on my memory, something unusual and endearing about it. On the album, Better is a rare acoustic gem (it’s my favourite track on the record) but in this set, it’s a heavy, electric cacophony that inspires an insane pit. Warm tins are flying, there’s beer in my eyes, Becky’s just thrown up on the dancefloor, someone’s kicked me in the head. It’s dark and humid and all I can see are flashes of black and red, warmed by the orange glow of the emergency lights behind us.
Halfway through the set, Jordan exits the stage face-first, trailing a mic lead mid-air, determined that his feet won’t touch the floor. Crowd-surfing, sweat slicking his hair to his forehead, he circles the room before being delivered back to the stage.
With few songs clocking in at over 90 seconds, they’ve got time post-Bliss to play a greatest hits summary of their earlier releases, including Mexican Jail, which reverberates around my chest cavity. Down the front, there’s a constant frenzy of elbows and fists and feet flying through the air.
Watching Incisions play tonight – a sold-out headline show – is like watching my favourite children graduate. This feels like a portent of big things for their future. I’m also going to say something that I’m confident no one has ever said about Incisions: they were tight as fuck. They played staggeringly well tonight; it’s quite a contrast to some of the entertainingly shit-faced performances I’ve seen them do over the years. It’s almost like they’ve had two years to practice. This is a band who have grown, who have just found their feet and are ready to sprint.
Incisions are a vicious outlet for all our distaste in the world; a product of the left-wing zeitgeist. They’re fiercely current, and this event was a superb way to mark the beginning of 2022’s punk gigs.
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