April 4th 2013 was the day I turned 15, and surprisingly that was the least memorable part of the day.
It happened to be the date Enter Shikari were beginning their ‘Return to Energiser’ tour in Dorking of all places.
For those who have never trodden in this unfamiliar territory, it was a consequence of Shikari dedicating an expansive tour to ‘small venues in the UK and Ireland’ that were far from the usual gigging circuit. Such exclusive destinations spanned from ‘Salisbury City Hall’ to ‘Bath Halls in Scunthorpe’ and featured primarily conference rooms that had been padded out with a PA and a scattering of amplifiers. A truly authentic and genuine group of lads, delving deep back to their roots to support the smaller venues and their rural fans.
This was going to be my first ever gig. I wanted to share this account to encourage others to share their stories and talk about how their first taste of live music has impacted future gigs, careers or even put them off for life.
Who remembers HMV? Hard copy CDs used to fill the empty space in my bookshelves before the dawn of streaming and subsequently the abundance of choice has us skipping every song until we find one that identifies with our precise mood. A simple life, but one that had me parting with my pocket money on a weekly basis. One of the wild card albums I picked up in an after school haul was a discounted ‘Take to the Skies’ by Enter Shikari. Now I knew very little about this band other than that I liked the album artwork… and there was really no try-before-you-buy at HMV.
So I popped it on iTunes and loaded it onto my iPod classic to listen to on the subsequent morning walk to school.
First impression… not great.
Second listen on the walk home… still not great.
Awful screechy noises and an overly-british man trying to talk over it 80% of the time? (Don’t even start on the inhale screams that sounded like painful suffocation)
No thank you, please no more.
Fortunately 14 year old me is a sadist and over the coming months I managed to force myself to listen to it over and over and began to notice all the interesting musical nuance and the appeal of not listening to repetitive pop music. This drew me towards Rou and his gang of St. Albans based electronicore-heads and led me to ask for tickets to see them on my birthday in early 2013.
Accompanied by my mother, older sister and then lead guitarist of my current metalcore band Jamie – we drove into the depths of Dorking to experience experimental metalcore at it’s finest. A pre-show Pizza Express calzone may have been a minor error on my part but it stayed down. I remember being so scared we weren’t going to get in and waiting in the car park until I mustered up the courage to go inside. You see my mum had bought the tickets and was forced to accompany me due to venue age restrictions, and my sister I assume had nothing better to do.
We all felt out of place in that queue of punks, metalheads and suits having just finished their 9-5. Feeling underdressed me and Jamie bought tour t-shirts (first piece of merch I ever bought) and flew off to the room where we could hear Hacktivist’s audio-assault pounding through the walls.
THE GIG ITSELF
Christ we were not ready for Hacktivist. 8 string nu-metal grime was not easy to digest upon first listen but we sat tight for Shikari. My mum and sister decided to stand behind a wall of man that prevented them from being too involved with the movement of the crowd and thus me and Jamie separated ourselves to dive into the action.
Hacktivist finished up before we really got the chance to appreciate them and Shikari were on not too long after. Being a relatively big band at the time they played an setlist with songs spanning from 4 albums and we even heard the live debut of a song they released a few days before (Paddington Frisk). We weren’t ready for the crush at the start of the first song and the consequent pounding we were about to get but it was a glorious experience. Visceral and raw, we watched our bodies contort into surreal shapes and many a man go toppling over only to be resurrected by a fellow crowd member.
Shikari put on a killer show of heavy songs with the distinct absence of any half-time calming songs to give us a breather. Straight out the gate with System…/…Meltdown, followed by bangers like Gandhi, Arguing with Thermometers and Mothership, Shikari were a consistent barrage on the senses.
An orchestra of chaos tamed only by Rou’s soothing voice and brilliant showmanship.
I think we learned a lot that day.
1) It’s really hard to make conversation in a crowd full of dripping bodies
2) 14/15 year olds do not belong in pits
3) It feels like hours for bands to change instruments and sets
4) Gigs make you feel alive
5) Encores are scripted. I saw it on the setlist and it crushed me. I thought it was genuinely about how loud the crowd cheered after the show
6) Moshpits have an unwritten, unspoken code of conduct
Sweaty, tired, thirsty we counted the places we anticipated the bruises appearing, planning on wearing them like badges of honour – a sadistic coming of age story. Since then I’ve loved the live show, I’ve been drawn to it more and more, being able to see the voices and sounds you’ve spent countless hours singing along to finally in the flesh, and even more so recently as I’ve discovered it’s most small-to-middle band’s primary source of income.
I remember comparing the shades of the sweaty parts of our t-shirts with the dry parts and being astounded at how much wasn’t ours. Jamie and I played in bands together until the end of secondary school and then parted ways, but we always held that gig as a formative part of our history that led to us really putting our minds together and making music we loved.
As lives shows go it definitely set a high bar for any future shows and gave me a real insight into the heavy music community and what I could expect for years to come.
I’ve since seen Shikari over 10 times, met the band at a handful of signings and even performed Sorry You’re Not a Winner at a school charity concert followed by a standing ovation! Didn’t go down too well with faculty (I was a misinformed 16 year old) but we were the talk of the school for a few days after. I think I really do miss that careless attitude and should really take notes from my past self.
WORDS BY ALI