After living in the hardcore and punk scenes of Toronto since 2007, Lance Marwood moved with his fiancée to a small town in England. Intimately familiar with the people, bands, and venues that dot the Toronto landscape, Lance is beginning to familiarize himself with the English countryside. This series shows his attempts at beginning to discover and unravel the networks of hardcore and heavy music in the UK.
Come On Down To Camden Town:
The smell of sweet roasted nuts greets me as I make my way out of Camden Town station onto the high street. Graffitied eyes on a boarded up storefront stare at the crowds. I stand under them to get my bearings and look out over the street. The place is awash with activity. Urban Outfitters and an American Apparel sit just three spots from each other. “So this is London’s version of Queen Street West,” I think to myself. I stamp my feet in my Doc Martens, trying to warm them up. My exposed fingers feel the cold here that seems to treat skin like loosely knit wrap. I try to remember to keep my eyes less wide and keep my mouth shut to avoid the look of “tourist” written plainly on my face. I quickly consult my saved route in my phone, and after I figure out where I’m going, I round the bend and spot the venue.
There’s something oddly comforting about seeing Cerberus highlighted against the crimson neon of the Underworld’s sign. The marquee says “TERROR/SOLD OUT.” I try to suppress the feeling of being out in the open, exposed, vulnerable to the unknown. Then I catch a whiff of weed wafting through the air. I look around at the crowd. I see more than one bow tie. I spot some guy wearing a poncho. I start to relax. I decide that having a coffee is the best approach. I’m so tired, and I can feel its effects: I’m anxious, wired, and feeling more than a little lost.
Finding Mr. Hyde:
Of course I felt lost. Since starting my new job and going to see shows on the weekend, I feel like I’m living different lives. In one, I’m a humble servant to the order and care of my occupation. I return home from work with only the hope for dinner, the company of my fiancée and dog, and sleep. But on the weekends, I feel myself knotted with anticipation as I return to a version of my previous life, where harsh, heavy, loud, angry music can wash away my ego and cleanse my spiritual palate.
I haven’t made any friends that share my passion for heavy music here. Going to shows is a woefully insular experience, since people are there with friends already. And ever since I stopped drinking I lost my ability to connect with people in a carefree manner. Without the comfortable crutch of drinking, anxiety wells up in me, making me wish I could just dive down a bottle. I breathe and do the math in my head, the formula I always turn back to in these moments. It’s been 1 year, 9 months, and 2 days. 642 days. 924,480 minutes. I keep breathing. I’m alone, but only I can decide if that’s going to be a problem.
Into The Underworld:
I decide to face the show and cross the bustling street, through the throngs of frustrated people. Waiting in line, I see what I can only imagine are London’s “good old boys”, of the hardcore variety. Gauges and berets, face tattoos and shirts with brass knuckles, mean looking crowds of barely suppressed rage and anger: where I could once see these types of people and know all their names, here I’m the outsider. I might have known these people back home. Some of them even look like friends back home. But here, through my eyes, these men shaking hands with dangerous looks in their eyes look like scary fucking people. The anticipation in the air is palpable. I make my way down the stairs into the bowels of the venue.
I’m greeted with a classic English style bar, old wood and leather offsetting the smell of weed, beer, cigarettes, and the ozone of excitement. My skin crawls at all of the weird similarities I notice between this subterranean lair and a couple bars in Toronto. There’s something much more real about how this place is presented, as though it’s been here forever, not some cheap imitation. I inspect the main stage area. It’s a pit. Wrought iron gates surround the hardwood bathed in darkness. I settle into the back at a safe distance as the opening band sets up.
Up To Bat:
Ironed Out start in what I’m learning is typical London promptness, not one minute over 6:30. With it being so early, one would think that they would be playing to a thin crowd, but by the time they’re halfway through their first song, the pit is full and already moving, and a ring of onlookers man the gates around the whole affair. For a band that’s only just emerging, they handle the sold out venue with ease, and before long the pit is alive with activity. I’m impressed by the band’s lineup despite the use of two vocalists, a move I’m always weary of bands committing to.
The crowd is brimming with testosterone. I look over at the bar. A torrent of people make their way around it, pints of beer swimming and shots of spirits disappearing into red, smiling faces. I look around and find myself constantly being eyed or stared at. Not for the first time, I wonder at what it is about me that makes people want to punch me in the face. Or at least look that way.
Time To Get Weird:
But that all fades away when I hear the beginnings of Twitching Tongues. I make my way through the crowd, down the stairs, into the pit. It’s been a few years since they started playing music together, but they have the confidence of a band that’s been touring for years. As they launch into Disharmony, the crowd begin to wreak havoc. “Alright,” Colin Young, the lead vocalist, says, “Time to get weird.” And with that the band start into “Preacher Man”. The pit writhes with its sinister groove. By the time they play “World War V”, the final song in their setlist for the night, the pit devolves into a fury that threatens to swallow the Underworld. And then just like that it’s over.
I make my way over to Colin Young, Twitching Tongues’ vocalist, and I introduce myself. I start my interview after the initial rush of people buying merch subsides. I settle into the role more comfortably than I was anticipating, at ease with Colin’s humble demeanour.
Wisdom In Friends:
After I finish talking to Colin, I walk over to watch Wisdom In Chains well into their set. As I’m greeted with sweltering heat, I hear Mad Joe Black talking about how important it is to have friends and how great it was to make a few more. With that, they launch into “My Friend”. By the time they finish their set, the pit is seething with constant stage diving and crowd surfing; everything that numerous surrounding posters ask people not to do.
Wisdom In Chains is easily the most positive band of the night. Clearly this is a group that has been on the road with friends, and longs to keep doing so. The feeling becomes mutual as the band offers a steady setlist, and the crowd react with more enthusiasm for each song. To call a band’s energy infectious is a great compliment, and I have to hand it to Wisdom In Chains, they make all the weird aggressive energy I was feeling earlier melt into positive vibes, and I’m grateful.
With Great Terror Comes Great Responsibility: Stage Diving:
By the time Terror finally goes on stage, the crowd is ready to explode, a powder keg just waiting for ignition. What follows is hardcore in typical fashion: constant stage diving, crowd surfing, and wilding out. I stay at the fringes because a) I don’t know any of the lyrics, because I am the worst at lyrics, and b) I don’t feel like getting knocked out. The crowd is one long orgy of movement and mayhem. I’m still enjoying it from the periphery.
Watching Terror do their thing is always fun, and being a part of the energy of the crowd is always a plus. I learn that London loves Terror. The whole crowd joining along to yell vocals to every song. Scott Vogel is in typical incendiary form. His first words on stage are “This is your stage! This is your microphone! We’re guests in your city!” From there, he shouts classic mosh calls (affectionately known in most hardcore circles as Vogelisms), such as “Chop someone’s fucking head off!” and “Tear this motherfucker down!” By the time they play their final song, the entire pit of the Underworld is hellish with fury, thrashing, and carnage.
Back To The Grind:
As I make my way home, taking the lonely train back to a solitary bus doing an obligatory graveyard shift to oblige townspeople trying to return home on weekend nights, I realize that the biggest thing I’m lacking is perspective. It’s been a month, and I’ve already settled into a home, found a job, and established a lifestyle for me, my fiancée, and even our pet dog. I look out at the darkness of the night, lost in reverie, realizing that this is the first time in my life that I have a 9-5 job. It’s so easy to imagine, against that dark canvas, images and portraits of the life I seek to live.
A sudden memory comes to mind, and I burst out laughing on the bus, catching the few other passengers off guard. I remember talking to Scott Vogel in a parking lot, 11 years ago when I last saw Terror at Sounds of the Underground. My friends and I were covered in various shades of green and red (having just seen GWAR for the first time), agreeing that we’d seen everything we wanted to see, and decided to go home. When we walked to our car, we realized that the large van and trailer close to us were playing host to Terror. I smile at the memory of meeting them and talking to them, of them giving us some guitar that they found on the road, and of Scott Vogel preaching some wisdom about his views on life. “In this world, all there is for some people is the pursuit of property,” his words echo in my mind, “if you’re lucky you’ll find someone you can share it with. But for most people that’s it, that’s all that life is.”
I look out the window again, at the opaque void. I try to look at my own eyes, but can’t seem to meet them. I only make it as far as the dark circles underneath them. I remember my promises. I put on my headphones and start listening to some album. Some heavy album, to keep the wolves in my mind at bay.
Lance is always happy to hear suggestions and recommendations for towns, cities, and venues to check out. Comment below or Tweet to @LanceMarwood to share what area you think he should visit next, so he may come out and see it for himself!