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Hardcore Transition: A Toronto Punk’s Journey from Canada to the UK – Drowning in Basement’s Good Vibes at Koko (Part 4)

For the past 8 years, Lance Marwood has lived in the Toronto punk and hardcore scenes – and now he’s left it all behind for the UK. In Part 4, Lance travels to see Alex G., Tigers Jaw, and Basement at London’s KOKO club.



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.

Setting the Scene:

Dionysian goddesses lounge in the woodwork of the rafters, just a few feet away from the largest disco ball I have ever seen. Red paint, old bronze, crystal chandeliers and black iron seem to be the prevalent decor in this turn-of-the-century venue. The vibe is more approachable than my last foray into the Camden hardcore scene. There are numerous levels, with metal railings on each edge, forming a semicircle of perfect vantage points from which to view the stage. It is difficult to find someone not wearing a five panel hat, and the average age seems to be 19. I feel old, but take this for the blessing it is and go undisturbed to a bannister overlooking the action.

So this is what London’s youth look like, I think to myself. I scan the crowd for a couple of people I’m supposed to meet here, and chide myself for doing so. This place can hold 1400 people comfortably – seeing them here would be nothing short of a miracle. I wonder at why they wouldn’t give me their number to contact them. I wonder if they invited me to the show out of politeness. I wonder when the last time I felt so desperately keen to make friends was. I keep to myself for what feels like the millionth time since I came here to this country.

The first band, Alex G., sound like some bizarro Pearl Jam, if it was trying to be 90’s skramz, with nothing heavy about it. From their sound, the lead singer’s hat and long hair, to the way he pivots from leg to leg, the whole set feels like a throwback to an era when Kurt Cobain was alive, a time before most of the audience members were born.

I eye the bar nervously and start playing with my phone. Doing this circuit of shows is starting to feel like a morbid parody of my previous life. Where once I would be hard pressed to stand still in a room from all the friends I’d greet and chat with, now everything is awkward as hell and entirely lonely, evidenced by the fact that I’m disappearing into my phone between each set.


The second band, Tigers Jaw, are decidedly more pop-meets-emo. Gone is the ’90s vibe, and in its place is something that sounds like Dashboard Confessional meets Nashville. Midway through their set I step away from the bannister and recline on one of the leather couches in the back.

While Tigers Jaw play to a crowd that is bellowing the vocals back to them in a larger-than-life venue that I’ve only ever dreamed about, I’m sitting in the back, alone, sipping on a soda water littered with squeezed limes. The sourness helps, a homeopathic solution to my sour mood. As the guitars crescendo, and the place erupts into a cacophony of sound, I’m reclined on 1920’s hide, completely unmoved by it all. One would think being surrounded by such plentiful youth and enthusiasm would at least inspire some good feeling, but as it stands, not even Tigers Jaw’s signature hit can relieve the feeling.

Tigers Jaw sound like bubblegum lipstick rock if it had floral print and talked about your hometown. I suppose. It all sort of runs together, the songs drenched in friendship and reliance on one another. It sounds vaguely like bands I used to listen to, but with flourishes that stand out in odd relief against the backdrop of musical memory in my mind. It’s an odd experience, and would have been more enjoyable if I could get out of my head.


As if conscious of my dilemma, Tigers Jaw sing “without your friends, without your friends, did it make you happy?” I smile at the irony of it all. Here I am, embarked on my “journey”, my “trip of a lifetime”, and I’m utterly alone and unable to share it with anyone, powerless to go out into the world and meet people, the crutch of booze now stolen by this transition into adulthood. I start to blame my sobriety, and feel the foundation shake. I start to think of all the money I’ve made over the past few weeks, and how many drinks I could have. I start to think of all the off-licenses from here to home, and how easy it would be to go into one and grab a bottle of spirits. I think of all the antics I could get up to. I think of the shawarma shops I’d visit. I think of all the toilets I’d miss while puking. I think of the bliss of riding the train home and stumbling off the bus.

What would I pick? Something clear; a nice gin perhaps. Gin was the liquor that my own fiancée offered me as a shot, all those years ago at the Brohaus. It was that moment when I realized she was the one. Maybe vodka. I’m reminded of the martini nights that I used to have at The Lab, that old bastion of imbibing, my famous watering hole, where a drink is named after me and friends both tend bar and sit in front of it. Maybe I’ll just go for whiskey. Without Jameson, where would all my nights of talking shit in loud bars come from? Without Wiser’s Special Blend, where would all my nights of puking and talking shit have gone? Maybe tequila. I smile at that. When I worked at Tortilla Flats, I sold more tequila than any other place combined. $3 shots of tequila will do that. Maybe I’d forego the spirits and just stick to beer. Beer! My old friend, my lover, my sweetheart. Was there ever a more dedicated partner? A more mindful servant? Wherefore art thou, my love.


Headliner’s Up: Time To Go Home:

And then I think of trying to get inside my home without waking up my partner. The fantasy is over. I recoil at all the shameful dreaming and try to bring myself back to reality. The crowd begins to roar as Basement go onstage. Jesus fuck are they loud, I think to myself. I stay seated for a moment, letting the music wash over me, the familiar feeling of the putrid tar in my soul being washed away. This is why I go to hardcore shows. Intrigued, I make my way back over to one of the bannisters.

Their songs reek of friendship and nostalgia, and the crowd eats it up, a packed house of over a thousand singing every word. It’s clear that Basement are not used to this size of venue but they’re playing their hearts out. I look at the faces of these guys, these kids, slightly younger than myself, whose dreams are coming true. They’re surrounded by friends and adoring fans. People are bellowing the lyrics along with the singer in unison. I remember the hundreds of shows I spent in the front row, screaming every word, awaiting every note. I remember the times I didn’t even make it into the venue because it mattered more to hang out with friends. I remember those huge shows that stay seared in my memory, made real by the fact that I can share them with friends.

Disgusted, I make my way downstairs. Before I know it, I’m out on the street, in the cold night air of London in mid February. I start the two-hour journey home.


Post Script:

A few days later, I see one of the people I was supposed to meet at the show walk up to the bus stop after work. They briefly make eye contact with me and then, just as quickly, pretend not to see me. We take the same bus, and I play the same game, pretending not to see them.

As I sit on the bus, I realize that what I’m missing in this scene is people. I realize that it was always about people. It’s why we go to shows, to share experiences, narratives, and moments with one another. And while I’ve been craving these things, I’ve also been unable to do anything about it. I’d gone out of my way to see a show on the mere recommendation of someone I’ve met once. Truth be told, the only reason I went to that show was to share a show with someone, anyone. To see that all that effort was for such a fragile thing, built on tenuous proposal, makes me embarrassed.

In another country, in another life, I once wrote about men of the tie. Sadly, I realize that now includes me. Maybe punk rock and a functional, grown up life are mutually exclusive after all. Maybe, I muse, I’m cursed to watch music alone in this country forever, reviewing band after band from the old leather couch in the back of the venue.

I listen to Metz blaring in my ears, to drown out the noise of my mind, and I loosen the tie around my neck.

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!

Be sure to check out:
Hardcore Transition: A Night of Terror in The Underworld (Part 3)
Hardcore Transition: London Called Me to My First UK Show (Part 2)
Hardcore Transition: Me, Myself and the Move (Part 1)

Director of Communications @ V13. Lance Marwood is a music and entertainment writer who has been featured in both digital and print publications, including a foreword for the book "Toronto DIY: (2008-2013)" and The Continuist. He has been creating and coordinating content for V13 since 2015 (back when it was PureGrainAudio); before that he wrote and hosted a radio and online series called The Hard Stuff , featuring interviews with bands and insight into the Toronto DIY and wider hardcore punk scene. He has performed in bands and played shows alongside acts such as Expectorated Sequence, S.H.I.T., and Full of Hell.