A selection of my attempts to take a decent picture above.
A great day out at Wonkfest. The yearly event organised by” Wonk Unit” is now in its sixth year. As Alex (of “Wonk Unit”) commented perhaps the best organised ever. He was saying that after the best part of 11 hours and without alcohol by the looks of it. A real professional. So if you haven’t come across it before this is a celebration of the DIY punk scene.
There were 27 bands on the itinerary, each reduced to a 20 minute set (except headliners” Wonk Unit”).It’s definitely a case of “all killer, no filler” as there really isn’t any weak bands here. There are a few regulars but in general bands I hadn’t seen before. The great concept is that by rotating between the two stages at the Dome in Tufnell Park you get a five minute gap for punters to shuffle between the two stages. With literally no downtime it means even if you go by yourself time really moves quickly and the high adrenalin bands keep it fresh.
Having attended last year I knew I couldn’t make the 11 hours so arrived about 3pm. Apologies therefore to the bands I missed. You can see the whole list above so check them out if you want. In terms of the bands it’s still quite an eclectic mix the common theme being these bands are not part of the popular music scene, even the Radio 6 music scene. I would stand corrected on that if anyone feels differently as I don’t have that much time to listen and I do recollect a few of the bands having the odd airing. One of my perceptions here is that a big proportion of these bands are really in their element live and the recording process will inevitably smooth the edges.
The last four decades are catered for by the various bands. You have some old school R & B based bands such as “Dealing with damage “ , made up of some good old fashioned musicianship honed over many years, they give the impression its more of an enjoyable hobby than trying to make an ideological point. In similar vein were “Guitar Gangsters” who did make an effort in looking the part channelling late 70’s “Clash” and “Ramones” riffing and posturing. The bass player was also channelling Peter Stringfellow a little with his silvery white hair. At least that’s my personal opinion and not intended as a derogatory statement. Another essentially R & B based offering came from “Unwanted Consumer” who were joined on stage by Alex from Wonk Unit playing bass(?). Not sure if this was a made up band or the DIY version of a “super group”. You choose.
The current crop of younger bands have built on the early noughties American post punk movement including the likes of “Limp Bizkit”,” Good Charlotte” and others in terms of that rock sensibility. But they have also injected elements of thrash metal and have gone back to playing fast. Perhaps consistent stand out here are “Pizza Tramp”, who play fast and typically short songs, in the original punk tradition, dealing with everyday frustrations of the modern world. Vocally they sometimes sound a bit like the” beasty boys” despite hailing from South Wales.
Other bands on the bill that fit into this genre were “Aerial Salad”, “Vanilla Pod” (shortly to hang up their guitars for good) , “Rotpm”( not sure if this is right spelling)”Murderburgers” and “Blind Man Death Stare” ( who actually do hail from the US). All worth exploring to get better acquainted with their music.
Another thrash band from the Valleys were “Grand Collapse” who well received by the audience on the smaller Boston stage. 100% effort I’m sure they won a few fans with their uncompromising musical attack.
The same could also be said of “Pints “who took the main stage by the scruff of the neck and gave it a good shake. Very enthusiastic moshing from a few clear fans and those randoms prepared to get immersed. We were six hours in at this point and the enthusiasm remained high. Reduction in ambient temperature was a relief following the untypical UK summer heat of two days which may have assisted in keep the party going. Charismatic front man launched himself into the audience encouraging and goading the crowd onto further excess. There were also a few fallers in the increasingly slippery moshing area. I will admit that this type of music tests me a little and again I find it easier to listen live.
I will link two other bands together not musically but spiritually in this paragraph. “Babar Luck” are fronted by an unlikely character, who has styled himself as a humanist and commentator in his choice of song subjects. He talked about us all being damaged in some way as he sang about abuse and the impact of social media with a punk folk vibe. It was a nice counterpoint to the heavier stuff on offer. On the same stage the “Dub Righters” dipped into reggae and ska. This is always a crowd pleaser for a certain demographic and the infectious dance rhythms inevitably had a good proportion of the audience “skanking”. Uplifting and again a bit of a diversion from the significant amount of testosterone spraying elsewhere.
This brings me onto a point about diversity. The broader music scene has been awash the last couple of years with predominantly girl populated bands. Of the 17 bands I saw only one was all female “Bad Cop, Bad Cop”, who have a West Coast sound similar to “Bleached” in terms of a reference point and a couple of others had a female member (“Blind Man Death Stare” and “Calva Louise”) So I might have missed a few earlier bands so apologies but it was noticeable that it was predominantly young white male. Not sure if this is a real reflection of the scene, the preferences of the events curator or just logistics of booking bands.
My penultimate band comments have to be reserved for “Calva Louise” who have been one of my bands to watch for the last 18 months. They should definitely be way bigger. They are not typical of the other bands on offer in my view being closer to someone like “Wolf Alice” and have developed a stand out sound as they hone their craft. They also look like a band that enjoy each other’s company and play as a single unit with no dominant ego coming to the fore. They have half a dozen really strong tunes and I should check out if they are playing again soon.
The final words are reserved for “Wonk Unit”. Always humble in thanking all those involved in the event they have true passion for what they are doing , all executed with a great sense of humour, which for me was one of the original stances adopted by some of the original punk bands back in the 1970’s. You can’t take everything seriously or it will drive you mad.
Looking forward to Wonk fest 7 already.