I Saw Gnarwolves Play in a Courtyard, Expect Pith
I must have been avoiding something important, because I was scrolling down Facebook when I came across Gnarwolves announcing a house show. Shit, I thought, Gnarwolves playing a house show in their adopted hometown? Yes please. The post was only up briefly and had no time or address on it. That made sense; they’d have ended up with most of the Brighton punk scene bearing down on what was someone’s Birthday party. I only got the details because I was lucky enough to be sharing a house with the man providing the PA. The erratic nature of the house-share paying off for once – I will have to wash some dishes as a thank you at some point.
The venue was a residential courtyard, with two multi-story houses either side and a large brick wall at the end, crowned with that thick shredded barbwire stuff, that looks likes a Jeff Koons version of an angry Turkey Twizzler. It was tiny; maybe 3m x 5m and it also reeked of weed. Words like “piff’ and “zoot” were bandied about. Being from the Isle of Wight I have only heard these words said in two situations: at Bestival by people who were genuinely from London and by teenagers with man-bags strapped around their Hollister clad torsos, in an attempt to adopt the swagger of urban London – I.O.W. teenagers appropriating London teenagers appropriating Jamaican patois: a convoluted tunnel of desperate cultural envy.
Anyway, we were about to skin up when we were interrupted by the howl of guitar feedback and the signaling of drum hits, which only meant one thing.
For a simple set up of unmiked amps and drums, they sounded huge and the sound reflected back off of the courtyard wall behind them. The wall – decorated with three equally spaced and equally gnarled skateboard decks, each with what looked like a large chrysanthemum attached – roared back the music into the tiny courtyard. The whole area was like a giant resonating brickwork cube of punk.
The set was full of moments that oozed the affectionate mayhem of the band: they called the Birthday Boy up to sing a song, he chose to do backing vocals and instead someone else took lead, the crowd started surging and falling over itself as the first micro mosh pit took shape. Later, just as a song began, Max, the drummer, stopped and demanded a “zoot”, one arrived, he smoked it and with out aim, tossed it back into the crowd. Charlie, the bassist lead a round of applause for the neighbours for letting them put it on, not calling the police and actually attending (the stiff formally dressed man and his wife hardly blended in, but neither were they made to feel out of place, that’s not how this works). At one point somebody climbed the wall behind the band and perched precariously next to the thick aggressive barbed wire stuff, for all to see – you’re so vain and no, this song isn’t about you – as soon as Charlie spotted him, he shouted him down, because you’ve gotta have some ground rules.
Throughout the gig though, they played some requests and some not. Despite numerous appeals however, they didn’t play Limerance, one of their most exciting and memorable songs. Whether this was a choice of tuning, outgrowing it or control, I don’t know. Regardless, it was a damn shame not to have everyone in that place singing the chorus. The set ended on a succession of songs from the new album and finished before the neighbours’ patience was tested too far.
Afterwards, the crowd dispersed and a lot of people seemed to leave all at once. What could have been a momentous house party, whittled down to a core group. Some people left for beer, some for parties elsewhere, and some just wanted to find “the piffest piff”.
Gnarwolves are a band that, despite their seemingly effortless success, still maintains a grass roots shamblery and enthusiasm. With any luck, they’ll inject the established rock scene with a the chaotic fun it desperately needs. Rock seems to have become stale, with many popular bands falling into two camps: the Topshop mannequins with guitars – a frightening image of the clandestine boy band (Boy Band 3.0, the hideous continuation from Busted) hiding plane sight; or the mannered and preened whatevercore ponce – a punk and metal aesthetic, long bastardised and monetised to grab the attention of any 12yr olds who want to dye their black and get their ears pieced, as long as their parents let them.
There’s always a gap for the miscreants and underdogs though, it’s mandatory by rock’s definition. It’s intimate and messy gigs like this that make me want bands like Gnarwolves to work themselves into that gap and pick away at it bit by bit, until there’s enough room for a flood to cleanse the stagnant waters of establishment rock. For too long have great punk bands been considered disparate sub-genres or gimmicky self-parodies, but there’s a cavalcade of other bands just as good, waiting. There’s no reason why this couldn’t happen either, except the same old musty industry politics. For now though, with Gnarwolves having such an exciting sound and straightforward approach to music, I can only see them sustaining their upward trajectory. Even though they’ve far outgrown their roots, there’ll always be time for the odd home show.