When ragga-punk innovators Skindred and Japanese rave-metallers Crossfaith invited us to ride along on their UK tour for the party of the year, accepting was a no-brainer.
Each armed with killer new records – Volume by The ’Dred and Crossfaith’s sci-fi concept album Xeno – and boosted by the triumphant return of Crossfaith guitarist Kazuki Takemura following the trauma of a career-threatening brain haemorrhage, this was always going to be something special. So, with a skip in our step and our livers quaking in fear, we headed up to join them in Nottingham for a wild weekend…
Friday – Nottingham Rock City
14.30 After a hideous car journey from London in the remorseless, pissing rain, Hammer arrives at the historic Rock City. Skindred’s crew are setting up for soundcheck for tonight’s show. We get an AAA pass from tour manager Dave, who shows us our bunk on the Skindred bus and the dressing room, and tells us to help ourselves to whatever we fancy from a rider stacked with beer, Brie and Cadbury’s Heroes. It’s not the worst welcome we’ve ever had.
14.50 We bump into our first musician of the day, ’Dred bassist Dan Pugsley. He informs us that there’s a club night on after the show, hence why Skindred have to be offstage at the oddly early hour of 10pm. “We’ll have a few drinks though, OK?” Er… yeah, Dan. Obvs!
15.30 Skindred’s Benji Webbe and Crossfaith’s Ken Koie are having their photo taken in the venue’s lounge. We head down to say hello to the two frontmen and have a chat. Both are excellent company and show a genuine and obvious respect for each other. “All we wanna do,” shouts Benji, “is give people a show that will make them forget about all the shit in the world for a few hours. It’s about positivity, unity and going, ‘Fuck all that other bullshit!’” Ken nods in agreement.
16.10 Photoshoot over, Benji goes off to soundcheck, and we grab a few words with Ken about the headliners’ influence on his band. “When I first saw Skindred,” he begins, shaking his head, “I just thought, ‘Wow!’ – they bring so much energy. But we do our best on this tour to put them in their place.” Ooh! A little competitive edge. We like it.
18.00 The doors open and a healthy crowd stream into Rock City, ensuring openers Yashin aren’t playing to an empty room. We nip into The ’Dred’s dressing room, where drummer Arya Goggin is making himself a gin and tonic. Yeah, we’ll take one too, mate. And so it begins…
19.20 Just before Crossfaith are about to hit the stage, we nab ourselves a beer from Skindred’s rider. Guitarist Mikeydemus is stretching, getting ready for the show. You don’t mind us having a beer, do you, Mikey? “I’ve not had a drink for two years now,” he tells us. “But when it kicks off, I like to just sit back and observe the chaos.”
19.35 Crossfaith take to the stage, and lay the smackdown with their own type of chaos. New tracks from Xeno sound huge, particularly when Ken introduces “My friend Benji ’Dred!” to duet on the mammoth Wildfire, and their closing cover of The Prodigy’s Omen elicits a response that any headline act would be proud of.
20.20 With Skindred about to hit the stage, we bump into Ken again. “All makes sense live, doesn’t it?!” he exclaims. Hell yes, you must be pleased with that? “Best night of the tour so far! You drinking later?” he asks. Ken, we’re drinking NOW, mate!
20.30 Skindred take to the stage and do what Skindred do. If you’ve seen them before, you’ll know it’s one of the most fun shows around, and the tracks from new album Volume add to their flawless back catalogue. By the time Jahred from Hed PE and Ken return to sing Warning with Benji and co., Rock City is a sweaty, stuffy, boiling hot mess of excitable people.
22.20 There’s an obvious celebratory air in Skindred’s dressing room. It’s a sold-out show, and they’ve received news that Volume has entered the UK album chart at Number 29 and is sitting at Number Two in the rock chart, with only Def Leppard above them. Champagne is delivered and sprayed accordingly.
22.35 After high-fives and hugs have been exchanged, Skindred’s PR Jon bounds into the room with local grime artist Gino in tow. “Guess how many followers this guy has got on Instagram?” says Jon. Silence. “Who saw me on the MOBOs last night?” asks Gino. More silence. Tough crowd, boys.
23.00 There may be a club night going on in Rock City, but the real party is happening in the back lounge of the Skindred bus, where Benji has invited Gino and his mate G-Dog (yes, really) to listen to music and smash a couple of bottles of brandy. “Bro, you gotta listen to my country album!” says Benji, and proceeds to play us a selection of tracks recorded in his home studio that sound as though they could have been lifted from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. “That was the vibe I was going for!” he tells us. You should release this, it’s great! “I wanna get it in movies! Or on The Sopranos!” comes the reply. Are we going to tell him that that show finished? Maybe later…
23.30 PR Jon tries to put on Benji’s glasses and is immediately ejected from the party. The music is turned up loud, brandy bottles are chinked and drink is consumed. It’s basically a hip hop video in here.
00.30 ’Dred DJ Dan Sturgess is heading up to the club in the venue to help lighting man Jordan score with the ladies. “He’s on Tinder all the time,” Dan says. “He needs to interact with the real world.” Sounds like fun – count us in.
00.40 It’s not fun. These people are dancing to Rita Ora. Dan is, too. We aren’t that drunk yet. Time to go.
01.00 Benji is now on the Crossfaith bus. Amazingly, Crossfaith seem to be relatively calm, except for bassist Hiro, who is almost skipping on the spot as he slurps on a bottle of beer. Benji is not calm, switching between singing at the top of his voice and shouting. He’s super-drunk.
03.00 We crawl back onto the Skindred bus where Mikey, Dan P and the crew are all relaxing. It seems like a good time to call it a night. As we’re about to head up, Arya walks past holding an expensive-looking bottle of coffee liqueur. You alright, mate? “GAAAA PAARRR ARRRGHH!” is his reply. Yep, definitely time for bed.
Saturday – Manchester Academy
12.00 Hammer is awake. Sort of. A quick trudge to the local café for a full English breakfast and a shower in Skindred’s dressing room, and we’re feeling much more human, thanks.
13.30 Arya pops his head sheepishly into the dressing room. You shouted at us last night, mate. “I have no recollection of that,” he says. No shit.
14.00 We get our first sighting of Benji. He is, in his own words, “Still fucked, bro.” He blames it on PR Jon. “You were goading me on, you prick!” That Jon!
15.30 Crossfaith’s dressing room is a lot more awake. From last night’s brilliant set, it seems Kazuki is doing better, following the brain haemorrhage that left him struggling to play guitar. “I’m having a blast!” he beams. “I couldn’t tour for almost a year. It was boring. I’m pleased to be able to get back and spend rock’n’roll life with my best friends! I still need rehabilitation for my arm but it’s getting better every day.”
18.00 Benji’s been on the sauce again! Him, PR Jon and ‘tour daddy’ Chris are swigging beers in the dressing room while Benji plays South African hip hop band Die Antwoord and dances around. “This shit makes me want to never make videos again!” he says. “It’s raw!”
18.30 We decide to play Benji the video Brick In Yo Face by ludicrous US rapper Stitches. Benji approves, and we get a fist bump. ‘Better have my money when I come to collect! Pay up! Pay up! Pay up!’ Benji sings back. “Good for you, Stitches! Good for you!”
18.45 PR Jon puts defunct Nottingham 90s metallers Fudge Tunnel on the stereo. “Get that fucking shit off!” laughs Benji. “Whose name is on the fucking dressing room door?! Skindred! Put Bob Marley on now or you’re fucking fired, you cunt!”
20.30 Ken is doing some pretty crazy vocal warm-ups as Crossfaith get ready to take to the stage. It’s New Zealand rugby style. When he and his band get up there, it’s yet another whirlwind set. Not many bands could follow it.
21.15 “Bro, I don’t normally go on drunk!” Benji has grabbed us. “I do it once in a blue moon. But tonight, I’m fucked. I want you to tell me if you can tell I’m pissed up.” We will, Benji. We will.
21.30 Skindred hit the stage. If we were as drunk as Benji, we would pull a sickie at work, but he still manages to command the crowd and pull off a note-perfect vocal performance. It’s yet another memorable Skindred show.
23.00 Everyone is piling into Skindred’s dressing room. “Did I pull it off?” Benji asks us. Definitely, Benji, no doubt. He looks chuffed, bless him. Members of all the support bands head in, with Hiro handing out beers in his usual excitable fashion, and a group of rather shy competition winners also ushered in for photos and to hear Benji singing Marvin Gaye. It’s an inclusive atmosphere and, just before we go our separate ways – us back home and Benji to DJ at a club night – we get one last audience with the Skindred mainman. “This tour is great,” he tells us. “It’s great to have a challenge from a band like Crossfaith who are like little rabbits. We thought we wouldn’t keep up with them, but you have to take that challenge and give the people a show that they’ll never forget.” And they won’t. The only person who might forget it is Benji himself.
Skindred’s Volume is out now via Napalm. Crossfaith’s Xeno is out now through UNFD
With two party bands touring together, we decided to make Ken and Benji fight it out for the title of Ultimate Partyer. Crossfaith’s frontman reckons his age makes him a shoo-in for the prize. “I’m younger and I go most nights, so I’m going to accept the challenge to be the party guy!” he laughs. Meanwhile, Benji isn’t so certain of victory. “I’m gonna let this guy have it,” he concedes, before we’ve even begun. “He’s getting pissed every night! But if I was his age, I’d fuck him up! A drinking contest, like in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, I’d win that. We’ll see, won’t we…” Yes Benji, we will. Let the partying commence!
Raucous live shows - Ken 2, Benji 2
Grime artists befriended - Ken 0, Benji 1
Stagedives - Ken 4, Benji 0
Costume changes - Ken 0, Benji 4
Bottles of Jager swigged onstage - Ken 2, Benji 0
Bottles of brandy drunk - Ken 0, Benji 2 (at least)
All-day hangovers - Ken 0, Benji 1
PRs ‘fired’ - Ken 0, Benji 10
FINAL SCORE: Ken 8, Benji 20
After giving up before he’d even started, Benji’s natural partying skills and experience won the day. Brandy all round!