If you are familiar with The Camden Underworld then you’ll know two things about it; firstly that the massive pole in the middle of the dance floor and right in front of the stage is a never-ending source of frustration and secondly that it’s still the best venue for a proper hardcore show like the one we experience tonight.
These two things are in clear and direct opposition, in fact tonight the pole has a sign saying ‘No stage diving’ on it. This is wilfully and gleefully ignored throughout, making the pole even more at odds with the carnage going on around it than usual. After decent sets from Breaking Point and Coldburn the evening really starts to heat up with the arrival of early ‘80s hardcore pioneers Negative Approach. In the current climate of punk rock you can often forget just how spiteful and visceral the first wave of hardcore was, if you do need a reminder then NA are quite happy to give it to you. These songs are super short, unbelievably violent and, incredibly, have hardly dated a moment since their inception. Frontman John Brannon is an angry, ugly and frightening frontman, barely speaking or blinking while onstage, he instead just stands, scowls and screams his guts out with utterly unsuppressed rage. Over 30 years on this music remains the hardest, fastest and nastiest sound in rock. Good work.
After what seems like an age Madball appear to the delight of this partisan crowd and the touch paper is lit, frontman Freddy Cricien dives head first into the crowd immediately (Take THAT pole sign!) which pretty much sets the standard for the rest of the evening. With the mainstream acceptance of ‘hardcore’ growing all the time it’s nice to see a band who still embody the sound, ethos and values of true New York Hardcore playing such a blinder to a sold-out crowd. Freddy is a fantastic focal point and you can see exactly where Hatebreed’s Jamie Jasta got 90 per cent of his stage moves and patter from in Cricien’s high-octane bounding around and rabble rousing between song diatribes on the spirit of hardcore. When he talks of the beauty of seeing ‘such a multi-cultural group of people coming together’ in crowd you know he truly means, believes and understands this music.
It’s a shame then that there are still an element of the crowd that have taken this message of positivity and decided to apply it to the very worst stereotypes of meatheaded, aggressive posturing. You expect a hardcore show to be violent and often dangerous, but the levels of passive aggressive fronting nonsense and lack of respect for people’s personal space who are standing well away from the dancefloor area is not cool and results in plenty of what football commentators would call ‘handbags’. There’s a touch too much bloody noses and rutting stag levels of flexing muscles present here tonight unfortunately…
Although this isn’t Madball’s fault and it is clearly the minority. The people at the front are having the time of their lives and when a band this good are in this environment it’s like a throwback to the glory days of hardcore. When Madball drop Set It Off, which Freddy reminds us is now 20 years old, or when they honour the request of one audience member to play the Spanish language Con Fuerza they are staggering. The band also don’t get enough credit as one of the first bands to help take NYHC into the mainstream metal world, as Demonstrating My Style gladly exhibits, and the sound of breakneck punk rock and huge metallic riffing is something that would be adopted by many of the metalcore bands that came along a decade after them. But to call them metalcore would do be doing them a disservice, this is hardcore as it was always meant to be; fast, tight, taut and crushing in front of nothing more than a couple of hundred ecstatic and obsessive zealots in a room purpose built for destruction… and, whatever the sign says, stagediving.