Post Punk is a notoriously elusive label. Taken somewhat literally, it has been used to describe pretty much any music that came out after the first wave of UK punk, and that took in any measure or form inspiration or influence from it. The bands themselves that are given the label of Post Punk are not necessarily always happy about it, and have in more than one case rejected it, perhaps specifically because of the vagueness of this category, which ends up being an extremely flexible container that can hold artists and sounds very different from each other. Given this, the title given by Clwb Ifor Bach to its main event for Independent Venue Week is to some extent puzzling; considering the vague nature of Post Punk itself, it is somewhat difficult to imagine what New Age Post Punk should sound like. Indeed, the label turned out to be somewhat difficult to pinpoint in its nature, as the four bands that took the stage in the course of the evening turned out to have a great variety and range of sounds, four rather distinctive voices, and considerably different approaches to live performance and stage presence. This might be taken as a sign of the versatility of the genre, and its ability to express a variety of mood and explore in a variety of directions experimentally, or perhaps point out that when it comes to music genres labels, and especially very specific ones, are a rather limited tool to approach contents that are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and difficult to pin down.
One thing, however, is certain: the descendants of punk are alive and well, and they are producing some of the most interesting music in the country right now. Independent venues and independent bands are perhaps the most important propelling force for music in a moment in which mainstream rock-pop is feeling increasingly stale, and it is particularly pleasant to see large, and increasingly young, crowd, attend events in support of independent venues and grassroots music, especially at a place and time when these are so clearly threatened – Cardiff in particular should be feeling this threat very strongly, with the ordeal of Guildford Crescent unfolding in the past few months. Whatever we choose to call it, music that draws inspiration from punk and takes it in new directions is among the most vital scenes at the moment, and the event at Clwb Ifor Bach abundantly proved it, with a line-up of two local bands from Cardiff, Laundrette and Private World, followed by Dubliners The Murder Capital and headliners Heavy Lungs out of Bristol.
Out of these for, the first two are perhaps the ones that best fit the description of New Age Post Punk. Laundrette had an interesting stage presentation and a challenging approach to composition, with slurred lyrics, a reasoned use of sampling, and a preference for a jarring contrast between slow and fast, angry and forlorn, soft and harsh. Especially towards the end of their set, some pieces stood out for their incisiveness, but others still felt somewhat too disconnected, like the intent to create contrast ended up compromising the feeling of unity of the track. Nonetheless, excess is to be praised rather than condemned in a young band, and with a remarkably incisive stage presence and some very bold ideas to their credit, Laundrette fully deserved to be noted as one to watch. Their set showed the seeds of some things that might become extremely interesting in the future, and the Cardiff scene has been for too long lacking in this type of sound.
Private World had a more accessible approach at face value, but with a depth to their sound that managed to evoke a floating, trance-like feeling well sustained by the bass line and by the vocals. Some influences loom large over their material; one is reminded of names such as The Stone Roses and, in some tracks, a hint of Depeche Mode. The band has been described in the past as new-age pop, but it is not out-of-place in a line-up under the banner of punk: they have a more subtly aggressive edge to their music that fits very well with the rest of the bill. Their music is bold, full-bodied, with a deceptive sense of disquiet under its apparent calm. Again, another one to watch, definitely showing some promise, perhaps with a need to take a slightly braver step forward and bring some further differentiation into their setlist.
There has been quite a buzz around The Murder Capital of late, and when they took stage it became immediately apparent why. The Irish punk scene is itself seeing somewhat of a renaissance, with names such as Fontaines DC becoming prominent in the UK as well as on the home scene, but The Murder Capital bring a sound to it that is unique to them, and boldly defies categorisation. They have a particularly brash, effective rhythm section, with a use of drums in particular that is unusual for an act of this kind and which sets them apart immediately. Tracks such as More is Less will stick with the audience for a long time after the end of the set. The vocals have a pleasantly rough edge that is probably the element in the band’s sound that most betrays their punk heritage; their stage presence is confrontational and defiant, buzzing with implied energy. Everything the band has released so far sets them apart as something quite unique, and their tight, coherent, intense set confirmed this impression.
Headliners Heavy Lungs hail from Bristol, and are probably the closest to the punk definition of the four bands that took the stage; their hectic, powerhouse sound owes much to hardcore punk from the late 80s, and so does the vocal delivery of frontman Danny Nedelko, whose stage presence is one of the most engaging, exhilarating, and intense seen on the UK punk scene in recent years. The harsh, bold noisy sound of their fast-paced tracks is balanced with some remarkable technical ability on the guitar performance, and the whole set felt like a rollercoaster ride: quick, slightly dangerous, and loaded with adrenaline. It went by far too quickly, and left the audience satisfied and slightly breathless. This is most certainly one of those bands that do their best live, and have to be seen live to be fully appreciated. Bristol confirms itself as producing a number of extremely interesting artists in punk music at this point in time, and it is safe to predict that Heavy Lungs have all the necessary potential to exercise a noteworthy influence on the scene.
While independent music is thriving more than ever, events such as Independent Venue Week also highlight how delicate an equilibrium sustains the momentum of this artistic production. If we want new, fresh music like this to be made and given a platform to be heard, awareness of the importance of grassroots venues is more crucial than ever. The enthusiastic audience support at this event is a good sign that this importance is not forgotten, but more will be needed in the future to keep the momentum going.