I’ve said it many times before but I’ll say it again, there is no one else quite like Wonk Unit on the UK music scene. Their back catalogue is a cornucopia of musical delights just waiting to be discovered it really is, and it seems that right now with their popularity around the globe very much on the rise that this might be one of the last times I’ll ever be able to catch them in a venue of this size.
As silly as this might sound this is why I actually opted to watch other bands at Rebellion when Wonk were involved in multiple stage clashes back in August, it was because I knew I had this dynamite 3 band bill to look forward to and I wanted to sample every sweat-soaked second of tonight. I’m not alone here either as the Dragonffli is absolutely rammed even before the first notes from tonight’s openers blast out of the PA.
It’s great to see a still relatively unknown band like System Reset playing to such an appreciative (and large) crowd too, rip riding their way through a set of tracks largely drawn from their ‘Epidemic’ demo CD (available for just £2 from the merch stand) whilst adding in a few spiky sounding newer tunes into the mixer. Now expanded to a five-piece and featuring Trigger McPoopshute guitarist Shov on lead guitar this is the first time I’ve seen this line up playing a “proper” gig a year on since I first saw the then three-piece band opening for German hardcore metallers Tony Gorilla. The added oomph Shov along with Trigger’s Darrel Sutton on rhythm guitar brings to the band’s songs only acts to turbocharge their melodic brand of hardcore punk.
There are songs about the travesty of homelessness, a catchy number all about a former girlfriend curling one-off on the singer Stan’s chest, and there’s the slating of the UK government that is ‘May Already’ which also ends the band’s short but sweet set tonight. System Reset made a hell of a lot of new friends here tonight and deservedly so.
A band I’d seen but 3 months ago are Cardiff four-piece Nigel (UK), a band I then compared to early Chuck Mosely fronted Faith No More, and here tonight they not only reinforce that initial impression I had but also get me scribbling down the other influences of Jane’s Addiction and most obviously Rage Against The Machine. It’s certainly been a long time since I last saw a band open with a spoken word track, buts that’s just what guitarist Leon and bassist Alias do right here tonight. Dreadlocked singer Toby Lee looks kind of phased by this (almost) impromptu intro but as the band’s main focal point he’s very quickly transformed into part man/part blur as he tears around the limited stage/floor space afforded him tonight. Meanwhile, in drummer James Cousins, I find myself constantly looking to see if this guy has a third arm or is using a double beater bass drum pedal such is the ferocity with which he attacks his kit. The band’s technical almost progressive take on their art certainly has a lot in common with At The Drive-In or maybe even Zen Guerrilla but playing in front of a much thinner crowd than the openers it appears it’s rather lost on some of my fellow gig-goers wanting perhaps more traditional punk rock fare.
Well more fool them I say as (band name aside – well you try Googling it and see what you get) Nigel (UK) excite the hell out of me, and whilst most UK rock musicians their age seem more than happy to don a pair of ripped jeans and a sleeveless black shirt and play watered-down versions of shite like Shinedown and Black Stone Cherry I applaud these four guys for taking a risk and pushing the envelope. Someone just needs to hook them up with their kindred spirits The St Pierre Snake Invasion, Mother Vulture and Dead Shed Jokers and get that awesome bill out on the road!
Wonk Unit too have of course been blending genres for many years now and it was, in fact, they who I last witnessed mix poetry with punk rock at a gig all the way back in 2012. Seven years on and they’re a band who still defies categorisation and as such they so remind me of what Ian Dury once used to do, mixing music hall vaudeville with ska via a healthy helping of hardcore punk with the subject matter never ever straying too far from Wonk main man Alex’s views on life in general. From opener ‘Los Angeles’ (by way of an almost 5 minute spoken word monologue where sound levels were checked and our MC for the night explained the guest request make up of the setlist) to the frantic closer of ‘She Cut Her Finger’ what you get for your money is 100% proof Wonk Unit, never predictable, and always absolutely hilarious. I’ll never grow tired of hearing the backstories to such amazing songs as ‘Lewisham’ or ‘Nan’ even if finding out that ‘Spooky House’ was entirely fictional was something of a fourth wall moment.
All the infectious classics are given a sound thrashing tonight with the likes of ‘Awful Jeans’, ‘King’s Road Sporting Heroes’, ‘Je M’Appelle Alex’ and ‘I Love My Nagging Wife’ all sending the packed crowd into a sweat-drenched frenzy. Towards the end of the night Wonk’s long term friend and System Reset guitarist Darrel Sutton takes the mic for an impromptu version of ‘Take Me Out To Dinner’ and this sees Max (Wonk’s all-new drummer) getting the chance to meet everyone first hand as he (rather tentatively at first) takes up the role of crowd surfer making way for Alex to step behind the drumkit, and with Alex seemingly loving the local Johnny Wise dance – you can but wonder how long before this “arms in the air” sensation is featured on an episode of Strictly.
Witnessing Wonk Unit in this up close and personal setting is what I love most about the band and it’s also what I’ve always loved about proper live music, it’s like everyone (including the band) is your best friend, and everyone is here just for the music…oh and Alex’s banter of course, and Wonk Unit really do channel the spirit of Paul Hollywood like no other punk rock band out there.
Author: Johnny Hayward