As gale force winds sweep across the streets of Leeds, I head into Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen for shelter. On arrival, I am met by the typical Saturday entourage of customers slurping their craft ale, taking selfies and dancing to the funk and jazz house music from the DJ. A complete juxtaposition of what is about to occur upstairs. I see a few wind-swept individuals scurrying through the abyss towards the stairs. I quickly follow them and head upstairs to the Dirty Otter & The Endless Hum charity fundraiser all-dayer.
Upon entry, I catch the last couple of songs by ES; a London-based all-girl post-punk band. The songs I saw I enjoyed, the song structures had a Sonic Youth influence combined with modern contemporaries such as Savages and later Sleater Kinney sounds. Their new EP released this year, ‘Fantasy’, encapsulates and showcases their post-punk dance fusion sounds of gigantic driving bass lines with tangling synth moments, and melodic spoken words. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear ES on BBC Radio 6 Music in a couple of months, or becoming a regular act featured on the lineups of UK festivals.
I quickly nip to the bar to quench my anticipation for the next band. A band that sounds like no other band and ignites one of the deadliest live shows you can wish to see… Even though they are Leeds based, I’ve only managed to see them live twice, once at their annual festive gathering of the ‘Shitsmas’ at Newcastle’s favourite DIY spot ‘Lubber Fiend’, and the other at the concealed Leeds parlour for DIY ‘Damaged Goods’. The band have close links with both non-profit venues, ‘Damaged Goods’ and ‘Lubber Fiend’. The guitarist Henry (or known to many as ‘Gump’) is the main man of Leeds’ infamous recently birthed DIY venue Damaged Goods, while guitarist Samuel Booth is the main man at Newcastle’s DIY space ‘The Lubber Fiend’. Damage Goods is Leeds’ very own CBGB’S, a temple of worship for hardcore, crust, grindcore, and death metal. Situated behind a pizza shop near Kirkstall and no social media presence, discovering events there is part of the excitement – if you know, you know. And ‘The Lubber Fiend’ is Newcastle upon Tyne’s’ newest underground bar and DIY space hosting a variety of nights from d-beat crust, to electronic avant-garde, to indie-pop / lo-fi. No matter what you see at both venues, you are guaranteed to be introduced to something new and feel apart of the inclusive safe-spaces that both venues offer.
After a quick line check, the lights dimmer as The Shits sliver out of the darkness and assemble on stage, each cracking a can. Singer Calum stands topless at the front of the stage exhibiting the devil tattoo on his chest and scowling towards the audience clutching a can of Kronenburg in one hand and the microphone in the other. Within a matter of seconds, the topless demon spits into the crowd and his disciples on either side begin an accumulated mass of synchronised conjoined riffs that create a trance-like hypnosis, sending a couple of audience members at the front into a barbaric state as they begin to wrestle with one another. The strobe lights follow the coordination of the destructive riffs to emulate a full sensory entrance. I look around the venue at the small but fully immersed audience to see a simultaneous head nod and eyes fixated on the band. Tangled within the mechanical clockwork of the sonic assault, in between the lyrics, singer Calum finishes the rest of his can leaving dregs running down his face and onto the glaring demon that remains frozen within the madness, and launches the can into the crowd. Someone sticks two fingers up at him where he stands within psychotic monotonous raw power and spreads his arms out, half-cut to brusquely say ‘come on then’, and reaches for another can.
The three guitarists repeat the same riff simultaneously in a Stoogian ‘funhouse’ homage, while bassist Jack Kennedy and drummer George Chadwick complete the full bone crushing cycle of the annihilation, paving way for the slurred unhinged vocals. Their newly released second album ‘You’re A Mess’ is reminiscent of the early confrontational ‘Filth’ era of Swans, and the minimalist grooves of Shellac’s ‘Terraform’, The Shits perfectly combine both into a concoction of a violent feral exorcism producing intimidating agro that sticks a finger up to everyone and grinds their face in the dirt.
Here’s what John Doran of The Quietus says about the album:
“Terrible, terrible bastards The Shits are here with all the spiritually uplifting, life affirming, serotonin boosting properties of a dark amber, ammonia stinking, three-day rave piss, in the form of new transmission, You’re A Mess. Starting with a bludgeoning, left of centre, Amphetamine Reptile punk take on The Stooges that laughs in the face of more recent flat white-sipping, pantywaisted post rock and post hardcore innovations and instead concentrates on a caustic, clangorous, bone-cracking assault on all that is right and proper. But steady your nerve, delve into their metallic, acid stripped, pig-fuck grooves and you will find a chaotic world
of inverted psychedelia and jet black – fucking appalling – enlightenment waiting for you.” John Doran
Once the recurring pint soaked cycle comes to a close, and just when you think that the tension is relieved for a split second, singer Calum cracks another beer and says “You’re just art school wankers”, grabbing his crotch waving the wanker hand gesture to the experimental bands that have just played, and gargles up another goz to be sent into the crowd. The crowd start lobbing cans at him while he encourages and aggravates them further. More cans are thrown, and more spit is produced. Drummer George Chadwick (of Belk, Reflecting Skin, Mortuary Spawn) is completely locked-in to the monstrous hypnotic cycle of the monolithic mesmerism that is delivered to the audience, absent and unfazed by the rainbow of cans flying over the stage and onto the drum kit where each snare crash creates a fountain of dregs up into the air. Bassist Jack Kennedy stands at the back of the stage with his hood up smirking at the disarray unfolding before him.
Bassist Jack Kennedy (of Frisk, Tramadol, Soft Issues) is one of the main resident artists situated in Screw Gallery on Vicar Lane. Screw Gallery is a contemporary art gallery and studio space that hosts international exhibitions that you wouldn’t see anywhere outside of London, with the occasional electronic artists performing there, such as Nick Klein and Angelo Harmsworth. Opened roughly around two and a half years ago, Screw has become the forerunning Mecca for upcoming artists in Leeds, such as Jack Kennedy, Allan Gardener, Harley Roberts, Fern O’ Carolan, Edd Carr, and Sam Hutchinson. Artists and creatives are forever checking through the shutters to see if anyone is in, or hanging around outside whenever they can – there’s an Aurora about the place that instantly sparks and inspires something within you.
A few songs in, Calum pulls out an old stained bed-sheet looking flag which features The Shits logo (cock-nose) and waves it to the crowd as a big fuck off, and then scrunches it up and throws it into the audience. A crowd of manic, pissed recipients intoxicated by the pummelling inexorable wave congregate at the front, pulling at each other like wild dogs while throwing cans at the band and receiving gobs of spit back in return. Calum offers a can to one of the audience members who’s caught in the spell. The on-goer attempts several times to grab the can and each time it is pulled back from him. Calum sniggers, knowing they have fully enchanted the crowd. When he finally gives in and goes to give it to the audience member, he instead pours the full can over their head. They stand in disbelief, wiping their eyes and glaring up towards Calum, who smirks and looks for another can to open.
Nearing towards the end of the set, and playing the majority of songs from their latest album ‘You’re A Mess’. Before concluding in their final dirge, Calum sarcastically says “It’s really great to have another venue opening in Leeds today” in reference to the Super Friendz x Brudenell collaboration on the new ‘Project House’ that opened on the same day as the gig. A few people cheer, unaware of the sarcastic remark, and a few people laugh as he gargles another goz to be sent into the crowd for Project House and the plastic music scene.
A much slower sludge covered rhythm ends the set as red lights drown the stage, allowing me to reflect upon the journey that last hour has brought, and the spectacle that I have just witnessed. I wish I could watch the Shits every day, and every week forever until I live. Just when you thought that the Leeds music scene couldn’t get any worse, the void is filled and cemented over and The Shits stamp on the grave, providing a glimmer of hope for all.
During the final song, Calum jumps off the stage in an endeavour to attempt to nick pints off the audience members while on-goers stash their drinks and resist his hawk-like temptations – he jumps back onto the stage retrieving nothing. Guitarist Henry (‘Gump’) signs off the track with a couple of bludggering guitar solos that blend seamlessly into the array of sounds and bring the barrage of clattering percussions and beastly guitars to an end. If you witnessed this gig, you know my words can’t do this experience justice. It was one of the best performances I have ever seen by a band in the last decade. I would urge anyone and everyone to go see The Shits as soon as possible. Shed the skin on your face, and give birth to a new.
The Shits aren’t one of the thousands of bands that label themselves DIY simply because they don’t know what else to label themselves. The Shits embody everything about the DIY ethos. Although their latest album ‘You’re A Mess’ came out on Rocket Records (GNOD, Pigs X7, Alison Cotton) each member is part of a multitude of projects that are constantly challenging the orthodox and creating something new. The Shits carry the black lit torch, and in doing so, they set fire to everyone and everything in their way.
“Yet The Shits worship no heroes, obeying a thanatotic urge that sees no separation between death and glory. Listen to this album and you will believe once again in catharsis by way of heavy amplification. Psych-rock is dead, and The Shits are the executioners. Assume the position.”