Somehow we have got to a point where modern rock music feels as if it is becoming ever more sanitised and anodyne. The idea of a rockstar who had a dissenting or powerful perspective to offer seems to be a concept from a distant memory. However, one unassuming dreary Sunday evening in Oxford would be enough to prove to anyone that punk rock was still as energetic as ever and that there are still musicians who want to scream their message until their lungs collapse.
When they first emerged in latter half of the noughties, Gallows were a band infamous for their violent and unpredictable live performances: fights were not uncommon and entire shows were performed in the crowd itself. This is something that has clearly not been lost in translation for lead singer Frank Carter in his new band Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes. The night’s performance sees every feasible type of chaos unfold: Carter strutting along the bar of The Bullingdon, people swinging from the pipes on the ceiling, stage dives galore and guitarist Dean Richardson playing half a song whilst standing upright atop the crowd.
But there is something far more than just a brutal display of violent energy on display tonight. The atmosphere in the room was something between being caught in a prison riot and a cathartic spiritual experience. No moment illustrated this duality more than Carter’s open and raw discussion about loss before singing a stripped down, minimalist version of the song Beautiful Death. There is a palpable sense melancholy in the pin-drop silence that fills the room after he croons the last lyrics: “I want to stay this warm forever. I want to be this close to heaven.”
The theme of loss is one that looms large over the debut album Blossom. “It was all about loss.” he says to me. “And using all of those experiences for self betterment. The leaves have got to fall for the tree for it to get bigger. And this was about all the leaves that had fallen in that period of time.” Given his reputation for being somewhat cantankerous, such levels of raw emotion may seem unusual and out of place to those with only a cursory knowledge of his past – seeing only the pictures of him bloodied and bleeding while playing with Gallows. And this is a misconception that he addresses: “I’m not just aggression, as much as people want me to be. I’m much more complicated and individual than that.”
The upcoming album Modern Ruin is a testament to this: “This album shows all the different layers and depth to me as an artist. It is about how we interact with everyone around us and how you can take two elements and they are able to make something beautiful and at other times they can ruin each other and be corrosive.”
Clearly the power of music as an art form to affect change in people’s lives is something central to every artist. However, when talking about the recent election of Donald Trump in America, Carter is less certain. Given the tradition of punk rock – arising from the oppressive authoritarianism of the 1980s – I ask whether he believes we will see a renaissance in punk rock or even more generally in music with a broad political commentary.
“We live in the most narcissistic age there has ever been.” he says “We’ve kind of been dumbed down and we kind of care less about the things that are important in life and theres a small pocket of people that give a shit and they’re actively trying to push it. And those are the people that will make those records.”
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that punk will be the chosen medium of the resistance.
“You gotta remember with that whole thing – what punk rock came from – I think you take punk and you move it out and what has now replaced punk rock is grime. Same kids. Same disillusioned youth with a hatred for authority. So what we’ve had is a just a shift in the urban downtrodden youth and what they’re embracing now is grime.”
For Carter both are the sound of a furious and intense dissidence and disaffection. “Punk is grime now. Grime is punk. I want people to understand that, they’re completely different and exactly the same.”
It is this intense and furious that Carter closes the night with, exclaiming from stage before diving into the aptly named I Hate You: “this is a song for that one person that you absolutely cannot stand. Because just know that if you feel that way about someone, then someone else probably feels that way about you too.”
The evening captures the passionate intensity and emotion that Carter spoke of. Though it is possibly one of the most chaotic performances that you may ever see, it is a perfect encapsulation of the variety of anger that fills the room. The evening is an acknowledgement that every single person’s expressions of anger are unique to them: whether they be feelings of dislocation or a sense loss. And yet Carter has managed to uniquely harness this anger and this melancholy and distill into 90 minutes of pure punk rock perfection.