KEXP International Clash Day at Studio 9294 in London, Hackney Wick, February 4-7, 2019,

Feb 13, 2019 Photography by Michael James Hall and Darcie Molina Web Exclusive
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As the frenetic release of "Heel/Heal" sparks the tightly packed crowd into frantic action, we spill forward-a couple of us, unfortunately, directly into the monitors IDLES vocalist Joseph Talbot is attempting to use to hear himself as every word is screamed back at him by the enthused throng. It's a kind of elated mayhem; barely controlled chaos-Joe Strummer woulda loved it.

They were performing at the KEXP International Clash Day festival, built around the seventh annual, self-confessed "made up" international holiday to mark the brilliance and importance of The Clash spearheaded by Seattle's independent radio station KEXP. This year the event was broadcast live from London for the first time. Four days before IDLES' performance, the festival ignites with the glorious sounds of Big Joanie, whose bold, brilliant, feminist punk combines sparse rhythms with jerking, sharply angled guitar sounds and a storming cover of TLC's "No Scrubs" reworked to incorporate, somehow, even more venom than the original. Songs from their recent debut Sistahs sound bright and brilliant in Studio 9294's live room, which happily boasts near-perfect sound, ideal sight-lines, and crystal clear acoustics.

After some hang-outs on the terrace, watching ducks enjoy the canal, (yeah, it's pretty idyllic), we're back in for Avalanche Party who certainly have the moves but, maybe, don't yet have the music to allow them to invigorate a Monday afternoon crowd. There's a dash of Fat White Family's dirty groove in there, a good dose of Protomarty's snarl, but a lack of melody means they're less than accessible in this scenario.

Happily, after drinking the adjacent bar dry of Infinite Session Pale Ale (alcohol free and amazingly tasty, sober folks), we have the supercharged, post-Mclusky power-duo of South London's JOHN, whose debut album God Speed In the National Limit wowed fans of Grand Prix-paced punkery last year. Comparisons to Japandroids are the easiest to make here, yet while Vancouver's finest drums and guitar duo are practically a party band, JOHN are a more intense, rigorous and vigorous proposition; stand-out slammer "Industrial Action" bastardizes the "Faster" riff, twisting it into a death-drop of scorched earth political alienation with a soarer of a chorus and almost unbelievable energy. They're not casually referred to as "Rock Gods John" for nothing, ya know.

On Tuesday Vanishing Twin delight with a kind of woozy, eyes-closed repetition-pop that, in the same way Swans or Stereolab mastered in the past, leaves you enveloped in a timeless space, their music droning beautifully, seemingly endlessly as the crowd sways. Whaddaya mean they were only on for 25 minutes? They look fantastic (when you do open your eyes), like action figure versions of themselves, and their jazz-infused bleep-rock blisses us out in style. Delectable.

Snapped Ankles are a LOT of fun. Dubious your intrepid reporter may have been (the visual their name conjures in the mind can lead to shudders) but, these mischievous Londoners, decked out in forestry camouflage and with instruments crafted from woodland remnants, offer up a distortion-strewn dance-rock that makes the whole place feel like a party. Their hooded dancers, moving through the crowd with a quiver and a quirk, get the entire room involved and they're the only band we see this week that receive a (much deserved) encore. Certainly, we're more distracted by the spectacle than the music but in terms of pure, let-it-go enjoyment? Unbeatable.

On Wednesday we're treated to the vastly underrated Ghostpoet to kick off the day-the melancholic wonder of "Blind as a Bat..." with a guitar part you'd sell your soul for; the superstar presence of Obaro Ejimiwe; the slow-grooves that evolve into hefty, metallic slabs of punishing rock. This is the stuff of magic, and apocalyptic closer "Immigrant Boogie" from 2017's Dark Days + Canapés leaves the audience reeling. Ignorant of his brilliance up until this point, the headphones go on right after the set and Ghostpoet's entire back catalogue is imbibed with the correct amount of awe.

Shopping are a blast-the Edwyn Collins-endorsed New Wavers meld a little of The Slits with a good dose of Gang of Four to produce a kind of agit-pop that's as friendly to fun-punk fans as it is to those who like their dance numbers politicized. Ska rhythms pulsate from vocalist/guitarist Rachel Aggs, who has all the potential of being a future punk icon, and we're thrown into a positive, party mood whilst being gently reminded by Aggs that there's a long way to go in terms of the scene's true racial integration.

Later Chemtrails provide an oxymoronically majestic slice of DIY lo-fi that throws out memorable melodies and sprinting, shuddering guitars to sweeten the deal. Tonight's headliners Piroshka, formed by ex-Lush leader Miki Berenyi and Elastica's Justin Welch, are performing only their third ever gig-and its live on the coolest radio station on the planet and being broadcast to hundreds of thousands of fans on YouTube too-nice work if you can get it. It's well deserved though-this band is a revitalized force to be reckoned with. "She's Unreal" is an instant shoegaze classic, the entire set seeming almost alchemical in its mixing of upfront rock 'n' roll with gorgeous, floating harmony. This band is a thing of wonder and their debut album will probably be some kind of unblinking masterpiece. No pressure.

Crawling on to Thursday, (which is, incidentally, the actual made-up International Clash Day) we are rudely awakened by Peckham's Goat Girl who, in their particularly minimal, stripped back garage rock style, lift us into a spectral zone that's fairly unusual for this time on a weekday afternoon.

Queen Zee are an ambitious, queer as fuck, anthemic as hell pop metal band that make you feel like you might be watching Manic Street Preachers in the moments before Generation Terrorists was released. Their glamorous, fist-pumping, face-shredding rock will enrage as many as it engages-place me firmly in the latter camp and sprinkle me with stardust. Goddamn this band is perfect. Songs like "Sissy Fists" and "Victim Age" from their brand new (obviously) self-titled record are calls to arms that celebrate as much as they defy, inspire as much as they confront, and represent a true shot in the arm for the UK scene. Frontperson Zena Davine is a whirlwind of smiling confidence and instinctive posturing that is unutterably compelling. They're already stadium-ready, so let's help them get there ASAFP.

Moving into the last leg, Italy's Soviet Soviet finally get to play their KEXP session after being imprisoned then deported on their attempt to visit Seattle to play for KEXP in 2017. A common theme of the week is the political dissatisfaction that's felt commonly between the U.S. and the UK right now and it's touched upon not only by several of the bands but also by the DJs Cheryl Waters, Kevin Cole, and John Richards as they introduce the world to these artists across the week. It's fitting that the band get to throw their '90s grunge sounds into the universe on a day celebrating the diversity of punk rock.

"The best band in the world right now, the only band that matters...IDLES," announces Kevin Cole and the practically vacuum-packed room erupts. We're witnessing the latest stage in the rise to international renown that the Bristol-based band have been working at for years. A set culled largely from debut Brutalism but peppered with hits like "Danny Nedelko" (which features Mr. Nedelko himself riding singer Talbot, rodeo style), they defy tech issues to impart not only a powerful message of unity, inclusivity, and love (Talbot even taking the time to dedicate a song to a disruptive drunk antagonizing him from the crowd) but also the most addictive, accessible, aggressive pop music we've been treated to in many, many years. They are indeed, and without question, exactly as Kevin Cole describes. At the close of their set they free-heartedly and seamlessly pass the baton to fellow Bristolians Heavy Lungs, who cap off proceedings with sharp, brutal, rough-hewn punk rock that sears through the sweaty, heaving room.

The Clash? They were important. They were great. They, like all the artists mentioned here though, were "just a band." What makes punk rock relevant in 2019? Communities, friendships, love, inclusivity, kindness and camaraderie-THAT's punk as fuck and personified by KEXP's mission to bring wonderful art to the world and by their new masthead band IDLES as well as the loving group of fans that surround them. It was a hell of a week, hopefully to be repeated in 2020 and inevitably there'll be a whole new crop of bands rising up there to spread the love.

^ Ghost Poet ^

^ JOHN ^

^ Queen Zee ^

^ Queen Zee ^

^ Vanishing Twin ^

www.kexp.org

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