The Trinity Centre, Bristol
Mon 12th December 2011
On Dreadzone‘s website the band is described as “the original pioneers of UK bass culture”, so it seemed kind of fitting going to see them play in the city that’s become contemporary UK’s (unofficial) capital of bass music.
Certainly the citizens of Bristol (of which I’m one) would claim this to be the case. After all, this is the city that introduced the world to the concept of “If your chest ain’t rattling, shit ain’t happening” a phrase referring, perhaps obviously, to the fact that every club you go to here has the bottom end ramped so high each bass “boom” shudders through your body, not only displacing hats from heads and fillings from teeth but also making ones chest ‘rattle’. “Bass culture” has obviously come a long way since Dreadzone formed in 1993, but as one of the earliest UK bands who tried to do something interesting fusing dance, bass & dub I was curious to see how they shape up these days.
This tour is off the back of their most recent release, a compendium of their music so far titled ”ËThe Good The Bad And The Dread’ & so it was no surprise that the gig focussed on their long history. I reviewed a Chumbawamba gig here in LTW a couple of weeks ago, another band who I have a long history with & whom I hadn’t seen live for ages. If you read that review you’ll know I was a bit shocked at how the Chumba audience had aged, all sat down & politely clapping along which was in direct contrast to how I remembered the last Chumba gig I’d been to 20 years previously.
Not so at this Dreadzone gig. There’s a reason Dreadzone have gained for themselves a reputation of being one of the most entertaining of live acts; their fusion of dub and wild high energy dance beats never fails to whip any audience up into a dancing frenzy, & that was def the case here. The audience, (admittedly not quite as long of beard or grey of hair as the Chumbawamba fans) weren’t going to let the fact that they’d aged since first they listened to Dreadzone affect their behaviour & most of them didn’t stop dancing from first to last.
Dreadzone are one of those bands who obviously love playing live. As such, and having played live so much they’ve definitely cracked what it takes to give the audience what they want. Despite being sat on a barstool all the way through (dodgy knee), band front person MC Spee conducted operations brilliantly, only getting off his stool to take time out to bend down to the front row of the audience for chats & photo ops. The audience were having a ball, fuelled in the main, one imagines, by memories of Dreadzone gigs past, although having said that it was also noticeable that there were quite a few younger ‘fans’ present too, all of whom were dancing just as enthusiastically, memories or not.
Trinity is a brilliant venue for this kind of gig. Nice and spacious it perfectly suits events where dancing’s mandatory. Each season I go to several of the brilliant Bristol In:Motion nights where there’s usually about 20 people per sq. metre (granted, 10 of those people are on the shoulder’s of the other 10 people but it’s still quite a squeeze) which makes dancing hard work. On the rare occasions when a bit of space opens around you it’s a case of quickly grabbing the opportunity while it lasts with some frantic shape throwing/move busting. Not so at Trinity. Also contrasting with Motion is the opportunity to get close enough to the ‘performers’, say to ask for a friend’s birthday to be mentioned by the band – something that inevitably ended up in a full crowd sing-a-long of the Happy Birthday song.
The songs that worked best (for me anyway) were the dub fuelled and dance fuelled numbers. There was one slightly surreal moment in the centre of the gig where the audience were all instructed to get the lighters out that the band had had thrown into the audience at the start and hold them on high, lit, as they worked their way through a sort of ballad. I was half expecting them to do as The Dwarves had done a few weeks earlier; start off by saying “we’re a band with a political conscience”, get us all swaying to some gentle refrain about saving the planet then launch into the least pc song you’ve ever heard at a suddenly blistering speed. Dreadzone’s ‘ballad’, however, never morphed into something more danceable although, needless to say, despite the drop in the ‘dance-ability quotient’ of the song the crowd triumphantly refused to stop dancing. One member of the audience even gave me her lighter to hold as she couldn’t dance & keep the flame alive.
Inevitable there were a couple of encores, the second of which, also inevitably, consisted of a lengthy and properly majestic version of Little Britain, the bands biggest hit. The opening 30 secs of the song was repeated because, lets face it, it’s the best bit. Can’t beat some classical music refrains towards the end of a long sweaty energetic gig eh? It was the perfect end to a brilliant gig.
The band was formed in 1993 so it won’t be long till their 20th anniversary. On the basis of this evening I’d say there’s going to be some pretty wild Dreadzone parties going down when 1993 drops and I, for one, will be in the front row.