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Violently enthusiastic mosh pits to herald the new musical generation– Squid at SWX Bristol

Before I start this review, I feel it is important to mention that I am a massive fan of Squid. They provide me with the soundtrack of my life; I feel like the visceral rock and punk that leaves their instruments and enters my eardrums mirrors a lot of the stress that I experience as editor of a university newspaper, necessary as an important form of emotional release. 

It was therefore apt that I leapt on the train to Bristol with a certain level of trepidation. I was looking forward to seeing a band that not only did I love, but also one that I neurologically associated with a lot of various emotions, and I wondered how they might bear the feral nature of a mosh. Would Squid’s energy be like a werewolf’s full moon, unleashing a more boisterous version of myself? There was also a more personal aspect to my identity within the Squid fanbase. As someone who spent many of my teen afternoons listening to bands of earlier generations, whether Pink Floyd, Radiohead, or Wilco, amidst many more; this has always felt like I was observing backwards into a distant past. Whilst Wilco and Radiohead (A.K.A The Smile) still release music, I concede that the vast majority of their oeuvre I played was from an earlier era, and I could not help but feel a certain dissonance and isolation over that fact. Any cultural shifts or genre evolutions would exist only within me, as they had already happened in years far gone by to wider society. How I dreamed of an Oasis at Knebworth type of event to come along, or the Beatles to suddenly emerge again for the first time, like in the film Yesterday (2019). 

I, therefore, find the ushering in emerging bands within the post-punk, rock, and jazz genres, whether Squid, Shame, Black Midi, Black Country New Road, Nova Twins, The Last Dinner Party, and many more acts incredibly exciting and empowering. Here is the evidence that our generation is rising to one-day sell-out arenas, occupying the Pyramid Stage with a mighty grip. On another note, I was fortunate enough to interview Anton, guitarist from Squid, as part of our Underwater Series. Anton was a pleasure to interview, and we talked about numerous aspects of Squid, including the touring experience. Anton emphasised how diverse the Squid fanbase was, existing as an act of love for everyone, whilst also expressing the affection and gratitude the band holds for those that listen, buy their music, as well as attend their gigs. It is perhaps a reason that I felt a real sense of community on the night, and I feel this will go from strength to strength as more come face to face with their music. 

Before I mention the Squid aspect of the night, I feel it is important to reference their two support acts: Sunglasses Vendor and Blue Bendy. Sunglasses Vendor, a rather new entrant to the music scene (this justifying their online anonymity!), played some post-punk music with valour, and being one of their first times playing in such a large venue, really attempted to do their performance some justice. With a vocals performance most resembling ex-Black Country, New Road member Isaac Wood they exhibited some adrenalin-pumping, octane-filled punk tracks. Sunglasses Vendor, despite their inexperience, were very warmly received by the crowd, showing that there still exists plenty of support behind more micro bands amidst the decline of the grassroots music industry. 

Blue Bendy, the other support, may be considered as one of the rising acts within soft and shoe gaze rock, along with Junodream. They produced a performance to not just rival Squid, but place them on the map of rising bands, as is shown by them backing Squid throughout their UK tour. Producing notes that reminded one of a more melodramatic Slowdive, the response from much of the audience was emphatic, even producing a mosh at various points that you might think would be reserved for the main attraction. 

Squid (very much on the rise themselves) seemed to demonstrate an appreciation for the grassroots by shining a limelight on two bands whose performances illustrated that they deserved that recognition. Whilst it might be considered that Blue Bendy is presently much further along the curve than Sunglasses Vendor, from a music enthusiast point of view it was wonderful to be treated to the performance of bands at varying stages of their development. Ranging from recently starting to perform publicly with Sunglasses Vendor, very much on the arena rise with Blue Bendy, before Squid, which is emerging within the group to take over the headlining of arenas soon hopefully. 

It was at this point that the five men that make up Squid entered the stage, kindling a certain ferocity in the crowd that indicated I was certainly not alone as one of their admirers. First, they performed two tracks from their latest album, ‘O Monolith’, named ‘Swing (In A Dream)’ and ‘Undergrowth’. ‘Swing’ exists as the perfect anticipatory track, capturing the crowd’s anticipation. ‘Undergrowth’ has a rhythm more graceful than a hummingbird’s wings, and was one of the night highlights, as well as perhaps being one of the lighter, melodic aspects of Squid’s present discography, providing a great contrast with other aspects of the set. There existed a pattern throughout the set, in which Squid played their shorter, lighter tracks first, and this seemed to allow the momentum to rise. 

One aspect of their performance that was quite unprecedented was their use of improvised transitions between songs, often implicating instruments such as the cello and the trumpet, as well as an ensemble of percussion components. Such transitions tend to exist primarily within improvised jazz or a DJ set, so this really provided an insight into the way that Squid brings a more raw, abstract attitude to music, tinkering with aspects of genres that make their sound unique whilst refusing to be defined within boxes. Interestingly, I asked Anton how he felt about genres being ushered onto Squid, in particular the ‘Post Punk’ label.  Anton’s response: ‘We are just Squid’. 

It was later in the set that Squid brought out their more moshy tunes. ‘Paddling’ was a tour debut, but this did not hinder it from being one of the tunes of the night, and Ollie’s (drummer and vocalist) vocals were as crisp as the recorded version, providing the rich contrast between the vocal and instrumental qualities that bring this tune to life.  It was also at this point that large circles formed, and we all rushed in, like musical warriors into a moshy battle, crashing into each other like gas particles.  One may testify that whilst moshes are frequent at gigs, there is a wonderful quality involved when doing it amongst the artists you dearly love, embracing a community of people that share a love of, and acting out these sentiments in such a frantic, visceral way. It is perhaps more of a ‘Squid-pearean’ form of love than a Shakespearean kind. This energy was riding throughout ‘Siphon Song’ and into ‘Narrator’, which was as frantic as the iteration that was played at 2022 Glastonbury. When in a mosh, one can sometimes forget the physical exertion and intensity involved, as people become wicked fractals of thrashing arms and legs. To take emotional, atmospheric tunes such as ‘Paddling and Narrator’ into a mosh, is to finally be able to act in a form of physical-mental symbiosis, as the intensity of feeling that exists in your mind towards the music is replicated through the kinetic brutality placed in reality. 

As I left SWX, I remember feeling a sense of musical validation on nights like these. Attending a performance of one of your favourite bands, as they subsequently blow off the roof, provides one with a form of content. You realise that one of the music acts that you love are among the best in the world at what they do. Whether it was Yard Act at O2 Academy or Shame at Glastonbury Festival (both earlier this year), I felt the same eery feeling after those performances, and I sense that as the arenas that I’m leaving get bigger, more and more people will feel the way that I do about these artists. 

Interested in some more Squid content? You can catch my interview with Anton, Squid’s guitarist here.

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