The first time I’d heard of Skindred was back in my teenage years when my super goth pal saw them support Cradle Of Filth. He spoke more of Skindred than of the band he went to see that night… heralding his new favourite genre of Reggae Metal. That was the day I decided I’d have to check them out at some point. I’ve never been the biggest metal fan, but when you get the love of reggae colliding with the aggression of metal… how can you say no? Even if it is out of pure curiosity.
For reasons unknown to myself, I never checked them out – even on recordings – until tonight. It might be because I’m a live music guy at heart, or more likely because I was a coward when it came to any music that wasn’t Midwestern emo until I hit my 30s. Now, twenty years later… I get to experience what my pal did back then.
The opener for tonight is Cody Frost. You may be as shocked as I was to discover she was a finalist in The Voice. Yes… the TV pop singing contest (where she was mentored by Boy George) which has led to being on a stage with Skindred. Once you see the other stages she’s played since her televised break, the credibility isn’t really in question. Seeing her on stage leaves me unable to actually communicate what genre her music would fall into. It’s electric… it’s rock… but not in the same way Dead Pony or The Prodigy are. When it’s electric, it’s not quite rock and when it’s rock it’s not quite electric.
The blend isn’t quite there in terms of making your own sound. The set’s laid back, then angry, then laid back but brooding… sometimes the drums are angry but the vocals aren’t and vice versa… it’s hard to find where you’re supposed to be on this spectrum. It might be a case of needing to plan setlists a little more carefully to let the “vibe” (as the kids say) flow better. Each individual song is alright on its own merit, but as a collection I’m left not quite sure what I’m listening to.
The main support – Black Gold – is something to behold, really. A crew of individuals clad entirely in black and gold outfits… masks included. Not a patch of skin on show as they perform an aggressive hip hop metal repertoire. I might be more accurate calling it Nu Metal but I refuse to use that term on the basis of me not being fourteen years old and the year not being 2002.
This is better than Nu Metal too. You can hear the Limp Bizkit, but you get more Rage Against The Machine. There’s proper screaming and growling along with rap coming from frontman Spookz’ mouth. If he only stuck to one of these genres you’d be impressed… but to switch as he does is incredible. Not even half way through the set, even the balcony is waving along to Spookz’ commands. There’s samples – and even covers – of the greats such as Cypress Hill and Fatman Scoop – which descend into a well-crafted chaos of fury. These guys are better than Limp Bizkit ever could have dreamed of being.
Skindred make their appearance after an audience sing-along of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ and Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ to a crowd still piping hot from Black Gold. Straight away I feel as if I have to reclassify this band from my previous claim of Reggae Metal to Reggae Metal Hip Hop Dubstep Punk. There’s so much at work here and it’s done so well. This is what our opener should aspire to be. Genres melt into each other and flow over each other while frontman Benji Webbe spits a crazy string of words and sounds over them. The only way I can satisfactorily have you understand the vocal chops this man has is to have you listen to them. Get on the internet right now and listen to him. The only other band I’ve seen come close to the versatility of Skindred is Sonic Boom Six, and they’ve wavered in recent years. Thirty years in and Skindred are still at the top of their game.
As previously mentioned, I was curious as to what would win in this blend… Love or Hate. Unlike that bit in Donnie Darko, it is that simple… Love wins. Between songs, Benji’s Rastafarian accent turns to the warmest Welsh accent you can imagine. The banter with the audience is familiar and not short of laughs – especially when the band break out a cover of The Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles’ which turns into a dubstep banger. Benji is like the Pied Piper with this crowd. He can decide what direction they go, the tempo, the groove. We can’t fail to mention that this must also be the best-dressed man in rock too. Head to toe in layers of varying black with studded wraparound shades, he would have been the coolest Matrix character.
This gig was a complete surprise to me. It started as a morbid curiosity… a cynical test on my part to see how opposite genres could possibly mix. It should have been like oil and water but it turned out that we witnessed alchemy. A delicious cocktail of genres served by the world’s best-dressed bartender and I would gladly drink with him any night.
Photos by Catching Light Photography