Thursday, 16 August 2012

Live review: Refused @ The Kentish Town Forum, 13.08.12

Once upon a time, in a wintry land across the sea, there was a punk band. They lived as they died; blinding, brilliant, furious; a flash of nuclear light in the blackness; the multitudes who missed their passing felt the fallout for years to come.

Refused struggled to make an impact during their original tour of duty, coming up against criticism from all quarters; they didn't look enough like a punk band, they didn't move like one. They weren't interested in aping their forbears and making a fuck-ton of money; they wanted, they claimed, to take apart the system that disgusted them, to replace and totally sideline what passed for popular music. People missed the point and ignored the challenge. In a way, maybe they didn't translate precisely because they were /too/ easy to like. They were no blunt instrument; the anti-capitalist, reactionary, damn the man lyrics were married to squiggling basslines and an enviable, rude sense of rhythm that commanded you to DANCE, motherfucker. If you struggled with the basics of this, Lyxzen was only too happy to demonstrate, bodypopping and snaking across the stage. Fully punk in their sensibilities, they found themselves at war with the purists, and internally they struggled with the tug of war between their political raison d'etre and the reality of the music industry - not to mention their own inter-band conflicts. By the time they released their third record - the magnificent, unchained lifeforce of The Shape of Punk To Come - they were fed up.

So they split. A corrosive statement vowed that they would never reform or try to 'celebrate what was'; they were, they felt, part of the the problem, not the solution.

And yet, here we are. I'm smashed up against the barrier of Kentish Town's dingy Forum. A man who seems composed of 30% flesh, 25% blind faith and 45% sweat is wordlessly and rhythmically threatening to break my nose, his head swinging at me with every guitar stab. After chivalrously letting me in on the barrier, he spends the next half hour trying to shatter my ribs. This is the decade of reformation, and while it's no surprise that bands like Soundgarden and the Stone Roses have stepped up to enjoy the headline slot again, something weird is going on when firebrands like ATDI and Refused accept the gauntlet. The band who bypassed actual success and shot straight to mythology are right in front of us. Dennis Lyxzen, still wiry, still angry, still bearing a 'straightedge' inkbrand across his spine, is rocketing back and forth, robot-dancing, scaling Babel-towers he's built from up-ended monitors, walking on water through the sea of outstretched hands in front of him, and the fucker next to me is trying to kill me.

Who cares? What's played out in front of us is so fucking fast and fun and on the money that it brings back those teenage endurance levels - you know, like when you would stake out your place hours earlier and collect your barrier bruises, leaving the notion of the bar and the toilets to the less dedicated plebs who just didn't care enough. Because you knew it would be worth it. That sense of urgency floods back, and although Refused have broken their promise, although it's harder to trust in Lyxzen's fervent, black and white optimism, for one hour everyone with a functioning soul gives in to it again, and every chorus, missive and shouted call to arms alights the crowd. This is not a gig, it's a rally.

What are Refused's intentions now? What does the Refused Party Program entail in 2012? Is the mission still to take apart, reduce and destroy culture and replace it with pure, collective feeling? Are they just here to party? Are they going to make a new record? These things are not clear. They're not young men any longer, though they move like them. They must know that this can't play out the way they demanded it would in their 20s. The TV rights to the revolution were sold a long time ago, and popular culture is not about to bow to Refused, any more than it was the first time around. "Shitty band with an awesome plan"? Maybe in the end it was the other way around. But if Refused accept that what they do matters for less grandiose reasons, then maybe they'd accept that they're still the best punk band in the world.

Or maybe they already know that and maybe that's why they reformed; because they could. Because they knew that there is a generation of young and not-so-young men and women here that never got to see them rip the roof off. What they do has value, even if you strip away the professed political intent that shaped it in the first place. It has cultural value, because they're fucking incredible; they attack in fifteen minute raids, ripping the breath from your lungs as they burn through 'The Refused Party Program', 'Liberation Frequency' and 'Rather Be Dead'. Their timing is impeccable. It goes dark, you slump for a moment, wanting the onslaught to stop, then wanting it to start again and never stop - and it begins again. People, and writers, and bands, talk about the influence of Refused, the music that came after them, because of them. Of course they do; if it was anything like this first time around, of course it lit a fire under some creative arses - and this latecomer knows they probably burned twice this bright 20 years ago, albeit in significantly smaller venues. As angry as the words are, the music is joyous, inclusive and celebratory. These are not tired, angry punks, they're men with ideas who still want to dance - and they can dance better than you.

They have political value too, even if it's not the kind they originally aimed for. They still inspire; they make you feel young again, a vital tool in the fight against mediority and creeping irrelevence. No, it's not just you; no, you're not getting too old to demand something vivid and alive; you can ask for better. And tonight, Refused can provide it. If their sloganeering and their blissful, brilliant fury keep one person out of a shitty job at a bank, and in a studio or a laboratory or a disaster relief zone or anything else that feels like living and contributing, instead of just existing and administrating, they have done their job. Refused are not fucking dead.

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