Descending into the lower deck of Thekla, Bristol’s famous floating venue, I feel slightly out of place. I’m surrounded by wide-eyed, enthusiastic teens, sporting septum piercings and boldly pencilled eyebrows. I remember that I wasn’t asked for ID; it was a 14+ gig, the band familiar with their younger fan base. This is the Instagram generation; alternative teens with usernames playing on the titles of indie rock songs. Angular block fringes, dungarees, buttoned up shirts. I realise how short this indie girl collective is when, after necking my budget 2-4-1 cocktail, I end up towards the front of the crowd, where they grasp the barrier with tiny hands adorned with cracked nail varnish. Again, I am hit with the overpowering reminder of youth. Boys stand stock still, from the chest down, aggressively shaking their nearly-long hair. I’m greeted by a waft of mummy’s shampoo.
I wasn’t particularly well acquainted with VANT until I signed up to review the gig; I had, however, heard gushing reviews from friends and critics. Fellow PearShaped writer Camilo Oswald berated me for missing their set at Bestival, describing their ‘blend of rousing, politically-driven, hook-laden 2-minute anthems with a punk edge’, which ignited my curiosity to see them. Fittingly, he accompanies me tonight. In the days leading up to the show I listened to their complete discography, which wasn’t too daunting, seeing as it consists only of their debut album, DUMB BLOOD, and their KARMA SEEKER EP. Within the first two minutes of the album it became clear that the band’s music is politically charged, to say the least. Mattie Vant attacks the media, shouting ‘Chemical conflict 1429 die, 400 children just let them lie’. This is reiterated from the explosive start of their set through to its sweaty finish; energetic opening track FLY-BY ALIEN reminding us how ‘That world’s got a few problems’.
It’s easy to tell how close the four are, especially Vant and bassist Billy Morris as they giggle together between songs. The band laugh as Mattie removes his shirt, telling us that this is the first time on the tour where he’s had to take his top off. He returns to this subject matter later, speaking about it being International Women’s Day. Again, questioning society’s rules and censorship, he tells us ‘I’ve got my tits out… All you out there taking pictures of me… If I did that for girls it would get banned of Instagram, init.’ The Instagram generation cheer. Mattie continues along this vein after playing TIME & MONEY, the first song of the encore, during which the crowd is predictably rowdy. (By predictably rowdy, I mean a man fell on my face and pinned me to the ground). He introduces the final song PARKING LOT, emphasising that ‘This song is important. If you don’t think International Women’s Day is important, you’re a f***ing idiot!’. The band have confirmed that it’s about sexual assault. He makes one final request to protect the short indie girl collective: if you’re too big, don’t crowd-surf.
Naturally, someone has to disregard his wishes and crowd-surf. Not long into the song the crowd-surfer arrives at the stage and starts to dance. Mattie Vant abruptly silences the band, grabs the man and pushes him off the side of the stage into the burly arms of the security guards. Angrily, he turns to the crowd and rants about how that was exactly what he was he was talking about. The song resumes and everyone is well-behaved but, somehow, simultaneously crazy. The general vibe of the gig was fun and crazy, but with moments of seriousness, like when Mattie insisted, in his soft north-eastern accent, that ‘our generation’ (does mid-teens count as the same generation as him?) DOES have a voice… ‘I’m hearing you shout!’
Photo credit: Carolina Faruolo.