SKUNK ANANSIE + GEN AND THE DEGENERATES + HOLOCENE @ THE BRIGHTON DOME, BRIGHTON 9TH APRIL 2022
It’s rare for a band to be able to unite fans across age lines when we live so insularly amongst our own generations. Artists get labelled a Gen Z act or a Gen X act, and after a while, the prophecy fulfils itself. So to see punks old and new, some heading into their first mosh pit while others headbang through their hundredth, all gathered to celebrate one of British heavy music’s best-loved acts of the last thirty years, is a wonderful sight.
Whether they’d seen Skunk Anansie more times than they can count, or they were catching them for the first time after growing up hearing their unique “amalgam of heavy metal and Black feminist rage”, the crowd awaited the band’s arrival with the same eagerness. After all, due to COVID, this tour in honour of Skunk Anansie’s 25th anniversary has been three years in the making – all the more time for us to get excited. Anticipation buzzed through the Brighton Dome, and the chosen support bands fed off it brilliantly.
First up was Holocene. It’s very cliché to compare any heavy two-piece playing in Brighton to Royal Blood, so I’ll spare you the comparison, especially because their alt-rock fronted by a voice of barely restrained angst has a lot more in common with acts like Alanis Morrissette. The band proved themselves capable of filling the room with their soulful, bluesy sound, particularly when it came to their more recent releases. Tracks like the arresting waltz ‘Fossils‘ and ‘Delicate Way To Die‘, a tangled blues-rock banger that contorted a nursery rhyme structure into a delightfully ominous opening, packed a far stronger punch than they do on record.
Holocene were loud, but they weren’t loud enough to mask murmurs of support from a crowd who largely hadn’t heard them before but liked what they were hearing. There was an intriguing level of substance to their lyrics, creating a good amount of dramatic tension to propel even their slower tracks. Sure, their ‘Heads Will Roll‘ cover was a little muted, lacking the half-sung half-screeched vocals that make the original so easy to sing along to, but who’s gonna say no to a ‘Heads Will Roll‘ cover? Absolutely no-one.
GEN AND THE DEGENERATES
Liverpool’s Gen and The Degenerates followed this up with an entrance as dramatic as their glam rock influences. Their debut single ‘Underwear‘ opened their set in style, as trailblazing vocalist Gen put their low sultry voice into an ode to gender non-conformity. Nothing will rally a diverse audience quite like a band performing with the confidence of all the hair metal greats and asking, “gender’s a performance: are you selling out the show?”
Throughout the set, Gen is a breathless whirlwind of sardonically feminine chaos, marching across the plinth laid out at the front of the stage with a don’t-fuck-with-me attitude to accompany the snarling fuzziness of their bluesy guitar backing.
Appropriately, their song ‘Famous‘ matched this energy with true rockstar swagger, including from the rest of the Degenerates. By the final track, ‘You’re your Pedestals’, the duelling guitarists Sean and Jacob were headbanging along with the crowd as they shredded away at guitars revved up like F1 engines. Gen and The Degenerates are far from style over substance, though. Amidst the hard-rocking glory of their set, though, the gravity of topics like gender identity and abuse within the music industry ring out through their committed performance. The conclusion of ‘Girl God Gun‘, for example, is an acapella ending that makes this declaration of pride in non-binary identity a strangely vulnerable act.
Gen and The Degenerates
Both support acts firmly set the tone of empowered hard rock, a mantle Skunk Anansie have been carrying since the start of their career together. They don’t make any pretences about who they are, with the opening track ‘Yes It’s Fucking Political‘ making it pretty clear that the rock iconoclasts didn’t get where they are by watering down their beliefs. Not only is it one of my personal favourite Skunk Anansie tracks, but its ubiquitous catchiness amongst the audience also makes it a perfect rallying cry to start off the gig.
As fervent in their sound and attitude as they were when they started, Skunk Anansie are true masters of stagecraft. Bassist Cass alternates between smirking and glaring at the crowd, and guitarist Ace’s fierce riffs capable of filling stadiums rip through the Dome as we’re taken through early bangers from their first two albums.
At the centre of it all is Skin, the iconoclastic frontwoman who’s become an icon to so many defiant women in rock. The plinth that Gen and The Degenerates stormed across was absolutely lit up by our headliners, but even without the extra height, she’s just a ridiculously larger-than-life presence. Nothing about her can be ignored; not her extravagant leather outfits, not her hisses of disgust at mistreatment on ‘I Can Dream‘, nor the soaring power behind the choruses of ‘My Ugly Boy‘. When she tells the audience to stand up if they can, it’s not a command, but with the way she commands our respect, it might as well be.
The set is a mix of fan favourites and new material, with the latest songs proving that Skunk Anansie are as skilled at speaking truth to power as they were in the ’90s. New single ‘Can’t Take You Anywhere‘ has hints of empathy as the speaker mentions our increasingly polarised political climate dragging friend groups apart, but doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to telling the devil’s advocate in the song to sit his arse down instead of fishing for conflict. It makes sense that, after standing out for so long, Skunk Anansie are naturals at it.
While the crowd were pretty high energy throughout their set, their enthusiasm did pick up near the end. After the cheers elicited from Skin’s speeches against religious hypocrisy and in support of all refugees, not just the ones who look like white Brits, audiences were even more on board with the righteous rage of protest anthems ‘This Means War‘ and ‘Intellectualise My Blackness‘, the latter of which was filled with whip-smart wordplay but got people singing along as best they could anyway.
Watching the mosh pit build up during the encore was like watching the formation of a tornado, starting on the band’s command to ‘Tear The Place Up‘ and truly gaining its momentum at the final song of the encore, ‘Little Baby Swastikkka‘. Skin reminded the audience to look after each other – as anyone watching over a pit really should – and off we went. I left the Dome with a bit of a battered elbow, but I can honestly say there wasn’t a moment where I felt objectified or unsafe. But, like the band themselves, the crowd may have justified anger to get out through the cathartic medium of hard rock, but ultimately, they’re out for a good time.