Words by Sophie Hack / Pics by Nevaeh Anning
Quite easily the most important band in the UK, Bob Vylan are impossible to pigeon hole into a genre, only adding to their appeal. Hailing from London, the grime influences run deep while the metal, reggae, dub, and drum and bass that features across their discography makes every track bounce off one another, charging momentum.
That charge is felt even at doors at the O2 Institute, and the venue is impressively a third full for opening act Kid Bookie.
Beginning with the crowd raising middle fingers in the air and shouting “fuck ‘em”, Kid Bookie launches into their set, blending nu-metal and trap effortlessly through new single ‘A.I (Save Yourself)’. Kid Bookie brings the nostalgia from the likes of Limp Bizkit and Slipknot with them, uplifted to the modern age with lightning fast rap.
Even with the flu Kid Bookie is on their A game, uniting the outcasts with a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ and then tearing them a new one – hyping the crowd into a split and mosh pit impressively so early into the night.
Second support, Panic Shack, cover everything from maternal stereotypes and annoying men in bars to the ick and lighters getting nicked, throughout their brash and brazen punk.
As the Cardiff group go into their almost acapella track with the lyrics “when we you look at me like that I don’t really like it”, I hear a group of lads behind me shout “smash”. The irony of this interaction isn’t lost on me and is as loud as Panic Shack’s screams of “hi-yah!” during ‘Jiu Jits You’.
Each Panic Shack track has this primal, non-stop garage drum beat that is so infectious, by the time the final two songs ‘The Ick’ and ‘Who’s Got My Lighter’ kick off, the room erupts. At the end of their set, the group collapses to the floor, satisfied with the chaos they’ve created.
Duo Bob Vylan (singer Bobby and drummer Bobbie) rose to popularity with 2021’s ‘We Live Here’, frankly calling out the racism within Britain. Despite their meteoric rise they’ve kept to the ground, helping at the merch stand tonight and remembering faces in the crowds before taking to the biggest stage in the venue.
The lights shine bright at the start of their set so Bob Vylan can take in the crowd, before going into metal-induced stretching and meditation. Crowd surfing begins from song one, including Bobby himself. They charge through ‘I Heard You Want Your Country Back’, ‘Northern Line’, and ‘We Live here’ with pure punk ferocity, showing you can be one of the best punk bands and not have a guitarist.
Their music is punk at the core with flicks of grime and Prodigy-esque heavy beats, concocting a recipe for rage and exhilaration. The floor shakes as the set continues, while cricket bats, t-shirts, and Monzo cards are thrown onto stage, to which Bobby clarifies the only things they want are “underwear, kefir, and Palestinian flags”.
Punk is a protest, and behind the chord progressions and strained shouting of lyrics, there needs to be a strong message for change. Bob Vylan are not ones to only talk the talk; they briefly mention they helped Soft Play come up with their new name (previously Slaves) and of course touch on the video from their Cambridge gig.
(On 4 November, Sleaford Mods cancelled their set after 80 minutes when a Palestinian flag was thrown on stage – the band have since released a statement via Twitter on 13 November. On 9 November at their gig, Bob Vylan called punk bands “cowardly” for not using their platform to make a statement over the Palestine/Israel conflict.)
Tonight, Bobby announces: “The issue isn’t Bob Vylan vs that band, it’s to keep our eyes on what is happening in Palestine and not get thrown into these silly little conflicts.” Chants of “free Palestine” also appeared through the set, along with Bobby declaring that their show is not one for anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, or any kind of racism.
What I rate was while introducing new single ‘He’s a Man’, Bobby invites the non-males to the front of the pit, with a roaring reception from the audience. Unfortunately, it seems a small minority of the crowd needs to listen a little harder to Bob Vylan, as a few misogynistic micro-aggressions become painstakingly clear under Bob Vylan’s politically charged lyrics.
And to the two men on separate occasions who grabbed me by the hips to get past me, do better.
As Bob Vylan end on ‘Wicked and Bad’ the havoc is unfathomable. Sparks fly from the stage as Bobby vaults into the crowd for the last time; no encore, none needed.
Bob Vylan have made a colossal impact on the punk scene in just over five years, hitting the nail on the head with the UK’s current political tension and not being afraid to call a politician “a little shit”.
Their new album, Humble As the Sun, is what they called ‘their best work yet’, and while there’s still unrest and injustice in the world thankfully we will have Bob Vylan being the voice for change.
Bob Vylan – with support from Panic Shack @ O2 Institute 18.11.23 / Nevaeh Anning
For more gigs at the O2 Institute visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham