It wasn’t so long ago that Jamie at Bananatown, following a particularly brilliant live show featuring Manchester’s raggapunk mashup veterans, Sonic Boom Six, penned that “[the band] are really getting back into their own following the departure of guitarist, Ben Childs.” In November last year, when the Boom decided to end some of their tour shows on not-so-much crowd favourite as die-hard-fan-favourite, “Until the Sunlight Comes,” six-string main man Nick Horne sheepishly admitted, “I have to pretend to be Ben at the end…” when referring to the undeniably epic final solo. Yes, it’s no well-kept secret that Ben wrote that solo, and quite a lot of music from the Boom’s first three albums. However, following their latest performance at the HMV Next Big Thing event at the Camden Barfly last Thursday, I am finally more inclined to believe what Jamie said many months ago: The Boom are back. Completely different, going in so many directions it’s ridiculous, but back all the same. And better for it.
I could do an adequate job simply reviewing the live show and saying how wonderful it all was, but firstly, I’m sure that someone else will have already done that, secondly, I was having too much fun to concentrate on song orders and crowd reactions, and thirdly, I managed to miss openers The Wonder Villains due to traffic and adverse weather conditions; so it would simply be unfair to them. What I can comment on, however, are the new sounds I heard, the direction I perceive the band to be moving in, and how they’re practically game-changing for not only a band that made their name in and out of the shallow pockets of Moon Ska Europe, Hidden Talent and the ska-punk scene as a whole; but also for the mainstream they are – hopefully – about to break into in a massive way.
Following their various online presences; namely the Facebook page, Laila and Barney’s Twitter and the recently-migrated-to-Tumblr Barney’s Blog has revealed over the last two years that Sonic Boom Six were recording a new album. An album that “would blow City of Thieves out of the water.” An album featuring, “some of Barney’s best lyric-writing to date.” Everyone has heard the flagship single, “For the Kids of the Multiculture,” by now, as it has been featured on many a music television channel and plastered all over the social networks for the past few months. However, on Thursday, we were treated to brand new tunes, “Gary Got A Gun” (which you previously could not be updated on new album shenanigans without spotting somewhere in the respective blurb), “The High Cost of Living,” and “Keep On Believing.” From what I remember, they were all very promising in different ways; but, more importantly, they were all representative of a new sound, one capable of moving distinctly out of the shadows of now-KillBillies folk-punk frontman Ben Childs for good.
It is no surprise or secret that quite a lot of people have been jumping on the dubstep bandwagon for the past two years, after the musical phenomenon exploded in the mid-00s following darkstep remix experiments by big names like Plasticman, Digital Mystikz and Atari Teenage Riot. Dubstep remixes became two-a-penny by 2010, ranging from chart-topping artists like Cher Lloyd (the dubstep remix of “Dub on the Track” featured three incredible grime MCs who aren’t nearly as big as Cher, but the tune itself was not well received by grime fans or dubstep fans) and upstarts (at the time) The Skints (with the KANEDUBSTEP remix of “Up Against the Wall.”) Dubstep was the new sound, the popular sound, so new in fact that Simon Cowell has entertained ideas for a “DJ Idol” style show in an effort to cash in on it. The introduction, therefore, of dub, electronic and darkstep elements to the Boom’s sound, coinciding with the joining of new guitarist, synth-player, producer, mixer, remixer and father-of-five James “Midas” Routh split the fans a bit; with ska-punk purists (read: Reel Big Fish-enthusiasts) claiming that the band were simply going the way of everyone else.
I think it’s definitely worth pointing out that James has been experimenting with electronica in his room and various studios for years before joining Sonic Boom Six, and his influence is no less “watered-down” than the dubstep you hear on the radio or in grotty squat raves. What we experienced with the “Midas Mix” of City of Thieves hit, “Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang!” for example, was a loss of two verses from Ben and ex-King Prawn/ADF badman Al Rumjen, but also an introduction into what James was capable of given a particularly dub-laden rap tune to mess about with. Up until the new songs were aired live, James has essentially been filling the shoes of musicians from the Boom’s history, be they Dave Kelly’s guitar or Ben’s guitar, brass or keys; I welcome the sounds we are now beginning to see emerge from the Boom camp with the inclusion of new talent. You may notice that many of the B-side remixes on new Boom singles were produced by James, I would bet that the new album was co-produced by him also, and I personally would love to see what he can do with Suicide Bid’s stuff – it could be phenomenal.
That out of the way, “The High Cost of Living” demonstrated just what’s new about the Boom, without being too new to be unrecognisable. Laila’s wails and Barney’s riddimic yaps danced about on the track, incorporating a hip hop feel not uncommon with the Fugees or the Beastie Boys, whilst remaining heavy enough to justify including live drums and the heaviest hummers in any Gibson Explorer known to man. Peter Phillips (of The Moon Club in Cardiff and Sub 89 in Reading) voiced that ska-punk-grime youngsters Tyrannosaurus Alan had, with their latest track ”S.T.B.”, achieved “a sound Sonic Boom Six have been trying to find for the last ten years.” I think that might be somewhat erroneous, due to the fact that they touched on it back in the day when we heard the likes of “Blood For Oil” or “Silent Majority” – to compare S.T.B. to something like “What Doesn’t Kill You” shows just how far apart their contemporary sounds are.
On the other hand, the now enigmatically infamous “Gary Got A Gun” erred more on the side of heavy, and less on the side of hip hop; a kind of new-school “For 12 Weeks,” or “Sid the Strangler.” A vocally roaring salvo of a chorus lent itself well to the overdriven guitars, pounding drums and the obligatory “Laila K Skank” and allowed the frontwoman and wing-hype-man to dart about the small stage, demonstrating Sonic Boom Six’s oldest trick in the book – it’s all about the live show, it’s all about the energy.
What came next was something I don’t think anyone was quite expecting, in the form of “Keep On Believing,” a song I immediately, and will continue to refer to, as “Nick’s Song.” All Journey references and jokes aside, the tune was littered with guitar hooks and woah-woah vocal lines straight out of the 1980s, and even though it was delivered in truly contemporary Boom style; I couldn’t stop looking at Nick, the man who never stopped wearing leather jackets and bullet belts, has rocked an undeniably “metal” guitar since I can remember, and had his “power stance” in full swing throughout what everyone was now fully aware of as a ballad that he had full creative control over. Quirky? Yes. Unexpected? Certainly. But overall, was it fun? Definitely. “Keep On Believing” basically enveloped all the faux-nostalgic amusement of a karaoke rendition of "Stairway to Heaven," or a performance from an 80s tribute band full of past-it beer-bellied 40-somethings who still have frequent arguments involving Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth. With a punk edge. If you could imagine such a thing.
With the obvious inclusion of James’ wob-wob darkstep electronics and Nick’s artificial glamorous arrogance finally comes a new chapter in Sonic Boom Six’s history. It looks like not only riding on the backs of countless tours, remix albums and City of Thieves has come to an end, but also playing the gambling game with DIY promoters and greedy, petty booking agents of the dog-eat-dog underbelly of the “underground punk scene.” Surprisingly, it could go either way - it looks like the new sounds to consume could throw a spanner in the works of what people are used to seeing on the front of Kerrang! Magazine, but at the same time, the Boom could very well be accommodated by such publications if they can be marketed well enough to demographics otherwise enthralled by pop-punk, hardcore and You Me At Six.
The fans may have been, and will continue to be, good to the Boom; but something tells me that this corner-turning, in the form of A&R men and slick media types searching for something to market has come just at the right time. If you’re not capable of selling yourself to an establishment that can sell you on for a profit, you’re doomed to languish at the bottom of the industry, playing shows to semi-empty rooms for less than a tenner whilst the promoter (and your booking agent – if you have one) pockets everything else. And they call it independent punk rock, a movement inspired by really hardworking and not at all manufactured bands like The Sex Pistols; “a new scene, with new values; so different from what had happened before. A bit dangerous.”
“We never said that we’d start a revolution,
We never claimed to be anything but ourselves.
We never said that we’d find some world solution,
We only asked for a place up on the shelf.
This is the sound we make, the choice we take,
There’s no mistake, this can’t be faked.
What’s the point? Just call it what you want.”