Slaves, Wonk Unit, Spring King: O2 Academy, Liverpool



Slaves were in town and boy were they about to shout about it. Getintothis’ Mike Stanton stood and witnessed the demolition.

We love Liverpool in the rain, especially when out in the evening, with the prospect of a gig, even more so when this writer knows very little about the bands I’m about to see. Having checked out a few tracks from Slaves online and even fewer from the two support bands Spring King and the brilliantly named Wonk Unit, I was approaching this gig with an open mind and blank canvas.

It is normally possible to assess a band by the audience; age range, gender mix, clothes, haircuts, the number of beards, and this gig was no different. There was a wide mix of ages from people in their fifties all the way down to students in their late teens and early twenties. There was a mix of hipster gear, rock, punk and ska fashions on display.

A large crowd had already gathered when Spring King took to the stage. Opening with a blistering rendition of Can I?, they instantly get the crowd bouncing.

Tearing through their discography as if possessed they revel in the atmosphere of mutual admiration, at one point telling the cheering mass ‘this is the best crowd we’ve had on tour.’ Better Man, Mumma and new single Who Are You flash across our bows pummelling the congealing mass of moshers with blasts of charged bass.

This is a raucous and energy infused performance showing a band enjoying their performance on stage, riffing off each other, interacting with the audience and obviously buzzing off the warm vibes reflected in their heroically charged performance.

Anticipation was now growing as the crowd swelled and when the extraordinarily named Wonk Unit appear and unpack their unique brand of chaos, there is a surge forwards.

Alex Wonk is an incredibly charismatic and assured frontman; part poet, part raconteur, part ringmaster, part stand-up, part leader of an art-punk collective. He doesn’t want to be a plasterer (his day job), who has that as an ambition? He wants to entertain, amuse and inform through wry lyrics and frenetic and impassioned delivery.

Wonk Unit are forging their own path, warping and bending the punk and ska form to the knee of their wit and whimsy. Tracks like the stoner-ska of Horses “because they’re the best animal in the world” shouts Alex, Nan “Nan is old, pisses with the door open, scowls at my friends, laughs when her grandson gives her a hug, woo hoo”, and Lewisham, a hook-laden rattler about the time his friend Crooky pissed out of a train window onto a hapless commuter, fly past like blurred stations squinted at from a fogged-up train carriage.

The band are tight, driven by Pwosion on bass and Tomoota Titty on drums while Alex conducts proceedings with anecdotes and asides before launching each song. They combine humour, social observation and anecdotal recall to create an experience that goes beyond the music.

Ramones tees in Topshop? Stadium-filling Warped Tour? Zach Jones asks punk’s individualism is dead.

After a brief intro, curiously The Vengaboys We Like to Party, Slaves ignite their stunning form of electric pugilism. A primitive, confrontational and explosive two-piece from Kent, Slaves deal in a stripped down (drums, guitar, vocals) grime-edged form of garage-punk.

Being unfamiliar with the band I wasn’t expecting the shattering ferocity of their arrival. I moved to the back, the coward that I am, but the tingles arrived and the flood of adrenalin that swept the venue and pummelled the fight-moshing crowd was as tangible as the crackling noise in my ears (I eschewed earplugs).

Ninety Nine wrecks the Academy space with jackhammer drums and scorched guitar riffs, Isaac Holman screams how we all live in our hands at the moment, heads bowed, staring at phones – “99% of the time, she lives in her hands. I can’t understand why.”

By the time we reach Sockets the crowd is pinging, ricocheting off each other. Plastic cups spin through the air accompanied by items of clothing and cartwheeling legs. The sleaze-core of Wow!!!7AM grinds with snarling menace as we plunge further into the collider.

Where’s Your Car Debbie? is greeted with huge cheers. It’s a stomper without a profound message, it’s built to pogo to and the crowd do just that. As Holman asks “Where’s your car Debbie? Debbie where’s your car?” silhouetted heads piston furiously. Prior to launching into Cheer Up London, Holman and Vincent even turn security, instructing the now out-of-control moshers to calm down and stop fighting, to a round of rousing cheers.

The mutual love between band and audience is palpable, each buzzing off the other. It is difficult not to be caught up in this form of mass hysteria.

The Hunter is a highlight. The duo create a sound big enough to fill a stadium so confined in the smallish space of the O2 Academy it was like being next to a shuttle launch.

Closing out with Hey they cap an almighty performance. It seems something bordering on alchemy to wring so much sound from so few components. The crowd are left stunned and enthralled.

The set is a procession of 2 and 3 minute blindsides delivered at lightspeed. Not since this writer saw Babyland at Camden Underworld, has a two piece (Babyland also have a standing drummer) literally torn paint off the walls with the sheer force of the sonic assault. It was brutal, euphoric and exhausting.

No doubt the bright lights beckon for these lads, they deserve their moment. On record they are strong, aggressive and loud; live they are on a different level entirely. Go see them perform.

Pictures by Getintothis’ Keith Ainsworth