By the time I make it to The Old Hairdresser’s, even the designated gig photographer is crowdsurfing with a gleeful abandon – digital SLR in one hand, a bottle of Buckie dregs in the other.
And it’s barely gone 8 o’clock.
The raw power of London’s Thee MVPs has forged the audience into a single clammy mass, swaying back and forth across the floor: less in time with the music, more in an effort to stay on their collective feet.
True to FREAKENDER’s DIY spirit, there’s no separation between band and audience, as sweaty punters frequently careen into microphone stands (but are always sure to put them back in place afterwards).
Acoustically, the high-ceilinged downstairs space is a bit of a challenge for acts like Thee MVPs and Sweaty Palms: their louder passages risk getting lost in murk, but they more than make up for this handicap with bucketloads of passion.
In the more evenly proportioned upstairs venue, the psych-inflected garage rock of Manchester’s Fruit Tones is an absolute delight.
Their guitarist – whose name the internet sadly won’t divulge, but whose spirit animal is evidently George Harrison circa ‘67 – lets rip with a cosmic solo on closer ‘Voodoo Room’, which is made all the better for being utterly unexpected.
By the end, both he and his bassist are hoisted aloft on the shoulders of some enthusiastic spectators, whose centre of gravity is almost as impressive as Fruit Tones’ chops.
Having gotten accustomed to losing their shit in front of mainly male, mainly topless acts, the men in the crowd initially don’t know how to respond to LA’s Feels.
It’s an interesting dynamic to observe – punters who were in full taps aff mode ten minutes prior suddenly assume a more reverential poise when effortlessly cool and talented women enter the performance space.
Whether this should be the case or not at a punk gig is a debate to be had elsewhere, but there’s no dispute as to the quality of Feels: they are absolutely majestic tonight.
‘Slippin’’ in particular is a knockout: a slinky, snaky groove so assured of its own addictiveness that it doesn’t need to hide behind walls of distortion to do the job.
At one point, bassist Amy Allen tries to lead the crowd in a full-throated round of ‘scream therapy’, but any anger in the room seems to have dissipated thanks to Feels’ musical medicine.
As the clock strikes midnight, space rock Odysseans The Cosmic Dead bring the evening’s proceedings to their most righteous conclusion.
They’re the only touring band today who can make you feel like you’re hurtling through the Stargate itself, in a flimsy rocket powered only by a motorik beat and pure adrenalin.
Over the course of the next hour, the Hairdresser’s crowd delves through the Monolith as one, until it seems as though the entire universe is encapsulated within guitarist James T Mackay’s shamanic beard.
After hammering through the set with an otherworldly strength, drummer Julian Dicken collapses in a heap on the floor, his body 99% water, while fans grab drumsticks and surround the kit to keep the empyrean beat going – one hopes for all eternity.
There are too many bands deserving of mention here: my only regret of FREAKENDER is that I couldn’t be in two places at once.
Words: Graham Neil Gillespie
Photos: Aidan (Walk>Talk Productions)