I’ve kind of been avoiding this. Don’t get me wrong, I fucking love Chris Thorpe and Lucy Ellinson. They are two of the most accomplished and furiously brilliant artists out there, and their conviction, rage and talent are truly inspirational. I don’t really know Steve Lawson’s work, but he seems like a properly stand-up bloke. And I love this idea. The Tory party manifesto set to death metal. Fag packet brilliance, like most brilliance.
But, like most fans of death metal, one of the things I’m pretty fucking picky about is death metal. I have genuinely no idea how good Chris Thorpe is at clotted atonal riffing, but to the best of my knowledge he’s never supported Morbid Angel or anything. He can’t have had time, for one thing. And if Ellinson had pipes like Runhild Gammelsæter I sort of think someone might have mentioned it by now. And there’s no drummer! And death metal’s one of those things that sort of sounds easier than it is. Like, it’s just a lot of growling, right? No, dude, it’s really, really hard, if you don’t want to absolutely suck. I was in a death metal band called Moloko Incarnadine for all of three days and we absolutely sucked. So I know of what I speak.
Anyway, turns out I was being a tosser because this is stunning. Galvanising, vital, disruptive work. But it’s not quite what you imagine. As bassist Lawson, who moonlights as a music journalist, points out at the top of the show, it’s not really death metal or grindcore at all. It’s more of an early-Swans sort of vibe, or a kind of loosey-goosey Shellac-on-a-Bank-Holiday-Sunday vibe. Thorpe’s riffs cycle round and round, sludgy and insistent. Ellinson’s vocals are shouted or spoken rather than growled, the scraps of manifesto and assessment forms pushed into near incomprehensibility or modulated into a low electronic roar.
Backed by a video screen Ellinson contextualises each movement, emphasising the show’s evolving nature. Its theme is not a historical manifesto, or even the barbarous double-speak of a single party, but also of the lived impact of those words and their continued relevance to the lives and deaths of real people in the UK and beyond. Any suspicion of gimmickry is seared away, as much by Ellinson’s embodiment of the material and her steely, furious compassion as by the music itself.
The most powerful moment is literally a single minute, held in memory of Paul Reekie, one of the first fatal victims of the Tories austerity programme. I’m asked to time Ellinson as she holds this minute’s vigil of rage, and unleashes scream after throat-shredding scream until tears are pouring down her face. I watch the seconds tick by and it’s unbearable. It’s like an animal that’s been clipped by the wheel of a car, turning round in agonised circles and bleeding out. You want Ellinson put out of her misery, you want it all to stop. She’s facing one of things you don’t want to face. She’s dropped the armour of apathy, she’s walking through Pomona, eyes open. It’s unbearable. Unbearable.
But it’s a very different emotion than the one which you might expect, walking in. It may well be a different one than Ellinson, Thorpe and Lawson expected when they kicked the whole thing off. Maybe it’s the election looming, maybe it’s Labour’s inability to present a narrative of hope or their quisling willingness to compromise at almost every point they should be standing firm, but this is something quite different than a pure hour of rage and fury.
Death metal can transform the crowd into a single animal, clawing and headbanging and swirling round as one. What #TORYCORE does is more akin to early Crass. Whether it’s because there are no blastbeats to lose your mind to, or because the riffing is so much sludgier and more repetitive, or because there’s just so much more oxygen and space to breathe and think in than there could be, what #TORYCORE really becomes is a rally. It feels like something we can all be part of, but something we join with our eyes open and our minds engaged. Ellinson is the perfect front-woman. She transforms an act of protest to what feels more like the beginning of a movement.
On the performance I attended on Friday April 10th 2015 a bunch of Young Conservatives trotted up from their drinks reception downstairs. Whatever you thought of their trousers, their behaviour was ill mannered and inconsiderate. It was disengaged and boorish. When Dan Hutton and Catherine Love last discussed #TORYCORE in these pages Dan wondered ‘how a Tory Party supporter would react to this’. Maybe they’d be angry? Maybe they’d fight back? Maybe they’d just realise it wasn’t for them and leave quietly? Turns out they just grabbed another tray of Fosters from the bar and carried on braying on. What a shower.
Well, on the evidence of #TORYCORE, it sounds like the revolution is coming. Where did I leave my wall?
Further words from Stewart Pringle on death metal and theatre.