Self-confessed Brighton “Doom Surf” bunch The Wytches have developed something of a cult following in the past few years, following the release of their devilishly good 2014 debut ‘Annabel Dream Reader’, a record doused in gloomy psychedelia, caustic surf-rock and sludgy 90s grunge riffs that could’ve soundtracked a horror movie. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to go to a gig and not find someone brandishing a Wytches tee.
Notorious for their chaotic live shows, The Wytches relish sweaty, intimate gigs where fan favourites like ‘Gravedweller’, ‘Wire Frame Mattress’ and ‘Crying Clown’ can turn the tamest of crowds into an uncontrollably seething mess. Now, the surf-psych trio are back with their blistering sophomore record ‘All Your Happy Life’ and a fearsome UK headline tour to boot, I was lucky to catch the boys on their Birmingham date. Walking down the steps of Digbeth’s O2 Institute3, I knew tonight was going to be a rock and roll helter-skelter of sweaty anarchy; The small, dingy room was rapidly filling with giddy teenagers and judging by their taste in band merch (Slaves, FIDLAR and of course, The Wytches) this was gonna get messy.
Boasting an impressive roster of support acts on the tour including Happyness, Abattoir Blues and Bad Breeding, I must admit I was curious about Blonde Bunny, tonight’s openers. Pinning themselves as a “freakazoid” band, their bizarre fusion of neo-psychedelia and woozy operatic pop has attracted nods to Pink Floyd and even Prince! However, on the night it came off in all the wrong ways. The frontman’s frankly awkward wailing clashed with the guitarists elegant reverb-laced riffs, doing little to even sway the perplexed crowd. I felt that the vocalist held the band back as I was enthralled by the guitarists incredible fretwork, as he effortlessly slid from sparse atmospheric chimes into crunching psych-rock blasts. After initially assuming Blonde Bunny to be an instrumental band, I felt that I would’ve admired them a lot more if they remained that. Describe Blonde Bunny in a sentence? Bat-shit crazy.
Safe to say the second support act didn’t disappoint. Chichester noise-makers TRAAMS are veterans of the gig circuit, having supported the likes of Parquet Courts, Temples, FIDLAR and Drenge. Distilling a uniquely sinister take on bruising post-punk/Krautrock to deafening effect, I was bowled over by their incredible half-an-hour set. Unsettling opening number ‘Swimming Pool’ trudges on with menace, dominated by dark and distorted vocals, instantly engaging the crowd who sway to the thunderous beat. Tracks from debut LP ‘Grin’ like ‘Head Roll’ and infectious single ‘Flowers’ encourage modest moshing from the front, but its the mammoth 8-minute set closer ‘A House on Fire’ that grabs the best reaction . Guitarist/vocalist Stuart Hopkins prowls the stage during the monumental buildup, squawking “I Don’t know who I am!” over a thrumming guitar line, before the ear-piercing breakdown fuels the crowd into a frenzy. After seeing TRAAMS live I’m surprised they’re not as well-known as their contemporaries, definitely one to watch if you’re a fan of bands like Eagulls or Splashh.
Emerging on stage to the eerie intro to ‘All Your Happy Life’, The Wytches plunge into ominous opening track ‘C-Side’. Kristian Bell howls the hard-edged chorus beneath a curtain of unkept black hair, screeching over a jagged guitar riff. In return, they’re greeted with 200 voices, blaring “Here’s to the endless love!” in between furious moshing.
Following up with snarling deep-cut ‘Ghost House’, and a freakishly good rendition of fan-favourite ‘Burn Out the Bruise’, the crowd are beaten to an audible pulp within minutes. The ghoulish psychedelic rhythm of the latter sends the audience into a meltdown as bodies flail around, whilst the distorted riffs clang over thunderous bass drum. Grinding and overdriven B-side ‘Darker’ entices the crowd with its plodding verse before transitioning into the dismally enraged chorus, like something out of Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’.
EP track ‘Wasteybois’, taken from 2015’s ‘Thunder Lizard’s Reprieve’ showed The Wytches at their most raucous and aggressive. After a crazed and frantic opening that opens violent mosh pits, the song careers into a slower (and welcoming!) metal-tinged break before diving back into the crashing verse. It’s a 3-minute cycle of carnage!As soon as the pulsating guitar intro of ‘Gravedweller’ slinks through room, the crowd let out excitable jeers, and I found myself being swept into a growing circle pit. The song was probably my highlight of The Wytches searing 100 mile-an-hour set, and saw strangers collide like pinballs, spitting the words into each other’s faces with passion. Some briefly surf on the wave of bopping arms whilst the unlucky ones are engulfed by the melee
Even the slower-tempo moments like ‘Throned’ and ‘Wide at Midnight’ still ache with a familiar heavy tone, but allow the crowd to catch their breath without losing any of the intensity. ‘A Feeling We Get’ and penultimate song ‘Home’ are some of the more laid-back tracks, and show a seldom seen side to the band. The drained audience sway, trance-like at the rippling psychedelic twangs.
Final (or so we thought) song ‘Crying Clown’ was a perfect end to a frighteningly good night. Gianni Honey’s rumbling drum claps cause the crowd to bounce rhythmically before Bell’s murmur of “Like a pendulum” drops into distorted, muddy guitar and incites crazy headbanging. Just about ready to pass out in a sweaty heap, The Wytches had another surprise up their sleeves, immediately following up ‘Crying Clown’ with the surf-psych buzz of its companion, ‘Beehive Queen’.
As far as gigs go, I have never seen an atmosphere quite like that made by The Wytches. The combination of biting 60s surf-rock and dark psych-tones makes for a unique experience, and I was blown away by the Brighton trio’s ability to incite absolute madness in an audience. Me and my friend both agreed it was one of the most violent and crazed shows we had ever seen, and by the looks on the faces of the battered but ecstatic audience as we left, I bet they’d agree! I wouldn’t have it any other way…
The Wytches played:
- Ghost House
- Burn Out The Bruise
- Who Rides
- Can’t Show How
- Hannover Square
- Wide at Midnight
- A Feeling We Get
- Crying Clown
- Beehive Queen