An electrifying display of grime-infused punk panache
Luke Ballance
00:00 28th May 2022

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Despite their major breakthrough coinciding with a spate of national lockdowns, Bob Vylan already look more than comfortable commanding the attention of a crowd. The choice of Camden’s intimate Underworld for the London leg of their latest tour seemed a little misjudged – the grime-infused punk duo just hit the UK top 20, so it felt incongruous to see them pack out a 500-capacity venue specialising in metal and pop-punk – but as soon as the first kick drum hit, this quickly became irrelevant.

Opening proceedings was Bristolian polymath Grove, an emerging non-binary rapper and producer whose cutting-edge explorations of jungle, techno and dancehall fearlessly subvert the norms of their respective genres. Dark, electronic and proudly queer, their music bears little resemblance to Bob Vylan’s, but it finds ample common ground in the themes it tackles: issues of Black British identity and the plight of the working class. “Fuck Ur Landlord”, a thumping call to arms against the private rented housing sector, felt particularly apt, unintentionally foreshadowing a lyric we’d hear from Bobby later on in the night: “I’m gonna lynch my landlord if this rent goes up!”

Taking to the stage with his signature routine of “stretching and light meditation” while bandmate Bobbie laid down a stuporous rhythm, Bobby Vylan instantly set the tone for the thrills and theatrics to come. Promptly launching into “Big Man”, one of the first tracks on their sophomore LP The Price of Life, they went on to perform the new album in near-entirety, interspersed with numbers from their 2020 debut We Live Here and a couple of more obscure cuts. Needless to say, each was characterised by distorted riffs, vitriolic musings on the state of the world and mosh pits aplenty.

Although soundtracked by riotous instrumentation throughout, the duo still found multiple opportunities to show their more vulnerable side. Bobby revealed at the end of “He Sold Guns” – which recounts the story of a recovering addict murdered at the hands of his dealer – that it was written about someone he knew personally, and that the pair of them have both been known to shed a tear while performing it. Later, he paused mid-verse to ensure that a fan who’d fainted made it safely out of the pit and, at the end, drummer Bobbie took the rare opportunity to offer a heartfelt thanks to all those in attendance, describing the opportunity as a “dream come true”.

The audience matched the band’s energy at every step, clambering onto the stage so enthusiastically that the emergence of lost wallets, cards and keys over the course of the evening soon became a running joke. When asked to put away their phones during the anti-surveillance anthem “Phone Tap” – a feat only achieved once prior during the tour – they rose to the challenge. After throwing multiple crates worth of bottled water into the crowd mid-song for their sweat-drenched clientele, the band ultimately granted them the privilege of standing shoulder-to-shoulder onstage for the grand finale, an electrifying performance of “Wicked & Bad”. Where others’ attempts to fuse grime and rock – like the ‘grindie’ movement of the ‘00s – have fallen embarrassingly short of the mark, this certified belter, punctuated by synthetic brass stabs reminiscent of Darq E Freaker, is one of several conclusive pieces of evidence that Bob Vylan have nailed it.

See photos from Matt Chapman below:

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Photo: Matt Chapman