Notes From The Underground – Are Sonic Boom Six The Most Reliably Awesome UK Band?

By the time you read this, Sonic Boom Six will be just finishing up their latest UK headline tour, their first since shattering the glass ceiling of the UK punk underground into a million angry pieces and taking the fight to the Main Stage of Reading and Leeds.

Photo courtesy of Dan Griffiths
That might not seem like a great achievement, but consider this: they did it alone, and stood on the stage that represents, essentially the apex of the music business. They might have played nine hours or so before Kings Of Leon, but while the Tennessee dullards had a petulant hissy fit and bitched about not getting the adoration they felt they deserved, these Manchester dudes and dudette walked up onstage and did their thing harder, faster and better than any other band might. But then again, that wouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone keeping tabs on this band.

Why? Because they want it more. Moreover, every single show I’ve seen them play over the last six or so years – from pubs in Norwich to festivals in the Czech Republic and everywhere in between – has had one common denominator: people love them, and dance to them, and sing along, and mosh, and shout the words. And then, they go home and talk to their mates about starting a new band. Personally, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been watching them and started putting together ideas in my head, making little reminders of my phone of new stuff to try out or phrases to try and work into a review somewhere. Listening to them talk in interviews always brings a wealth of new material to investigate, not because they’re dropping names but because they’re interested, interesting people.

Photo courtesy of Dan Griffiths
Years ago I went to Radio 1 for an evening to sit in on Mike Davies’ Lock Up show. This was around the time of Sonic Boom Six’s ‘Turbo’ EP, which had been making quite the splash on various internet messageboards. I was sitting at Mike’s desk chatting away when he suddenly picked up a copy of the EP, waved it at me and drawled, ‘Hey dude, you heard this new Sonic Boom Six band? This EP’s blown me away.’ Not wanting to let any chinks appear in my armour, I lied and told him I had (I was young and really wanted to impress Mike; a few months later I wrote him a 4-page letter begging for a job. To date: no reply). He smiled, and I think high-fived me.

Photo courtesy of Dan Griffiths
I went home and pulled out my copy of ‘Turbo’ which was sitting on my to-listen pile. Within a few seconds of ‘Blood For Oil’ reaching through my speakers and slapping me round the face I was hooked, and gabbled out a messy review for the webzine I used to write for, calling it akin to ‘The Notting Hill Carnival in CD format’, because that was the nearest I could get to. Beats and guitar blasts hit from all angles and songs changing shape over the course of a few seconds, with hip-hop rhythms barracked by thudding punk and languid, cheeky but focused ska. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on, and I had the sneaking suspicion that behind the polemics, the band didn’t either. But it didn’t matter, because they were unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Come on, I prayed. Please stay this good, and don’t get shit.

Fast forward to last Thursday, and SB6’s headline show at the Garage in North London. For some reason the air-con is fucked and the floor is horribly slick with sweat – but when the Boom hits no one seems to care. Their new album ‘City Of Thieves’ is now firmly bedded in, so ‘A Bright Cold Day In April’ and ‘Back 2 Skool’ provoke a massive response, and the welcome afforded tunes like ‘Piggy In The Middle’ and the stunning ‘People Acklike They Don’t Know’ again rams home the fact that SB6 are a truly special band. They were always incredibly subversive, sneaking in little bits of hip-hop patois for audiences who didn’t realise, and now they’re just more adept at fusing politics, social commentary and kick-ass music. Like Billy Bragg said: ‘The best song wins’, so they know that they can have the best intentions in the world but if the tunes suck then no one’s going to care.

The tunes don’t suck. People care.

Photo courtesy of Dan Griffiths
They own their own label, Rebel Alliance, and are affiliated with Suicide Bid, the musical collective that is closest in spirit to the old days of punk/reggae soundclashes. Every gig they play, more girls have dyed their hair pink to look like Laila; more people of both sexes queue up to get photos taken with the band. SB6 tattoos are not irregular. And it’s not because they look a certain way or sound a certain way – that they have a few upstrokes is enough for many short-sighted idiots to dismiss them as ska-punk; the same morons who never gave Capdown a chance despite being one of the most important bands of the last 15 years – but because of the total package. They don’t let their fans down by ever giving anything less than their utmost, they’ve toured so hard that they know how to fucking kill any audience. They talk to their fans, and respect them. They know they’ll never have a massive single that slays the radio waves and does the hard work for them, so they knuckle the fuck down and create great art.