Turn it up! Why soul-shakingly loud gigs rule

The drummer in shoegaze legends and notoriously noisy f**kers My Bloody Valentine recently – and quaintly – wrote a letter to his local newspaper. Colm Ó Cíosóig reached out to The Irish Times and got into a right huff about a “new reality that is castrating culture”. His issue was with his local mega-venue, Dublin’s 3Arena, and what he saw as a reluctance there to pump up the volume, resulting in some gigs that were quieter than he’d have liked. Ó Cíosóig had seen Neil Young and Black Sabbath there and at both gigs heard only a mew when he’d expected a roar.

See, when it comes to all things loud, Ó Cíosóig knows his stuff. My Bloody Valentine have been around since the mid-1980s and in the business of stunning crowds with their towering fortress of sound ever since. When I saw them at All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2009, they handed out earplugs before embarking on their brutal, soul-quaking onslaught. “When upfront at a gig you are supposed to feel the drums and bass rattle your bones, and the music should fill your head to the extent that it can bring you to an ecstatic place,” wrote Ó Cíosóig. As someone who’s had some of the most powerful experiences of my life not far from a megalithic speaker stack, I’m inclined to agree. Often, feeling a gig can be just as powerful as watching it; the rumble in your head, the shuddering in your stomach, the small but real chance that you may throw up into your pint glass. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s an intoxicating, almost meditative thing.

Last year, I was blessed with an excellent selection of body-shaking shows, from stoner metallers Sleep, experimental rockers Swans and proto-grunge gods Melvins, who all turned it up to 11 and got me one step closer to enlightenment via volume. In the coming year, I’m expecting the same from drone ’n’ doom dons Sunn O))) and rock icons Deep Purple – the band who once knocked three fans unconscious with sheer noisiness. Which brings us neatly to the not-unimportant matter of health and safety. I might be in love with loudness, but it’s as dangerous as it is compelling.

The Guinness Book Of Records no longer has a record for loudest band, thanks to fears of promoting damage to people’s hearing. In fact, My Bloody Valentine have been victims of their own volume; guitarist and vocalist Bilinda Butcher once burst an eardrum and frontman Kevin Shields suffers from tinnitus, like roughly 10 per cent of the British public – Liam and Noel Gallagher included. Incurable and a massive pain in the arse, tinnitus should be avoided. There’s currently no government legislation about noise limits at gigs, but there will be warnings dotted around a venue if it’s going to be a belter. So invest in some decent earplugs – you can still feel the decibels work their way through you with them in – and don’t go to loud gigs every night of the week. Enjoy loudness in moderation and it’ll make it even more special.