The side of stage is usually a safe haven for posers. Endless Instagram stories of side-stage selfies are par for the course in a newly influencer-saturated festival season, VIPs and other such self-aggrandising non-entities pitching themselves up alongside the band onstage, desperate for a slice of the attention. A word from the inside – it sounds fucking dreadful up there.
It takes less than two seconds for Vein to destroy that safe space. Taking to the foot-high New Cross Inn stage, frontman Anthony DiDio launches himself, limbs flailing, into the masses of people stood to his right. Then, he crawls across people’s heads back to the stage, sprinting across it before swan diving into those on his left. Backed by the piercing, Wilhelm-like screams of their DJ and sample-pad wielder Benno, it’s an undoubtedly violent arrival statement – one that the proceeding 29 minutes and 58 seconds only build upon.
To date, Vein have built their name on such brutal displays. Debut album ‘Errorzone’ was a tour de force of sonic aggression, fusing breakneck jungle, drum ‘n’ bass and noise to hardcore fury. One of the year’s most accomplished debuts (and one of NME’s best albums of 2018), it was horrifying in the very best way. Like few bands in the last decade, Vein feel truly dangerous.
Live, that feeling amplifies exponentially. Across a blistering half-hour set in South London’s grimy New Cross Inn, the Boston band tore through ‘Errorzone’ cuts with a ferocity usually reserved for torture flicks. Lights down as low as they’d go, bathed only in a disconcerting blue hue, the group’s twisting, harsh noise felt like it were soundtracking a horror film, DiDio’s relentless, bone-breaking leaps of faith only upping the intensity. ’Demise Automation’ finds him once again assuming a spidery position across the top of the crowd, gouging at the heads of his audience as he clambers to the back of the room, lashing out at all around him.
Peppered throughout all this chaos, the band frequently pulled the dynamics right back, chopping up samples of self-help speeches and droning noise, adding to both the sense of occasion and the unsettling atmosphere throughout. For a full minute at the set’s midpoint, Benno loops one such speech “A person who thinks all the time, has nothing to think about except thought. So, he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusion,” goes the looped statement, before the band crash into ‘Doomtech’. That contrast of hypnotic pauses and explosions of sound feels akin to being stalked by an apex predator.
Like the very best hardcore shows, though, it was the crowd which truly brought the pain. A hardcore pit would make even the most seasoned Dark Fruits mosh-goblin long for his mother. Fists, feet and elbows connecting, the floor shaking as bodies hurl themselves in every direction, not a second passing without someone clambering on-stage and leaping, feet-first and flailing, into the crowd – every passing moment felt increasingly unsafe.
It’s often said that present-day music is lacking in danger. On a night where the BRITs is just up the road in Greenwich, celebrating a who’s who of pop’s most palatable and pristine, Vein’s rebuttal to that statement feels all the more powerful. ‘Virus://Vibrance’ ends proceedings, all stop-start, rave-ready electronics, deafening screams and pile-on after pile-on, DiDio dragging punters on-stage by the scruff of their necks and hurling them back into the fray. It’s proof that, with Vein at the forefront of hardcore’s bold future, underground music still has a fear factor.