Amyl and the Sniffers show at The Stylus let down by violent masculinity
I stumbled upon Australian punks Amyl and the Sniffers a few years back through their connection to Flightless Records, the independent label founded by former King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard drummer Eric Moore. I became enthralled by recordings of the band’s raucous live performances, which featured lead singer Amy Taylor screaming lyrics about the socio-political state of Australia whilst shaking her bleach blonde mullet with an uncontainable energy. On the evening of a rather placid Sunday, I finally got to see the band in action at the University of Leeds’s very own Stylus.
My first qualm with the night came from the support act – a local Yorkshire band called Geoffrey Oi!Cott. The four-piece made up of middle-aged balding beer-bellied white men, all sporting cricket uniforms and instruments plastered with Leeds United stickers, took to the stage chanting ‘YORKSHIRE, YORKSHIRE!’. The band began playing their poor imitation of punk with a technical skill level comparable to that of GCSE music students. I imagine their music is what non-punk fans think punk sounds like. As they sloppily made their way through their mind-numbingly dull set which consisted of songs about cricket, beer, and Yorkshire, I was left wondering where Amyl and the Sniffers had found such a poor excuse for a punk band. Furthermore, the band played a track entitled ‘Dawn of the Dickie Birds,’ a rather misogynistic tune dedicated to the women in the audience (of which there were very few, especially in comparison to the sea of ageing white male punks in the crowd) that included lyrics such as “she’s as good as it gets” and “push against the wall and tamper with your balls.” These men were the epitome of aggressive masculinity, too preoccupied with beer and their Yorkshire pride to write anything that could actually be considered true punk. Why couldn’t Amyl and the Sniffers, arguably the most successful punk band currently operating with a female lead, give this opportunity to a band with underrepresented members? After all, punk truly belongs to those of marginalised genders and races, not middle-aged white men who already dominate our mainstream. What have they got to be angry about? The rising price of beer? According to their music, that’s about it.
Once they had finally left the stage it was time for the main act. Tearing onto the stage in a T-shirt that read ‘Fuck You You Fuckin’ Fuck,’ Amy Taylor began singing one of my personal favourites from the band, ‘Control.’ Almost instantly the crowd were slamming their sweating bodies against each other with uncontrollable excitement. I am no stranger to mosh pits and rowdy crowds, however, something about this felt different. Within the first song my friend was lifted over the barrier by security, unable to withstand the violent men that were throwing punches at every given chance. I had no intention of moshing from my place at the barrier, however, the intensity of the crowd led me to be thrown so hard that, as I write this, there are a large collection of bruises decorating my arms, legs, and hips. There was a severe lack of respect for personal boundaries and the well-being of fellow gig-goers in the crowd that left me feeling unsafe. One man, old enough to be my dad, was pressed so hard against me that I had to fight back tears. I could not concentrate on the music, sounds blended into white noise as I felt the weight of this man against me. There was definitely opportunity for him to move with the crowd, yet his front stayed firmly pressed against me. The pits were nothing more than great exertions of masculinity – men preoccupied with displaying their ability to withstand harsh crowds with no respect for those who had no interest in joining in. I was lifted out of the crowd by security with an overwhelming sense of anger inside of me. Women should be able to enjoy live music without feeling as though their bodies have been violated and made to feel at risk. It’s times like this that I don’t think men will ever truly understand the implications of their actions.
Once I was away from the aggressiveness, I was able to actually take in what I was watching. After removing her t-shirt to reveal a sparkly bra top which accompanied her cherry-patterned short-shorts, Amy strutted around the stage with admirable confidence, flexing her arms and sticking out her tongue. The band were on top form, driving through tracks that were mainly from their 2019 self-titled album, and their newest release Comfort to Me. A standout moment of the set was their performance of ‘Knifey,’ a track about violence against women that draws lyrical parallels to fellow Australian Courtney Barnett’s song ‘Nameless Faceless.’ Hearing the voices of women dominate the audience as they shouted along to the lyrics about simply wanting to walk home safely made me feel a little less alone, particularly after what I had just experienced near the front of the crowd. The band ended their set with the killer ‘Some Mutts (Can’t be Muzzled)’ which stands out as one of their most impressive tracks. With intense guitar riffs and heavy bass, the song was the perfect outro for a high-octane performance.
To conclude – I think Amyl and the Sniffers are incredible performers, who delivered every song with impressive stamina and energy. However, considering they have songs such as ‘Knifey,’ I would have appreciated if they were more active in looking out for the audience. It was clear that many people at the front were being squashed to the point of danger, yet they ignored this. It would have also been nice to see a support act that weren’t laughable middle-aged white male punks. You can still enjoy a punk gig without hurting people. You can enjoy it without disregarding people’s boundaries. Gigs should be places for people to collectively enjoy music they like, not fear for their safety. Sadly, I left Amyl and the Sniffers feeling upset, violated, and angry. An intense display of masculinity ruined what I hoped to be a fun night of female-centric punk. That’s not to say I wouldn’t see them again, because musically they were great. Next time I’ll be stood far away from the aging men attempting to relive their punk youths down in the pit.