By Rich Hobson
It’s an exciting time for British music. Yet while the worlds of British rock, punk and metal thrive, the hardcore scene remains somewhat stagnant. UK hardcore has gained plenty of traction, yet the fact remains that it has been over a decade since an album in the genre has even come close to galvanising the whole scene.
“There isn’t a set trend in UK hardcore yet” says Jimmy Wizard, vocalist of Leeds-based hardcore hopefuls Higher Power. “We’ve had New York hardcore and the Youth Crew thing, but now there’s no newer bands coming up in the scene that create that same sense of excitement, nobody to emulate.”
This paucity of inspiration might go a long way to explain why Higher Power sound decidedly different to their homegrown contemporaries. Although hailing from the vast expanse of Yorkshire, Higher Power possess far more in common with iconoclastic US hardcore acts like Black Flag – with whom the band share a hard-driven work ethic – or New York hardcore crossover legends Life Of Agony.
“A lot of the bands I’ve been in have been trying to recreate a certain sound or era, trying to do what’s cool at the time. Problem with that is, we’d be cool for a second but then something else would come along. I just didn’t want to do that any more; I didn’t want to create for anybody else.”
The end result is Soul Structure, ten tracks of triumphant riff-hungry hardcore with nary a generic breakdown in sight. In fact, Higher Power are anything but generic – something reflected perfectly by Jimmy’s distinctive vocal style, which at times sounds like Ozzy Osbourne fronting Black Flag.
“I only became a singer for Higher Power” Jimmy admits. “I can’t technically sing, but I just try mix all my favourite singers at the same time. That’s how I approach it in the studio too, like ‘Ozzy vocals would work on this’, or hear a verse and think “What would Layne do?” – just taking influence from a lot of different people. It’s just me trying different things – it’s got us this far!”
Rising hopefuls of the British hardcore scene, Higher Power enjoy some reputation for their distinctive style. Described by their label as a ‘positive expression of aggression’, the fact remains that (as their name and frequent religious iconography suggests) Higher Power draw their power from a much loftier place than simply being pissed off.
“I think there is some spirituality there. Nobody in the band is religious, but in a spiritual sense we’re trying to figure out what life is about. For me, the album was about trying to find peace within myself and get past my anxieties. I’m not generally open with my emotions or how I feel and I think this record will surprise people, especially if they just see me as a typical singer-type jumping around onstage. At this point I don’t want to be full of hate because I’ll never move forward if I weigh myself down. For me, hardcore is angry music that might make you want to jump around, throw kicks and shout, but it’s also very positive.”
There’s no denying that as far as outsider-looking-in perspectives go, the positivity of hardcore is often overlooked in favour of pointing out the often problematic and always rambunctious nature of live hardcore shows – in particular the dreaded hardcore dance. In a world where the creation of safe spaces in live music environments is hugely important, it’s not hard to see why the hyper-masculine displays in hardcore could be seen as unwelcoming. But Jimmy seems confident that the scene is changing for the better:
“It’s come a long way from when I first started going to shows, hearing bands play songs called ‘Fanny Punch’ that were slut-shaming or whatever. Nobody questioned it then, but now people are more ready to create change. It doesn’t hurt that more women are getting involved in the scene and that people are taking notice of why we’re here. At the end of the day, everybody comes to these shows for the same reason – it’s not because you want to hear amazing musicianship or solos, you’re here for the atmosphere.”
It’s this ethic that likens hardcore so much to punk, though Jimmy is quick to point out the differences. “Hardcore and punk share the same ethics, but the approach is very different. The thing I loved about hardcore was that it wasn’t all about dressing a particular way, it was much more about being yourself and being able to do that in jeans, Nikes or shorts, rather than having to have a mohawk or whatever. They still share a connection, but hardcore has evolved so much from where it started.”
One thing Higher Power certainly do have in common with the punk bands of old, however, is a sense of dedication and adventure. Like a living re-enactment of Henry Rollins’ seminal Get In The Van, Higher Power are a working band, touring consistently both at home and abroad. On the evening of our chat Jimmy has just got in from his first day back at work, less than 48 hours after completing a European tour with Terror.
Pragmatic to a fault, Jimmy hasn’t got time for sharing stories of debauchery and prima donna rockstar behaviour – instead he paints Europe as a touring band’s paradise; a strong DIY ethic meaning bands can often look forward to having a guaranteed place to stay. That might not sound like much, but when constant political upheavals threaten every band’s ability to tour (and in turn push ticket prices sky high for bands coming to the UK), it’s good to know that some aspects of the rock n roll lifestyle haven’t died out and that touring is still king.
“Soul Structure will only get out there through us touring. That’s what we plan to do – keep touring, play bigger shows and expose our band to more people. Hopefully they’ll get the record when it’s out!”
Released just ahead of festival season, Soul Structure is anything but your average beer-chugging party record. Instead, it is an ambitious debut that draws inspiration from some of the hardcore genre’s greatest acts, whilst offering up a unique modern twist. True to the hardcore spirit, this album is all about forging your own path and ideals – a sentiment reflected on the album’s closing refrain “I’ll build my own soul structure”. The past couple of years have been defined by great debuts by British bands, be it Vultures by God Damn, Milk Teeth’s Vile Child, or Creeper’s Eternity in Your Arms. That’s pretty illustrious company to keep, but Higher Power achieve it through sheer determination, hard work and chutzpah – a band ripped straight out the pages of Our Band Could Be Your Life.
Soul Structure is out now through Venn Records and Flatspot Records.