GNAWNewcastle The Star and Shadow Cinema, November 16 2013

For  many 20-somethings bearing Black Flag tattoos and wearing Bad Brains t-shirts, the spirit of DIY lives only in grainy black and white photos of early 80s basement shows. A generation may have been raised with the music of a thousand ‘underground’ bands ringing in their ears, but watching these acts in corporate venues, on tours sponsored by energy drink giants or clothing lines, has become all too common. 

That’s why events like Great North Amplifier Worship (GNAW), now in its third year, are absolutely vital. Organised by Tyneside band Waheela, and taking place in the The Star And Shadow, an independent cultural gem staffed by volunteers – with no ‘big brand’ lager in sight – the annual shindig has swiftly gained a formidable reputation for its friendly vibes, open minded music policy… and the sheer intensity of its line up. The layout of its gig space facilitates band/audience interaction, with musicians up close and personal with the crowd: no barriers, no scene politics, no posing.

Last night’s show, however, raised GNAW’s bar even higher, with a packed Star and Shadow witnessing a slew of incredible performances from bands genuinely excited to be there.

Openers Waheela set the tone. Unleashing wave after wave of primal, molten noise, topped with the inhuman screams of vocalist Adam Potts, they delivered one of their heaviest sets to date. And while the quintet could easily be lumped into the ‘post-metal’ bracket, in truth they boast a hypnotic groove – powered by drummer James Porter – that sets them far apart from the legions of Neurosis/Isis disciples. Combine that with their largely improvised creative approach, and you’re in for one hell of a ride.

Speaking of unconventional, Leeds band Cattle, making a return to Newcastle following their May show, turned up with two drummers, one bass player and an intention to make a real racket. One huge rhythm section they may be, but there’s more to the band than low end bludgeon; far more. Original, dynamic and utterly fascinating, their left field take on noise rock drew huge applause.

And a rapturous reception was also afforded to Newcastle trio Tide Of Iron – a band who have shared stages with the likes of Napalm Death and Unsane, and whose caustic take on hardcore has won them many a fan. Last night, pummelling through each short sharp shock, they will surely have gained a few more; few bands can match their furious energy.

North East-based We Are Knuckle Dragger were a rather different proposition, if no less intense. The three-piece, playing in the wake of their Ross Robinson-produced second album, The Drone, are one of the UK’s most original acts, and the fact that they’ve supported everyone from prog deathsters Meshuggah to alt-instrumentalists And So I Watch You From Afar, shows how brilliantly unclassifiable their genre-bending music is.

Their second appearance at GNAW saw the band rip through a host of new material, including This Better Be Life Threatening Norman and Class of 94, as well as ‘oldies’ including the crushing Get The Horizon Yourself. With vocalist/guitarist Aran Glover on fine form, WAKD demonstrated once again that they’re a formidable live act – and why they deserve the acclaim that is coming their way.

Headlining GNAW, then, was always going to be a tall order. Were Palehorse up to it? Of course they were. The dual bass wielding South Londoners followed their incendiary appearance at Leeds’ Damnation Festival with a performance that will live long in the memory. Packing a heavier punch than the gnarliest death/doom bands, more ‘in your face’ than the toughest hardcore outfits, the quintet were right at home in the intimate Star And Shadow, and found plenty of soulmates. Vocalist Nikolai Grune spent most of the set pacing around in front of the stage, at one with the crowd… and occasionally employing their vocal talents.

While tracks like Full Power Anglo-Gambian Rinseout might largely run at sludge-pace, this was a hardcore show and make no mistake, full of pent up rage and visceral, barbed riffs, played at head splintering volume. A privilege to witness, Palehorse might be rooted in another city, but they perfectly embodied the spirit of GNAW.

If you’d come for easy listening – or anything ‘safe’ – this night would have been a disappointment. But for bands and audience alike, GNAW was a celebration of challenging, inspiring and genuine, heartfelt music.

Maybe punk’s not dead after all…

Richard Holmes