Friendships Made In The Pit: Static Shock Weekend

The fest. A key component of a thriving hardcore scene these days, a packed four days where the Underground fills up with familiar badges on jackets, plans to catch up with friends from far flung scenes are planned and hangover plans are either dutifully laid out or completely ingnored. STATIC SHOCK WEEKEND begun in 2011 in the back room of The Grosvenor, a pub in Stockwell whose back room once hosted tours and first gigs and had one of those decibel counter lights that may as well have been part of the furniture whenever an amp got switched on. Between then and now the weekend has grown into an institution with thousands in the audience, hundreds in the bands played and tens of iconic sets: my favourites have to include Dawn of Humans, Good Throb’s final show, Limp Wrist, RAKTA, Pharmakon, Muro and The Number Ones on a Sunday. This year, Tom Ellis decided to throw the last weekend, so I caught up with him in October 2023 once the dust had settled to chat through the whole eleven years and what he’s excited to see as the next generation takes over…

AS: So, it’s been about a month and a bit since the final Static Shock Weekend, and how are you doing?

Tom: Well, after a few weeks I finally got over the token festival COVID, which wrapped me in bed for about two weeks. Which is, you know, the final thank you after years of service! All’s well right now.

AS: First thing on my mind was to ask, did you go to every gig?

Tom: Yep!

AS: I was assuming you wouldn’t, because it’s grown and there’s a crew of people now. But you have been to everything!

Tom: I was at every show for at least a little bit. On the Friday I didn’t see any bands on the matinée, but I was there. Motive was about to start when I had to jump in a cab to get to The Garage to unload the backline straight away.

AS: How many people do you have to herd together in a typical weekend? How many bands are playing this year, about 35, 40?

Tom: I think it was 36 off the top of my head this year.

AS: So, 36 times 4 on average. How’s that? 

Tom: I mean, daunting. Tight. It’s not so bad because with most bands you only have one point of contact. Which can be a double-edged sword! Obviously when you’ve got so many moving parts, you want no punk time and for it to run well. It’s happened occasionally but not much: this year, Special Branch was supposed to sound check at 12:30 for the matinee show, and when we texted them to see what was up, one of them was still in Ireland.

AS: I did wonder if that would happen!

Tom: Oh yeah. But they all made it on time, just in time to play.

AS: I saw Mock Execution roll out of the van outside New River and straight onto the stage…

Tom: Yeah, so their van broke down the night before. I got a phone call about nine in the morning from their driver who was sitting in a car park in a village near Leeds, being “we think we know where we are, and we reckon we can try and get them to lead to Leeds to take a train to London.” And I mean, fair play to them, they made it! We had to swap one slot, I think? They played half an hour later than they were supposed to  but they got there, which was 250 miles on a couple hours’ notice…

AS: I would also assume that because you’ve had this much experience putting the festival on, with these situations you’re not going to panic?

Tom: Yes and no. For something like that it wasn’t the end of the world because we can just switch slots and hope it’ll all be fine. Sometimes that works, sometimes not so much.

AS: Does everyone’s punctuality get better or worse as each weekend goes on?

Tom: You would think worse. I’d say the worst part usually peaks around Friday because everyone’s got here on Thursday and overdone it a little bit on the first night, so by Friday everyone’s still trying to gather their bearings and figure it out. By Saturday everyone’s a little bit broken. And then by Sunday it’s a well-oiled machine.

AS: And then you get people who turn up on Sunday for their only day, they’re freshly showered and meeting everyone else who’ve been out all weekend and are just nodding along silently at that point.

Tom: Yeah, there were definitely people who I saw at the Sunday matinee who were like, this is the only day I’ll come down. Which is obviously cool, but it’s like the yin and the yang.

AS: How do you feel about Static Shock over the years becoming as much of a social event as a fest? Which I guess all festivals are really, but especially after lockdown it felt like this big reunion – which is probably why it sold out quickly too.

Tom: The first one back [since the pandemic] sold out really quickly. I think even though there were shows for about a year at that point, there was still the excitement of thinking, oh yeah, we can do this again! We’re back! And going from gatherings of ten people to getting 600 people in a room, you know, obviously not everyone’s going to feel 100% about that, but I think a lot of people were hungry for that still.

AS: You took your time too. Like, you’re right, gigs had been going again for about a year but it still felt quite strange, people were obviously nervous as well…

Tom: Yeah, exactly. The first gig I went back to, which was sometime in 2021, I went into the room and there were no masks, no social distancing and I nearly had a panic attack! Just because it was so much to take in after like a year plus of like not being able to do any of that. You get used to it again, but in hindsight it feels kind of crazy how quick it bounced back, when it was allowed to.

AS: And then also, the Weekend before that was in March 2020. I feel like that was the last event before lockdown, it had the last gig at DIY Space for London I ever went to and… didn’t a bunch of bands not turn up too?

Tom: You might need to remind me: who cancelled that year?

AS: I may be wrong but in my head the Italian bands didn’t turn up.

Tom: Oh no, they did!

AS: They did!

Tom: Yep. So Lucta made it, but during that weekend Italy went into lockdown. That was it. They were ahead of a bunch of other countries but even then the attitude at the time was just, “what are you going to do when you get back for a few weeks?”
AS: Yeah. A few weeks(!)

Tom: And then of course by the following Friday the UK shuts down. I remember L.O.T.I.O.N. were coming over to start their tour the following Friday. On the Wednesday night, they were thinking “we’re not sure about this,” and I was still “oh, don’t worry, it’ll be fine!” The next day they cancelled and it’s very good that they did.

AS: Bloody hell, absolutely. When it came back in 2022, did you book The Garage because of the size? Were you thinking of Ex Fed again, although isn’t it an arcade now?

Tom: Ex Fed was gone by that point, which was the main motivator to look for somewhere else. The thing with Ex Fed was that it felt kind of lawless in there where it felt like we could do something on this scale and still feel like a DIY show where anything goes. But at the same time it kind of sounded pretty questionable at best, it wasn’t perfect but when it’s more of a DIY space you’re willing to let that roll. It’s part of the experience! But with that gone, it was all about finding somewhere that you could get 600 plus people somewhere that was willing to, you know, make it all ages, make sure there isn’t a security barrier and where you can run it how you’d want to. Obviously in practice, it’s somewhat different.

AS: I’ve always thought too… where else in London could you put this on, realistically? Could you still do it at the Dome?

Tom: The Dome is still there but I haven’t done anything there for years. Atthe time, I know they were trying to make the upstairs room even bigger, like 800 or something but I don’t know if that actually ever happened in the end. Plus, now the stage looks a bit Metal Hammer now with all the stuff around it.

AS: Their rigging makes it look like there’s more wrestling than gigs these days.

Tom: They actually do the wrestling there! I’m guessing they put the ring in the middle and not the stage…

AS: A stage in the middle would be quite fun.

Tom: It’d be a bit Metallica in the round.

AS: Thinking back too, with all of the weekends you do end up with a list of venues that don’t exist anymore. You started in The Grosvenor, which is still a pub…

Tom: Yeah, but it might as well not  be there compared to what it initially was.

AS: That was one of my first conceptions of a London venue, that back room.

Tom: The Grosvenor was kind of great because as long as you stayed on the right side of the landlord you could just get on with it in there. I have this theory with London venues and scenes is that they build around places in waves. In the late nineties, early 2000s things were based around the Red Eye, which then moved to the Swan in Tottenham; when that closed people gravitated towards the Grosvenor, and then to Power Lunches, to DIY Space and New River, which is still there but maybe there’ll be a new spot in the future?

AS: How many people were at the first weekend?

Tom: The first one was small. I forget if it was 40 or 60 people on the Friday night, and the landlord came up to me asking, “you’ve got more people coming tomorrow?” And I was like, maybe! I think a hundred came out on the Saturday. But also then there was the jump between the first year where it was, “let’s do three gigs, let’s try and get a couple bands to come over from Europe,” to jump into what the second one was which was a little bit more ambitious and a lot more terrifiying!

AS: Wasn’t it Una Bèstia Incontrolable’s first show too?

Tom: Yeah. Originially it was meant to be Glam but then Una Bèstia shared members and they were like, we have a new band, we’ve been practicing for a year, we really want to play, would you be up for it?

AS: I remember they were very good.

Tom: Oh yeah, they were great.

AS: And then with the second year, looking back it’s not too far away from what you’ve had since – the cyan poster, the four days, the matinees and the big gigs. I was wondering what your influences were? I know Not Dead Yet [in Toronto, Canada] gets mentioned a lot…

Tom: It was definitely Not Dead Yet, and also in 2006 a few of us flew over for the one of the first Fucked Up Weekends.That was my first experience of a multi venue thing with three shows in a day, where you’ve got a main gig where there’s people from all over and then you’d have a crazy late night show in a space where it’s kind of too small for it? It actually still annoys me to this day because I remember, I can’t remember if I was jet lagged or just drunk but I remember sitting on the pavement outside a venue not realising that Inmates were on inside! But that whole experience was such an eye opener, and it was and when the flights there were super cheap, I think it was £170 return.

AS: Around that time too you were in The Shitty Limits, so in the late 2000s/early 2010s didn’t you play… Chaos in Tejas?

Tom: Yeah. We played Means to an End as well. I think the influence was more from those two Toronto fests and more along the lines of the first few Fucked Up Weekends because it wasn’t a million shows happening and you could do it all in a day.

AS: You’ve never had clashes at Static Stock.

Tom: I’ve tried not to. The closest we ever got was when we used both the upstairs and the downstairs of the Dome, but even then nothing overlapped.

AS: That’s different to the last Not Dead Yet which we both went to, and that was fantastic but the scale of it really amazed me. There were three main gigs happening at once and you really had to pick what you were feeling that day, so you’d miss Sheer Mag but see Moro…

Tom: I guess at the same time they tried to group the bands more. So if you wanted to see Moro and DIY hardcore you’d go in this venue, whereas if you wanted to see Terror a few doors a down you could spin kick the night away with Sheer Mag and the Number Ones in another venue two blocks down as well.

AS: And if you like all of the above you had a dilemma!

Tom: There were definitely times I went where I bought tickets for two or three of the gigs, tried to do everything and then by nine o’clock I’d give up.

AS: You’ve had a few drinks and you’re just quite comfy, exactly. You’ve always seemed to try to do a bit of a mixture with Static Shock, though. Does that reflect your taste, does that reflect who you think people want to see?

Tom: I always thought about all of these things. It’s important for an event to be reflective of the person involved – I hate the word curation because it makes it sound a bit more pretentious than it should be, but it should reflect what the person or the collective is really excited about at that time. And obviously too you might have touring bands coming through that you’d want to incorporate or something appears that just makes sense But at the same time I always spend months just agonizing over theline-up beforehand, thinking what would flow well, who would bring people in, but also who do I want to see? (Who I will inevitably never see!)

AS: Out of everyone who you have perhaps spent a good amount of time to come over, have you managed to actually see them all?

Tom: Oh, no. Like I remember we flew in Impalers over from Texas to play one year. I remember seeing their banner go up, then having to go outside to argue with someone who got kicked out and wanted to be let back in, and walking back in 15 minutes later only to see them packing their gear down!

AS: The joy of flying over a hardcore band.

Tom: Exactly. 15 minutes and you’re done. There were a few others, especially last year when we had two shows happening in the same venue. We were busy running upstairs and soundchecking there while missing everything from the main show; I pretty much saw one band a night last year, if that. I did get to see the soundcheck, so you do get to see them hitting a drum for ten minutes…

AS: I’ve enjoyed how in the last couple of weekends you made Sunday the  pop night.

Tom: The Sundays were always a special one for me. I’ve really enjoyed that stuff as well and you can kind of see through the label. Sometimes it’s cool when bands from all walks of life are on the same bill, it can create discussions or it can be really interesting; even though a line-up sounds really different they might have a common bond, something like that. But at the same time, I think if you’ve spent all night watching crusty, spending loud night at DIY Space noise not music for 10 minutes at a time but then stick a power pop band on it can sometimes be really awkward or the band feels like they’ve just been the token different band. You want bands to feel respected as well. And I love that little respite too at the end of the weekend, we can cram in and it’s just nice, feel like we’ve done it all.

AS: Every Sunday, every time it’s been at Lexington, about an hour after the final band has finished I’ve said to myself, “I’m getting a cab home, aren’t I?” Because everyone’s there! That’s the thing with the social aspect, having everyone from the scenes all together having a drink, people who’ve come in who you haven’t seen for ages, friends you see every week, all together at the end.

Tom: I would say this year, within an hour of the gig finishing I felt kind of overwhelmed by it all, because yeah that bar is open late. So I just didn’t say goodbye to anyone and just got a cab home!

AS: I feel you are surely entitled to that, because I’m sure that I know I did the same in the end. But how many people too would also just be asking ‘Tom!’ or offering you a drink at that point? When I do a gig with three bands I’m just running around and going ‘in a minute…’

Tom: I also feel so, so rude with that too. Like if someone wants to come up and say hello and you want to talk to them, you haven’t seen them in six year but you’re also trying to sort just this one thing out too.

AS: So out of all of the weekends… what’s been your favourite?

Tom: I always go back and forth with wondering, what was the best weekend? I think maybe the weekend in 2019 where it had Warthog and Uranium Club and it felt like a) it was one of the wildest ones and b) everyone was together and just so excited about everything.

AS: I think that’s the one with the famous Simon Parris photo, which is a sort of Where’s Wally scene of everyone going wild to Warthog. There was a running joke about the two acts you’d always wanted but couldn’t get were Gauze and Grace Jones. Were there any others?

Tom: Framtid.

AS: Didn’t you get to the negotiation stages with them?

Tom: It almost happened one year, but it was a scheduling thing, really. Especially if you’re trying to bring a Japanese band over, you have to plan out everything way more in advance than elsewhere and it turned out a year’s notice was too short. I’ve got a question for you: do you think there are bands that should have played?

AS: Hmm…

Tom: I’m always curious about this! Because obviously I have my idea of what makes sense but sometimes that doesn’t necessarily match with other people.

AS: I was very happy when Lumpy and the Dumpers came through as I was a big fan of all that around that time, and would have loved Judy and the Jerks on the weekend too although they did tour last year. Do you ever wonder if there are bands you like and put on the bill but worry if, say, more than three people in the UK liked them?

Tom: Part of the cool thing about putting the weekend together though is striking that balance, and you can put bands that might not typically have that audience in front of that audience. I’ve always tried to do that a little bit as well.

AS: I felt that worked really well when Pharmakon headlined with RAKTA playing too. That was fantastic and I could see someone wondering whether that would have been an usual pick for a punk festival, even though it made complete sense on the night?

Tom: It was funny, I didn’t see it until afterwards but The Wire did a piece on Rakta which began with something like, “walking into this room full of people dressed in black,” you know. It was almost thinking that they wouldn’t know how to handle it… I think several hundred people there would disagree!

AS: Since you started in 2012, what’s become easier and harder when you’re booking a gig?

Tom: It got easier with the fest when you could definitely hit up bands, tell them what we’re about and they would be like, of course we would!

AS: Assuming too you’d have lots of people just emailing and asking, “Tom, can we play?”

Tom: Constantly. There were definitely a bunch of fairly pushy booking agents where I just ended up ignoring their emails.

AS: What’s gotten harder? I have assumed with current geopolitical stuff that at the very least it’s all gotten a lot more expensive.

Tom: One thing, especially in the last couple of years has been a combination of dealing with more professional venues – where every little thing is costly and I don’t factor in, say, the 4% for PRS, although perhaps that’s just naivety on my part, I’m always like, “it’ll work itself out!” And then there’s the costs of flights and also people’s expectations too. There’s definitely been a few times where it’s been a sold out festival but I’ve lost an awful lot of money too, where I have to do a lot of shifts to get it all back. But also after COVID too, it’s gotten a lot harder to find places for bands to stay too. A lot of people have moved into smaller spots and others are not as willing to have as many people stay over as before.

At the same time, the other problem is that shows in general have really increased their ticket prices and I’ve always felt really hesitant to do the same. I like to think of these things as affordable and as well, I’ve had the idea that a matinee in the daytime should only be a £10 or £12 show at most. So even if you don’t have much money you can still come down and check it out. This year was the first too where the main gigs were over £20 on the night. Which for me seems crazy for what I guess is still a DIY show? But it’s still a lot cheaper than other people who do similar things charge.

AS: I honestly thought this year’s weekend ticket was cheaper than I thought it would be, and would understand if it was more considering the cost of living crisis, energy prices and flights going up. But then I’m in the position where I wouldn’t mind paying extra but you have people who can’t, especially all the younger people really getting into hardcore now who might not have the money, right? But then on top of that you have the balance of it not being a loss either.

Tom: Yeah. I’m not opposed to events making some money on top if everyone else has been treated as fairly as they can, but at the same time, this festival was never really a profitable venture.

AS: What’s your plan now? Are you going to keep booking gigs?

Tom: I’m planning to move away in at some point next year but in the meantime, I’m still booking shows. I’m also trying not to do as much, and this also ties into why the weekend drew itself to a conclusion as well: after a while, you get older and you don’t want to dominate the landscape too much. Someone who is now 40 who books every single show and does the fests, and potentially nobody else feels like they can do something themselves.

AS: Especially in a musical landscape that thrives on, or wants to thrive on, younger people coming through and making their own scene! And you see that after the lockdowns, new bands and gigs coming through. I’d also imagine that you’d just want to go to a gig and enjoy yourself!

Tom: Exactly. I think people sometimes forget because they’re still so in the middle of it but punk and hardcore should primarily be a youth movement. And when you get a bit older you might not be on top of every single band, or what people have to say, and that platform should be there. That was on my mind towards the end a lot as well.

One of the great things for me about the festival was that you had bands who grew up with it. Like when they first played they had a demo, but they have several records out now, or they’ve evolved into other bands and they’ve always had the space [at SSW]… but would that be taking space from other voices as well? There are only so many bands that can play.

AS: Do you think something similar to Static Shock will emerge? I know there is Damage is Done, but that is very much its own collective, some of whom have been part of Static Shock. That’s the thing, because I’m sure you’ve never done this on your own and you’ve had a great group of people help coordinate this year’s festival, for instance…

Tom: For the first couple of years, I tried to. And then I realised, against my stubbornness at first, that you can’t just do everything yourself. I remember the second year I was thinking, yeah, I’ll help run the door, I’ll stage manage all this, and I just feel so naive now thinking back to that. But also so many people have been so nice about getting involved and helping to make it all work.

AS: Absolutely.

Tom: I always feel as well, a lot of the time people are like, “you smashed it!” and I’m “no, we smashed it!” And especially, when Ola [of Quality Control HQ] got involved, one of the main things she does is get all the volunteers organised. That changed everything in my life and made it so much more attainable.

AS: So what’s the plan now after you’ve put the last weekend away… rest?

Tom: I mean, civilian status sounds pretty great, I’ll be honest. I’ve had this bad feeling that when I go to a show that I haven’t booked, I’ll feel a little lost if I don’t have a role. But I’m looking forward to working my way through that, and being able to go have a drink, watch a band from the back of New River Studios and slip into the night afterwards! It’s going to be really cool to see what comes next and see what people do. It could be similar, but it could be very different, and it probably should be as well.

While Static Shock Weekend has come to an end, Tom is still releasing records and putting on the odd London gig: you can find out and browse the distro at at staticshockrecords.limitedrun.com. And I should say that Framtid finally played the UK at Damage is Done in Hackney just recently.

This interview was originally published in Alternative Strategies‘ autumn 2023 issue, currently the last in the run for now. A few copies remain, with photography by Leigh Arthur and a great artists’ impression of the Warthog pit from Lukas Fraser plus interviews with Juliet Jacques, Michael Molcher (talking to PC World), columns, photos and more. Buy a copy here.

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