With this year’s edition of The Gauntlet hill bombing jam hosted by NSD, backed up by a session at Staples DIY the following day and planned to coincide with the punk onslaught of the Noise Annoys weekender, people descended from far and wide to shed skin and liver cells in the name of good, clean fun. Henry Kavanagh provides VX documentation of a portion of the chaos, while Jono Coote watched and listened to proceedings through the relevant face orifices before converting those images and sounds into words on the below page.
Introduction by: Jono Coote
Videography by: Henry Kavanagh
In the post-industrial depths of Sheffield, huddled close to the banks of the River Sheaf as if braced against the winds whistling down from the Peak District, a DIY attitude towards scene building and event organisation has long been a given. Concrete quarterpipes spring up in rubbish-strewn wastelands, punk gigs are organised in the back rooms of pubs and when those venues dry up then the promoters open their own. I’ve been visiting the city with varying degrees of regularity ever since moving to Leeds 15 years ago, and every time I go there is the same sensation of people quietly cracking on with things with little regard for any kind of official permission. This seems to have had a knock on effect outside of skateboarding and heavy music and, after years of neglect, the city centre seems recently to be revived; perhaps a moment of collective realisation by residents that it was a case of either swimming, or sinking into a cultural torpor epitomised by the glittering turd that is Meadowhall Shopping Centre.
With that in mind, the NSD/Noise Annoys weekender must be a high point even using the city’s already stellar grassroots credentials as a yardstick. While Bry Suddaby and the crew at Sheffield’s premier DIY venue The Lughole were piecing together the lineup for the annual Noise Annoys fest, the NSD crew were taking up the mantle of organising the infamous Gauntlet hill bomb jam. The skateboarding and music scenes being connected as they are, at some point the two joined forces and a Sunday skate jam at Staples DIY was added to the bill, with bands set to soundtrack the session.
Whenever I visit Sheffield, I seem to discover a pub, cafe or other unspecified cultural outlet that seems to have been waiting for me to discover it. Case in point, I meet Ghostman and John Onyehara for a pre-Lughole pint on Friday evening at The Rutland Arms, a pub I must have walked past a hundred times, and am hooked from the moment I hear Thin Lizzy’s Rosalie blasting from the jukebox. We only stop for one, having a gig to get to, and I make a note to return as we wander through the city centre in the summer sun. Normally when I visit Sheffield it’s fucking freezing, so this makes a pleasant change. It also accounts for the fact that I only see a couple bands that night, the opportunity to photosynthesize while catching up with friends from across the country not being one I was willing to pass up. Thankfully Ireland’s Special Branch (NWOIH guaranteed to kick you out of the post-working week haze), Finland’s Yleisset Syyt (hard to say after six beers, great to listen to), Chaotic Dischord (has anyone coined ‘Viz-core’ yet?) and Rat Cage (absolute fucking juggernaut) amply blew away the gig cobwebs draping my ear canals. If you like heavy music, go see Rat Cage live. I can’t state that point enough. From their own beer, Lughole Lager, on tap, to the presence of Guac ‘n’ Roll Kitchen providing vegan burritos outside all evening, the whole place – closed in by fencing from the surrounding area – feels like some kind of self sustaining community, but in a positive and utopian rather than a ‘drink the Flavor Aid’ kind of way. I head out into the Sheffield night with a feeling of intense euphoria which can’t be wholly explained away by the vast cloud of lager fumes ravaging my grey matter.
The next day, feeling surprisingly fresh, we head for the hills. After The Gauntlet’s previous incarnation in the city centre, this year Rob and John scouted out a more scenic location a stone’s throw from Meersbrook Bowl. The hill winds steeply through Kenninghall Open Space, overlooking the city, making its upper reaches the perfect spot for staring wistfully toward the city with a can of complimentary Faith Pale Ale (cheers Northern Monk), or watching idiots on skateboards hurl themselves down a hill into traffic at full speed. And what a smorgasbord of idiocy there was on display; there were the full speed flatliners; the slightly more reserved powersliding crew; a guy with facial piercings who attempted a juggling routine on the way down and shaved half his kneecap off on the tarmac; another guy with juggalo face paint who bombed the hill repeatedly on one leg, occasionally dragging the trailing foot across the floor on the way down as I reflected that I’d rather shell out for new wheels than new shoes; Alfie Blaxton, whose badly timed speed wobbles saw him only a few smeared cutaneous cells short of a skin graft; and the three joint winners, Hassan Media, Denver Adams and Xander, who are all clocked by the speed gun at 29 mph. Despite exhortations for one of them to hit the 30 mark – in the words of the good doctor, “Faster, faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death” – either 29 is the maximum speed the hill was willing to yield, or the gun was broken.
The nostalgic sounds of the Ski Sunday theme tune mingle with the excited shouts of spectators, floating into the deep blue Yorkshire skies like the harbinger of some arcane rite as the longest powerslide contest sees the initiated wilfully sacrifice urethane to the sun god. Despite the potential for oversubscribed skin graft clinics and chronic wheel shortages in the upcoming weeks, everyone seems to be having a good time. At various points the loudspeaker is commandeered, with my favourite guest MC being the sun-addled Sheffield youth who offered up a reimagining of the outro to ODB’s I Can’t Wait; “Shout out to John, shout out to Rob, shout out to Monster Energy, shout out to Bam Margera, we miss you, shout out to Taylor Swift, she has a new album out. Remember MTV Cribs? Travis Barker, he had my favourite episode. Shout out Travis Barker.”
After a longest ollie contest (don’t ask me who won either, I’d been drinking), we skated en masse back to the city on wheels which for the most part now resembled Kryten’s head and stopped off for a couple of street beers at Staples DIY. Chatting to one of the locals, whose wheels are so far gone that he has pushed most of the way down the hills into town, I comment on how the scene here is managing things that you physically couldn’t get away with in Leeds. “I think that Sheffield is at a tipping point – it’s not as rough as it used to be, but it hasn’t been gentrified in the way that Leeds or Manchester have been.” Just the fact of our location, in a city centre DIY spot where skaters have gone about building in full view of the passing traffic and footfall, I’d hard pressed to disagree with him.
At some point I remember that I have a gig to get to and head towards the Lughole via an assault course of inebriated football types, my ears ringing from the cumulative effect of “do a kickflip” shouts aimed my way by men smoking outside pubs. I manage to avoid antagonising any of them into leaving the shelter of their respective doorways and make it to the venue without having either done a kickflip or gotten into a fight, both solid achievements which I felt merited a pint as I headed in to watch Punter. Hailing from Melbourne’s western suburbs, they deliver a set of garage-greased hardcore punk with a rock n roll swagger and live up to the hype which has had their name on people’s lips since the previous night. Jarada are a personal highlight of the weekend, stomping through a set of bowel-looseningly angry music with conviction, while Churchgoers’ commanding stage presence belies their relatively short existence so far. As is so often the case when gig-going after overdoing it in the sunshine, I crash pretty hard in the gap between Churchgoers and Destruct and so can’t comment on the latter, though by all accounts they were great. I barely even make it to my Travelodge room, with unconsciousness enveloping me within five minutes of checking in and putting my belongings down.
My disappointing lack of stamina, however, does mean that I am up and heading for the DIY earlier than most the following morning. It is colder, the streets are still quiet and grey and the early birds are paying the price for thinking they could skate out their hangovers so easily. Arthur Derrien, having washed up at the spot after attending a nearby wedding the night before, coaxes me into starting proceedings with a jersey barrier session before getting served on a feeble grind fakie and pivot fakie respectively – lesson learned, never go full Drehobl before lunch. That’s him finished; “I think I might just sit and drink beer today.” It seems like everyone has been out on one the previous night, with certain tales shared not printed here so as not to incriminate anyone, but gradually the collective mental fog subsides – something likely assisted in no small part by the amount of Aldi’s 1897 lager (or Clonenbourg, as Ghostman calls it) appearing in people’s hands. Soon enough the crates of Faith make a welcome return appearance, Slugger overlord Martin Kinnelly is firing up pizza after pizza to hand out to those in need, and by the time Radiation Spots kick the live music off then pretty much everyone has shaken off a skin tone which in some cases was looking worryingly close in shade to the glowering clouds overhead.
It’s always a gamble with outdoor gigs as to whether the sound will be audible or whether it will dissipate into the ether, but the boarded up shop front adjacent to the car park channels the music surprisingly well. I miss Radiation Spots due to a caffeine habit which needed maintaining, but get back in time for Leeds D-Beat enthusiasts Motive and can safely say that a live performance in that particular genre has never felt quite as apt as when seen in front of a boarded up, graffiti covered shop front in the post-industrial north. Frontman Harry Townend has been amping himself up before the gig by sending layback rollouts and backside airs on the jersey barriers; skate rock has never felt so immediate. Thrash metallers Pest Control turn heads from the moment they pick up their instruments, with “Who the fuck is that?” a refrain that can be heard whispered by someone between almost every song. Ones to watch, if the Obituary tour support slot hadn’t already got you paying attention. “This is great, I was worried that Sheffield don’t mosh,” I hear a passer by remark delightedly to his companion.
Headliners Frisk offer probably the best musical analogy to a DIY spot of the weekend’s bands – this is hardcore punk which oozes in unexpected directions, like that strange lump in the bowl corner which spits your wheels above the coping when you were expecting to grind. It is not an entry point, it is somewhere in the murky depths that only full immersion will translate, and those in attendance wouldn’t have it any other way. In juxtaposition to last night’s heckling as I traversed the city, a disused car park in the centre now hums with an energy that grabs you, making you feel as if the space is yours rather than something you merely move through. Someone makes a gleeful aside – “It’s like an autonomous zone” – and my mind is filled with visions of a South Yorkshire Christiania, self-governed and squatted, spiralling out from this one unassuming patch of concrete.
Sheffield’s first Poet Laureate Otis Mensah, in an interview with New Wave Magazine, was asked about how he looked after his mental health and highlighted the ways in which acts of creation can be a positive force against the often crushing weight of consumer society;
“At its core creating art is an act of resistance and I think about what it means to process our traumas, explore our suppressed emotion and give time to our imagination in the face of a capital-driven society that robs us of those soulful human needs everyday.”
In bringing together so many people involved in these acts of creative resistance, in connecting the dots and in making the streets a catalyst for further creation and collaboration, Bry Suddaby, John Onyehara, Ghostman and everyone else involved have reminded us of the potential inherent in the urban milieu when matters are taken into the hands of the people rather than the powers that be. From start to finish those of us lucky enough to be there not only witnessed, but were a part of, a raucous fuck you to those facilitating the seemingly relentless erosion of public space in the UK. One of the many parallels between skateboarding and punk music is that they act as gateway drugs to the world of DIY culture, and the ripples from a weekend like this one will keep spreading, inspire others to start their own events, and so forth; until the entire year is one big calendar of skate jams and live music and city centres are overrun with distorted riffs and four wheeled flaneurs and the police are powerless to stop it and my legs and liver can’t keep up for long but I die a happy man.
NSD GAUNTLET 2023