Show Me the Body are a band seemingly custom-built to inspire cultish fandom, renowned for their blend of esoteric sounds, staunchly DIY attitude, and a surrounding collective of similarly experimental NYC artists, aka the Letter Racer collective. The fact that I only discovered them quite recently, and even then through a friend, speaks volumes. Ostensibly a hardcore band, in reality their music is far more difficult to confine – comparisons to Death Grips are ripe, but beyond a barking staccato vocal delivery and an interest in provoking an uneasy reaction from their audience, Show Me the Body are very much their own beast.
Entering the composed cosiness of The Sunflower Lounge’s well-loved basement venue, I was struck by an addendum to the poster I hadn’t noticed before. Emblazoned with a striking red 16+, the poster became a clear statement of intent. After all, hardcore has always been about inclusivity; an often abrasive genre that cloaks its heart in squawking vocals and searing guitar riffs. Accordingly, each action Show Me the Body takes seems compelled by a genuine set of principles, and it was gratifying to see an audience composed of both middle-aged punks with their little remaining green hair, alongside younger, sweatier revellers.
Of the two supports, Outlander and History of Sex, Outlander most clearly model Show Me the Body’s approach to sound manipulation, even if the heavier punk stylings of History of Sex more closely align with Show Me the Body’s aggression. Coming across as a shoegaze-heavy Mogwai, Outlander made a compelling case for the beauty of overwrought instrumental rock. Shoegaze's strength has always been in holding notes past the point of comfort, and lingering on the quiet moments - stripped of a vocalist, this only became more apparent. Removing a singer not only changed the point of focus aurally, but visually, with no easy anchor for your eyes to find purchase on. The crowd may have been sparse, but the intensity with which each audience member held Outlander in their gaze spoke far louder than the amount of people.
I had originally planned to compare and contrast how both supports embodied a different element of Show Me the Body’s musical sensibilities; the lofty, experimental noodlings of Outlander weighed against the more classic thrills of History of Sex’s punk metal. Sadly, due to a wealth of technical issues this comparison would have been based solely on a few half-realised songs, and a previous time I saw History of Sex play on the Birmingham circuit. Their opening rhetorical question "Who paid ten pounds to see some sweaty boys take their t-shirts off?" was unfortunately never made good on due to the sound cutting in and out. When they were able to play they were undeniably loud and raucous, but raw only partially, and it all felt a little too calculatedly in your face.
And then, Show Me the Body. Starting with an undulating droning tone, they launched fairly immediately into the awkward bassline of an as-yet-unreleased single. Though you can’t imagine a Show Me the Body audience ever linking arms and swaying in a singalong fashion, to open with unknown material still felt like a bold choice, indicating an inherent trust both of their music and the crowd. Lyrically, it was very much in line with their previous releases, a call to arms and action that seemed simultaneously sceptical of violence and its commercial component. The fact that it segued so effortlessly into the teeth-chewing gut punch of ‘Trash’ is further evidence of Show Me the Body’s attention to detail – though sprawling in their musical output, there’s a common thread that ties their body of work together. Whilst their recent collaborative mixtape, Corpus I, showed off their extended musical family, tonight was all about Show Me the Body, a vigorous mission statement that rarely paused for breath.
Indeed, in a live scenario their hardcore roots became ever more evident. Circle pits weren't the exception, they were the rule, breaking out at the first appropriately guttural growl and continuing far past the last. Rather than feeling arbitrary, they felt like an extension of frontman Julian Pratt’s stage presence, such was the gravity with which he carried himself. Not since Fucked Up have I seen a band where the band’s performance extended so far beyond the stage. This wasn’t just a listless typhoon of sharp chins and flashing shark grins – there was a rhythm to the circle which directly fed on Show Me the Body’s discordant melodies. Actual dialogue between songs was limited, but felt wholly unnecessary thanks to the communication created through the meeting of flesh with flesh. The Sunflower Lounge's small size and low staging also contributed massively - though numbers on the floor were relatively low, the whole room seethed in a primal way.
With my continually spilling beer in hand, and the necessity of taking at least some notes, perhaps I was too removed from proceedings to fully appreciate them. Regardless, the kinetic energy coursing from one body to another was palpable even from a slight distance. However, when the band launched into bona fide classic single ‘Body War’, the need to pound through a crowd of tiring teenagers somewhat overcame me. Needless to say, I managed to somehow rip my jeans from buckle to inner thigh, such was the ferocity of those assembled (though a slippy, beer-soaked floor didn’t help either). Pratt repeatedly launched himself into the crowd without even noticing, continually crossing the boundary between performer and gawking audience members.
And then, after just half an hour, nothing.
Bands with extensive catalogues and swarms of uneasily appeased fans like Swans and Radiohead might feel compelled to perform for two hours, and that fits both their persona, and the period they're at in their music making career. Though half an hour may come across as fleeting – and it certainly left some of my friends lukewarm – on reflection it further served to characterise Show Me the Body's intent. There were no frills, no hint of an encore, and a van loaded with cardboard boxes of merch rather than a pristine, strategic attempt to cater to audience whims. Chatting with Pratt and drummer Noah Cohen-Corbett afterwards, they discussed how their last show in Birmingham had only been to five people. When I questioned why they came back, they seemed nonplussed - "that's the way it goes… way more this time." Given the precision with which they carried out their performance that evening, you have to assume it’ll be way more once again next time.