Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Petrol Girls set the world to rights in Hackney

Lead singer Ren Aldridge of Petrol Girls pauses the set halfway through and stares at us with wild eyes. She paces back and forth, talking so fast and with so much passion that she’s almost running out of breath. It’s awe-inspiring.

Ren: “Let’s get some cheesy audience participation going to get this in your f***ing heads. ABORTION IS HEALTHCARE!”




Having moved to London only last week, and feeling a bit nervous about re-building the whole friends network again, I was quite relieved to be invited to a gig. I’d never heard of Petrol Girls before, so I promptly got on their latest album, ‘Baby’ and was quickly blown away. The half-British, half-Austrian feminist punk band are antagonistic and completely unapologetic - quite literally in lyrics such as “Baby I had an abortion, and I’m not sorry!”. What’s more, the guitar tones and abrasive pulse of the band are absolutely killer - I was beyond excited.

Walking into the support act with my £3 pint in hand, thanks to Oslo’s gig discount, was a bit of a surreal experience. A scantily-dressed drag queen, Gemini Drag stands center stage, slowly pushing a pair of scissors into her face blade-first. It’s a magic trick, and one of four acts that make up a support set from the poetry society, How to Catch a Pig. The others included an original and genuinely funny comedy set from Ten Minute Tales, a fantastic spoken word piece by Seymour Semen Stains (yup) and finally a provocative poetry performance from the society’s president, Liv Winter involving a latex prop of Queen Elizabeth II’s decapitated head. The mood was undoubtedly set.

Petrol Girls open with ‘Clowns’, arriving on stage with an inhuman energy from the start. Ren is wearing a glittery skirt and a bright orange sports-bra to allow for maximum jumping, running and headbanging throughout the set. I don’t think I'd make it through one song doing what she does. Frustratingly, she’s less melodic live than on the record, opting to scream a lot of the lyrics, and subsequently losing some of the sardonic tone that I found so appealing. Nevertheless it is obvious that she embodies her lyrics absolutely - she’s not reciting what she wrote months ago but feeling them in the moment. In ‘Clowns’, Ren speaks about her anger towards centrism and how she sees it used as an excuse for inaction.

The band play through a few more tracks that I'm admittedly unfamiliar with before reaching ‘Fight for our Lives’, for which Ren introduces guest vocalist Janey Starling. Starling isn’t doing anything that Aldridge isn’t vocally, but the voices coming together does add some extra weight. The track was made in response to the death of Sarah Everard, a protest against femicide and the institutions that turn a blind eye to it. The opening lines;We're on the streets again, another bed sheet painted with the blood of a sister” are particularly chilling, isolated but for an icy, ominous guitar texture.

This is followed by ‘Sick & Tired’, a great track from the new album. It’s become obvious that the instrumentalists in the band are impressively tight, but in this particular track guitarist Joe York is almost robotic, displaying incredibly regimented playing with a unique, snarling guitar tone. The progression is simple but sexy, and the group vocals towards the end are a particularly memorable and powerful moment.

The set closes with back-to-back bangers. New album single ‘Preachers’ didn’t slap quite as hard as it did on record, the usually monotonous guitar riff lacking a consistency which is so fundamental to the track. The closer and fan favourite, ‘Touch me again’, however, was a real show-stopper. Bassist Liepa KuraitÄ— plucks close to the bridge for a cathartic metallic crunch that slots in so tightly with Zock Astpai's drumming. There’s a co-ordinated section midway through the song where the band drop out and come back in perfectly seemingly off beat, a feat of musicianship which made my jaw drop. The end of the track is heralded once again by the isolation of Ren’s vocals, this time repeatedly threatening “Touch me again and I’ll f***ing kill you!”, a powerful closing line for an unforgettable set.

This unique punk band is easily the most political, brutal and extreme gig I've yet seen. The sound is abrasive and the message, although witty and well thought out, is very polarising; I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. However, if grit, rage and the fight for change are your thing, then Petrol Girls will make for a potent, blood pumping experience, and one you shouldn’t miss.

Elliot Fox


Image: 'Baby' Official Album Cover 

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