A decade of the UK's hardcore punk scene – In photos

A decade of the UK's hardcore punk scene – In photos
Alongside the widely celebrated renaissance of hardcore in the US, UK bands have been thriving under the radar. Photographer Nat Wood has been there to capture it all.

Hardcore punk has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. Bands like Turnstile, Gulch, Power Trip (fronted by the late Riley Gale) and Knocked Loose have helped launch the subgenre back into the mainstream, scooping GRAMMY nominations, coverage in The New York Times, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel and bringing some much needed misanthropy to major festivals like Coachella. Though often overshadowed by what’s going on across the pond, the UK scene has also been gathering momentum – thriving not-so-quietly in an ecosystem of its own.

Mostly emerging in the mid-late 2010s, the current crop of UK hardcore bands have a distinctly British stamp, with the likes of Chubby and the Gang and The Chisel carrying the torch for boot boy punk, Higher Power and The Flex supplying pounding beatdowns spliced with transatlantic influences, and High Vis drawing on the Madchester era's post-punk riffs and Britpop melodies. Their growing success is reinforced by independent festivals like Outbreak Fest, Wrong Side Fest and Damage Is Done, which provide an invaluable platform both for local and international bands, as well as reflecting hardcore’s increasing fusion with other genres like alt rap.

Photographer Nat Wood, aka Wondergirl, has been a mainstay throughout. Documenting UK hardcore for over a decade, her work captures the passion and white-knuckled energy of the subculture in its purest form.

Huck caught up with Nat – who was recovering from non-stop two months of touring with Neck Deep – to discuss how the scene has developed over the last few years, the importance of independent venues, how hardcore is embracing diversity and more.

Photo: Higher Power by Nat Wood

How did you start photographing UK hardcore?

Nat Wood: I never started out planning a career in this scene, I just loved capturing what was going on around me. My local hardcore scene has always been a very welcoming and open space to me and I just wanted to give back. I played the piano but no hardcore band needs a piano player, so the only way I could give back was to take pictures of my friends playing shows.

So that’s what I did: I photographed my friends playing shows, I photographed the shows my friends would put on – literally any show I could get to, I would go and photograph it. Before I knew it people were asking me to take photos of them, and somehow, it’s now my job. I don’t know exactly how it happened but I’m very thankful for it!

How does the subculture breed a sense of community?

That’s a tricky question, I guess it’s just being in that environment. We’re all there for different reasons, but one of the main ones I find is that we don’t feel like we fit in anywhere else. That in itself creates a sense of community – it’s a feeling when you’re there like you’re all in together.

Are there any shows that you’ve photographed that stand out?

There are so many to choose from! Snugglefest 2015 will always hold a very special place in my heart, along with the majority of shows that have been at Boom. I have a lot of love for Boom – that venue has done a lot for Leeds and UK hardcore.

Top to bottom: The Flex Higher Power Big Cheese

On that topic, how important is it to support independent venues like Boom in Leeds?

It’s incredibly important to support these places, especially given the mess that the pandemic caused. There aren’t a lot of smaller venues left in most cities now. It’s sad to think about how many good venues we’ve lost over the years, and the only way for them to survive is to support them and be involved with them.

If there’s a band you want to see, put on a show yourself! Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Go to the shows these venues put on, it’s been so hard for the majority of them to make it through the lockdown that the least we can do is rock up.

What impact did the pandemic have on local venues, as well as the scene as a whole?

It completely wiped out a lot of independent venues. And it did a lot of damage to others. There were a few charities, like the Music Venue Trust that were set up to help venues throughout the pandemic, but still, some didn’t qualify for the help, like everything there were a couple of smaller venues that fell through the cracks.

In terms of how it affected the scene, I feel like it’s made people a bit more open-minded to how music can sound and still fit in. I’ve noticed way more of a crossover on shows, and generally people are more up for it. There was definitely a point before the pandemic where we maybe took it for granted, but when it gets taken away from you for two years that completely flips it on its head.

Do you think the scene is becoming more diverse?

100 percent. We are by no means completely there, but in my ten years of being in hardcore [the change] is crazy cool. The number of girls now that are not afraid to be in the pit, be in the band, be part of the scene, it’s incredible. It’s always been welcoming, I just feel it’s becoming more accessible now, for sure.

Hardcore shows can get hectic, to say the least, do you always feel safe when you’re working?

I probably feel the safest at hardcore shows than I do at any other type of show. It’s a space where I’m supported and I feel comfortable. I know what to look out for and I know when to get out of the way!

I’ve only had two instances where my equipment got damaged, and that was purely because I got way too into the set and didn't see the stage diver coming straight at me! If it wasn't for my friends in this scene supporting me – literally picking me up and putting me on the stage right at the beginning, telling me I have a right to photograph a show, that I can walk on the stage – I don’t think I’d be here doing this as my job right now. I’m beyond thankful for the scene.

Photo: Arms Race by Nat Wood

Hardcore has seen somewhat of a renaissance in the US with bands like Turnstile. Do you feel that the UK scene is being overshadowed by that? And why do you think US hardcore bands have seen wider success than UK hardcore bands?

The US has always had a strong hardcore scene and bands like Turnstile are changing the game. It’s so sick to see how well they’ve done and what they’re achieving. It is a weird one though, because when you’re an American hardcore band, you can tour the US a couple of times and it just makes the band look massive compared to a band at the same level who’s touring UK and Europe. I feel like geography alone definitely plays into it. We’re a hell of a lot smaller than the US to start with.

However, I wouldn’t say that the UK scene is being overshadowed by that at all. Festivals here in the UK – Outbreak Fest, Wrong Side Fest, Damage is Done, Static Shock, etc – massively highlight UK bands and give them a platform. There are also a lot of UK bands that are killing the game right now on a wider scale: High Vis, Higher Power, Malevolence and Pest Control to name just a few!

Where do you see hardcore heading in the future?

I know that in recent years there has been a lot of interest from the wider world, but things like that come and go with trends. I see hardcore being what it’s always been, and that’s a DIY scene with a strong sense of community.

Follow Jack on Twitter and find more of Nat's work here.

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