Being confronted with the claustrophobic crowd packed into Audio instantly offers an accurate impression of the audience; it is unsurprising that for a band as old and renowned as Ruts DC, there is nothing but a sea of bald heads and tattoos amongst the drunken punks, aging skinheads and occasional younger music snob. With the support acts swapping over, an acoustic set from The Red Eyes gives way to what I can only describe as Sham 69 fronted by Jeremy Corbyn. As the Kenobi lookalike starts to sing, I instantly warm to The Media Whores and their rather cliché punk tunes – each tune seems to make the crowd sway and even dance, and anyone who can get a response out of so many humourless skinheads deserves recognition.
As we wait for headline act to come on, myself and a few Harrington-clad SHARPS lean over the barrier to spy the incredible setlist. Upon seeing classic hits like ‘Staring at the Rude Boys’ alongside newer songs such as recent release ‘Music Must Destroy’, the total weight of their history sweeps over me; not only is this a band that ended up being a major influence in punk, but after losing their frontman Malcolm Owen in 1980 they are still releasing good music that does not seek to recreate their old material but merely continue their legacy. My thoughts are interrupted however when the lights dim and the members themselves take to the stage amidst cheers.
The anticipation of their arrival instantly pays off. Clad in suits, they start playing with such skill and professionalism that I’m almost worried about my review; to limit it to a discussion about how well they are doing “for their age” would be to give both an inaccurate and demeaning portrayal of them, as well as overlook the fact that they have spent the past decades earning their reputation. As they move around the stage playing ‘Jah War’, there is nothing but genuine punk attitude and, in an age of overcompensating rock-star swagger from so many other old names, a reserved modest love for their music and fans. The next hour or so flies past, with the succession of less familiar tunes and classic favourites expertly mixed to keep the crowd energetic without passing out or breaking their ankles in their Docs; these men know their audience, after all.
Ruts DC aren’t typically ones for speeches in the middle of sets (their deeply political lyrics usually say it all), but before launching into ‘Babylon’s Burning’, they mention the memories of their fallen comrades and the need to unite. As bassist Segs speaks to the crowd, there is an atmosphere of nostalgia and that very unity indeed; looking around at all the faces in such a space, there is a sense of respect and comradeship that can be rare in such elitist circles – a unique experience thanks to a very unique band.