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  • Writer's pictureLaura Kelly

Core festival Glasgow review: Chat Pile, Deafheaven, Liturgy at diverse new noise weekender

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a topless man lying facedown
Chat Pile at Core. Photo: Laura Kelly

Chat Pile’s Raygun Busch is lying face down on stage, as his bandmates fill the Glasgow’s Maryhill Community Centre Hall with glorious, sludgy noise. It’s in many ways the defining image of Core, Glasgow’s newest (and heaviest) music festival. The sheer power of this “celebration of noise” could fell you.

But even that exhilarating scene doesn’t quite capture what makes the first Core great. Taking over two rooms in the Community Centre Hall and the tiny basement venue in vegan paradise the Hug and Pint for the full weekend, Core rejoices in the most diverse metal-tinged line-up I’ve ever seen.

In the year 2023, it should not need saying that girls can rock as hard as the boys (as Joan Jett told us recently, that battle’s been going on a long time) but the noisiest end of the rock spectrum is still mostly a (predominately white, straight, cis) boys’ club. Not Core.

Saturday night sees sex-positive New York post-punks cumgirl8 (a recent signing of influential indie label 4AD) attack patriarchy and capitalism in lingerie. The all-female band perform and undercut pornified stereotypes with joy and anger, their performance recalling the genre-bending and artistic penchants of their hometown’s late ‘90s/early noughties electroclash explosion.

Goading the crowd for insufficient enthusiasm, drummer Chase Lombardo says, “they must be too horny to make noise”. A few male attendees look terrified and beat a retreat, which must surely count as a success for this confrontational multi-media collective.

On the main stage, fellow New Yorkers Liturgy – created by Haela Hunt-Hendrix and fronted by her visceral screams – are a dark highlight for Sunday. In 2020, Hunt-Hendrix wrote a manifesto for a new black metal, repositioning Liturgy away from the nihilism of the genre’s Norwegian roots towards “chaos, frenzy, and ecstasy”, towards transcendence. I must confess I’d not read this until after the show, but the jolt of recognition was fierce. That’s exactly what they made me feel. Like soaring in stormy skies.

A female
Liturgy at Core. Photo: Laura Kelly

The Radical Glasgow stage does even more to position Core as the inclusive face of noise. The greatest moments of any festival are those of discovery and expansion. By giving a clutch of exciting (broadly local) bands a leg up, the line-up is a source of enormous hope for the future.

Excellent young homegrown riot grrrls Brat Coven hit a chord with 97, their ode to everyone who’s been afraid to walk home alone at night. “I carry my keys like they’re a knife,” they scream. Haven’t we all?

Glasgow queer core four-piece Goth GF – exuberantly fronted by a small bundle of shaven-headed energy in Adidas shorts and sports bra – are a case in point. Genre jumping song Horse Girl has a bass lick that would make Lemmy weep, and an unforgettable yahooing rock’n’roll interlude in the middle to emphasise its dirty charms.

NI feminist punks Problem Patterns (on their second visit to Glasgow, after a triumphant support slot to Le Tigre in June) are the shredding embodiment of collective action, swapping instruments and singing duties seeming as the mood takes them. Hilariously, blokes in the crowd are overheard discussing how they “felt seen” following the stomping Mediocre Man (“I want an average house, with an exceptional wife”).

But my best find of the inaugural Core festival is undoubtedly Cwfen. Recently formed by the unholy union of solo project Skltnwmn and post-black metal outfit First Temple of the Atom they are occult witchiness with doom heft. Despite playing in unforgiving mid-afternoon daylight, they transport us to a graveside at midnight. A slash of black across her face, hand outstretched from flowing black gown, Skltnwmn is as captivating as shadow.

Me and Skltnwmn - a rare occasion when I'd UNDER-done the eyeliner.

That’s not to say the girls had all the fun. In the Hug and Pint, there was barely room to breath during a blistering set from Atlanta duo ‘68. Imagine a hardcore White Stripes dressed in black tie and you’re most of the way there.

At least one member of the audience for Frontierer had come all the way from Boston to see the Scottish group’s “noise terror” set. He will not have been disappointed.

Sunday headliners Deafheaven arrive at the festival as part of a UK tour celebrating 10 years since their influential album Sunbather combined black metal and post-rock. It’s a propulsive set with sweat-drenched singer George Clarke giving it everything, howling in communion with the crowd as they hold him aloft. But I have to say, I was sad not to see more from latest album Infinite Granite, the first record to see Clarke sing clean and in which the band fully embrace their inner shoegazer (while never losing their muscularity). Great Mass of Colour absolutely shows they can make beautiful noise live. Let’s have more of it.

It’s Saturday night’s set from Chat Pile – part of their first visit to the UK, on the back of a phenomenal rise that has both transformed the band’s lives and invigorated the genre – that will live longest in memory. Though they sonically reference Melvins, Helmet and Bleach-era Nirvana (with some of the band’s guilty nu metal influences peaking through), Chat Pile are utterly invigorating and essential right now. Underpinned by Stin’s ominous bass and Cap’n Ron’s stop-start drums that constantly keep you slightly off-kilter, Luther Manhole’s detuned guitar conjures dread.

Opening with Why – their ultra-direct attack on the US homelessness crisis – they’ve justified the hype surrounding them within a few short minutes. Pamela is heart-wrenching regret (“I can’t remember if I told you I loved you / That morning out on the lake, you called for your mother / And my heart broke into a million pieces / A kind of darkness you just never get used to”). Slaughterhouse an unwelcome glimpse into the underbelly of the meat trade and any one of a plethora of meaningless drudges through the crap jobs that power America (“And the sad eyes, goddamnit / And the screaming / More screaming than you’d think”).

This might sound grim, but punctuated by Raygun’s rambling take on movies filmed in Glasgow (a city he has clearly been much taken by) the set in fact captures both their bleak assessment of American life, and their beguilingly wry attitude in facing its horrors. This is how I want to meet the apocalypse.

Reaping the benefits of its inclusive programming, Core’s audience – though mostly recognisable by the black attire that colonised a surprised section of Maryhill (an area perhaps best known to those outside Glasgow as a place murders happened in Taggart) – is both diverse and open. This correspondent attended the festival solo, but never felt alone. Here’s to Core festival 2024.

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