While hardcore across the world is enjoying a watershed moment in terms of popularity with the success of Turnstile, what has always defined the genre is the underground scene and community. Built up by a dedicated collection of independent labels and bands at any given time in any given location, hardcore has kept its place outside of the music business as a whole while retaining a strong fanbase willing to turn up and mosh for local and international bands alike. In the UK, hardcore is in a really exciting place with an unbelievable number of exciting bands popping up, playing shows, and putting out releases across the British Isles. Over in this country, we have a rich history of the genre in keeping with the left-wing, working-class, and anti-establishment ideals on which the genre formed. Across the decades, we’ve seen a massive number of legendary bands come and go with communities building in all parts of the country among like-minded people.
The modern era of UKHC sprung up in the early 2010s when a number of great bands began to form and play a stripped-down, angry, and exciting style of hardcore (known as the New Wave of British Hardcore or NWOBHC for short). Among these were now legendary bands such as Violent Reaction, Arms Race, and The Flex. While most of these bands have come and gone, for my first Weekly Featured Artist I wanted to look at a band that epitomised everything I love about the scene close to home. So, who better than the last ones left from the NWOBHC – Leeds legends The Flex.
The Flex formed and quickly released a demo in 2012 before their lineup stabilised in 2013 for their debut EP Scum on the Run. Their now classic first LP Wild Stabs in the Dark followed in 2014 as they established themselves as one of the most exciting bands in the UK and a formidable live force. Yet, despite this and regular activity, it took eight years for their sophomore album to appear. Across these eight years, their contemporaries broke up and put their energy into new bands; many of these bands have become scene staples themselves, leaving The Flex as the final flag bearers of the NWOBHC. I personally think it was worth the wait as 2022’s Chewing Gum For The Ears was one of my favourite albums of the year. To learn more about the album and the band, I enlisted the help of drummer Tom Pimlott (who has played a pivotal role in UKHC as part of other bands including Violent Reaction, Arms Race, Payday, and TS Warspite among others). On the long time between albums and the creation of the most recent album, he states:
‘We never planned to have such a massive gap between records, it just turned out that way. Most of us were involved in multiple bands that were very busy around that time, plus I was moving around between Leeds, London, and Merseyside which made it difficult to practice and write regularly. We’ve had some of the songs that ended up on the record for years! The record was actually recorded, mixed, mastered, and ready to go in early 2020, but the plague came along and absolutely nuked it. Obviously much worse things happened as a result of the pandemic, but it was still frustrating to then have to wait two and a half years for the record to see the light of day.’
2022 was a huge year for the band, then. Not only did Chewing Gum For The Ears further cement their place in UKHC folklore, it saw them celebrate ten years together. I touched earlier on them being the last ones left of the NWOBHC, so reaching ten years as a band felt like a big milestone after outlasting their contemporaries. On their longevity and place in the scene, Pimlott says:
‘I think part of it is that we have a sound that doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way, shape or form, but at the same time doesn’t sound like any other hardcore band. But it’s mostly that we are five good mates that just love to play hardcore, eat, and travel together. It also doesn’t hurt that there is always a legion of maniacs sacrificing themselves to the pit gods wherever we play. The memories I’m sure would fill a book, and as good as those times gone by were for all of us, we like to focus on the present and future. You can’t build a scene and move forward if you’re always longing for the past!’
Just in their attitude, you can see how they’ve managed to keep their place at the top of the scene. They love what they do and they do it like no one else, which is exactly why that ‘legion of maniacs’ are more than happy to sacrifice themselves in the name of fun. They have certainly earned their reputation and love as a live band, with a packed-out second stage set at Outbreak Fest, an almost mythical performance at Damage is Done Fest and a hometown 10-Year Anniversary Bash as just a few highlights. The band have a full European Tour coming up in June and I expect there will be many memorable sets to add:
‘Honestly, there’s been so many that it’s hard to pick out individual ones. The one set that always stands out, though, is the one we played in Sheffield with Infernöh years ago, because it’s still the only set we’ve played to this day where no one moshed! [We’re] very excited to get back out on the road and play some places on the mainland that we’ve never been to before, like Croatia, especially after the debacle of us getting locked up by US airport police and deported last summer.’
Being deported from the US shows one of the many pitfalls of touring, especially as an independent band, with a full US tour over before it could even start. Yet, I imagine that’s exactly how the band like it as they have remained a staunchly independent band from the outset. This independence is another reason why I wanted to highlight the band. There is a The Flex sticker that says ‘a big piss off to the music biz’, and the band see it as integral to harness this independent mentality and protect the small venues hardcore calls home:
‘Speaking for myself, it’s a massive thing to me. There’s this new mentality and blueprint that bands are following since the pandemic, where they use hardcore as a kind of stepping stone to get some credibility and a following, then try and go for the big time. It just seems like everyone is trying to ‘make it’ at the moment, which is fine, do your thing, but just leave hardcore out of it. My favourite show of 2022 was a three-band bill in a tiny room above a restaurant in Manchester, make of that what you will. It’s also very strange to hear stories of demo bands demanding a guarantee to play the next city over. Not to say the way we do things is the ‘right’ way, but we’ve never asked a promoter for a guarantee, and never will. This thing of ours is set up to make sure everyone is taken care of. Treat it well, and it’ll treat you well right back.’
As a place where everyone is taken care of, the British hardcore scene has become home to many and it has managed to thrive during an especially difficult and anger-inducing period in the country’s history. With all of the political fallout surrounding Brexit, the COVID pandemic, and more than a decade of austerity and cuts, the commentary and community from the hardcore scene has remained pivotal for those involved. Above all, though, people are turning up to shows and buying albums simply down to the quality of the music on show. While The Flex epitomise what is great about UKHC past and present, there are loads of bands making the scene such an exciting place:
‘Thanks for the kind words. You’re right though, the current scene is properly vital, including some great young bands that actually mean it when they play. Some favourites include Motive, Tramadol, Pest Control, Stingray, Lawful Killing, Antagonyzm, Fate, Layback etc. But my favourite is probably Churchgoers, legit -as-fuck youngheads who I’m pretty sure were in primary school when The Flex started, playing super fast Ripcord/Negative FX-style hardcore. Give me that any day over some way-past-it reunion band.’
The Flex are now legends of the scene, a scene that continues to survive and thrive. While their unique sound combining a plethora of hardcore influences isn’t for everyone, it wasn’t meant to be. If you’re one of those drawn in by them then get in the pit and have a lot of fun; if you’re not then they’re The Flex and they don’t need you.
The Flex are:
Sam Laycock – Vocals
David Egan – Guitar
Liam Fox – Guitar
Andy Jones – Bass
Tom Pimlott – Drums
Header photo by Nat Wood. WFA photo by Noah Ringrose.