While many foundational classic punk bands still tour regularly, the reckless soul that the genre is known for can often be missing with how much older the artists have become. Rather than the stagedives, partying, and rowdy moshpits that you’d expect at a punk show, many landmark bands unfortunately feel more like seeing a nostalgic cover band that you’d find at a local bar. While age has affected the energy of many artists, that has only made it more special when you experience the rare event of seeing an early punk band wreak the havoc that they would have in the prime of their career. The Exploited are one of the few examples of a classic punk band that’s able to bring this anarchy to modern audiences, transforming The Regent into the environment of a rowdy 1980’s club with their recent show hosted by Concrete Jungle Entertainment and Nothing Less Booking. With a perfectly crafted lineup of chaos including Conflict, Total Chaos, and Section H8, the spiritual essence of punk rock could have not been more prevalent in the venue that evening. The Exploited proved to us that punk’s not dead, you just have to know where to look for it.
Old school punk attire can often remind me a bit too much of cosplay when I see it, but the crowd at The Regent embodied the punk spirit in such a genuine way that it felt like something would have been deeply missing if the venue wasn’t filled with colorful mohawks and studded jackets that evening. With hardcore and pop punk being the most prominent forms of punk nowadays, it’s almost hard to imagine a time before straight edge influence and more casual skater fashion being everywhere at shows. The defiant attitude and reckless debauchery that filled The Regent was the sort of atmosphere that can only come alive in the rare occurrence of seeing a classic punk band as deeply loved as The Exploited is.
Section H8 were certainly the black sheep of the evening’s lineup with their sound resembling Hatebreed-style hardcore more than the old school punk style seen from the other bands, but they were the perfect band to kick off the night with their rapidly brutal verses, gang vocals, and classic Oi spirit. Vocalist Mexi Mike, previously frontman of Nomads, commands the stage like the Tasmanian Devil with the manic speed and rage that he screams with. Also consisting of members from Los Angeles powerviolence band Human Garbage on guitars and bass, Section H8 is deeply entrenched in the culture and lifestyle of Los Angeles hardcore and their commitment to it is unrivaled.
Every time I’ve seen Section H8, they really stand out on whatever lineup they’re playing by being either more hardcore than the punk bands, or more old school punk than the hardcore bands. It’s an ambitious goal that made them a truly memorable band of the night for those who didn’t know them, even if the moshing wasn’t as prevalent this early in the evening. The set ended with their violent anthem “Nightmare”, which has already become an LA hardcore classic even with the song only being released 2 years ago. The recurring breakdown towards the second half of the track is a nonstop explosion of aggression that inspires spinkicks all around you, and I hope to see that reaction on the next old school lineup they play even if it inevitably pisses off some of the classic punk purists in the crowd.
Southern California’s signature circle pits really exploded on the dancefloor as soon as Total Chaos took the stage with their street punk sound and 80’s aesthetic with liberty spikes and all. This was actually my first time seeing Total Chaos, which is surprising considering the insane amount of lineups that they appear on. Total Chaos stood out from the rest of the bill with the more snarling crass vocals from Rob Chaos and the fast and short metallic riffs of Shawn Smash that perfectly match the pace of running out of breath while you’re doing cardio in the pit.
Frontman of Corrupted Youth and founder of Nothingless Booking, Nacho Corrupted, came out to give his respects to Total Chaos and join them on vocals for “Street Punx”. With Nothingless Booking being one of the most prominent forces for keeping street punk alive in Los Angeles, it was clear how much Total Chaos has made an impact on the scene by staying true to the roots of street punk even as trends within the greater punk genre have shifted frequently since their original formation. For anyone missing the days where punk rock truly belonged to the wild rowdy freaks rather than the alternative rock normies that you often encounter nowadays, Total Chaos could not be a better band to see if you’re wanting to shotgun a beer and cause some chaos in all directions.
Seeing Conflict live felt like traveling back in a time machine to experience a long-lost art form. Even the studio recordings for classic anarcho punk give an aura that you’re listening to an ancient artifact, but experiencing the genre live actually sounds cleaner and breathes a whole new spirit into the primitive sound. In contrast to the backyard party energy that Total Chaos brought to the lineup, Conflict embodied a more avant-garde and philosophical side of punk rock with their main focus being on the lyrical themes backed by experimental instrumentals. While the mosh pits weren’t as wild as the other sets that night, the chaotic soul of punk could not have been more present in their freeform noisey sound.
Conflict frontman Colin Jerwood had the least punk aesthetic out of any other artist on the bill, considering anarcho punk has always been rooted in criticizing the commercialisation of the genre and the more casual dad-core look was the most rebellious look he could have picked. Jerwood yelps the lyrics at a million words a minute with his distinctly British accent, harmonizing with the minimalist almost-military sounding drums of Kenny Barnes to sound like a public speech being given in a dystopian landscape. Also on vocals, Fi Friel provides a contrasting style as she shrieks into the mic between shouting lyrics with a similar tongue-twister speed as Jerwood. While many anarcho-punk groups have a female member acting as a sort of hypeman on select songs, Fi Friel truly felt like a second frontman with how crucial her vocals were to Conflict’s sound. With how much Conflict’s music focuses on bringing socio-political issues to the forefront, they care deeply about making sure that different voices are heard as much as possible and holding punk rock to the ethics that the genre preaches.
The room was roaring with cheers and ready to tear shit up as soon as The Exploited approached the stage. Frontman Wattie Buchan performs like an anthropomorphic tank on stage, sporting his signature bright red mohawk and flagrantly showing off his aging body by performing shirtless for most of the set. Wattie would regularly slam the mic against his head to echo the most ear-piercing grinding sound throughout the room, and it was as if everyone in the Regent could feel the pain of impact whenever he did. That single noise perfectly embodied the toughness of The Exploited and Oi music altogether, periodically ringing through my head on the drive home.
Seeing The Exploited live is easily one of the most authentic ways to experience the early roots of UK punk rock in 2023, especially considering how few bands from that time and era make it out to The States. The rabid crowd reaction to classic Exploited songs like “Punk’s Not Dead” and “I Still Believe in Anarchy” was the sort of experience that’s hard to come by nowadays, with fans frequently jumping on stage to scream along to the endless amount of classics that the band has graced us with throughout their career. If any outsider with a more mainstream perspective thought that this classic punk rock passion was a trend of the past, they would have been proven wrong instantly after experiencing even one song from the evening.
Live performances of “Sex and Violence” resemble a mythological ritual or a religious ceremony with the primal energy that the song awakens in the crowd anytime it’s played. The song’s only lyrics really are “Sex and Violence” sang at different speeds and tempos, but its simplicity only adds to the power of these words and invites everyone to jump on stage to sing along. Oi music has always been focused on representing the working class and forming a community around this struggle, so having an anthem like this that invites everybody to participate could not embody the history of punk’s ethos any more perfectly. The stage was absolutely packed with punks passionately joining Wattie Buchan on vocals to live out the Oi fantasy, and the participation could even be felt by those watching from afar.
With the set already reaching over an hour in length, which is nearly unheard of from most punk bands, The Exploited threw everyone in the crowd for a loop when they decided to perform an encore even after the overhead lights in The Regent had turned on. It was apparent that The Exploited were enjoying the night just as much as the fans were and although we all had to return to our mundane daily lives afterwards, it was inspiring to know that the punk rock dream will never die as long as we have the passion of bands like The Exploited to keep it alive.