It would be unfair to suggest that I’m in hostile territory tonight, since there is no actual hostility, but this is certainly unfamiliar territory. Skindred, quite rightly, are kind of a big deal in the UK, festival favourites who can fill decent sized venues with ease, so it’s odd to see them facing an audience who, for the most part, doesn’t have a clue who they are.
Moreover, tonight’s headliners, a hip hop duo, called Twiztid, are apparently something to do with Insane Clown Posse, so the aforementioned audience is largely made up of Juggalos, an interesting bunch to say the least, all made up in clown paint and hollering “Whoop! Whoop!” at each other, some of them so drunk they can barely stand. Indeed, Juggalos, according to Wikipedia, have been classified as a ‘criminal street gang’ by the FBI and the National Gang Intelligence Center, with alliances ranging from the Bloods and Crips to the Ayran Brotherhood. Suffice to say they are not here to see Skindred.
Given the circumstances – not least the fact that everything is running over an hour late – you might expect a disastrous gig, especially when Skindred frontman Benji Webbe takes to the stage with the Union Jack flag draped over his mic stand. But Juggalos, it seems, are nothing if not open-minded, and as Skindred open with Rat Race it becomes clear that they are at least willing to give the band a chance. And that’s all Skindred need.
Of course, that’s not to say that the band don’t have to work for it, – “What’s the matter? Don’t you like black people?” Benji quips to one inattentive audience member – but just three songs in there’s a change in the air, and you can feel the crowd getting into it. Heads begin to bang, a small pit kicks up, respect is earned… By mid-set Skindred have a roomful of new fans.
It doesn’t hurt that there’s something here for everyone, with elements of everything from metal to reggae, hip hop, and electronica, but, more than that, Skindred have been doing this for 18 years, Benji even longer, and they know their craft inside and out, never missing a beat, never less than exceptional. And while, obviously, it would have been nice to see them in their element – Newport Helicopter and all – there is something even more impressive about watching them win over an audience like this. Tidy, as they say in Newport. Very tidy indeed.