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Meeting LBU, London's Hardcore Party Crew

London Black-Up is a group of friends and musicians who've played a huge role in the capital's hardcore scene over the past 20 years.

Morag Padel showing her LBU neck tattoo. Photo by Jake Krushell

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

"Back in the day, we used to go up and down the country causing fucking chaos," says Pierre from London hardcore band Knuckledust, pulling on a joint. "We were crazy. People would just leave the venues and shit."

I'm sitting in a hazy north London house, the headquarters of hardcore label Rucktion Records, as members of Idle Hands record the vocals for their next release. Surrounding me are a few members of London Black-Up ("LBU," a name that, somewhat confusingly, has nothing to do with race). They're an informal crew of friends and musicians who, between them, have played a huge role in London's hardcore scene over the past 20 years—whether that means writing and performing the music, putting on shows, or just being down in the front, swinging their arms around and screaming until their throats give way.

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The crew picked up its name in 1996, when bands like Madball, 25 ta Life, and No Redeeming Social Value were tearing up clubs in New York as part of the city's thriving hardcore scene.

"There wasn't much going on for hardcore in the UK at the time. There were a few good bands, like FLS, but not much of a 'scene.' We'd order Madball CDs from the US and look at the 'thanks' lists in the booklets just to find new bands," laughs Pierre. "I met these guys in east London, we formed Knuckledust, some other guys we knew started Ninebar, and that was it. People used to know us as the 'black-up boys,' always smoking a lot of weed and getting drunk. [The name] just kind of stuck."

Soon, disciples of acts associated with LBU began to start bands of their own. Louis Gino from Proven was one of these kids. "I randomly went to see [LBU hardcore band] Taking Names," he remembers, "and it just felt different to other shows I'd been to. It was real."

This sentiment is echoed by Tom Barry, drummer in Kartel and author of Balance: European Hardcore. "I was a white rude boy, carrying knives, getting into loads of shit—and I wanted something bigger," he says, explaining that he felt misplaced at his school in south London. "I was wearing tracksuits and had stuff shaved into the side of my head at the time. Then, when I went to see Knuckledust, they were dressed the same way I was, but they were playing rock music. That was really important for me. I could identify with them."

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The video for "Perucho's Tale" by LBU hardcore band Bun Dem Out

Moving to London a few years ago, I was struck not only by the attendance at hardcore shows, but also the music bands were playing. This was the period in which the Guardian was trying to wrap its head around TRC, an LBU hardcore band with grime and hip-hop influences, which may help to illustrate my feelings at the time: the London scene seemed something out-of-towners might not entirely "get."

However, after living here a while, I've come to realize that the hardcore you'll hear at the Camden Underworld or the New Cross Inn or The Dome in Tufnell Park—rich with hip hop, grime, and metal influences—could only come from somewhere as culturally diverse as London. This sound is deeply rooted in the LBU's beginnings: the violent, urban music that Knuckledust and Ninebar were creating in the late-90s was a product of the working-class London landscape in which they had grown up.

An archive photo of Knuckledust, from left to right: Ray, Pierre, Nic, and Wema

Pierre and a couple of friends started the short-lived Black-Up Records in 1997 as a way to release the first Knuckledust/Area Effect split 7," and then—with the help of a Marseille-born friend and LBU member, Popi—Rucktion Records in 2000. Rucktion has been an integral part of the UK hardcore scene ever since, continuously releasing albums by bands from London and around the world, and putting on monthly shows.

The ethos behind the label is simple: bands funnel their fury into a collection of tracks, they approach Popi and the crew, and, if they like it, they'll release it. No contracts, no suits, no bullshit.

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"We're open-minded guys. We've been into hardcore since before all the genre categories came about," says Fat Tom from Ninebar. "It's not just a beatdown [hardcore sub-genre] thing—we've put stuff like Deathskulls and Injury Time out, because punk, punk rock, and hardcore is all the same for us."

The video for "Read These Boks" by Ninebar

The internet is an ungovernable force when it comes to file sharing and trash-talking—every musician from every genre experiences it, and hardcore is no exception. Pierre and Popi admitted that they've found it hard to adapt at times, saying Rucktion might need to expand into downloads and vinyls in order to keep up with the buying habits of young fans.

Online beef, however, doesn't seem like something they're particularly onboard with—understandably, given it's inherently pointless. For its part, LBU has been on the receiving end of a number of online jibes, including claims on forums that members are overly violent at gigs (something I've never encountered during recent LBU shows), and the LBU Urban Dictionary entry, which states that the crew was formed by "Neo Nazi skinhead factions"—unlikely, given the fact it's always been welcoming of any race or creed.

"People get real brave online, man, but when you see them in the flesh, they don't say shit," says Pierre. "We don't pay attention to what gets written about us online any more—we've got albums to put out."

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These feelings are expressed in Knuckledust's diatribe against online tough-guys, "FaceCrook," which features the lyrics: "I've never seen you at a show in your life! / Log off your profile and go get some life!"

READ ON NOISEY: The Best of Ugly UK Hardcore

Talking to the LBU guys, it's clear the hardcore scene is as much a part of them as they are a part of the scene. DBS, the vocalist in Kartel, brings up memories of how they used to "crowd kill [a style of hardcore dancing] on the school bus," and Matty from Ninebar tells me he'd designed the Rucktion Records logo 15 years ago on his bedroom window.

Everybody I meet speaks passionately about how the music means the same to them now as when they were teens. "This music gave me strength when I was young, and it helped me be who I am," explains 39-year-old Pierre. "By continuing to put out these bands and put on the shows, I hope to inspire other people in the same way."

From the fans I speak to, it sounds like Pierre's achieving what he set out to do. Growing up in London, Morag Padel gravitated towards the hardcore scene after being "spat on" by other girls at metal gigs when she was a teenager. For the past eight years, she's proudly represented LBU. "There's a sense of family, no doubt," she says. "My mom died when I was 16, and the day after she died I went to a show. That's sounds so callous and harsh, but at that time I didn't have anything else. I needed to be with the people I cared about and the people that cared about me."

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Ninebar on tour in front of some LBU graffiti

After catching wind of a clash between the LBU and a group of neo-Nazis at a recent gig by the American band Terror, I ask Pierre about violence in the scene. "We police ourselves and avoid violence at shows," he says. "The dancing is violent enough—who needs to have a fight?"

Morag elaborates, saying the horror stories are mostly bullshit: "There are always Chinese whispers going on—stories of violence and stuff—but anyone who's been to one of our shows knows that it's a friendly and welcoming thing." She adds that any violence among European crews is usually down to people trying to prove themselves and put their town on the map. But, as she points out: "London's already on the map, so we don't need that tough-guy shit."

The only real ideology the members of LBU seem to share is zero tolerance towards racism and xenophobia. "We just want to have fun and express ourselves, innit. As long as you're not a Nazi or anything stupid, then you're welcome," says Popi.

Despite looking like they'd fit in with almost any clique of hardcore fans, the LBU members seem a world away from the notoriously militant crews you hear about in the States and mainland Europe, such as Boston's FSU, which is classified as a "street gang" by the FBI and was involved in a machete brawl last year.

Pierre maintains that LBU is about "nothing but love"—an inclusiveness I experience firsthand when I'm asked to step in and shout some backing vocals over the track they're recording.

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The crew and its members are also a good example of those who stay true to themselves in the ever-changing world of hardcore, refusing to jump on any bandwagon, with Rucktion keeping afloat the same way it always has: through CD sales and the money made from tickets at the label's monthly gigs. "My family and a lot of people my age don't understand it—they're like, 'Are you still doing that shit?' says Popi. "I've got no wife, I've got no kids, but hardcore is what makes sense to me."

A London Black-Up arm tattoo. Photo by Jake Krushell

It's inspiring that the same stalwarts who sculpted the London hardcore sound and scene nearly 20 years ago are still carrying the torch today. Although the flame might flicker from time to time, both the herds of kids at the shows and the fact that LBU elders are regularly asked to feature on new music by young bands are testament to its continued relevance. The outlook and ethos of the London Black-Up crew harks back to a time when hardcore was more about family, raw energy, and putting on great shows, and less about expensive clothes and bickering online about sub-genres.

"The music keeps us together. If people like it, they like it; if they don't, then they don't," shrugs Louis Gino.

Whether you believe that what they do is dumb or inspiring, clichéd, or authentic, essentially it doesn't matter: the LBU will still be there, making the music they know and love, packing out venues and keeping the scene alive in the capital.

At the Rucktion headquarters, it's almost time for me to leave. As Louis rolls another joint, Popi pours himself a whiskey, and they both listen back to what they've just recorded, Pierre sits smiling on the couch. "It's what we've always done and it's what we'll always do," he says, looking around the room. "It's a way of life."

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