Tonight, I’m headed to the iconic Underworld in Camden Town to join Popes of Chillitown for the launch of their fourth record Take A Picture. Matt (vocals), Arvin (bass), Mikey (guitar), Thiago ‘Trosso’ (sax), Jimmy ‘Pingu’ (trombone/vocals) and Jack (drums) have gained an incredibly loyal fanbase since bursting into the UK ska-punk scene in the early 2010s.
Popes of Chillitown @ The Underworld
The 500-capacity venue is full to the brim tonight, and it’s going to be a scorcher down in the infamous live music dungeon. First on the bill to warm up the crowd are the Ku-Go Death Ray, a three-piece fronted by Riskee of grime punk outfit Riskee & The Ridicule. This guy’s emotion in every song is unreal and as he paces the stage you can feel the undulating bassey vibrations under your feet. Next up are Dakka Skanks with their up-beat blend of ska, reggae and punk, taking on the injustices of the world with their lyrics.
With five minutes to go before the main act, I notice that some of the Popes members are stretching their limbs backstage – a sign that things are about to get serious. I choose a tight spot at the front of the stage with a chunky DSLR in one hand and a beer in the other as I wait for the band to come on. It’s always calm before the storm and there are no barriers to shield me from the onslaught of elbows that are about to land on my ribs. The opening number is Crashmat from the new album and the crowd timidly savors the first 30 seconds before carnage ensues. A mosh pit quickly brews behind me and together with the band’s electric stage presence, it’s a real tough gig to shoot. These guys just don’t stay still and that’s exactly why they’ve gained a reputation for being really fucking good live.
With no first three songs limit nonsense I’m free to stay for as long as I please, but by the third song I’m ready to meander through sticky bodies and take some shots from the side of the stage.
Matt the frontman doesn’t speak much, and he doesn’t have to. He concentrates on spitting lyrics over some catchy riffs with the hallmarks of ska, punk, reggae and dub. Everyone here tonight just wants to be in a sweaty mosh pit.
The crowd erupts at the sound of the first few notes from the sax for Opoom. Mikey kneels and scrapes his guitar on the floor, Trosso stretches out with his sax and Matt takes to the air. They like to move about in pretty much every direction possible, making me hustle to get some decent shots.
Vamos A La Luna has the potential of a circle pit, which fails to materialise. Some good old-fashioned moshing will do just fine. Jack gives off ferocious energy on the drums for The Last Elephant, with Arvin as cool as a cucumber behind the bass.
Tonight, is an opportunity for fans to have a first listen to some new tracks from the upcoming album Take A Picture. They welcome the new songs with enthusiasm but reserve their full intensity for the ones that have been cemented in the band’s repertoire such as Prang and Wisdom Teeth.
These guys have proved tonight that they are masters of their craft. Knowing how to completely dominate the stage is a skill that the whole band possesses, covering every bit of the small stage they’re on. Give them the Pyramid stage and they’d still make sure no inch is left untouched.
Note to self: Next time bring a spare top.
Live review and photography of Popes Of Chillitown @ The Camden Underworld by Dnieper Cruz on 9th June 2023