Pendulum + Sub Focus @ Birmingham Academy, 26th May 2010


I signed up to review this gig with a certain amount of scepticism. On one hand I’d heard a lot of bad press related to Pendulum’s live performances. On the other hand I was thinking who cares what they sound like live? As long as they can make a crowd sweat with energy surely that’s what matters most. Does anyone really care if they miss a beat or the fact Rob Swire plays a Ztar instead of a traditional guitar? I for one couldn’t give a monkeys! I signed up so I could have a bit of a dance and be entertained by live music that for once wasn’t rock or any one of a thousand pigeon holed genres of instrumental music.

Its 7:55 and the impatient sounds of booing, clapping and whistling are evident as the crowd demand Sub Focus start the warm up a few short minutes ahead of schedule. Nick Douwma hiding behind his Halo: A huge light rig resembling a non flammable Catherine Wheel leaving his unknown MC to be the sole human focal point. The gradual build up to ‘Rock It’ gets the crowd moving immediately. The bouncing and hands in the air is slow to begin but soon and sure enough builds into a fast energetic blur of hands, heads and projectiles around the expanse of the floor. I’m guessing the thrown projectiles of bottles, glasses and an array of liquid explain why the sound and light desks are covered by protective sheeting. Seems like carnage might just be on the cards tonight?


To begin with I found the ranting of the MC a touch too much. As much as the human element is needed — obviously you can’t rely on lighting effects alone as a visual stimulant. Fortunately as the 45 minute long set wore on the MC was heard less and less. Leaving the sole job of keeping the by now very sweaty audience jumping to Nick. Truth be told not a very difficult task: Every time the driving, pounding bass lines crank up a level, you feel the music become more and more infectious. You can’t help but move feet, hands and at most times it’s a total full body experience. The set ventures into areas of House, Dub Step, Grime and Old Skool Breaks. Sub Focus was awesome! Totally unpretentious in the way Nick plays music from a machine from which it was originally conceived. Aside from a few effect tools Sub Focus is just one man and a computer. One over heard comment summed the warm up act perfectly “How good was that!”

One question though. If Sub Focus put so much effort into programming of the Halo of light, couldn’t the sound engineer have paid a bit more attention to the sound quality and gives us a bit more volume?

If Sub Focus play with a minimalist stage set up, Pendulum fill every square inch of stage with what looks like a full accompaniment of instruments and a lighting rig that promises quite a spectacular light show. It somehow seems wrong to use the word ‘spectacular’ as a description for a Drum ‘n’ Bass gig but what other words could possibly fit?

Before Pendulum enter the stage, the house lights dim leaving a video projection of what resembles the body’s biological nervous system. Before the sound even starts there’s a feeling of immense anticipation, an energy waiting to be unleashed by the oddly eclectic crowd. Youths, the Old (granted no quite the infirm), Metal Heads, Male and Female all representing their respective demographic. When the intro starts it’s immediately apparent Pendulum have the volume turned up to 11.5. Not only is it supremely loud but the bass rips through you like an ramshackle navy going to war against a flotilla of gunships in hand-woven rafts. The music starts proper with ‘Salt’ and it’s immediately apparent the claustrophobic confine of the dance floor is not a nice place to be. The amount of people pushing past me exiting the floor is something I’ve never witnessed on this scale before. People forcing their way out with dripping wet bodies and pained expressions give some idea how hot it must be within the heart of the maelstrom.

Recapping my notes I see a simple comment against the cover of ‘The Prodigy’s Voodoo People’ a simple comment that sums my feelings perfectly at that time “Yeah!!!”


Throughout the entire set dancing continues unabated supported by the relentless barrage of volume projected from the band amassed on stage. Particular note should be given to KJ Sawka on Drums. A couple of times I heard him struggle to keep perfectly in time but given the nature of the beats being thrashed out and the pace, this is easily be forgiven. The live nature of the band brings a stimulating visual effect to what could be described as an over indulged light and effects show. Midway through the set I looked up and thought they’d even mounted smoke machines in the ceiling. The smoke vapour pouring from ceiling seemed a fitting indicator to the extent these guys go to when planning their stage show. Incredibly the vapour from the ceiling had nothing to do with smoke effects. It was acting out a visual indicator of the O2 Academies air-con system struggling in vain to cope with the heat and humidity sweated out from the energy driven crowd. The dry icy air condensing against a wall of damp hot air being expelled from the writhing mass of bodies below.

There were two notable equipment failures during the set. ‘Witchcraft’ had to be restarted after one of the computers crashed. The explanation by MC Verse for the restart went beyond cheese though “Pendulum gives no half measures; Full Tilt! Pendulums a live band and when things crash we start again”.

The second fault and in hindsight maybe the one that caused the most set disruption was MC Verse’s mic going down during ‘Blood Sugar’. It seemed not to be a problem during ‘Water Colour’ but it may have been the reason why there was no encore despite two extra tracks on the set list. Ordinarily, once a band finishes the main lights come on. After a few minutes of chanting it’s apparent that the lighting engineer is somewhat confused. That’s it! Gigs over! And out walks a disgruntled, booing crowd. Pissed off not with the band playing badly but because they felt promised more, wanted more and were yet delivered nothing extra!


Regardless of what you think of Pendulum, at present it seems cool to give them bad press. Neither does it help their cause seeing a number of middle aged gig goers all wearing Pendulum tour t-shirts proudly. So what if their music could be summed up as an amalgamation of Drum and Bass Party Anthems. The simple fact is, Pendulum put on inspiring live shows. If your idea of a good gig is a set played by musical perfectionists then maybe give them a miss. If however you’re in the mood for some hot, sweaty dancing where bouncing without rhythm is no longer a laughable offence then you’d be foolish to miss the carnage.

Reviewer – Lee Hathaway
Photographer – Ian Dunn

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3 thoughts on “Pendulum + Sub Focus @ Birmingham Academy, 26th May 2010

  1. hi
    in reply to your comments i myself was at that concert and basically i think that you are talking out of your ____ the concert was brilliant the atmosphere electric the vocals of the singer were the best i have ever heard live before maybe if you are biased and not particulary a fan you should stay away and as they this year they played the nia which is a much bigger venue i went to it it was sold out maybe you should keep your opinions to your self as everbody else enjoyed it maybe next time you should wear earplugs old man man!!!!!!

  2. Haha, the comment above is hilarious. Telling a reviewer to keep their opinions to themselves seems a little naive. Reviewers don’t just review bands they like. What’s the point in that?!

  3. Sub Focus and Pendulum made this one of the most memorable gigs ever at the B’ham 02 I was in the mosh for each song they know how to rock it.

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