The rock fans are gathered by the front of the stage. A trench-coated Goth with bright pink hair stands chatting to a friend with dreadlocks and a platted beard. A young punk whose faded red Mohican lies limply on the side of his otherwise shaved head, revealing where friends have written slogans on his skin with permanent marker, jumps around. He warns an older lady who has asked what to expect that “it’s going to get heavy…I’d move back if I were you.” It’s not Reading Festival, but it might as well be.
The festival is Greenbelt 2006 and the crowd is waiting for a Christian Rock band from Sweden called Blindside to take the main stage. The assembled goths, metal-heads, grunge-kids and punks are not there by accident. This is a big band, more accustomed to MTV airplay and major secular rock-fests than fairly-traded organically grown Christian arts gatherings, and the compere clearly has no idea who they are. Much of his introduction, full of forced youth-pastor cheerfulness and condescending crowd-control, misses the mark, not least because he spends much of it talking fawningly about Daniel Bedingfield. As he explains for the second time how they are going to try really hard to get the mighty Daniel on stage as quickly as possible, the audience’s maximum tolerance level is reached and the crowd drowns him out with a chant of “Blind-side! Blind-side!” The shaven-headed youth pastor standing behind me, the nice guy who has been giving directions to wayward children on his phone for ages even cracks, shouting “get off the stage!” and the unfortunate compere does. It’s a great moment, not just because it is hilarious, but because it kicks off one of the hardest Christian gigs I have yet seen in this country.
Blindside take the stage with an understated “How ya doin’, Greenbelt?” and a thunderous guitar riff that sends the crowd wild. Lead singer, Christian Lindskog could not look less Rock ‘n Roll. Impossibly skinny (he looks like he might snap in half at any moment as he throws himself around the stage) and wearing a hat and braces my grandfather would have been proud of, he is a study in uncool browns and yellows. And yet the fans dressed in uniform black below him don’t seem to care. Even as he leaps onto monitor speakers, spins round mic-stands and does jumping high-kicks, Lindskog exudes a serious intensity that makes almost everything he does seem spiritual. He might as well be alone for all he cares about posing or preening. It’s a good thing, too, as many in the crowd are now directly or indirectly involved in a mosh-pit, a spontaneous reaction to hard music that involves running, slamming into one another and dancing so aggressive it looks like fighting. The rock fans swirl in a maelstrom of flailing arms and sweat. If the music is not a culture-shock for the uninitiated in the audience, this spectacle certainly is. But though the security staff look worried, they needn’t be. Every time a teenager falls or is knocked to the ground, several hands are there to pull him to his feet. Huge grins and manly hugs punctuate the frenzied dancing as aggression, tension and endorphins are released in the most positive way I can imagine.
Despite the distractions of the mosh pit and poor sound quality, Blindside are still able to make the experience intense. Whether feeling the almost painful love for Christ in “My Alibi” as Lindskog’s voice cracks with emotion or the palpable foreboding and menace in “About a Burning Fire” as judgment day is evoked in frightening, guttural tones, it is not a show that leaves you unmoved. I can’t imagine what the Bedingfield fans made of it, but hats off to Greenbelt for choosing a band as edgy and real as the rest of the festival’s content. It was appreciated.