“If you had a time machine and could go back to see five bands/performers in their prime, who would you see and why?” This question has lived in my head rent-free ever since it was brought up in the writer’s room here at TWM. I’m not a fan of those “born in the wrong generation” people, since I personally can’t romanticise the 1950s without being very aware of how much my gender and my chronic illness would have limited my freedom back then, but I do have a little rose-tinted nostalgia for the music before my time. I’ve borrowed so many of my favourite bands and artists from what my parents listened to in their 1990s teenage years. Even though some of these artists are still active today, I’d absolutely love to see them command the attention of a crowd back in their prime.
5: Run DMC
Hybrids of rap and rock are very in vogue right now. There are always artists fusing hip-hop breakbeats and rap verses with fierce studio guitars and snarling, heavy vocals, but these artists are currently getting a taste of the mainstream for the first time in years. I’m honestly here for the pop-punk-tinged, featuring-Travis-Barker era of emo-rap, so I’d never been able to pass up the opportunity to see where rap-rock arguably began with Run DMC. Their ability to take punchy hard-rock samples and turn them into rap masterpieces is something I’d love to have seen in the flesh, but more than that, they’d just be a hell of a lot of fun live and in their prime, wouldn’t they?
My parents influenced a lot of my pop-cultural interests, but if I had to name one as more influential on my media tastes than the other, I’d have to lean towards my dad. I mean, would I have ever gained my appreciation for women’s wrestling and my obsession with Becky Lynch without his WWE Network password? Outside of wrestling, he also got me into rock music, especially my beloved Britpop artists like Blur, Pulp, and Elastica.
Seeing any of these artists in their heyday would be phenomenal, just because the unparalleled hype the movement had in the 1990s would create such good energy from the crowd. Elastica, however, is a band I often feel get swept under the rug in the Britpop conversation. Framing the whole thing as Blur versus Oasis ignored the women absolutely killing it in Britpop, in the face of the genre’s lad culture no less. Elastica’s frontwoman Justine had one of the best voices in her genre and I will hear no word to the contrary.
3: Huggy Bear
I’ve mostly chosen pretty well-known bands for this list, but there’s no way I could talk about bands I’d love to have been around to see live and not talk about Huggy Bear. While the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s is typically associated with the hardcore circles of Olympia, Washington, Brighton band Huggy Bear were flying the flag for DIY feminist punk on this side of the pond. While Riot Grrrl is often associated with all-female bands, Huggy Bear was a rare co-ed example in the genre, showing men exhibiting allyship in a time well before such inclusivity was widely recognised as important. Their well-known performance on The Word is proof of the power they had in their heyday when it came to capturing an audience’s attention. Fierce lyrics and snarling vocal deliveries combine perfectly in a gloriously defiant anthem, and I can promise you there are plenty more singles from the band to fall in love with.
2: Rage Against The Machine
Yes, Rage Against The Machine is still an active group, bringing their pioneering rap-rock to major festivals like Coachella. Yes, its members are still both sought-after feature artists on other people’s records and committed activists (Tom Morello springs to mind in particular). Yes, I’d still sacrifice several extremities to be in the crowd at the show where the music videos we now see for ‘Killing In The Name’ was filmed.
As someone is known for being both a lifelong rock fan and a raging anti-authoritarian, I’ve loved this band from a very young age, and credit them for a lot of my investment in the political power music can hold. This is one of those live shows I’d love to go to because I think I could find an affinity with so many people in the crowd, and really, that’s one of the underrated joys of live music: finding your tribe.
Ah yes, the wee grunge girl presents their most predictable choice for this list. Jokes aside, though, I’m a genuinely lifelong fan of Nirvana, and while I’m still a fan of the other projects its members like Dave Grohl have gone on to do, it’s always heartbreaking when I listen to these utter groundbreakers and remember I’ll never get to see them live. They captured a moment in alternative music that I don’t think could ever be replicated, and as such, their cohesion as a group couldn’t be mimicked by any tributes or reworkings of the lineup. In a way, though, this has added to their legacy in popular culture, even when that legacy’s presented through a bit of a glamorised lens when it comes to Kurt Cobain in particular. He’s often remembered more as an image than a person; an encapsulation of the tortured artist misunderstood in their own time. The way Cobain’s personality and earnest relationship with music shine through in live recordings makes it much harder to see Nirvana as a mere artefact of history. These were real people who shaped a genre for decades to come and seeing that inaction would be the definition of unforgettable.