PENGSHUi At The Lanes - March 22nd
“We want your fucking chest to rattle,” laughs PENGSHUi drummer Pravvy Prav. “If your chest isn’t rattling, then it’s not good enough.” There couldn’t be much more of a perfect manifesto for PENGSHUi than that. Their self-titled 2020 debut was a riveting soundclash of punk, grime, dub and drum ‘n’ bass – with a DIY attitude of no-fucks-given while bringing rage to the rave. Since their first single ‘Control’ in 2018, they’ve won fans across genres, from JME to Enter Shikari, and were even invited to remix fellow firestarters The Prodigy. Now the London-based trio are set to unleash new album ‘Destroy Yourself’, exploring the extremes of their sound to back up a brutally honest analysis of politics, trauma and personal growth.
The trio’s molotov cocktail of sound is born of the different cultures the trio hail from. Prav originally grew up as a heavy metal kid in Dubai before mixing it up by DJing jungle and drum ‘n’ bass in his teens. Guitarist Fatty grew up in Blackpool before studying jazz in Leeds and forming the Ninja Tune-signed Submotion Orchestra and going on to play with grime duo Newham Generals and P Money. Frontman and MC Illaman meanwhile, had his tastes formed while surrounded by the reggae music his Jamaican grandfather would play on his council estate in West London, before finding himself surrounded by the worlds of pirate radio, rap, rude boys and skaters. His genre-smashing first band Flict would support Skindred and work with members of Cypress Hill during their nine years together, before meeting his PENGSHUi bandmates when all three were working as session musicians and their twisted alchemy would come together on Fatty’s boat on the River Lea. That was where they became who they were alway meant to be.
“We grew out of the dubstep scene and we were all playing in those raves, we knew what worked,” says Fatty. “There are a lot of people who play electronic music but have never been to a rave. As a musician, they just copy elements of it. We knew how to recreate that, but had also grown up playing in metal bands so could merge things in a way that was authentic to both sides of the spectrum.”
Illaman agrees: “We’ve all been around the block. Now it’s about doing what we love. It’s this combination of everything that we genuinely love. The thing I’ve been told a lot was, ‘You found your home’. I like shouting. When I’m hosting for Flux Pavillion or working with Goldie, I can’t go off. These tunes rile me and give me goosebumps. I can’t do what I do with PENGSHUi with them guys. PENGSHUi is my home.”
For the energy that first inspired ‘Destroy Yourself’, Illaman didn’t have to look too far from his actual home either. “I’m from Ladbroke Grove. Grenfell Tower was a big thing for me,” he says of the 2017 blaze in his neighbourhood and the scandal that still surrounds it. “It kickstarted my political brain and got me a bit frustrated and angry at the government.” One day he saw himself trawling Twitter to see a clip of Tory MP Jacob-Rees Mogg stating that the victims of Grenfell lacked “common sense”. Illaman’s rage saw him bite back with the class war call-to-arms of ‘Eat The Rich’: “We’ll be left with nothing if we don’t stand up”.
“I had a friend who passed away in Grenfell,” remembers Illaman. “I’ve been in Grenfell a few times because it’s on my doorstep. I used to pick up hash there when I was younger, and I would roam the streets of Ladbroke Grove being a little shit! Mogg and his lot have probably never been in a building like that in his life. They’ve never been in these environments or around some of the people that would have lost their lives in that building. It was obviously due to negligence. I needed to start saying this stuff in the music and have a bit more of an opinion on the government, the rich and these people.”
There’s a lot of sabre-rattling on ‘Destroy Yourself’ (see also: ‘Break The Law’s fiery riposte to a patronising, hypocritical society), but there’s also a lot of heart and rebirth. “The last few years have seen anxiety, depression and mental health in men become a lot more of a conversation,” he says. “I’ve suffered, and was never really aware of how to process it, how to speak on it, and how people were going to take it – especially in grime.”
Now, feeling “a bit older and a bit wiser”, Illaman found his true voice on ‘Destroy Yourself’ – a record about taking yourself apart before rebuilding. “You’ve got to find out what makes you tick. It’s OK to be depressed, it’s OK to be anxious, it’s OK to be stressed out, it’s OK to cry and it’s OK to feel. The whole record is just about growth, and being open, honest and not afraid to address certain things in your head and your heart. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s a scary thing to face your demons.”
You can feel that very real reckoning on the feral exorcism of the title track (“Have you ever wanted to unstitch yourself and the entirety of the human race and embrace the coldest fringes of everything that isn’t you or who you thought you were,” he spits), the simmering and tortured ‘I’m Sick’ (“I keep circling absurd shit, I’m definitely not right”), Illaman reaching out to his sibling on the bruising ‘Little Brother’ (“I’m a demon and the world created me”) and the intoxicating dub of ‘Nothing Ever Changes’ screaming away the clouds of feeling “depressed, stressed, anxious and horrible forever” (“sometimes I find myself stuck in the recovery position, and I sob at the thought of my own solemn sense of recognition”).
The real heart of the record though is the blinding light of runaway desert rock beast ‘Move The World’, with the trio exercising perfect control of tension and release as Illiaman sings what he describes as “the most important song I’ve written in my life”,” inspired by seeing a loved one battle a traumatic illness in excruciating pain every day “with no end in sight”. “When we first listened to that back, I burst into tears,” he says. “I literally felt like a weight had been lifted. I’m used to constantly being on the attack and having to out-spit every MC on every tune. That was the mentality I had for a very long time, but ‘Move The World’ is just me saying how I feel and getting some stuff off my chest.”
Recorded at Green Man studios in Leeds with “our Rick Rubin'' Flux Pavillion and with help from “monumental” longtime collaborators Pete Cannon and Lee Smith, ‘Destroy Yourself’ is the sound of a band reaching their ultimate form on their most complete piece of work to date. “Dave’s written exactly what he wants to write about, while Prav and I have written exactly what we want to play live,” says Fatty. “It was all very organic.” Elaborating on the album’s vibe, Prav adds: “After playing live so much, now we really understand who we are and what we want. We’ve put all of that into this in a really honest and unfiltered way. We asked ourselves, ‘Where do we want to take it and why don’t we take it there?’”
Held up to their own standards, this is more than a record than rattles the chest – but also touches the heart and ignites a fighting spirit. “It sounds cheesy, but people have told me that they can hear the pain and the struggles through these songs,” adds Illaman. “I just want to give people a bit of hope, a bit of light, a bit of love and something to spur them on in life.”
Tickets available from: FREE!