Big Joanie have always sought to ask questions. The group formed through London’s myriad of DIY networks, seeking out a space they could call their own. Blending synth-infused post-punk with raucous Riot Grrrl elements, the band stood out from their peers right from the start. Willing to make their audience uncomfortable, Big Joanie could provoke as well as entertain; sure, it’s intelligent as hell, but the riffs sit at the core of what they do.
Opening 2023 with a full nationwide tour, Big Joanie settle into Highbury’s The Garage with no small degree of expectation on their shoulders. Clash arrives in time to catch the end of GHUM’s set, a fantastic performance of wiry, scratchy guitar music, virile in its scope and endlessly immediate.
Big Joanie, however, are the main attraction. Recent album ‘Back Home’ seemed to take them to a new level, and the packed crowd wait with baited breath for their arrival. For all the battle cry of Black Feminist Revolution, Big Joanie are actually thoroughly welcoming, at times almost shy. Easing their way into the set, drone-heavy opener ‘Cactus Tree’ allows the limbs to slacken, the pulse to quicken. The focus falls on ‘Back Home’ highlights such as the punchy ‘Happier Still’ and a choppy, sing-along ‘Taut’.
‘Confidence Man’ meanwhile is dedicated with no small degree of relish to thoroughly average, over-confident white men everywhere… although obviously they’re not talking about us. Hopefully. Maybe?
‘What Are You Waiting For’ is excellent, a pristine slice of punk rock rama lama, with stand-up drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone pounding a pathway through the floor, and straight down through the Earth’s crust.
The group’s fantastic cover of Solange hymn ‘Cranes In The Sky’ became an entrance-point for a new audience, with Jack White’s Third Man Records stepping in to give it a full vinyl pressing. It’s a key moment of their live set, too, a space for the swirling morass of idea and energy in their work to coalesce. A completely overhauled take on the song, in Big Joanie’s hands it almost becomes a hymn to fandom, as well as a profoundly moving statement on Black femininity.
Closing with ‘Fall Asleep’, the inevitable encore is given added spice through the sheer charismatic enthusiasm of the musicians onstage. A heavenly ‘I Will’ segues into a righteous ‘In My Arms’, the surging wave of energy erupting out over the crowd’s heads. In some ways, a triumph like this represent the end of something, the sealing off of a chapter. For Big Joanie, though, it feels like a beginning – you bet against them at your peril.
Words: Robin Murray