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Sleeping With Sirens prove emo is alive and well on the Ctrl + Alt + Del tour

O2 Institute Birmingham, 14 March 2023

In 2023, it’s easy to think that emo and alternative subcultures are dead, or at best, dormant. But Sleeping With Sirens’ recent show in Birmingham proves this statement wrong, for tonight it’s difficult to find a single person in the queue who isn’t wearing black skinny jeans, heavy eyeliner, fishnets, or a combination of the three.

And it’s easy to see why the majority of the crowd is dressed like this, for Sleeping With Sirens look exactly like the fans. Sure, Kellin Quinn has now cut off most of his once-iconic black mop of hair, but the band still look as ‘emo’ (for lack of a better word) as they always have. And the music sounds exactly like what you’d expect from four tattooed, black-clothing-wearing men. It is heavy, energetic, and just what you need to sing, or rather scream along, to on a Tuesday night. So tonight, Sleeping With Sirens and their fans did exactly that.

As soon as the group walk on stage, the energy in the room becomes electric. The jostle and bustle of the crowd are there before the band has even started playing, and people are so tightly packed it becomes difficult to breathe at times. So as soon as the opening riffs of ‘Break Me Down’ start playing, the crowd becomes entranced, and no longer does the lack of space bother them. They focus only on the performance in front of them. However, ‘Break Me Down’ proves to be a relatively calm introduction, for as soon as the second song, ‘Kick Me’, starts playing, the crowd erupts in a flurry of excitement and adrenaline. Ripples move through the audience as currents sway people from side to side, and a sizeable moshpit opens up in the middle of the floor. All around, every person in the 1500-capacity venue is singing, “you’re gonna kick, kick, kick me when I’m down” as if their lives depended on it.

They then play three songs from their 2019 album, How It Feels to Be Lost, ‘Leave It All Behind’, ‘Never Enough’, and ‘Talking to Myself’. Perhaps naively, I anticipated Sleeping With Sirens’ older songs to go down better with the crowd. After all, they are a very nostalgic band for a lot of people, including myself, and it’s easy to tell a lot of the fans had been there since the band’s beginning. But instead of being met with the snobbish elitism of “I knew Sleeping With Sirens before they were famous”, all of the band’s material, including songs from their latest album, Complete Collapse, were greeted with intense frenzy and vigour.

The second half of their set consists of their ‘best of’ material from their catalogue. Before ‘Better Off Dead’, a song about a teenage girl contemplating suicide, Quinn gives a poignant speech about music and how it has saved his life. “I believe in the power of music,” he says. The speech resonates with many in the crowd, with it being met by an enthusiastic and appreciative roar. It is a special moment, and all around me, teary-eyed fans are staring up at the band in awe. 

There comes a moment when the band leave the stage, and only Quinn and guitarist Nick Martin remain. The crowd is quiet up until the moment right up until the moment Quinn announces: “This is an older one, let’s throw it back” before going straight into ‘Scene Five – With Ears To See and Eyes to Hear’ from their debut 2012 EP, If You Were a Movie, This Would Be Your Soundtrack. The song is met with a well-deserved cheer. It’s a song they only recently started playing again, and one the crowd is overwhelmingly enthusiastic to hear. And of course, Quinn dives straight into a cover of ‘Iris’ by the Goo Goo Dolls immediately after. It is a staple at their live shows and it would arguably not be a Sleeping With Sirens show if they didn’t play it.

The rest of the show goes by quickly as the band play ‘Bloody Knuckles’, ‘Go Go Go’, and ‘If I’m James Dean, You’re Aubrey Hepburn’, all before culminating in a ferocious encore where they play ‘If You Can’t Hang’. Sleeping With Sirens may not be as young as they once were when the song came out (and neither is the audience) but tonight, the teenage, emo angst is still there and the people are all too happy to revel in the nostalgia. 

It is not a particularly long set, and soon all that remains are wide grins, sore throats, and ringing ears. And seeing the beaming faces of people leaving the show, I realise maybe Quinn was right. Maybe music does, in fact, have power.



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