In the 1960s, the countercultural movement inspired by and centralised in rock music became intrinsically linked to shock and excess. While the questionable and illegal antics of the rock ‘n’ roll world were often a middle finger to the establishment, the main aim of the game was showmanship. By the late 1960s, a crooner in a slick suit wasn’t cutting it anymore; rock bands needed edge.
To exemplify my point, if we look at groups of the early ’60s, such as The Rolling Stones or The Beatles, they would usually be seen clad in smart suits and relatively well-kept hair. But as the decade wore on, the hippie movement came into full effect in perfect timing with the upswing of avant-garde art and ingenious marketing strategy. Just take a look at the cover art of 1963’s With The Beatles and then that of 1967’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
These bright colours and kooky ideas drew the audience in, made a band popular and lined their pockets. The bands who weren’t cheeky, daring or kooky are hard to remember because they were boring and therefore didn’t last long or reach a point of notoriety.
Am I saying that Iggy Pop’s on-stage self-mutilation and Elton John’s increasingly ridiculous shades were a marketing ploy? Maybe. But they were certainly a shrewd move to attract some attention.
It’s a similar story with The Who; they would often end their concerts with a scene of destruction and mayhem, with Pete Townshend smashing his expensive guitars to bits on the stage and Keith Moon setting off explosives in his drum kit. The Who also famously broke the record for the loudest concert in 1976 at The Valley venue in London with a measurement of 126 decibels.
These legendary bands want to make a statement, they want to be remembered, and hearing damage is a great reminder. Over the years since The Who set that record, countless rock groups have stepped forward, daring to go further, turning it up to 11 and rattling our eardrums.
Today we explore the five loudest performances ever recorded – as it stands for now.
The five loudest performances of all time:
5. Gallows – England – 132.5 dB
Gallows, the hardcore punk group from Watford, have made a name for themselves across the UK over the past two decades with their heavy rock sound. With such a sound, the only way to turn the volume knob is clockwise.
The group of daredevils reached an earth-shattering 132.5 decibels while testing the limits of their amplifiers. Fortunately, this performance was in the studio, so while their fans didn’t have their eardrums violated, we can only hope that the band and the studio staff had their headphones on.
4. Kiss – Canada (2009) – 136 dB
Most people will imagine the loudest bands to be heavy rock groups in the naive and daring years of their 20s and 30s. Alas, in 2009, while on the verge of their 60s, the face-painted glam group Kiss were one of the less likely bands to join the high decibel hall of fame.
During their 2009 concert in Ottawa in Ontario, Canada, Kiss achieved a sound pressure reading of 136 decibels. It was reportedly so loud that residents in the surrounding area filed noise complaints. As the complaints reached the concert managers, Kiss were forced to turn the volume down mid-show.
3. Leftfield – England (1996) – 137 dB
In 1996, electro duo Leftfield were on their first tour of the UK and wanted to make sure their performance was remembered. Cranking up the volume, they managed to reach a whopping 137 decibels during their show at the Brixton Academy as dust and plaster began to rain down from the shaking ceiling.
“That was the first tour – we’re nowhere near that now. We’re up there, but it’s more about quality than loudness. That’s the idea anyway,” Leftfield’s Neil Barnes said in an interview over a decade later. He added: “There are very strict restrictions. At certain places, you can get away with it. At most festivals, there’s a legal limit and it’s harsh. Especially in metropolitan areas like Liverpool and London. We tend to obey the laws. Considering I’m about to do a tour I have to be careful what I say! It’s pumping.”
2. Manowar – Germany (2008) – 139 dB
American heavy metal group Manowar are known for liking their noise noisy. Their heavy music explores themes of fantasy – Norse mythology and Greco-Roman mythology in particular – but it’s not the theme nor the style of their music they’re most famous for, it’s the extremes. While setting records for being the loudest band, they also set the world record for the longest heavy metal concert of all time at five hours and one minute – that’s a lot of headbanging.
In 1984, Manowar broke the Guinness World Record for the loudest performance, a record they have topped twice since. Their loudest performance was set in Germany in 2008. Technically, it was only during the soundcheck, but a small gathering of fans was present to feel the pain. The soundcheck peaked at 139 decibels.
1. Sleazy Joe – Sweden (2008) – 143.2 dB
So, here we are. The one you scrolled all that way to see. While you may not have heard of the Swedish heavy punk band Sleazy Joe, you may have felt an earthquake started by them. The band has a sizeable cult following across Scandanavia who presumably wear some form of ear protection or rely on the advancement of hearing aid technology over the coming years.
The band embrace their loudness as a key attribute, and on their own social media pages, they introduce themselves as the “loudest band in the world”. In 2008, Sleazy Joe performed what was irrefutably the loudest concert ever recorded in Hassleholm. The sound pressure levels measured an ear-boggling peak of 143.2 decibels! Beat that, Manowar.