In particular musical subcultures, especially heavy metal, thrash and death metal, the concept of the battle vest is well established, and you will see many 30-40 something men, usually bald and walking around built like a tank, sporting a battle vest at particular concerts and festivals. In the course of trying to work through my Bands Bucket List, I’ve seen quite a few. I’ve even got one of my very own.
I would go so far as to say, you can tell how metal a festival or concert is by the number of people wearing battle vests (and motorcycle club attire). I was the only one at Bob Dylan (but there was a guy with a mohican a few rows away).
What is a battle vest?
It’s a jacket, usually made of denim or sometimes leather, often with no sleeves (particularly in colder climes such as Nothern Europe, where slevelessness is metalness), which has patches affixed to it.
I feel very strongly about the procurement of patches. The patches in question are not just a collection bought on the internet declaring which bands I like (well, it can be, but that’s for amateurs, and if you’re 18 and have emblazoned your jacket with a Pink Floyd patch, you’re clearly just making a kindergarten collage out of a perfectly good piece of clothing), they’re all representative of the bands I’ve actually seen. Hence “battle vest” because it’s a chronicling, in embroidered patch, of the battles I’ve survived, the moshpits I’ve been crushed in, the number of times I got trampled by enormous 30 something bald men or had to sleep in a tent that should have been marketed as a child’s swimming pool. Sounds like hell?
That’s metal. And there’s nothing like it. The battle vest is a modern day Bayeaux Tapestry, and you just can’t buy them (well, you probably can, but that would defeat the point of the journey). Every single one is different, and those patches will stand up to a lot of damage before they need replacing.
The denim ones are usually faded blue or white (bleached) thick denim – the thick denim is integral because the battle vest will need to withstand wind, rain, spillages, moshing, the occasional vomit, and all the steps taken to purge the remains of the aforementioned. A deep blue cottony shirt that’s been done to look like denim (or girlyfied, as I call it, because you rarely see this crap being foisted on men) is not going to cut it. I bought my base jacket from ASOS.com and have added the patches as I’ve seen the bands on my bands bucket list.
On the leather ones, more and more people sew patches these days. It used to be the case that people would paint an album cover and band logos on their leather jackets, but for some reason (probably skill shortages) that’s gone out of favour in exchange for sewing patches. Or perhaps gluing them.
The glue-on patches are a bit annoying, to me – I try and press them on my jacket but they invariably go brittle and start coming away, so I end up sewing them down anyway. What’s the point of the glue, apart from to stain my jacket with the residue??
I have also seen people add badges and rhinestones, and this can work really well, but it can also look dreadful. If you want to look like a school kid from the ’80s, then go ahead and make a badge-only battle vest. But please don’t make a scene when the old-skool cause-ists (you know, activists, feminists, environmentalists, etc) in their woolen attire and sandals turn up and absorb you as one of their own and carry you away leaving the vague scent of cabbage in their wake.
I like sandals. But not at a concert or metal fest. I’d hate to lose a toe. I also know quite a few environmentalists – although, as with anyone who has a “cause” they tend to over-exaggerate their spiel to a point where no normal person can take it as seriously as the environmentalists would like, because otherwise we’d have to drink our own urine and only eat from dumpsters. It’s a shame. I’d like the environment to still be here in 100 years, and I separate my recycling like a compliant citizen, but you’d never find me handing out leaflets (the irony) or harassing people about it. I also like animals.
One of the big problems with putting a battlevest together has been that some of the bands I’ve been to see didn’t actually have patches. In some cases (Alice Cooper, below slash in the second picture), I got around it such as buying a fabric “wristband” for Alice Cooper and sewing it on. It won’t last as long but ain’t nothing ever permanent. In other cases, such as Billy Idol and Steeleye Span, there’s just no patch available, so they are notably absent from the thing. In the case of Steeleye Span, I bought a t-shirt. In the case of Billy Idol, I did not. I think some bands think they will make more money off you if they don’t sell a patch in their official merch, but the amount of bands I’ve seen this year, I’d need a whole new cupboard to put t-shirts in if I’d bought one for each of them. It would have added £15 to £25 to the cost of every concert, and that would have severely reduced the number of bands I could have seen overall.
Given the nature of my quest, to see as many of the bands on my Bands Bucket List before they kick the bucket, for me the battle vest was the only solution. I guess that’s one of the things about it; the battle vest is called a kutte in German because it’s a word play – a kutte is the name for the vestment a monk would have worn, when they had such things as mainstream religion in Germany. In a way, committing to seeing through my Bands Bucket List seems like a calling – a purely self-indulgent one, but still something that seems to at times touch upon the transcendent and help me make sense of the world around me and my place in it. It might not be a religious calling, but there’s certainly a spiritual aspect about it. I can’t explain it, except that I get into a trancelike state when the universe just becomes clear… or irrelevant. Either way, this whole task has given my life meaning again which I was distinctly lacking before I made a more-than-half-assed commitment to do this.
So what makes a really great looking battle vest? Well, one thing to bear in mind is (if you’re doing it right) it’s a work in progress, not a destination to race to, and it’s going to be “in progress” for quite a while before it’s completed. That usually means wearing it while it’s unfinished. Like how you have to be on the train before you arrive at your destination. Enjoy the process; if you never see yourself getting tired of bands of the sort who release patches, if you really love metal, I suggest you make your train seat cosy, because your jacket vest may never reach completion – and that’s a good thing! I’m looking forward (if money permits) to going to Bloodstock in 2016 and seeing some awesome thrash/death metal bands.
Also I’m adding Children Of Bodom and Asphyx and Murderdolls to my bands bucket list and will update it accordingly. Children of Bodom are supporting Lamb of God who are supporting Megadeth on Thursday (and it’s going to be awesome). Listen to them here:
Asphyx just sound excellent on Youtube (I saw their patch on someone else’s battle vest… see how this works now Billy Idol???), give them a listen, I really want to see them live now:
And this is the reason Murderdolls have made it onto the list. It’s probably old but I only got round to listening to them for the first time today and this was the first thing I picked, it’s the best. Cover. Ever (miles better than Tainted Love):