The rise of Enter Shikari, as told through their most important gigs

From selling out the London Astoria as an unsigned band in 2006 to this year’s stunning arena tour, Rou Reynolds looks back at how Enter Shikari have conquered… well… literally everywhere.

The rise of Enter Shikari, as told through their most important gigs
Emma Wilkes
Jez Pennington

Enter Shikari have almost become part of the furniture at Download, being regular visitors and headlining 2021’s Pilot like kings. As they prepare to hit the Apex Stage on Saturday night, Rou Reynolds talks us through the St Albans smashers’ most important gigs, and explains how to play guitar on a fun-fair ride…

2003Enter Shikari’s first gig at the Square in Harlow

“We booked ourselves three shows in a row and we were like, ‘That’s a tour! We’re a band, we go on tour now.’ We were so excited about it. We had a crazy rehearsal schedule – we’d rehearse four or five times a week. Then the week before the show, Rob [Rolfe, drums] was skateboarding and broke his collarbone. He was strung up in a cast and obviously couldn’t play the drums. I remember not feeling any sympathy for him at all, I was so angry with him. He can’t even skateboard, so I don’t know what he was doing! A friend of mine who lived down the street from me learned the set last-minute, but he was a ska drummer so we found that he’d start the song at the right speed because we’d count him in, but by the end of the song, we’d be playing at double tempo. It was an interesting show, and what made it more hilarious was that I remember Rob came to the show and was in the pit. He couldn’t drum, but he could swing his arm around like a windmill!”

2006The first time at Download

“The first time we played Download was the first time we’d played any festival. It filled us with anxiety and excitement. There was extra anxiety on the day because Chris [Batten, bass] was actually on a family holiday and he flew back the morning of, and I think his flight was delayed a bit and we were all like, ‘When’s he gonna make it?’ But it was a wicked show – the tent was completely overflowing. It felt like all that hard work we’d done up and down the country for three years was paying off and we saw so many familiar faces in the audience. There was a real buzz about us. Back then, a lot of people were excited, but a lot of people refused to [give us the time of day]. We were kind of anarchic in our complete disregard for genres and complete disregard for respecting the boundaries that they should have. There were definitely a few bottles – this was back in the days when people would bottle bands they didn’t like. It was an electric atmosphere and 99 per cent of people there were just going mad and loved it, but for a lot of the shows we did back then it was like, ‘Oh God, is it gonna kick off?’ It was a fun one.”

2006Selling out the London Astoria as an unsigned band

“We’d been a band for three years, playing every single little venue in the UK, and this was when we felt like, ‘Maybe we’re getting somewhere.’ After those hilarious, but quite agonising and difficult, three years, it was a really nice feeling. And it was the first time we’d ever had lasers! We’d just got a lighting person and we had a meeting with them and our tour manager, and they said, ‘You can afford lasers or pyro, you can’t afford both.’ We were like, ‘What if we got both?’ And they said, ‘You wouldn’t make any money.’ We were like, ‘We’ll do both then,’ which has basically been our philosophy for forever. We were kids in a toy shop. I remember when the lasers first came on in the transition in Return To Energiser and Rob was so blown away by the moment, he just lost himself and he didn’t come back in at the right time. It was a hilarious moment.”

2009Performing at Glastonbury

“Glastonbury kind of solidifies you as a ‘real’ act. I think we’ve always had impostor syndrome and we’ve always thought, ‘The alternative isn’t taken seriously in the mainstream.’ When you get to play Glastonbury, you feel that sort of sense of being a real band or whatever. We had a brass section, which was made up of my brother on the trombone, and all of our local ska-punk bands. They were people that we’ve known for a while and it was so nice to do something really different. It was just a one-off and it gave the set an extra special vibe.”

2013Bringing the chaos to Weston-Super-Mare’s Grand Pier

“That was nuts. We were doing an off-the-beaten-track tour, playing in places that bands don’t normally play – and most of them were on the coast, as well. We’d been doing all sorts of places that were never used to shows and therefore we found ourselves in quite interesting venues – and one of them was The Grand Pier in Weston-Super-Mare. They had all sorts of rides and we just ran amok inside this venue. There was a stage on the opposite side of the venue, and it had Minnie Mouse and Goofy statues. I went running around and climbed on them at one point. During The Jester, Chris went on one of these rides that takes you all the way up and then drops you back down. I remember him saying afterwards about how the safety bars came down over his chest and he was like, ‘How the hell am I going to play guitar?’ They just put the guitar around his neck but he could barely hold on to it. I’ve never, ever seen anything like that. The whole thing was just like, ‘What? What is our life?’ [We] lead these utterly surreal, preposterous lives.”

2016Conquering an arena for the first time in Nottingham

“It was a big production, obviously much bigger than the Astoria – we’d come a long way since then. I think this was the first tour as well where we really took the reins. The whole show was a journey. We really thought about it like a theatrical thing. We had Rob’s dad narrating this whole story where he’d come on in between songs throughout the set. And we had all these visuals as well. It was a massive undertaking. I just remember the immense relief coming offstage. I remember Tom Pullen, our photographer, got a shot of it so it aids my memory, but I just collapsed on the floor of our dressing room and I was laughing hysterically, almost crying, just like, ‘We fucking did it.’ I felt really lucky after that, that we got to put on these real events. They’re really quite a spectacle, you know? We were overjoyed.”

2017Celebrating Take To The Skies’ 10th anniversary at Slam Dunk, 2017

“This was at the old location back at the university. I remember our lasers looking absolutely beautiful in and amongst the trees – they’d be glittering in the leaves. It was like a modern art exhibition or something. It just felt like quite a momentous occasion. We’d released an album and the people were happy to celebrate its anniversary with us. It felt like a lot of people grew up with this album and it was such a nostalgic opportunity. I think the whole set was full of emotion; we got to play songs that we hadn’t played in 10 years and we did Today Won’t Go Down In History for the first time on that run. I think I’ve said this quite a few times, actually, but that’s one song that could be on any Enter Shikari album. We loved being able to play that for the first time.”

2019Breaking an exhausting record at Reading & Leeds

“That weekend was ridiculous. We did two shows at Leeds and three in Reading and it was just utterly exhausting. The Main Stage show was probably one of my favourites ever, even though we were dressed head-to-toe in suits and we had pyro and it was like 33 degrees. That was the hottest thing you could imagine. We seem to love pushing ourselves to the absolute extremes. That was the second record that we made at Reading – the first record was back in 2009, where we broke and still hold the record for the most people [going] over the barrier.”

2021Headlining Download Pilot

“It was very emotional, having gone from thinking, ‘Are we ever going to get to play again?’ It had extra emotional weight for me, because I hadn’t been able to write over the pandemic, which was very scary and anxiety-inducing, considering I’ve written music since I was nine. There was so much jubilation in that field, with people being with people they hadn’t seen for ages, and with bands and people in the industry that we hadn’t seen for over a year and a half. We had three weeks to prepare – I remember when we got the call, and we didn’t believe it. It was such an emotional performance, [especially] getting to hear the songs that we hadn’t been able to play from Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible that had been out for over a year. Normally, by that point, you’ve played every song off the album, and you get to live it. You don’t really know the songs until you play them live, so it was just a relief. It was a really, really beautiful moment.”

2024Headlining Wembley Arena

“This was our most ambitious show ever. We literally designed every single nut and bolt – every flash, every bang – ourselves. Rory [Clewlow, guitar] did a lot of the visuals. It was a very stressful six months prior! But it was brilliant. It was such a fun show and one of our most well-balanced sets. We always worried about whether we’d sell seats, which is probably why we stuck to Ally Pally for so long, because it’s just one big mass without any balconies or anything. But it was brilliant, and [there were] so many people. There was one song where I made my way around the whole [seating area] and there were so many people in the seats who were bringing their kids. [I got to see] the breadth of the generations that are into our band – we have kids as young as seven or eight singing the words back to us, and then we have people who are 50-plus coming to the shows as well. It’s such a welcoming, broad audience and I love it. It was a real celebration.”

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?