The Blackout: “It feels like magic where we are right now”

Nine years after calling things quits, Sean Smith talks the biggest renaissance in post-hardcore

When The Blackout announced their reunion at the tail end of 2022, they didn’t know what to expect. Unsurprisingly, they were met with love, adoration and an immediate excitement that they would be taking to the stage again for the first time since 2015. The band were stalwarts of the UK scene at the turn of the 2010s. Bringing the intensity of post-hardcore, the melodies of pop punk, and an unparalleled party-starting attitude to everything they did, they were everything that was brilliant about the UK scene at the time. For a whole generation of alternative music fans, they were an inspiration, a gateway and a home unlike any other. 

Nine years after they brought things to a close, the band are hitting the road again for five huge headline shows with support from Dead Pony. They have also invited a different local support for each date, further nurturing and holding up fresh young talent on their own terms. 

We caught up with vocalist Sean Smith to find out how the band’s return has been.

The Blackout - Higher and Higher (Official Video) Feat. Hyro Da Hero

How does it feel to be at the place where these shows are finally about to happen? It’s been building to this since 2022, and now it’s finally here…

It feels very real. The thing is, I’ve been begging for the last five years for The Blackout to get back together to play these shows. Now, I’m tour managing, social media managing, merchandise designing, and promoting the band. Luckily, we have a bus, so I’m not driving just yet! All I wanted to do was play five shows with my friends and have fun. I’ve been through more mental torture trying to get these together than the eight years we were around. But saying all of that, I cannot wait for them.

At the beginning, it was just unquestioningly exciting. Like, “Oh my god, this is happening, it’s going to be brilliant, everybody is going to love it”. Now, it is exciting, but I also realise how much work goes into putting on a tour. It’s f*cking mad. But I’m really glad we’ve been able to put something like this together, and even more, we can sort out having a local band on every show. They are all class, and we all have a personal relationship with each other, so it means a bit more.

In many ways, this has been a very selfish endeavour in the best possible way. These shows are a chance to do something for yourself, the people who love you and nobody else.

Very much so. We’ve come back, and we’re not doing things the same way anymore. We’re not having it. We weren’t going to do any favours. We’re taking out bands that we like. That’s how it should be, but that’s not always how our world works.

A lot of that shows in the fact that two of the gigs you have played out of the three so far in this comeback have been in your hometown, Merthyr Tydfil. How important was it for you to do that?

They were both amazing. The Red House was the first one. It was where we started the band, and it was where we ended the band as well. So, we knew we wanted to restart it there as well. Kick it off in Merthyr again and get some new eyes on that venue. It worked because they’ve hosted some really cool shows recently. 

Then there was the other show at The Scala for my birthday in December, which was an excuse for me not to have a surprise party. If we are celebrating me, we are celebrating through my band and town. The Scala was a brand-new venue, and we wanted to bring attention to it. Some people came from Canada for it, which is ridiculous. All we try to do is put the town on the map; that’s what it is all about.

The Blackout - Save Our Selves [The Warning]

And then there was Download, which is at the other end of the spectrum. How did it feel to be able to do something that massive?

I used to have nightmares about playing at big festivals like Download – where we were surprise headlining and a band like Limp Bizkit was on before us. That would obviously never happen, which is why it was a dream. But every time, Limp Bizkit would finish, and everyone would start to leave in front of the stage. And because nobody knew that we were on, I would end up running about screaming, “Boys, we need to go on right now, quick.” So that was a fear too, that nobody would ever turn up to our shows.

We were definitely nervous, especially with it being the tent furthest away from the rest of the festival. If I had known how far people would have to go to see The Blackout, I would have jumped off the stage and shaken hands with everyone there. The motherf*cker was rammed. And with all the videos I’ve seen, from the front to the back, everybody was into it, singing and dancing. So many people having the time of their lives. I went and stood out on the barrier, and for every five people, I saw someone who used to come to see us. My friends were crowd surfing; I was constantly waving and pointing at people. It was amazing.

In terms of songs you’ve played across these three shows, you’ve covered a lot of ground and played everything you could ever dream of…

Yeah, it’s a bit of everything except for anything off ‘Start The Party’, which is quite funny – a running theme. But playing in a way that covers as much as possible has been liberating. We’re not just here to show new material off or try and sell something. We are just saying, “F*ck it, remember this one?” If not, it doesn’t matter because we do. We’ve put it in the set for us. At the Scala show, we played ‘Life & Death in Space’, which is a slow jam, for the first time since 2008 possibly. We did ‘Spread Legs, Not Lies’, ‘Prepare For A Wound’, and so many others. And you could see what it meant to hear those songs on people’s faces. Playing them in front of people who still know the words is bonkers. The deep cuts that we thought that people wouldn’t know or remember as well.

We are also shaking the set up for this tour as well. There are going to be songs we didn’t play at those shows. It will be a different set every night, with three or four songs changing around. We’re just about to get into rehearsing, and we couldn’t be more excited to dive into it all.

And you’re not stopping there because you’ll also be playing Slam Dunk. That will be a The Best In Town anniversary set, 15 years since its release. It must feel nice to see things out at a festival which means so much to you.

It’s going to f*cking awesome, what a line-up. Lucas Woodland fronting Funeral For A Friend! That’s something that I want to see more than anything else there. Daryl Palumbo is going to be doing Decadence with Head Automatica as well, hopefully wearing some sort of Miami Vice-style white suit. And then You Me At Six are there too, so that’s going to happen, you know? Where I would have usually done all of that stuff behind the scenes, organising Josh jumping on stage with us and vice versa, I’ve done it publicly. Someone tweeted us about it, so I just retweeted it and put it out there. It’s being able to put more eyes on it and get more excitement and traction about it being able to happen. That’s what it is all about. I’m not too cool to keep that sort of thing a secret. The Blackout were never a cool band, and now more than ever, we aren’t about that. So why would we hide it?

That’s the thing and why this means so much to so many. The Blackout was a source of solace for those who wanted something different and wore that difference with pride. For you to be able to look back and see that past version of yourself…

…Two lads came to the second Merthyr show who were maybe 16/17. They literally camped outside the venue. From 09:00, they were sat in the pissing rain waiting for doors to open. My first thought was “Why are you here? You’re 16?” They said that they absolutely loved our band. The last time I was in this band, they were seven. That’s mental. Spending time with and chatting with them was amazing, seeing that this thing is still moving.

There are new people who didn’t get the chance to do this the first time around. Nothing has changed about how we do things either, except there will be more light bouncing off the heads of three people in the band than before. There are a few more grey hairs, but we are playing and performing as we did initially. I feel like I am singing better now than I ever have in the past, we’re sounding better than we ever have. It feels like we have been channelling the old us. The 2009 us. It feels like magic where we are right now.

The Blackout UK tour starts on 19 February. Find tickets here.

Slam Dunk festival runs between 25-26 May.