Photography: Catherine Bourne

Meet SAL, the brains behind WHIPLASH, the premier extreme metal night in the North-west. Since 2001, Whiplash has grown from an off-the-cuff discussion on the Wirral, to bringing some of the leading lights of the death-metal scene to Liverpool. Frankly, before meeting Sal, I felt I’d be a little out of my comfort zone. The stories surrounding these genres have become ingrained in musical folklore, taking in everything from church burnings, onstage ritual sacrifice to inter-band murders. As with any myth, there are embellishments, but the tales combined with the onstage theatrics and guttural noises have gone to make the darker side of the metal spectrum one of the most subversive forms of an extreme genre. Preconceptions are rarely ever proved justified and mine were shattered upon meeting Sal, a warm and friendly mother of two, who happens to have a passion for the heaviest of heavy metal music.

“Whiplash started in Stairways on the Wirral, where I knew the manager. I was dancing to Pantera, but they played the Prodigy straight after. I was gutted, and had a bit of a drunken rant and the manager asked if I could do better! He offered me a night, which I named after a Metallica song, and it went from there.”

After this inauspicious nascence, Whiplash became an established club night, with Sal as resident DJ. After a while friends started approaching Sal to put live music on. “The first live band show was a bit of a disaster, they turned up and we didn’t have microphones or leads for them, but it was all ok in the end.”

The first move into Liverpool came in 2001 to Hannahs Bar, before moving to Heaven and Hell and to Zanzibar. Scene luminaries such as Gorerotted, Behemoth and Pungent Stench all played Whiplash, before a massive coup for Sal; Decapitated playing the Zanzibar in 2005, just months before a bus crash killed drummer, Witold ‘Vitek’ Kiełtyka, and left vocalist Adrian ‘Covan’ Kowanek in a coma. The Decapitated show was the last Whiplash for four years, with Sal taking time to expand her family and move up in her day job. However, in 2009, Whiplash was resurrected, “I got to the point when I didn’t know who I was anymore, I was just getting on at work but wanted something else. So Whiplash came back.”

“We’ve had people come from across the UK for these shows, and we have bands from across the world asking to come over.” Sal, Whiplash

Since it’s return, Whiplash has gone from strength to strength, attracting some of the biggest names in extreme metal and Sal seems to be relishing a return to promoting, “The bands always say nice things, they always want to come back.” No surprise given the effort Sal takes in looking after her bands, “I always cater for them, I’ll do a massive shop at the supermarket to make sure all members of the team are catered for. It’s good to treat bands well. In the past I’ve sourced pigs blood for bands shows, I’ve taken a band member to the STI clinic. I’ve had to buy nineteen cotton towels. Once we had a band with a vegan singer, so I made her a completely vegan chocolate cake. She actually cried, she was so pleased someone had gone out of their way to cater for her. All the bands ask to come back, so we’re doing something right.”

Throughout the interview, the passion Sal has for Whiplash almost bubbles over. She is aware of the niche nature of music she promotes, but is eager for there to be an outlet for it in this region. Liverpool is never noted for its contribution to extreme music (despite being onetime home to Carcass and Anathema), but Sal finds a healthy audience from this city and beyond, “We’ve had people come from across the UK for these shows, and we have bands from across the world asking to come over.” In 2011, Whiplash continues to attract extreme metal deities to its stage, with a performance from Egyptian-mythology obsessed Nile on 9th February to kickstart the year.

Sal knows that she is not providing music for the masses (not yet anyway), and understands the limited appeal such a brutal form of music can have, but is keen that people don’t dismiss it out of hand, “I’d encourage people just to try it. If you just think it’s noise, and many do, then that’s fine, but it’s when people dismiss the genre without trying it that gets annoying.”

It’s a pleasure to see a promoter with so much love for what they do, regardless of genre, and Sal’s enthusiasm alone is enough to see why Whiplash has become one of the leading lights to the fans of extreme metal.

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