Featured image and gallery: Gracie Hall
“I know y’all know this one… I know y’all have the energy for me and I know you’re gonna bring it”, proclaims Ashton Casey, better known by stage name Ashnikko, as her headline performance at O2 Victoria Warehouse approaches its climactic close. This statement acts as an ethos for the entire show, with energy aplenty from her audience of ‘demidevils’ in response to the high-octane setlist she brings to Manchester for only the second time in her career.
The venue, situated on the outskirts of the city centre in Stretford, is a century-old industrial warehouse, the insides of which flaunts exposed brick and metalwork. It’s a unique space for live music and this individuality is just as prominent in the visually colourful and unabashedly eccentric crowd that have gathered to witness the live spectacle of Ashnikko.
Show opener Hemlocke Springs, recently pinned as one to watch, brings a synth-laden pop performance that spotlights her debut EP going… going… GONE! and provides an injection of vivacity to the already thrumming crowd of attendees. Her bright pink and purple locks paired with black corset, lace gloves and bisexual-coded print skirt assimilates her seamlessly into the rainbow of alternative style to be found within the warehouse.
Following a queer electronic interval playlist which sustains the current running through the crowd, the exuberant Ashnikko enters stage left. This tour she can be found flanked by two dancers, Phoenix and Lexi, and together the three of them deliver creative and unrelenting choreography throughout the show. Their movements are astounding, a seemingly improbable marriage of fluidity and sharpness that is delivered with extreme bite and sensuality. Fans of the singer know that this is nothing new for her, as music videos for ‘You Make Me Sick’ and ‘Cheerleader’, among others, can attest to.
The Weedkiller tour serves, in part, as a conduit for her latest record of the same name. Weedkiller combines gritty, dystopian world-building with musical elements of electronica, metal, rap and pop and alongside the delivery of evocative and mythic lyricism, the translation of this within a live space gives the distinct impression of being guided through a twisted folktale.
The setlist also makes plenty of space for older material, which sounds just as distinctive and genre-bending as her later album offerings. Before debut EP Unlikeable single ‘Invitation’ begins, Ashnikko invites the crowd to “join me in this spell, demidevils”, before launching into a sonic overload of scuzz and bass. This rage-fuelled and riff-rife musical identity is as ever-present in Weedkiller, from set opener ‘You Make Me Sick!’ to ‘Chokehold Cherry Python’, which Ashnikko prefaces with the question: “Are you ready to rage?!”
The most idyllic marriage of old and new comes when the on-stage trio unveil shimmering azure pom-poms, the crying rally of, “Cheer squad, assemble!” marking the arrival of 2020 single ‘Tantrum’: (“Dark magic, cheer captain / Cheer my team like “go, team, go” / T-E-A-M-P-S-Y-C-H-O”). This is promptly followed by 2023’s ‘Cheerleader’, a clear fan-favourite amongst the warehouse masses: (“Hate me ‘cause I’m beautiful / Bitch, I don’t like you either / Cheerleader, cheerleader, cheerleader, cheerleader”).
“If it’s still cold outside, it’s still Halloween,” Ashnikko declares. Fans scream in collective anticipation of an imminent stand-out moment in the evening, spotlighting the performer’s ongoing ‘Halloweenie’ series which began back in October 2018 and has spawned a new spooky, sexual Halloween anthem almost every year; 2023’s offering comes in the form of ‘Halloweenie V: The Moss King’ which acts as the culmination to a medley of all five tracks. Halloweenies also serve as a prime example of Ashnikko’s talent for eerie, folkloric imagery (“I am the moss king here in your house / You sang the song with your wicked mortal mouth”) and acute ear for distinctive interpolations, such as her use of orchestral piece ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ in ‘Halloweenie IV: Innards’.
The show’s climax comes in the form of ‘Daisy’, a barbed and hedonistic number that causes pits to form in the bowels of the swarm worshipping at the feet of this cobalt-haired, ethereal juggernaut. On lights up, the opening chords of Hannah Montana classic ‘Best of Both Worlds’ begin, sending the exiting throng into an exuberant and nostalgia-fuelled sing-along.
In effect, the entire live show acts as an impressive ode to the musician’s idiosyncratic songwriting ability and world-building execution, with her latest Weedkiller universe demonstrating just how formidable of a force Ashnikko is within the future of our ever genre-defying musical landscape.