Live Review: Southsea Fest 2014 – Portsmouth – 20/09/2014

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Another year, another pilgrimage to Hampshire’s coast for the latest installment of the annual invasion of Albert Road. Whereas other similar festivals act more as an industry showcase, this is a paean to all things DIY; whether the genre be punk or indie rock, Southsea is your destination for the cream of the dive-bar circuit. It’s also an occasion to treasure as its situation in late September signifies the very last throes of the summer festival season, signalling a return to social normality away from muddy fields and tepid beer.

Despite the season verging into autumnal territory, it became clear that the first mistake I had made was not wearing shorts; even early on in the day, the tiny Fifth Hants Volunteer Tavern was heating up – one can only imagine the kind of sweatbox temperatures one would have had to endure if original headliners of this stage Brontide had not pulled out of their slot. However, a mistake was not made in seeing The Lion & The Wolf as my first act of the day on the stage presented by Flatpack Recordings. Tom George’s between-song repartee is as priceless as ever, owning his likeness to British Bake-Off weeper Iain, which are important to alleviate the mood in-between his self-described “saddest songs in the world”. However, a rousing ‘Hand Of Applause’ rounds off a winning set, teeing all in attendance up for a wonderful afternoon to come. (4/5)

Following in the footsteps of ex-bandmate Luke Barham’s solo project Uncle Luc, former Stagecoach drummer Matt Emery has ventured out on his own, but the difference between this and his former involvings are striking; rather than lo-fi slacker rock territory, Emery and his electric piano land somewhere between an emotive film soundtrack (think 65daysofstatic’s alternative scoring of sci-fi classic ‘Silent Running’ meets Yann Tiersen’s ‘Amelie’ soundtrack), and neo-classical influenced post-rock in the vein of Sigur Ros and Maybeshewill. An underutilised facet in Stagecoach, his voice soars and coruscates above his tinkling, and he seems to have had a massive boost in confidence in his stylings of late. This project should make its way to a recording soon; ensure you’re among the first to hear it. (3.5/5)

Next up on Alcopop!/Big Scary Monsters’ Edge of the Wedge stage were London-based two-piece JOHN; an ingenious name based on the fact that both of its members are called John – possibly the most un-Googleable name since nu-metallers ‘A’. However, their musical stylings are more likely to frustrate your chiropodist than your search engine, taking a snarling, thrashy stance in the vein of bands such as mclusky and Pulled Apart By Horses, also putting one in the mind of fellow duos such as Winnebago Deal and That Fucking Tank. This was their second set of the day in quick succession, so understandably Drummer John’s voice was starting to show a little strain, but Guitar John ensured this tiny room was filled with some strong and hefty riffage. (4/5)

Back at the Fifth Hants, Body Hound played an astonishing set; in amongst a day of great sets thus far, this was something truly special. Having learned their craft previously in bands such as Rolo Tomassi and Antares, their cosmic technical math-rock exhibits all the spectacle promised by their EP ‘Rhombus Now’, and delivers on the potential shown on that record in spadefuls. Songs like ‘Momentum’ and the eponymous track of the aforementioned EP are utterly mindblowing to watch unfurl, displaying dizzying, dazzling guitar theatrics anchored by Ryan Bright’s excellent drumming. It’s only mid-afternoon, but my jaw is already sore from being somewhere near my knees throughout this amazing set. (5/5)

Following that would be a considerable task for most bands, but then Employed To Serve aren’t most bands. A fresh face on the post-#UKSWELL hardcore scene, this Surrey-based quintet are an essential listen for fans of Stateside titans such as Converge & Punch and British acts like Pariso & Svalbard alike. Vocalist Justine Jones proves a commanding presence, overseeing a frantic dancefloor at The Loft feeding off the band’s incendiary performance; all sorts of chaos breaks out, including human pyramids and guitarist Sammy Unwin playing whilst being carried by a crowd of willing pitters. The reaction to a band that have only been around a short while is as impressive as their music – definitely one to watch if you’re a fan of confrontational, chaotic heavy music. (4.5/5)

It’s not often that Bristolians The Attika State play shows, but when they do, they certainly make themselves an unmissable act. Despite this being their first appearance in around 18 months, they bring the #vibes to the Edge Of The Wedge, filling the dark venue with swathes of summery tunes. Cuts from 2010’s ‘Measures’ appear alongside newer songs that may yet see the light of day (make room for that one in your diary sometime in 2017 folks), with singers Warren Mallia and Rudy Barella belting them out like they’ve never been away. Don’t leave it so long before another show gents – we miss you. (4/5)

After a much-needed burrito break, it was time to head over to The One-Eyed Dog, where Southsea DIY played host to the punk stage. However, this visit was to see a band that don’t quite fit that mould, County Durham’s Martha. Boasting far more of an indie rock vibe than you’d expect members of ONSIND to display, if you imagine a cross between Lemuria and melodious indie-pop masters Los Campesinos!, you’d arrive at this quartet. The groundswell of plaudits full-length ‘Courting Strong’ has been receiving feels justified, as Martha course through a pacey, riotous set. If you like pop and punk but don’t like pop-punk, this lot can’t come recommended any more highly. (3.5/5)

I write this review in a week where math-rock has lost two of its strongholds in You Slut! and Adebisi Shank, which makes you value bands like Tangled Hair even more. The Surrey-based trio still manage to play a hefty schedule of shows despite members also being committed to aiding the live performance of electro-poppers AlunaGeorge, and produce the fantastic set at the Edge of the Wedge we’ve become accustomed to since their return from a brief hiatus. New material has been promised from the ex-Colour men, so ensure you support their continued existence so that we can appreciate James Trood’s wonderful drumming for some time to come. (4/5)

Back at the One-Eyed Dog (from one end of the stretch of venues that constitute Southsea Fest), it’s time for Portsmouth’s very own Attack! Vipers! to bow out before entering an indefinite hiatus. The definition of “local heroes”, their fast and furious hardcore sets a packed venue alight, even managing to squeeze in a bizarre yet wonderful cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Tonight, Tonight’. As A!V! depart to calls of “WE WANT MORE!”, you get the sense this set won’t soon be forgotten, and neither will this band; they may not have quite entered UK hardcore’s Hall Of Fame, but their following will miss their presence. (4/5)

Over at The Loft, Goodtime Boys have the opportunity to show Southsea that the scene is in safe hands going forward; unfortunately, it’s an opportunity that goes begging. Despite the excellence of recent full-length ‘Rain’, GtB’s performance tonight feels underwhelming; whether that be down to the lack of crowd participation or the sound levels making Lewis Johns’ usually bright and bold riffs sound drab, the quartet never really shift out of second gear. Their constantly changing cast of performers may be a hindrance (only vocalist Alex Pennie remains from the original lineup); once this incarnation of Goodtime Boys can find their feet I feel sure they can kick on, but tonight’s set was sadly a disappointment. (3/5)

However, the night was rounded off in spectacular style by the wonderful Talons over on the Edge of the Wedge. The Herefordshire sextet have, like Goodtime Boys, released a personal favourite record of this year so far in ‘New Topographics’ but tonight’s performance is a more than worthy representation of incredible source material. From opener ‘Monuments’ onward, the busy room is held within the palm of Talons’ hands, their dense guitarring and stirring twin violins enrapturing the crowd filling this annex bar. It’s been a while since Talons have played regularly, and this latest spate of live outings is utterly unmissable, as is the aforementioned record.

As the almighty crescendo of ‘The Dreams Have No Dream’ rings out, a perfect end to a wonderful day, I reflect on another successful Southsea Fest – one of Britain’s most unique and diverse festivals, while it might not have big-name pulling power (Wedgewood Rooms headliner Pulled Apart By Horses excepted), the experience of a more genuine festival amongst other independent music fans makes this one of the most enjoyable days of the year. Long live Southsea Fest, long may its dedication to the DIY spirit be enjoyed year after year.

5/5

Words by Ollie Connors (@olliexcore)

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