Described as “the UKs premier indoor festival”, it’d be easy to have high expectations of the day, especially after last year saw Brand New headline both of the days (one in Bristol on the Saturday before the whole event moved north for the Sunday in Nottingham). However, at first glance the Nottingham date seemed to have taken a step down rather than up, losing a venue (The Forum, which last year saw the likes of Kids In Glass Houses and Memphis May Fire play) and no longer having the road outside the venues closed, losing some of the vibe to the festival. However, as Tim Vantol pointed out later that day, regardless, the festival took months to plan and it’s considerably better than the otherwise boring Sunday everyone would have had.
Of the opening acts across the four stages, Calabrese’s performance on Rock City’s Basement stage was an easy stand out. With the classic rock sound tinged with stadium worthy vocals, they’re the sort of band designed for live shows, albeit probably fitting as well in a rocker’s road trip playlist. An accessible edge to their music enticed the expectant audience into clapping along and kicking the day off pre-1pm; there’s a real rockstar style to the band’s delivery and unashamed confidence on stage.
One of the highlights of the day came in the form of Dead!, second up on the Rescue Rooms stage. From when we previously saw they last year in Nottingham’s Old Angel, their already strong performance has developed tenfold, appearing much more comfortable on a stage with the freedom to run around as they please; and run around they do. There’s no fancy way of putting it that would do the band justice; Dead! are simply brilliant – between their lively dancing they boast a gripping stage presence and technically tight set, sliding dancey numbers next to rockier ones, and they’re well on the road to earth shaking success. You heard it here first.
With bass shaking up Rock City’s Basement stage, You Blew It! provided a refreshing burst of pop punk among the heavier bands of the day. Pulling an impressive crowd, the size you’d expect to see them roping in at their own shows, the band established a friendly rapport with the whole room, splitting the set up with a dose of friendly banter. With an incredibly strong control over the music, the band delivered some fantastic instrumentals, regardless if they were slow and sporadic or fast and intricate, showing off a mere sample of what they were capable of. An abundance of enthusiasm, tight, fun pop punk and some intriguing t-shirts made You Blew It!’s set not only one of the most enjoyable of the day, but also the most all-round polished off.
Though it’d be easy to compare Tim Vantol and his band to Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls, there’s little more than make up and genre in common. Tim’s husky vocals blend perfectly with the electric tint to the show, and with his uplifting optimism captivating the audience with short speeches on his appreciation of the festival, he further involved the crowd by bringing them together for singalongs (with his determination shining through when people forgot the words). Heartfelt and honest lyrics are performed with all the gusto of Flogging Molly, and there’s a down to earth Rob Lynch-y mood to his show, with everyone leaving feeling like they’d made personal friends with the people on stage.
Brawlers put on one of the best of Stealth’s sets with a performance to whet the appetite for more, whilst the much hyped about Allusondrugs took to the main stage of Rock City, sort of looking like they were being exorcised. For the name they’ve worked up for themselves, I somehow expected something more outstanding than outrageous, and though certainly an interesting watch with a substantial crowd, it felt like other acts would have been more deserving of the privilege.
Though no fault of the band, Tellison’s strained vocals were a mark on their otherwise refined set, and despite being rather subdued and static on stage, A Great Big Pile Of Leaves gave a strong performance for their UK debut, continuing Basement’s solid line up. Though at first melodic, controlled and melancholy, the band’s performance grew more frantic as the set wore on, with Back To School being a fine highlight.
Though Decade’s frontman didn’t kick their set off with the energy he usually encompasses, like a snowball the band gained momentum, and after a throwing a new song into the set they proved how accomplished they can be in their execution. Brainfreeze went down a treat with the eager crowd, and as always, Decade put up a show to reinforce why they deserve to be receiving the attention they’ve been getting recently. Hacktivist were also introducing new music on the main stage, with their latest work getting cheers of approval from the audience, their distinct style blossoming in its niche.
Whatever’s in the water that made Netherlands’ Tim Vantol so brilliant must have been shared with John Coffey, a band from the same neck of the woods and so zesty that they would’ve seemed a danger on the main stage, let alone in Rock City’s Basement. Multiple vocalists allowed the rocky music to boast weight in the layered sound, and despite being halfway up the lineup, they acted like the owned the place with enthusiasm.
At the greatest extreme of the day came the only solo rapper of the rock festival, MC Lars on Rescue Rooms’ stage. Whilst it might not have been the most fitting in the lineup, his mix of audience participation, sing alongs, political-meets-humour music and questionable jokes made his set a highlight for its eclecticity and enjoyment. Just a man and his computer, the show was a simplistic one but one that showed his skill, and regardless of how out of place it seemed, its brilliance made it worthwhile. If you’re a fan of laughing as much as joining in at a gig, MC Lars is one to check out.
The Xcerts last came to Nottingham to stop at Bodega on their headline tour, and though Sunday’s atmosphere at Rock City’s Basement wasn’t quite as intense, the three piece delivered the same tight set. They’re one of those acts that makes every show an experience more than simply a gig, and it’s easy to see why the band are seeing so much success.
Over on the festival’s main stage, While She Sleeps were on the way to get the party well and truly started, with fan favourite Seven Hills causing total chaos (“give [the security guards] down here something to fucking work for!” yells vocalist Lawrence Taylor, followed suit by a dozen or so people crowd surfing forwards). If anyone at the festival knew how to work a crowd, with their brilliant and frantic stage presence, it was While She Sleeps.
I’d been previously warned that Devil Sold His Soul’s show would make me feel like my “bones are frozen”, and with the overpowering weight of the music and stunning strobe lights, that’s an accurate statement. In Stealth’s packed room the performance seemed all the more intense, and if the music were anything less than perfectly in time, the show would’ve slipped. As it was, the metalcore outfit proved to be a somewhat hidden gem of the night – again, another one where the show itself is an experience.
In stark comparison, The Early November’s half totally chilled out set seemed somewhat of a contrast. Though the band have been creating music as an outfit since 1999, there was a bright faced freshness to the show, with frontman Ace Enders putting in all the determined energy of a college band vocalist trying to win over every person in the room. With a new album on the way soon, the New Jersey quintet proved as comfortable belting out new tracks as the audience were singing along with older ones. A deserved headliner for Rock City’s Basement stage.
Headlining the dates came Skindred, one of those bands you can’t truly appreciate till you’ve seen them live. Unsurprisingly, they delivered all was expected (after strutting on to the Star Wars March intro, as they do), and rounded off the day with a sufficiently impressive and epic show.
PICKS OF THE FESTIVAL
- Tim Vantol
- MC Lars