Your standard “festival season” might run from June to August, but with the rise of indoor festivals (especially intimate ones such as this) there’s no reason why a bit of rain or an early sunset should stop anyone from having a good time. Even January 3rd, where thirteen bands took over Nottingham’s Pop Punk Fest, wasn’t too early to kick things off. However, there are a few choice limitations as to what defines a festival, and having only one stage did rather give the illusion of a nine hour booze up with music. Regardless, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, and whatever you choose to title it with doesn’t affect the quality of the show.
Held in the same venue as Load Of Meat Fest last year (you can check out our review here), the space was used entirely differently to create a tighter and more precise mood to the place. There’s no two ways of saying it; Aaron Bowes of Layby and JB Trent Records organised the whole backbone of the day, and did a smashing job of it. Using only one stage may have left gaps between each set where the public had to amuse themselves and keep out of the way of passing guitar cases, hurried musicians etc., but changeovers were kept to a minimum and bar the odd technical issue, the show ran on time.
Hello Tomorrow proved to be one of the biggest (pleasant) surprises of the day; I won’t shy away from the fact that I’ve previously criticised their live show from the volume of covers and their execution of them, and once again I couldn’t help feeling that their rendition of All The Small Things was managing to lack the power and control of Blink’s original, whilst also lacking originality. What’s also noticeable was their surprising lack of confidence to say how frequently the same songs are played. It’s not all bad though; the band’s rhythm guitarist had enough enthusiasm to power the national grid, and the original work in their set had improved above and beyond. Here’s something I never thought I’d tell a band; stick to your originals, they’re tighter, more confident and ooze originality.
Time For 15 were one of the acts on the line up new to us, and their show proved to be both promising and inconsistent. With an opening percussion that was glaringly unimaginative, the band picked up their performance with energy that peaked at a colossal force. Whilst eclectic, they seemed a little too clear to be artistically abstract, and the set was flecked with what could have been the deadpan influence of Brand New – if it hadn’t sounded a little too unintentional, edging towards flat rather than ambivalent. Winding up their show with a spectacular cover of Green Day’s Basket Case saved this though, and far from the show being a total lost cause it hinted at how good they could be.
Brought together by more than simply a love of pizza and plaid shirts, Anchor Down boasted one of the most promising sets of the day. At times lacking the necessary vocal power to thrill the crowd, when layered they made the most of the venue’s unforgiving acoustics. Managing to stir some life into the stubborn crowd and showing a fresh edge throughout, Anchor Down’s live show was the perfect accompaniment to their new EP, released the day before. The next two on the line up, Castaway and Youf, didn’t entirely fit the general “pop punk” genre, as they admitted themselves. This pair of more hardcore acts made for tighter shows and hinted at a longer track record in their comfort with the crowd and ability to motivate them.
As highlights of the show go, The Prophets proved to be one by far. Angel At My Table-esque vocals from the band’s frontwoman, Kate Thompson, stood out a mile and pronounced their edge. Once again, this was an act that didn’t have a female vocalist as a gimmick, and are right on track to follow Marmozets’ route of determination regardless if they keep their attitude up. Albeit fairly stationary, the pop punk sound was accessible yet addictive enough to enthuse any new listeners, with a sound as clear as that in studio.
Falsetto vocals, a Go Pro camera and a beautiful lead guitar. What could go wrong? Nothing, apparently, when you throw them all into Falling Upstairs’s set. Also featuring enough on stage banter to make you feel like at home with them and a guest singer on closing Whiskers, the set might have been impossible to make head or tail of, but was impressive nonetheless. Neon Sarcastic’s contribution took the show back on the straight and narrow, with a punchy cover of Rihanna’s Umbrella and songs long enough to absorb you. Tight and (for lack of a better phrase) on point throughout, they showed how to make a live show as good as a studio rendition.
On The Open Road have been featured every few months for the past year or so by us, and the development of their sound since the first time we saw them is astounding. Later this week we’ll be posting our interview with the band, and we’ll hear about why their debut EP has been so long coming; a wait that’s given them the chance to refine themselves before putting more than the odd song out there. A heavier and harsher vocal edge broke through in this show, and from the roots of unsure, blown over pop punk we saw months ago has grown a secure sound with structure and power to knock the audience back a step. Baby, This Isn’t A Game stood out in their set for the confidence they exuded in its execution; if they keep improving at this rate, who knows where they’ll be by the end of this year.
A fortnight ago we got to see Layby’s show supporting Lacey at Rock City, and we weren’t shy to criticise it. Somehow or another, everything found flawed it that performance was flattened out for this one; Aaron’s vocals were sublime, the stage was bustling with energy, and the crowd turned into a full on mosh pit of energy. It would seem that in two weeks, the quintet have managed to perfect their sound; if they can keep this up, the release of their sophomore EP with be phenomenal. Closing and headlining the show were Nottingham’s pride and joy of an alt-rock band, Lacey. Remember that time Jake Bugg came back to play The Maze for a few fans as an intimate hometown gig? Now Lacey have played alongside James Blunt and filled Rock City, it’s getting to feel like that. As well as their typically tight and polished performance, the band held a friendlier, more down-to-earth attitude in this show, thriving on the spirit that made the day what it was.
Bar the odd bum note or broken string, Nottingham Pop Punk Festival proved to be everything we all hoped it would be; I for one hope there’ll be more to follow.