Hit The Deck Nottingham 2015 review

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

  1. DEAD!
  2. Tim Vantol
  3. MC Lars

Layby – Chronic review

LAYBY2Earlier this year, Nottingham pop-punkers Layby released their debut EP, Bombsite. The quintet dropped their three track release (which you can stream below) this summer, and followed up the work by taking to Macmillan Fest’s acoustic stage (you can read our review here). With influences ranging right across pop-punk, from Green Day to The Story So Far, it’s not surprise that the EP is so infused with it. And there’s more to come…

Early 2015 is set to see the local triumph release their second EP; the lead track, Chronic, is an absolute corker. Lighter undertones last through the percussion heavy opening, before frontman Aaron Bowes’s vocals tear into the music. The pacey instrumental contrasts the soaring lyrics perfectly to form a true yet original pop-punk sound, with a hooking middle eight fading into a powerful ending that’ll be massively impressive at a live show. Addictive and punchy, it’s a sure and promising way to start the sophomore release.

Their forthcoming release sees them work with James Hill (Bring Me The Horizon, Me Vs Hero, ROAM) at the famous Steel City Studios in Sheffield, and January 3rd sees the five-piece play Nottingham’s first pop-punk festival, alongside the likes of Lacey and On The Open Road. You can read the full article on the festival here, which includes a few quick fire questions with the band.

The Maine, Lydia and Nick Santino at Rescue Rooms

Despite the general theme of all being something-rock artists and originating from Arizona, there’s little that binds the three acts of the evening together. The most noticeable similarity comes from the connection they all have with 8123 – a management company known for its familiarity and relaxed approach to the business side of music. Before the show, we got to have a chat with The Maine and Lydia, and after his set Nick Santino gave us a few minutes of his time, too.

Nick Santino, frontman of pop-punk outfit A Rocket To The Moon, unsurprisingly shows no shock at the occasional chant for Rocket as he settles himself on stage, but to the credit of the hecklers, they’ve the decency to slow up for his new work that demands respect. Despite only having been a solo act for around a year, he already boasts an wide catalogue of 2 EPs and an album, Big Skies, creating a sense of depth and variety to his show, already so different from what people have head before.

The cons of being an opening acoustic act include the extra difficulty involved in warming up the crowd, and the almost hollow sound he first produced on stage wasn’t the most promising, holding the distant impression that he belonged as a part of an open air festival. With a little percussion input from a clapping audience the evening got into full swing, hardly slowing for the more romantic and delicate tracks of the set. With a voice that captivated those watching his performance held a compelling edge, and his sound reflected the years spent in the industry.

Despite Nick initial doubt to play Gone Like Yesterday, the third track off album Big Skies went down a treat, luring even first time listeners to join in. There lies one of the more beautiful aspects of country-influenced music; the endless sing-a-longs. An accessible set aptly suited his stage presence, with an unapologetic confidence exuding from his show in a manner designed to impress.

Next on the line up came alternative-rock trio Lydia, facing the difficult task of a debut appearance to the UK. Coming at the end of a tour gave the advantage of a few days to adjust to audiences this side of the pond, but unsurprisingly nerves were still present in the show. With the demeanour of Man Overboard the three were joined by a session drummer, and regardless of the shyness they displayed in themselves, their music burst out excellently.

Despite the somewhat static show, the trio managed to fill the stage with their charisma and endearing charm, their music clearly striking a refreshing originality in the genre. The quality of the show deserved an audience as fit to burst as the one they received, but somehow its size felt incongruous to the  delicacy of the tracks; I’ve never found myself saying this before, but the close atmosphere their performance created didn’t feel in place with the crowd of several hundred that they faced. Perhaps they simply deserved more focused attention from everyone in the room.

Away from the more intricate moments, the general force of the set held enough power to quite literally shake your ribcage, and lengthy, atmospheric intros built up a musical tension in the air. From their impressive set to their loveable personalities, they made an impossible-to-forget introduction to what I hope becomes a regular marker in their year – a UK tour. Frontman Leighton seemed endlessly appreciative; you were left with the distinct impression that if he could’ve thanked every person in the audience, he would’ve.

With the strongest musical foundations of the acts, the largest back-catalogue of work and the longest standing reputation in the UK, The Maine were unsurprisingly the highlight of the night for the majority of the crowd. Having been to the UK so frequently over the past few years, you’d expect audiences to be used to the same show eventually, but from the starting block the band manage to keep the show energetic and exotic, and not only a little quirky.

Frontman John O’Callaghan must’ve almost felt a bit redundant among the huge chants that the crowds provided through every songs, stretches across a mix of their records. With the feel-good togetherness elicited by a mass sing-a-long, the room transformed from a gig to a huge party, with huge riffs as a catalyst for energy. Personal moments added a down-to-earth note to the rockstars’ appearance, and despite these occasional break-ups between tracks, the set continued to bound along smoothly and swept the crowd in its grasp.

Along with all the eccentricity of the night, the technical accuracy remained unsurprisingly high; a comfort was established on the stage and the sheer tightness of the band implied they could set up camp and play anywhere, and produce a sound just as excellent. With a history of more than a handful of albums, the set remained constantly varied (with the help of some unusual headdresses…), so no two songs blended into one another.

Each with their own merits, these three acts blended together formed a brilliant finale in gracing the stage with their collective presence; a unique and touching way to close not only the show, but the UK tour.

Macmillan Fest, Nottingham review

MACMILLANBorn in 2010, the charity festival for Macmillan Cancer Research has held huge growth each year, and now in its fourth and biggest round up, the event boasted over forty acts across five stages. Between Spanky Van Dykes and the four stages around Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms there were a host of other fundraising events, from standard raffles to bands members getting themselves waxed, and festival organiser Kris Davis getting Macmillan’s logo tattooed on his bottom. The tight, communal and almost homely atmosphere elicited by the intimate stages and packed venues makes this event unique in the community it creates.

The most intimate of the stages at the festival, Rescue Rooms turned its bar into a maze of sofas to suit the acoustic stage it held for the day, sponsored by Nottingham Live. With ambient duo A City Alight taking to the stage second, the pair controlled the environment with the perfect mix of subtly and poise. Passionate and determined, Nottingham’s own pair did the quaint venue justice, providing a simplistic but solid start to the event. In contrast, next door on the festival’s main stage the venue was being shaken up with the hardcore riffs of We Are Tyrants, refusing to hold back for anything. Unfortunately at half three it still seemed a little early for the crowd’s total enthusiasm to come through, despite the band’s determined harsh vocals and head banging. That didn’t stop the manic screaming at the end of each track though, and managing to get the crowd chanting along successfully. Back on the acoustic stage, pop-punk quintet As December Falls show their softer side, as the vocals of Bethany Curtis and Ande Hunter blend together to caress the iconic line, “we’re all addicted to something that takes away the pain”, adding a delicate edge to the track to suit the venue.

A few metres from the main building, chaos was kicking off in the hardcore stage of Stealth, with the sound of Spangled Corps bouncing off every wall. The strong pop-punk edge shone through in their set, built up by a hardcore percussion slant that often drowned out the vocals. Becoming progressively heavier through the show, the Nottingham quintet dominated the intimate space with their powerful performance; in juxtaposition, the upstairs NCN Rocks stage held a more fragile atmosphere. James Gooch’s impressive vocals were most definitely worthy of a larger stage, with a set featuring a stunning cover of Paolo Nutini’s New Shoes highlighting the young man’s talent.

As Conor Peek of Cabin Boy Jumped Ship took to the stage, he was met with all the screaming and excitement of a crowd fit-to-burst. With commanding harsh vocals and a phenomenal light show to match, all the energy on stage was doubled by those in the crowd, ready to rock. Turning the volume down a little, Derby emo/alternative quartet Garden State took to the acoustic stage, with vocals so powerful they almost tripped over and drowned the instrumental, and despite the more stripped back sound to the show, the set felt a little on the rough side to suit the venue as well as some had. What began as a bit of a ragged start for The Inside Is Live soon led into a colossal set opener at Stealth. Determined anthemic vocal work ploughed through the set-driving percussion, and ground shaking riffs that orchestrated the show rolled over the occasional flat moment. With an enthusiastic crowd chanting, “we are the reckless youth”, the quintet proved to own the stage.

Layby chose to step away from their usual easycore sound to play their part on the acoustic stage, providing a shockingly new slant on the debut EP, and incorporating hints of spoken word to add a grounded sound among the vibrant instrumental. A mash-up of Blink’s Always and Dammit settled brilliantly with the crowd, received by cheers. Although vocalist Aaron Bowes look as though he’d rather have been standing up and unleashing the energy, the band held a tight set throughout – even through a few technical issues – to showcase a promising new track, Chronic, off their next release. Meanwhile, a small earthquake was cracking off next door in the form of The Winter Hill Syndicate. Vocalist Tom Walker took the chance to show off an impressive range, without the need of harsh vocals to command the room, and the crowd took the chance to burst into a pit. The rockers looked right at home on the main stage, as did London’s Arthur Walwin in the quaint acoustic bar. Without making a huge deal out of himself, Arthur managed to maintain the attention of the crowd through his soft and controlled vocals, perfectly suited to the venue. Having worked with more than a handful of bands on the line-up, Arthur’s extensive musical ability and stage presence weren’t hidden in his set, displayed alongside a magnificent range.

As the main stage became home for Adelphia, the tight sets became a common theme. Although through the opening a large amount of the vocals became drowned out, when they did get a chance to shine their closeness prevailed and they managed to display their usual solid style of a show. Towards the close of the festival Anavae took Stealth’s stage to reinforce that being a female-fronted rock band is not any form of gimmick, with a set far from any of the usual cliches it entails. With the most powerful vocals of the day, the band had no trouble encouraging the crowd, with the enthusiasm that encompassed the stage spreading like wildfire. The Safety Fire took their chance on the main stage to show that the festival was only picking up pace through the day, with almost tangible electricity in the air. Finally, Hype Theory’s soulful and powerful close to the acoustic stage highlighted why they had the honour of headlining it, and incorporated a spectacular Bring Me The Horizon cover. Needless to say, it resulted in being a magnificent finale to a brilliant and packed day – and all in the name of Macmillan!