This is our first Rockaway Beach, although we have been to other Butlins-based festivals over the years, so we had a good idea of what to expect in terms of organization and production.
Rockaway’s model is a simple but effective one – nail down a handful of old-school headliners and then fill the rest of the bill with some of the hottest new young bands on the scene.
This is a great opportunity for those acts to gain exposure with older audiences (the ones with money to buy records) because the programming means that during the day there is hardly any overlap between sets, ensuring that the majority of the audience are there for the majority of the time for every band.
So it may be Bognor in the rain in the first week in January, but that didn’t mean anything once you were inside one of the two live rooms with hundreds of like-minded souls whose only mission was the music…oh, and trying to drink the bars dry.
Low Hummer are yet to release their first album, but they are already clocking up 15,000 listeners a month on Spotify … so that might pay for a round of drinks once a year at the office Christmas party.
They secured a Manic Street Preachers support slot very early in their existence, and we’d love to see if they can capitalise on that experience to build a wider fan base.
As it is, early doors festival slots such as this one at Rockaway Beach are perfect vehicles for young bands to catch the attention of new fans, so hats off to Rockaway Beach for giving a stage to a young outfit who will hopefully have a bright future.
Hull-based Life are already three albums into their career and have garnered critical acclaim along the way.
That said, their brand of punk is very much of the melodic nature. There are even vocal harmonies lurking in the mix if you take the time to listen.
The band really caught our attention at Rockaway Beach and we’ve regularly heard them on BBC 6 Music with songs like ‘Big Moon Lake’
‘I think I’m spending far too much on fairly average takeaways’
This track alone elevates them from straight Punk to our favourite new genre of New-No-Wave. And given how many bands of this breed have found their way into the Rockaway lineup we feel we are in good company this weekend.
Sound engineers of the world take note – bands from this mould need vocal definition above everything else. The riffs and bass lines are simply carried waves for lyrics, and if the words don’t come through there is simply no point…
Sheffield’s Adrian Flanagan (AKA Acid Klaus) is a long-time purvey of electro-pop and he’s fought his way to his current place in the music scene through a variety of gruesome dances with the grim reaper, including a smash on the Motorway that left him concussed for six months, but that still didn’t stop him taking to the stage mere days after. Coming off life support.
Step On My Travelator: The Imagined Career Trajectory of Superstar DJ & Dance-Pop Producer, Melvin Harris, is his latest work, which on first listening is a segue between Kraftwerk and the acid rave scene that doesn’t seem to quite work when listened to in the sterile atmosphere of Spotify, bursts to life on the live stage once the volume and bass is cranked up and the energy of a live performance is added to the mix of industrial beats and sometimes political themes…
The album is a true concept work with a story running through it – as befits its protected title.
We won’t repeat here what has already been written about that storyline – you just have to look it up – but we would say that given our intro to the music was in the middle of a wet January afternoon at Butlins in Bognor and it still caught our attention is testament to the fact that Acid Klaus are probably worth checking out next time you see the name on a festival line-up. The dance tracks are laid down lush and live and if there’s a party going on somewhere nearby they may well have started it.
It’s been said before and we’ll say it again that Billy Nomates needs some friends on stage.
Chatting to a BBC Introducing DJ after the Rockaway Beach Festival show there was a common agreement that Tor Maries may have the songs and the dance grooves, but she really could do with a couple of accompanying musicians on stage with her to flesh out the show.
In a sense that might fly in the face of her stage-name, but we’d delight in the irony of it, and we’d guess others would too.
What we would insist on though is that if our advice is taken there are strict rules put in place that keep both drums and guitars sotto voce…. In fact we’d go so far as to insist on electronic drums and DI’s guitars so that Tor’s vocals can always be kept as high in the mix as her lyrics deserve.
Her opening introduction as she walks onto the stage tonight is ‘I’m Billy no mates and I’ve really got nothing else to say’ – but actually nothing could be further from the truth.
This is the intelligent and poppier end of the ‘New No Wave’ scene (can we have a poll please about what this damned genre should be called?) that we are such great fans of at the moment, and that makes it a great access-hatch to a whole bunch of excellent bands and artists for people who haven’t yet taken the plunge.
As two-piece girl-boy bands go, Scrounge go a long way.
Within a day of posting up a few photos of their gig at Rockaway Beach Festival we had a slew of comments about what a great band they are are how they rank up there with a lot of the more well-known bands on the circuit right now.
Taking the time to listen to some of their tracks on [insert name of your favourite streaming service here] we definitely developed a greater degree of appreciation as the lyrics dropped into earshot and it was possible to extract the thought process from the noise of a live show.
There’s a couple of things here… one, if you are a punter, take the time to listen to a band’s music before you go to see them so you can hold their words in your head rather than trying to pick them out in the maelstrom of a live environment, and two, if you are looking after the sound at a gig, listen to the band’s music first, so you can do your best to replicate the balance they achieve in the studio on a live stage.
Rockaway’s engineer did an 8/10 job, but in today’s world of ‘punk’ bands who centre on clever lyrical content the voice has to dominate and be centre stage…or what’s the point?
We have loved and will always love The Primitives. There, we’ve said it. We don’t care if it’s cool or not, they are simply a great band with great songs and great attitude.
Anyone who was knocking about the indie scene in the late 80s and early 90s will have danced their socks off to ‘Crash’ and ‘Out of Reach’. We were there, and we remember those days with such fondness that any chance to relive our youth as the sparkly guitar intro to the former track lights up the room is a more than welcome relief from the dystopian future/present we seem to have found ourselves plunged into.
Oh – and ‘Spacehead’ is glorious in its innocent perfection. Wave your arms in the air like you just don’t care!!
Thanks Rockaway Beach Festival for letting us stop down memory lane with a band who retain relevance to this day.
Now we are moving into big-hitter territory and watching Rockaway Beach Festival punch above its weight with a multi-million-listen contemporary act who is poised to be one of the biggest things on the clever pop circuit.
Rebecca Taylor simply owns the audience at Rockaway Beach Festival as she dominates the main stage and shows how it’s possible to subvert current underground trends by taking them into the mainstream.
There’s no point in harking on about ‘she played this song and then she played that song’ – if you know them, she played them… and she played them well, with a great team of dancers and backing singers and dancers who never missed a move to a beat.
Sometimes you watch a band and simply get so immersed in them that you forget to take any notes.
It doesn’t happen often, but it did the W.H. Lung at Rockaway Beach Festival.
So reflecting back what was it all about?
Well tuning into one of their streaming service feeds, turning up the volume, shutting my eyes, and thinking back to a wet Friday night in Bognor Butlins I do recall that I was quite simply drawn into their performance and found myself seeking out the meaning behind the music as they band slipped seamlessly from song to song.
But go figure the meaning in: ‘This could this be the verse, ignominy festers inside of Johan Strauss’ – it’s creative for sure, though its secrets remain hidden from me at least.
Putting words aside, that high register voice of Joe Evans harks to some of the last few decades’ biggest power-pop big-hitters (from The Communards to Mika) – and there is so much pent-up energy being released as the night goes on that it’s impossible not to be drawn in to the frenzy.
It’s definitely something, and you definitely need to experience it.
Peter Hook and The Light
Oh lord… there’s nobody on the planet more entitled to the God-given right to push out Joy Division songs than Peter Hook… but despite having seen and loved this show a dozen times in the past (or maybe it’s for that very reason), tonight’s Rockaway Beach Festival Butlins gig seems to not quite nail it.
It’s really hard to pin down the issue, but it may quite simply be that the PA in the main room is a clean machine and the heart of Joy Division was always a deep, dirty and dark affair.
Anyone who has seen a really full-on Peter Hook and The Light show will know how stupendous they can be… check out Love Will Tear Us Apart with a full choir at Manchester Cathedral for a perfect example:
And that said, we’ll admit the the gig was only 20 minutes in before we had to run for a taxi, so there’s every chance that as the night progressed the grit found its way into the performance.
One thing is for sure – we’d never give up the chance to see Peter Hook and his band because when they are on top form they blow the house down with the sorts of anthemic songs that its hard to imagine many new bands topping for originality or intent.
Winter Gardens open day two of Rockaway Beach Festival 2023
Day two of Rockaway Beach Festival 2023 and the opening act are Winter Gardens – a popular choice if the long queue running way back into the main arena was anything to go by as the clock ticked away the minutes until the early noon start. This is solid indie fare, with a healthy dose of keyboards and some fine samples to complement quality vocals and some energetic guitar and bass work. We love finding fresh music at festivals and have made a note to track down their studio work to take it in more thoroughly during the week ahead.
Personal Trainer play foot-stomping and mature indie anthems that are totally on-point in the current rise of the New No-Wave phenomenon exemplified by the likes of Squid, Dry Cleaning and Bodega. It’s a style of music we really love, and the near-capacity early afternoon crowd here at Butlins for Rockaway Beach Festival 2023 seemed to agree. This Dutch band are definitely ones to check out any chance you get!
A younger audience would have been headbanging and moshing like their lives depended on it, but Rockaway Beach pulls in punters who are generally more content to simply lap up the music of a fresh generation of rising stars.
Catch these hot-100 darlings of the NME at a flurry of festivals this year, or try to bag tickets at one of their headline gigs. Although many are already sold out. Festival confirmations so far are: Ritual Union (Bristol), Teddy Rocks (Dorset), Are You Listening (Reading), and Manchester Psych Fest.
Vlure deliver industrial beats that echo Nitzer Ebb or Senser at their very finest, with powerful vocals that echo on into next month with no sign of stopping. The phrase’ prowling the stage’ was coined for these guys.
Pozi have been on the circuit for around three years now, and the South London trio have drawn critical praise in a slew of publications to date.
Their choice of primary weapon is a fiddle, although it seemed a little lost in the mix for most of today’s mid-afternoon set.
The Goa Express
THE GOA EXPRESS freshen up the Red stage at Rockaway Beach Festival 2023
Over at the jangly-indie end of the Brit Pop spectrum we find The Goa Express…five guys who scatter a little psych onto the well-worn path of garage guitar rock.
It’s a refreshing change of musical direction mid-way through a long day of bands and shows sensitive programming skills on the part of the Rockaway Beach bookers.
At times the band veer perhaps a little too far into Oasis territory, but as it’s clearly their own take on the genre and not a pastiche we’ll let them off that minor misdemeanour.
Melt Yourself Down
This funky indie-band’s got soul… and the Rockaway Beach Festival crowd must have gulped down their food super fast to have got back in time to see Melt Yourself Down hit the stage bang in time for their 6.15pm slot.
A solid horn section and some thumping additional percussion really fill out the sound, and we could imagine some big dance tents erupting if this exciting band were given the chance to let the DJs and MCs take a breather.
They sold out The 100 Club last year, and we can understand how and why.
A 300-mile drive through a typhoon and a bad case of lost voice don’t dampen the spirits of The Futureheads and the launch into their Rockaway Beach Festival set with a rousing rendition of The Beginning of the Twist.
That was followed with the band giving five-star food review for ‘Butlins Beef Corner’ and their one-and-a-half minute chargrilled steak…
Sadly due to one of the few gig-clashes of the day that was all we got the chance to hear as we scooted of to the main arena to catch Big Joannie.
Musically, Big Joannie are a bit of a tough act to pigeonhole. There’s a punk feminist ethic that they wear in their sleeve, but songs veer from blues to grunge and simple garage as the set progresses.
Somehow Butlins just doesn’t feel like their natural stomping ground. But Rockaway Beach Festival is infamous for making incongruous bands work in this otherwise family-friendly environment.
There’s lots of patter between songs… including an explanation about why ‘It’s You’ is quite simply about men being sh*t in bed.
At another point the audience are asked: “How many of you have been to a chalet party here??”
The eerie hush is quickly broken with a laugh and the retort that: “I think maybe you all need to socialise with your neighbours a bit more!!”
Big Joannie have certainly had a big year. They were nominated for a MOBO award along with bands like Bob Vylan and got to hang out with Skin, who, they say, has been a real mentor to them…
And they are politically charged and not afraid to shout about it.
“Support the trade union movement. Don’t cross a picket line or I’ll haunt you forever.” No punched a pulled there!
With cinematic swagger, The Anchoress takes over the Rockaway Beach Festival main stage… and the lighting mirrors the music, with all the focus on Catherine Anne Davies – playing her first live show in three-and-a-half years.
She is bookended by a pair of industrial air-purifiers to protect her health, and we hope this proves a permanent solution for her.
It’s a pleasurable audio mix, with Catherine’s powerful vocals loud and proud in the speakers, and the drums tucked away snuggly behind a thumping but not overwhelming bass line. And visually this is audio delight is echoed by spotlights holding all the attention on the singer behind her bank of keyboards, whilst the rest of the band hang back in the shadows.
This is exactly the sort of clever and enthralling pop that finds huge audiences, and it’s safe to say that air-purification permitting, The Anchoress will be at the top of a lot of festival bills in the coming months – and hopefully years.
Arguably Scalping ought to have been the last band on stage at Rockaway Beach Festival this bleak and cold Saturday night at the end of the first weekend in January.
Their sound is dominated by a techno-rave energy that may have metal running through its veins, but it definitely works best for our money when midnight has passed by unnoticed and those with the energy to keep partying until dawn are bugged out and tuned into the sorts of crashing, but carefully crafted and calculated noise that Scalping work so hard to craft.
But this isn’t that sort of festival and it’s not that sort of crowd.
This is Butlins in Bognor Regis, and the audience may be young at heart, but most have been on their feet watching bands since noon, so the concept of a post-midnight dance marathon probably isn’t high on anyone’s agenda.
So Scalping provide instead a very loud punctuation mark in the evening, sandwiched between the intelligent pop of The Anchoress and the dual-headline shows featuring everyone’s favourite dads, OMD, and Leeds-based New-No-Wave provocateurs, Yard Act.
It’s a set that takes place in almost total darkness except for the reflected light that scattered across the Red Stage crowd from the frenetic CGI projection show that is the only source of illumination. Not a photographer’s dream, but we did manage a few chance shots of the band through the gloom.
Andy McCluskey may have broken a rib on Boxing Day, but it didn’t stop him putting in his usual energetic performance as the band headlined the Skyline Stage at Rockaway Beach Festival 2023.
With over 40 million record sales under their belts, OMD have a popularity that far outstrips the critics who have sometimes tried to write them off for any one of many different reasons.
The fact of the matter is that the band are responsible for a significant number of songs that will continue to echo down the decades long after many other tunes have withered and died.
And as a live experience, OMD remain pretty special too.
McCluskey has a real sense of theatre, and his stage presence is a true touchstone for any young performer who might be looking to work out what to do with their hands when they are not singing…
A few hours before their set Yard Act take to the interview stools for a Q&A session hosted by everyone’s favourite steel-eyed and pin-sharp rock-pundit, John Robb.
Although we only caught a few minutes of the session, the theme seemed to be largely a focus on how a band who had a vision for a unique sound stuck to their guns, put in a lot of hard work, did all the right things – and then got lucky enough to see it all pay off.
It almost feels as if their entire career is summarised in their song ‘Rich’… although one suspects they are still not flying around in private jets, or lounging off the Platinum coast of Jamaica on luxury yachts at the weekends…
‘Almost by accident, I have become rich
Through continued reward for skilled labour in the private sector
And a genuine lack of interest in expensive things
It appears I have become rich…’
Yard Act epitomises everything we love about what (for the sake of argument) we like to call ‘New-No-Wave’.
The world has been crying out for a new indie-genre for years, and it’s acts like Yard Act and Personal Trainer who are delivering the goods.
We mention Personal Trainer here because they played yesterday at the festival – and also because Yard Act gave them a big thumbs up during their headline set on the Rockaway Beach second stage.
What defines these bands?
It’s not easy to pinpoint.
But when you put them all into a big pot and boil them down, something is left that is the essence of the music they play.
Alongside Yard Act and Personal Trainer we’d throw in Squid, Bodega, Wet Leg, Sports Team, Warmduscher, Baxter Dury, and a dozen-or-so others.
That essence is a coupling of vocal attitude and lyrical content that is whimsical but socially relevant with a Dadaist twist.
One thing is for sure, Yard Act will probably be the band we see more times than any other during the 2023 festival season… with very few exceptions they will always be our go-to band on any festival line-up.