Festival review of Hit the Deck (Bristol) 19/04/14
The day dawned bright but cold for Hit The Deck festival in Bristol last week. Hands shoved in pockets, we shuffled along in the freezing queue to get the afore-mentioned hands on our press wristbands, and then gleefully ran into the warm dark embrace of Thekla. For those of you who’ve never been, the Thekla is something of a Bristol institution – it’s a huge boat (or “an old wooden pirate ship!” as Patent Pending excitedly exclaimed) which hosts gigs, club nights and day-drinkers alike, and even has a cheeky Banksy on the side.
The first band of the day were London grunge-punks Lyger [5/10].Though their set was short but sweet, a lack of crowd meant the band’s stage-presence was minimal. As usual, their strongest song was ‘Stroke’, a brilliantly heavy piece of punk, however the rest of their set seemed to blend into a haze of squealing guitars. Next, we caught the first half of Brummie metallers Cytota [6/10], who are fast-rising in the local scene as well as everywhere else. Their particular brand of melodic metalcore really livened up the crowd, even at the tender time of 2pm.
A couple of hours later, we returned to Thekla to see the hilarious Patent Pending [8/10] who as mentioned before were very, very over-excited to be playing on a boat. Though their audience was predominantly made up of emo kids between the ages of 13 and 16, the brightly-coloured band members put on a cracking show. Particular highlights were their Nintendo-themed hit ‘Hey Mario’ and their cover of the Barenaked Ladies’ Big Bang Theory theme tune. After a weird and slightly out of place motivational speech, they closed with fan-favourite ‘Douchebag’. Their lighthearted pop-punk, done in a similar vein to Bowling For Soup or Reel Big Fish, was perfect for a mid-afternoon festival set.
Next, we headed out to the large room of the 02 Academy to see the Front Bottoms [7/10]. This comically-named band have a mix of serious and humorous songs, performed with lead singer Brian Sella’s uniquely nasal voice. Having only released one album, the back catalogue of songs were limited but they fit seamlessly onto this line up. Having toured frequently with Brand New and Saves The Day, they were used to playing venues of this size and had worked their setlist perfectly for it. The crowd sing-alongs during ‘Twin Sized Mattress’ and ‘Adios’ really showed how much of a dedicated following this band have gathered in a short period of time.
Next up were Pulled Apart by Horses [9/10] who blew away the crowd with their dangerously heavy punk mixed with elements of post hardcore. Their amps were turned up so loud that I think my hearing might be damaged permanently, however it was worth it to hear the ferocious song ‘V.E.N.O.M’ blasted out into one of the most violent mosh-pits of the festival. Local character Big Jeff was in the house, and the band did a little shout out to him , saying to the gentle giant “Watch out Jeff, this one’s about animal cruelty!” before launching into the huge drops of ‘I Punched a Lion in the Throat’. ‘High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive’ closed their phenomenal set with its ridiculously catchy snare rolls and shouty chorus.
Pulled Apart by Horses
Meanwhile, Sam tried to get in to see Neck Deep and Gnarwolves, however with the Fleece being full and a massive queue snaking around the block, he gave up. The fact that both bands could have filled the a venue the size of the Fleece more than twice over is a testament to how big these bands have become over the last 12 months. Both bands will be progressing onto bigger things in the near future. One of the coolest things about Hit The Deck was their work with local businesses in giving festival-goers a discount, which we took full advantage of when getting an awesome burrito in one of the many shops offering a HTD bargain.
Then it was time for The Blackout [10/10] who really made the most of an absolutely packed room – for some reason they were playing the smaller 02 room rather than the large stage, which the arguably smaller band Saves the Day were performing on. Though the fans were crammed-in like so many sardines, this did nothing to stop them all simultaneously bouncing to the brilliantly fun party songs ‘Radio’ and ‘Start the Party’ which kicked off the set. Though Sean Smith was obviously off his tits – at one point yelling “Sing the words, you probably know them better than me, cos I’m f*cked!”, he and the band put on a great show even despite the cramped conditions. Their banter on stage was top notch as we had discovered earlier in a hilarious interview which you can hear here. During ‘Start the Party’, Sean crowd-surfed to the end of the room, then proceeded to run along the bar (to the dismay of the bartenders), before finally getting piggy-backed to the stage by a huge bear of a man. Following this were lighter-in-the-air classics like ‘Save Ourselves (The Warning)’ and ‘Children of the Night’, as well as my particular favourite ‘Higher and Higher’ which sadly didn’t feature Hyra da Hero; however did have the band members taking turns to do the rap bits. Finishing on the scream-filled ‘I’m a Riot? You’re a Fucking Riot!’, the Blackout once again prove they are one of the greatest Welsh – if not British – hardcore bands in recent years.
Finishing off the festival were Brand New [7/10] who are no doubt the kings of the early 00’s emo scene. Playing for close to 2 hours is a big ask for any band and Brand New suffered having only released 4 albums in their career. The picking of the setlist was a weird one, starting with a Nine Inch Nails cover and then 4 slow songs back-to-back. However as soon as ‘Sic Gloria Transit … The Glory Fades’ kicked in, it was easy to see why this band are headlining Hit The Deck. Songs such as ‘Mixtape’, ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Seventy Times 7’ sounded incredible live.
The disappointing part was the bands total lack of charisma on stage, they simply didn’t look like they cared that they were headlining a festival and they lacked anything that resembled a stage presence. This was only further made worse by vocalist, Jesse Lacey, whose voice sounded very weak and struggled to match the raw power that his voice has on the albums. With the main room of the O2 Academy being filled far past capacity, by the time ‘Millstone’ was being played, people were tired and just wanted to go home. The last big sing-along of the day was reserved for ‘Jesus Christ’ however the band didn’t close on it, choosing to play two more songs even though people were starting to leave. Overall this was an incredibly disappointing set, particularly as personally I have waited for years to see them live, but it is a testament to their song writing that the some of their most iconic songs stand up in the live arena even when the band were having an off day.
This year’s Hit the Deck once again lived up to expectations of being one of the best small one-day festivals around, and seemed to attract a lot more people this year now word has spread. We eagerly look forward to next year!
Words by Anna Lim and Sam Taylor
Photos by Bethan Miller