Photos (c) Alex Rawson
An ‘all you can eat’ evening with the mild delirium that comes with it.
Once a year Hit the Deck arrives and with it, a horde of bands from all over the world. If you are an admirer of softly spoken love songs then this is most certainly not the place to go. The bands here hold nothing back, lambasting your ears and keeping you guessing from moment to moment.
Spread across the city centre, I arrived early afternoon and made my way to the O2 Academy where interior designers seem especially fond of matt steel cladding. In the main room Hacktivist were about to kick off; with their blend of dark gravelly metal. Coming iced with an intriguing vocal duo. Timfy James alternates rapping with soul-piercing screams that effortlessly cut through the wall of sound; whilst J Hurley oddifies and colours the songs with groove-orientated grime vocals. The composite skill is undoubtable, but the onstage cavorting of the two individuals reflects a more inherent clash as they nearly bump into each other several times. It seems the ingredients for a titanic-sized sound are present but the contrasting styles often step on toes rather that provide a leg up.
Up the stairs to John Coffey. Coming from the Netherlands, David Achter de Molen tells us it was worth the distance. Sitting in the punk/rock category with large doses of post-hardcore; there is a sense of immediacy about the songs. ‘Broke neck’ comes in second and sets a fast pace for the rest of the set with the singer climbing up on and over whatever objects he can find. The music videos confirm that they do not take themselves particularly seriously. I mean they broke the neck ‘On A Step in the Hospital’. You could almost describe them as a rather macho Electric 6 with a bit of Motorhead infused into the bone. But they certainly connect with people as they sing along and clap in unison. This seems like a band which thrives off the interaction and I got a sense the setting they were in frustrated them due to its restrictiveness.
Then little can prepare you for Monuments. The professionalism of this apocalypse statement delivery service was remarkable. The relentless double bass pedal, metal bass twangs and sharp frequency shredding guitars was woven together in a remarkably tight and aggressive package. As the slow pounding steps of doom they produce resound, Chris Barretto displays a confidence I’d been yet to see so far in the day. His vocal dexterity provided textures and sophistication to the overall sound. The tenacious growls leaking from his lips were relayed with angelic refrains. Impressed by this I immediately forgave his apparent open-armed, doe-eyed melodramatic messianic complex. In fact, to be fair it added to the effect. Unlike others they felt no need to repeatedly insist we “make some noise”. Their conviction was such that even the small group relative to the venue size, surged forward and immersed themselves in the bands output.
Next in line was Black Peaks who make no grand entrance but merely started thrashing away. To say they were ‘in the zone’ is an understatement. The hypnotised looks on their faces, sharp body movements and sheer determination instantly gained them credibility. The music was aggressive and percussive with the snare and high hat soaring along throughout. The singer, although looking awfully like an 80’s porn star, had a presence brought by the gravity of his performance and from his mad eyed stares, a slight terror too. The level of technical ability which mingled with the hardcore anarchy reminded me of At the Drive-in, vomiting an organised mess and challenging its members to carry it along. The result is a beautiful monstrosity which oozes catharsis.
Then, an act of the more flamboyant variety. Cancer Bats appear as silhouettes amidst excited screams. A sole light illuminates Scott Middleton; looking like a guitar bearing Viking. He tears open the silence and is quickly joined by his band mates. The energy in the main room begins to come to fruition. On the stage there is flank to flank sprinting; a circle pit quickly forms and heads begin to bounce and butt. Flat beer is tossed into the sky and Liam begins hollering his raspy tones like a B-movie lizard. Choruses are joined in universally and match the amp volumes. Our singer thanks everyone for coming; and whilst expressing his elation finds a pound coin on the floor. “This is the best day ever. I’m going to have a flapjack with you my friend!” he remarks. This very tongue in cheek hardcore punk is a fantastic release of energy on a day that has stepped between observation, admiration and confrontation so far. This starts an upward march from one of the big players in the festival, setting our sights on the finale.
Having been fascinated by Rolo Tomassi; I dart down the road to The Fleece eager to catch them. The female vocals had reminded me of the undead granma with the air-borne eyeball from Evil Dead 2. But what interested me more was the complicated make-up of the music below the surface. They kicked off as they intended to carry on. Eva Spence instantly surprises anyone having not heard her before. Her gently spoken introduction is following by an unsettling snarl as the old school horror movie noises emitted from the organ create a disjointedly bizarre collection of sounds. You could easily draw some prog rock parallels from the outset. But the off step and irregular movements almost step into jazz. Switching between Microphones, the feel frequently changes between gruesome growls and swimmingly tender flutters; the male vocals dipping into the mix to add contrast. Complex and staggering throughout, this is music you ‘experience’ more than enjoy but a masterful performance non the less which would improve with repeated listening.
A quick dash back to the O2 academy and I’m in time for penultimate act While she sleeps. This band from Sheffield has seen a steady rise in popularity in the last five years. As the red lit stage reveals their theatrically standing figures; the reaction in the building is the best initial response so far. The singer discards the mic stand and prowls the stage with a Thor-like drama. Each song seems to build to stratospheric heights before plummeting with a floor cracking drop. The now surging mass of humans ripples from side to side. The circle pit gets ever frantic; looking like a pin ball game with all the balls released at once. Their punk paced metalcore is a style which aims straight for the wow factor. Not giving you a moment to think, merely to jump into the mosh with everyone else until the guitar machine guns fall silent. With the crowds singing “love stands for nothing” Lawrence Taylor fist bumps, crowd surfs, sprays us with his bottle of pop and, at one point, crashes onto our photographers head.
So after much expectation Skindred finally appear. Benji Webbe is wearing more layers than an Eskimo. Beginning with ‘Kill the Power’, he is a finely-honed front man; with instantly captivating charisma and a certain intimidation as he stomps around like a fire spitting mammoth. Like many before him he declares the name of the festival and insists that Bristol should make some noise; whilst flapping a union flag around in case we’d forgotten what country we were in. Known for their multi-coloured mix of genres; this evening they were true to form. Demonstrating the ability to blend hip-hop scratches and samples, metal guitars, punk rock rhythms, all with vengeful reggae vocals; pulling songs from various chapters in their career. The interweaving of the decks and drums is particularly impressive to see; the sound produced by these alone would surely trigger infectious dancing. But the jewel in the crown is clearly Benji’s spearheading of the songs. His vocal delivery, crowd interaction and presence steer the performance. So an ill considered mini preach about how if you illegally download music you are stealing from his grandchildren made me roll my eyes a little, waiting for him to say “ you wouldn’t steal a car, you wouldn’t steal a handbag!”. Luckily throughout the set we are treated to classics like “Rat Race” which they effortlessly reel off. It was equally pleasing to hear ‘Save My Wicked Soul’ complete with Kung Fu movie samples. The longest set of the day seemed to shoot past as we all were left slightly dizzy from the constant shifts in speeds and styles. As we made our way out over plastic cups and sticky floors; it felt like an ‘all you can eat’ evening with the mild delirium that comes with it.