Southsea Fest 2014
With Jolly Roger hoisted high, the Isolation crew head off to Southsea Fest 2014 to dig for buried treasure. A veritable cornucopia of delights, does the music world offer any better day out?
Now we love Brighton’s Great Escape, a sprawling three day trawl around the country’s most buzzing city, and this year’s Camden Crawl was astonishingly good, but our favourite day of the year is undoubtedly September’s Southsea Fest which is a concentrated shot in the arm of up and coming new talent (much of it local) infused with a sprinkling of more established acts. 124 bands playing at fourteen different venues in a single street between noon and midnight; it’s intense, it’s noisy and it’s bloody marvellous.

With the 2014 event scheduled for 20th September, it is a relief the dates don’t clash this year with Goodwood which made accommodation impossible to find last time around. Just to be safe, the guesthouse is booked months in advance and the anticipation grows as the days tick by. For one of the joys of Southsea Fest is that the participation really begins weeks in advance when the line-ups for each venue are announced (each one being given over to a single promoter) and you start to trawl through Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages, listening to every act on the roster and drawing out your plans on the terrific event planner (, cursing when bands you like are scheduled to play at different venues at the same time and swearing loudly when your carefully laid plans, neatly colour-coded, are brought to nothing when the timings are all changed a few days before kick-off.

This year we have learned from previous experience to mould our day around more than simply the bands we quite fancy. Past visions of dragging ourselves up to Fratton station after midnight with aching backs, throbbing feet, spinning heads and roaring eardrums encourage us to modify our behaviour somewhat. The beer and whisky will be more strictly rationed, food will be eaten, long trips between venues will be discouraged (The One Eyed Dog to The Wedgewood Rooms is a fair trot when you do it every half an hour), and time will be taken to sit down at regular intervals.

Thus, planners in hand, the Isolation crew head to Horsham station on a bright Saturday morning, boosted by the arrival of our master photographer Aidan, who has flown in from Dublin for the occasion. Straight down the line to Fratton, a stroll southwards to Albert Road, some messing about with guesthouse changes, and it is off to the Wine Vaults to collect our wristbands and start the day at The One Eyed Dog, the western end of the line, for the 12.45 appearance of Happy Accidents.

Happy Accidents
The young Southampton trio (Rich - guitar/vocals, Neil - bass and Phoebe - drums) are a band who fill us with a warm glow as their joyous guitar pop is so reminiscent in approach, attitude and style to the punk and new wave bands that sprung up in the late 1970s that you could really be stepping out of a time machine. Seldom has anyone captured that spirit so intimately and the impact is even more thrilling as there is no artifice in their approach and this is clearly a – umm – happy accident. This bunch are no copyists, just infused with drive, enthusiasm and the vital spark that ignites all great bands. We had invested in their Demos EP before Southsea (on sale for a measly £1, now sold out) and the quality of the two tracks, ‘Small Talk’ and ‘Canned Laughter’, is staggering considering they are the first songs the band ever cobbled together and were only laid down as demos. Wordy, catchy and driving, they are a great taster for the new EP, appropriately named Not Yet Jaded, which is apparently out shortly. The band do not disappoint; fizzing through a lively set and we start the day with massive grins and high hopes.

A brief interlude is taken to acquaint Aidan with his first ever pint of English bitter, courtesy of Doom Bar, before we make our first slip-up of the day. You always make the odd error at Southsea and ours comes early this year as we find ourselves at The Fat Fox watching some unpalatable folk prog which quickly leads to a change of plans and a nip into The Fifth Hants Volunteer Arms where we catch the latter half of the set by Pedro Don Key, the Manchester two-piece describing their sound as ‘frantic math jazz spasms’, and who are we to argue? Starting to get peckish now we wander to the western edge of civilisation, the Wedgewood Rooms, where we catch the end of the set by Underground Pilots, sounding pretty decent in opening the parade at the day’s major venue, before we take in the whole show by Brighton-Portsmouth duo Curxes and indulge in some pie and mash courtesy of Southsea’s wonderful Pie & Vinyl – a record shop that sells only pies and vinyl which surely borders on retail perfection.

Curxes at The Wedgewood Rooms
Curxes are an innovative bunch. Singer Roberta Fidora has all the moves from the Siouxsie Sioux dance manual, makes some extremely interesting noises and yelps, but also shows she can sing and groove as well. Partner in crime, Macaulay Hopwood, spends most of the gig punishing his bass guitar but interchanges with synthesizers and glockenspiels whenever the mood grabs him. The resultant sound is an intriguing amalgam of a myriad of styles, ‘blitz-pop’ being the band’s take on the situation, and it is certainly a challenging concoction with a dark edge to its gaudy flickers of light. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.
Deluxe Flamingos at the Southsea Social Club
Replete, and having now recovered from our adventures in prog land, we head off to the Social Club for our first sip of Champagne Justice’s rather impressive festival brew, Southsea’s own Deluxe Flamingos taking the stage at 4.10pm. As with Curxes, this is a band not afraid to throw anything into the mix, their brand of dirty leftfield electronica capturing the imagination of the almost universally bearded audience who burst into action with some questionable dance moves. It’s an odd sight, but Flamingos’ singer Aviv ably whips them into life with supreme confidence as she moves from keyboards to bass and then to the mic. It’s an impressively dominating performance; she looks ten feet tall on stage and it’s a surprise afterwards to discover she is not hugely blessed in inches. This, of course, also reflects massive credit on the rest of the band who are not afraid of a musical conflagration and sustain the pressure nicely until it erupts in the huge outro to their fourth number.

Staying in the Social, it is time for one of our most anticipated acts of the day, another local band, Battery Hens, whose recently-released first EP is very good indeed. Happily their stage act reflects that promise and they put on the performance of the day: edgy, noisy and inventive. Singer Matt Chuter proves he can shout with the best of them, while his guitar interplay with Matt Tiller has plenty of roughly sawn edges as well as the intricate decoration that marks this band out as one to watch. Though the underground scene has exploded in the past couple of years this has led inevitably to a whole wash of generic bands springing up and it is good to see a young group that is looking to move its own way, push the boundaries and create music that is raw and cutting instead of just producing a wall of bludgeoning, tedious sound. Bassist Rob Day is splendid to watch, throwing himself around the stage and erupting in fury when a lead problem threatens to derail his momentum. Hopefully here is a new Tracy Pew for the twenty-first century; and a band that can step into the massive void that has remained ever since The Birthday Party vacated the premises. Battery Hens have all the right influences and a mind of their own, so there is no reason why they can’t write their name large across musical history. And it would be wrong not to mention drummer Joff Reid who manages to look magnificent throughout.

Battery Hens at the Sutsea Social Club
It would be great if Battery Hens could grow to challenge Girl Band as the best young guitar band around. If they are going to do so they need to take a leaf from the Dubliners book – listen, learn, don’t be afraid of leaving room to breath in your music, work your bollocks off and, most of all, be inventive: push down walls, laugh at convention, and never, never wear shorts on stage. All new bands take note.
We head east once more to The Fat Fox and enjoy a set from Australian band The Cairos who flesh out their picked guitar pop in a pleasingly warm and fuzzy way and they go down well until the bassist tells a twenty-year-old Star Trek joke. In all, it’s a very decent set, perhaps lacking the dangerous edge that is provided by Trampolene who are next on stage. Now here is a band who look like a band, all skinny black jeans, floppy fringes, assurity and racheting guitars. Their artiness and attitude reflect a love of the early Manics; there are rock poses, plenty of profanity, a screen pulled from the ceiling and a monitor that takes a battering but just about makes it through the set intact. They go down well with the audience, the venue about three-quarters full, and we like their clatterboard riffs and overspilling confidence.

Thought Forms at the Southsea Social Club
We bunk out a little early as we are rebels too, and we teeter on the lip of oblivion all the way back to the Social where another eagerly awaited band is due on stage. Thought Forms have put out some lovely records on Bristol’s Invada Records, but this is the first time we have managed to witness them live and they certainly live up to all expectations. If the Wiltshire trio capture their very thoughts in sound, then those thoughts are certainly not about the whereabouts of the butter or what socks to wear. Indeed, they appear a little on the frightening side, tortured rather than dreamy; bad thoughts about small furry creatures being poked with pointy sticks or the obliteration of universes. Half of their set is a tidal wave crashing over a funeral march, dying screams carried away in a crescendo of fury; the remainder sees you drifting through Elysian fields, the soothing vocals of Charlie Romijn bringing serenity until, out of the corner of your eye, a flicker of approaching darkness adds uncertainty, the danger building imperceptibly until once again you are lost in a maelstrom of heartbreak and pain. It’s great to see the band living this, hanging on every note, Deej Dhariwal oblivious to everything but the six strings he caresses and flays, and drummer Guy Metcalfe utterly focused and brutally efficient. A largely full Social responds positively; it’s a great set.
Menace Beach at the Southsea Social Club
Over eight hours on the go and it would be wrong to say we had not started to flag a little. A quick visit to Al Burrito across the road finds them having sold three days' food in one afternoon, but there are enough bits and pieces remaining to knock up a couple of almost-burritos for us. These are downed in quick time and we are back in the Social for the appearance of Menace Beach who open up in top gear with a lively thrash that goes a large way to reviving our senses. This is another band we have been keen to see and the Beach's warped and jerky pop is just the tonic, with plenty of familiarity which is always welcome in a day when you are listening to a host of new bands. The sparkling, twisted keyboard introduction to the excellent 'Fortune Teller' is a delight, as is 'Tennis Court' with plenty of shining and hissing guitars. It's a nicely off-kilter performance that envigorates us perfectly for the day's finale which is likely to be uncompromising and far less subtle, our intention being to capture the two last bands of the day back at the Wedgewood Rooms, namely DZ Deathrays and Pulled Apart By Horses.
DZ Deathrays
We had gone to see the Antipodean two-piece play a recent free show at Sticky Mike's in Brighton and left with some reservations. Though duos seem to be all the rage at the moment, we do ask ourselves why; first, you have to work so much the harder and need to be more than averagely talented to make any real impression and, secondly, what the hell is wrong with having a bassist? As it is, DZ are a great band to watch and enjoy but they are never going to be Public Image Limited and it is difficult to see them leaving any enduring legacy. Like the day's headliners they are a good time band and though drummer Simon Ridley is fantastic and singer-guitarist Shane Parsons also no slouch, there is nothing in their approach or their music that is truly innovative or inspiring. Not that this matters at all to the audience rocking away at the Wedgewood. The party has been going for ten hours now and those still standing are in no mood to see it end. The Deathrays crash their way through their alloted half hour and it is time for the final act of the day, Leeds noise merchants Pulled Apart By Horses, arriving fresh from the release of their third album Blood.
Pulled Apart By Horses
Like the duo who preceded them PABH are a band stuck in a groove of their own making. When you have released two albums of crashing rock-punk abandon, the options for progression are extremely limited. You either carry on the same in an ever decreasing circle of popularity and renown, or you face alienating your followers by changing your approach and refining your craft. Thoughts for the future, perhaps, for as headliners on a day such as today, PABH are no bad choice. The lines outside are long with a one-in, one-out policy as always in operation (get there early children), and most of those lucky enough to have got inside are lapping up the action. And there is action aplenty. In truth, only ideology separates this band from a myriad of heavy metal acts: there is hair flying, guitars crashing, drums pounding and a crowd focused only on fun. Tonight the favourite game appears to be picking off the photographers behind the barriers, knocking their cameras out of their hands, and throwing themselves around with reckless abandon. Aidan escapes with his life and we decide call it a day. Near twelve hours of solid gigging; it's enough.

Southsea Fest 2014 has been a great success. Our planning has by and large also come good; there has been only one major howler and one brief period of uncertainty. We have seen most of the bands we wanted to see (sad to miss Cagoule) and, more importantly, we are nowhere near the physical wrecks we had been the previous year. Hats off to the organisers and the promoters, especially Champagne Justice for an outstanding line-up. 2013 had seen Pie & Vinyl take the crown, but there is little doubt who was the winner this time around. Just please get some air conditioning in the Social Club for 2015 when we will undoubtedly return.

Words: Adam Hammond
Photos by Aidan
Reviews April-June 2014
Hookworms live at the Haunt, Brighton
At The Edge Of The Sea
Reviews July to September 2014
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