In its twenty first year you’d be forgiven for thinking that Rebellion Festival would be starting to feel a bit jaded and stale but thanks to some nifty nips and tucks in recent times the world’s largest celebration of punk is as fresh as the proverbial daisy. Last time round the introducing band area was expanded to four days and this year the Casbah stage has had a fantastic open air makeover. Here are GaryTrueman’s top three band picks from each day plus a round up of the best of the rest.
The Soap Girls
Let’s put aside the skimpy stage gear that so many seem to want to talk about and focus on the music. The Soap Girls play pop tinged grunk rock that is edgy and infectious at the same time. They have more devilish hooks than a Peter Pan villain and sing from the heart. The trio are on a roll at the moment, momentum gained through sheer bloody hard work and talent. Today they are outside on the newly invigorated Casbah stage which is notably packed with a diverse audience. The crowd rightly give the South Africans a rousing reception, shouting encouragement throughout the set. Staunchly feminist without getting all preachy on the subject The Soap Girls are a breath of fresh air at Rebellion, they are a band music in general should be applauding.
At 6.45pm just when the bigger acts are starting to turn out on the more illustrious stages three young guys from that bastion of musical output Dubai take to the introducing stage. They’ve managed to pull in a creditable gathering for their festival debut. Fat Randall it turns out are phenomenal. A product of the Less Than Jake and Offspring school of three chord happiness they still manage to sound original not to mention as tight as a drum. Due to another band having to drop out later in the day the desert dynamos are asked to play a second time on a larger stage. Good choice Rebellion, very good choice indeed. Let’s hope they can make it back next year.
To say a band is dedicated to their art is easy and more often than not it’s true. Real dedication though is saving all year to travel from your home in Brazil so you can play a set at Rebellion. Sem Futuro are that band and they don’t just play, they destroy. Last time the quartet set down a marker of intent when they graced the introducing stage. This year they have stepped up as a fully blown must see act. Their music is as brutal as ever but it’s their stagecraft and supreme unity that is most noticeable. Of all the acts across seven venues on day one it is Sem Futuro who are the most talked about, the most to excite and the most endearing. The boys from Brazil done good. In fact they were brilliant.
Best of the rest.
The Shrives bring a bit of pop punk magic to the event early arrivals, blowing away any cobwebs in the process. Two Scottish sisters collectively known as Bratakus provide a sizable crowd with some great songs on the Pavillion stage. The Army Of Skanks might be down to platoon size as a trio but still manage to put in a memorable performance over at the Arena. Detroit stalwarts Choking Susan are at their entertaining best and have to be one of the most consistent bands around. Toyah puts on an age defying show in the beautiful Opera House. Bad Religion are sublime. Later into the night The Soap Girls hit the Tache stage for their third set of the day and once again are magnificent. Elsewhere the Blackpool seagull population is just as intimidating as ever.
Kiss My Acid
Green Day have influenced a huge amount of bands over the decades and you can see their fingerprints at work on Ireland’s Kiss My Acid. Rather than being a clone though the three piece are simply a logical step into the future with a big nod to the past. Their fast and frenetic set is built around the enigmatic Freda Conlon. There are no gimmicks here, no experimentation, this is pure music driven at a hundred miles an hour by a slightly out of control woman with purple dreads. The set is frenetic, imperfect and honest. Kiss My Acid embody what made punk great in the first place, they’re dangerous, they snarl like a caged tiger and they demand you watch them and listen to their music. Like Green Day but with a Sex Pistols heart this is a loose cannon of a band, wild and passionate.
The Last Gang
Brenna Red is well known and respected in the music world most notably for her stints in Civet and Fiction Reform. In The Last Gang though it seems like all the little pieces of the jigsaw have come together to form a glorious picture. Drawing power from a host of acts such as Bikini Kill and The Distillers this is a band on a mission to enlighten and empower. Angry vocals mixed with powerful hooks are nothing new but here the delivery is beautifully executed. Once again it’s the introducing stage that is playing host to the cream of this year’s festival showing that you should never judge an act by which set of boards they’ve been put on to play. The Last Gang opened a lot of eyes and minds today. Hopefully they’ll be back soon to carry on where they left off.
Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes
Frank Carter can’t do any wrong at the moment. He has one of the best live shows on the circuit and once again at Rebellion on the premier Empress Ballroom stage he puts in an award worthy set. He jumps around like he’s possessed. He crowd surfs while still singing. He’s so animated he must be an absolute nightmare to capture if you’re a photographer. All the while he has an air of someone you’d really like to have a pint with down the pub. This is angry music from a Mr Nice Guy and it rocks. The massive crowd sing along, they know every word. The performance is something many have seen a dozen times or more yet it is still just as powerful as ever. Sometimes it’s great to simply indulge in the familiar safely knowing the quality you will get. Every person in the audience leaves afterwards pampered by musical excellence.
Best Of The Rest
Putting Screech Bats on at the same time as The Featherz is a tad perplexing but shows the strength in depth of Rebellion. The effort to catch two half shows is highly rewarding. Danie Cox’s voice in the Opera House is a bit of a revelation while Kit Reeve manages to shred and attempt vertical take off at the same time. The Svetlanas return and conquer the Pavillion with a suitably animated set. The award for best turned out band once again goes to Italian trio Psychords who are as classy as ever at the Arena. Vice Squad never put a foot wrong and have bright sunshine to accompany their show on the Casbah stage. The discovery of no spoon but a whole lot of sex toys in the top drawer of my hotel room has me looking at the landlord and landlady with a whole new set of eyes. I make doubly sure my door is locked.
Hands Off Gretel
We’re fast running out of superlatives for the meteorically ascending Hands Off Gretel. Today they’re concerned at how many people will come to watch them play the Empress Ballroom at the relatively early time of 1.20pm. They needn’t have worried. There’s a considerable crowd and the band turn in yet another world class performance. With the borrowed Ben Savage on bass the four piece storm through a set of songs so massive the hangar like Ballroom struggles to contain them. My Size ends proceedings with the kind of insane reception you only see a very few times as an observer of music. As if to emphasise the point the band merch table is laid siege to post set. Hands Off Gretel look very much to be a band in the right place at the right time playing the right music. The only question is how long before they start headlining events of this stature.
Playing the introducing stage during the black hole of time known as 5.45pm when many are thinking about food might have seen some bands become deflated before they’d even started. Chaos 8 however are from the north east, Sunderland to be precise so it’s no surprise they turn up with their A game very much in play. What is an eyebrow raiser for the uninitiated is just how special they are. Beki Straughan comes across as a slightly twisted version of Debbie Harry while the music is straight from the Killing Joke text book. The result is one of the most memorable acts of the weekend. Dark brooding synth, crushing riffs and menacing vocals all combine to give Chaos 8 a sound that is unique but eerily familiar. It’s a sound that could take them a very long way.
The little introducing venue is full to capacity for Kelly Chelston and her band mates, so much so you have to wonder if it was a good idea putting them on this stage. It’s testament to their pulling power that it seems every photographer in the building has made a bee line to capture Tiger Sex in motion. No one whether they have a camera or not is disappointed. The band remind you a little of White Stripes with drums and guitar having no bass accompaniment. The real difference is that this is a trio with Chelston a free agent to run amok at will, and run amok she does. In the crowd, on the speaker stacks and occasionally actually on the stage her diminutive lingerie clad frame is a non-stop bundle of energy. The music, a mighty blend of garage punk meets the New York Dolls is played with pace and skill. Some bands come to play, Tiger Sex put on a show, and it’s a show that brings the house down.
Best Of The Rest
This is a tough one because there are a couple more acts that could so easily have been in the top three. The margins today are so very fine and the performances pure class. The Kut open up the Empress Ballroom with a wonderful set played to a significantly large crowd People may be a bit hungover but The Kut are more than good enough to pull them from their beds. The Pavillion plays host to Louise Distras who just a couple of hours later plays a second set on the acoustic stage. On both occasions Distras is magnificent with her newer material freeing her from the tag of protest singer. One can only imagine how special her new album will be when it’s released. It would also be remiss not to mention Millie Manders acoustic set which crackled with quality throughout. Outside meanwhile, even at night, the seagulls lurk menacingly.
Thrust on to the sizable Empress Ballroom stage at 1.30 pm Headstone Horrors may well have been a little apprehensive. This is a big step up for them. The good news is they’ve pulled a great crowd. Even better is that when Natalie Thornton gets into her stride stage centre the band look like they belong there. It’s a funny thing how this kind of venue can swallow some acts and not others. Headstone Horrors fill the stage, they own it, and they turn in possibly their best performance to date. Any minor technical wobbles go mostly un-noticed. What is visible is a band who seem capable of making the most of any opportunities they get. Their cohesiveness and also notably Thornton’s vocal have improved beyond recognition transforming the band. This set makes an important statement that Headstone Horrors are now a premier league act.
Back to the introducing stage and it’s clear well before their set starts that not everyone is going to get in to see Pizzatramp. A good two hundred people end up having to listen standing just outside in the foyer. They have been the topic of much conversation and the trio fully live up to the hype with a set of improvisation, astounding technique and no small amount of fun. Mixing punk with hard core and just full on ballsy talent the band are on fire and can do nothing wrong. You get the feeling that if they’d have just turned up and played triangles they would still have turned it into something special. There are many memories that people will take away from Rebellion, many talking points. Pizzatramp playing the introducing stage will go down as an I was there moment. This is the stuff legends are built on so for 2018 you know which band to look out for.
Suzi Carmichael is a bit of an icon on the punk scene so it’s not a surprise to see so many people turn out to watch her and her bandmates in Turbulent Hearts. Sometimes the line between a good band and a great one is so fine you can see through it. This isn’t the case here. This is a group of musicians who have left the line way back in the distance. Feisty, punchy and powerful the trump card is a delicious underlying melody that allows you to listen even if you tend to shy away from the more angry acts. Carmichael has a way of owning an audience too, a mesmerising performer who is both slick and authoritative, ramming home each song with real guile. Not many people have the ability to get up on a stage and make you feel like they are playing just for you. This is Carmichael’s gift, she makes her music personal, and today her turbulent heart touched the souls of every person who watched her and her fellow musicians.
Best Of The Rest
The Franklys shone bright over at the Arena stage bringing a bit of melodic class to proceedings. Brassick are much more direct using a kind of blunt force trauma to the ears to get their point across. It’s simple, it’s effective and it’s fun. Dirt Box Disco fill the Empress ballroom and impress with their lunacy. Millie Manders & The Shut Up have taken ska and added a bit of street cred. The result is another band you should watch out for. Lena Lovich rolls back the years and sounds just as good as ever in the Opera House. One of the final acts of the weekend Total Chaos do a sterling job with ace on bass Chema Zurita leaping so high he looked like he had a hidden jetpack on. Finally there’s the option of a walk along the seafront back to the hotel or a taxi ride. The taxi seems a safer bet, those seagulls just might mug me for my chips if I walk.
There always seems to be one thing missing at Rebellion Festival….. aggro. It’s amazing to think that some ten thousand spikey haired (and not so spikey) punk fans have invaded Blackpool and nothing worse than a bit of drunken babbling has occurred. It’s not amazing to the punks though, they know that this is more of a family holiday than anything else, and they know their own true nature. A time to catch up with friends, swap stories and listen to great music. You have to remember this is a DIY event too so we have to applaud Jennie and Darren Russell-Smith along with their close knit team for their efforts. In a year when so many festivals have fallen Rebellion is an example of how to do it right. Long may it continue.